The Barrow River
Carlow Tourist Office, College Street, Carlow
Tel: +353 (0) 59 9131554
Fax: +353 (0) 59 9170776
The Barrow River
1) The Grand Canal, which connects Dublin with the Shannon, runs for 130km. Work began on the project in 1756, and after many difficulties, the connection to the Shannon was finally made in 1803. The Barrow Line, a branch of this magnificent waterway, was finished in the early 1790’s and runs for 46km from Lowtown to Athy where it becomes part of the River Barrow Navigation. The old canal with its elegant bridges and locks is a joy to travel.
The mixture of bog and farmland on both banks harbour wild fowl and wild flowers in equal profusion. Ballyteigue Castle, on the west bank, dates from medieval times and was a frontier tower house between the native Irish and the English garrisons of the Pale – a constantly changing area around Dublin where the king’s writ ran. The canal continues, swinging east and west, with a carry across a lovely small aqueduct which bridges a tributary of the River Slate. The bare open landscape now gives way to coniferous forest.
Rathangan is heralded by a series of grain silos, but these in no way spoil the delightfuul landscaping along the canal bank next to this neat and friendly town on the banks of the River Slate. Earthworks, near the Church of Ireland church, mark the site of an early Celtic fort. The stretch between Rathangan and Monasterevin passes through a double lock, under Spencer’s Bridge and then passes a thatched cottage at Umeras Bridge,a fine example of rural architecture that is enjoying something of a revival in many parts of the country.
Monasterevin boasts a network of canal channels, a fine lifting bridge, handsome warehouses and a 3 storey building which served as a hotel during the halcyon days of river commerce. A thriving brewery and distillery town in the 19th century, it is now a peaceful and popular coarse angling centre. The 18th century charter school is one of many graceful Georgian buildings, while the medical centre is housed in a mansion where Count John McCormack, the celebrated Irish tenor once lived. It occupies the site of a 6th century church and a 12th century Cistercian abbey.
An aqueduct, which crosses the River Barrow here, is just one example of the many superb engineering features in Monasterevin. The Barrow Line now passes over the River Barrow and then runs parallel to the river it will eventually join in Athy. Another branch of the canal, which ran to Mountmellick in Co. Laois (approx. 25 km to the west) can be seen immediately after the aqueduct. This line is not navigable. The canal runs close to the main N7 road for a short stretch, then past intensive farm land, over the Grattan Aqueduct, built in 1790, and onto Vicarstown, home of Barrowline Cruisers. Barrowline Cruisers are a friendly family-owned and operated cruiser hire company based at Vicarstown, Co. Laois.
Their well equipped base is ideally located to allow you explore the full extent of both the Grand Canal and River Barrow. Further details of their facilities are available here. Vicarstown is a picturesque village and harbour with pleasant canal walks. The two pubs are attractive watering holes for those that like a drink and a chat and they are popular for their traditional music sessions. Approximately 5km to the west is Stradbally, well worth a visit. The town was developed by the Cosby family in the 18th century and it retains much of the charm of that era.
A regular winner in the National Tidy Towns Competition, it boasts a fascinating steam museum. An extensive aqueduct crosses the Stradbally River on the last leg of the Barrow Line canal cruise. Bert House, a graceful 18th century, gable ended house, is a good landmark on the approach to Athy. Here the Barrow Line branch of the Grand Canal meets the river after which it was named.