The Barrow River – Athy to St. Mullins
Our exploration takes us downstream from Athy on a journey of enchantment along the Barrow, a relatively undiscovered gem among the great inland pleasure cruising waterways of Ireland. Ireland’s second longest navigable river, the Barrow, is noted for the beauty and variety of its landscape, the fascination of its historic hinterland and the picturesque charm of its riverside towns and villages.
The marriage of the River Barrow with the Barrow Line of the Grand Canal takes place in the Heritage Town of Athy. Great silos and malt houses surround the canal harbour, where once warehouses were filled with grain and malt waiting to be transported to Dublin by commercial barge. Along the banks, adorned with stately trees and cultivated fields, the empty eyes of old country houses evoke a past where the pace of life was in tune with the waterway. Fields of barley, wheat and beet accompany the journey under Maganey Bridge.
The soothing sound of falling water signals the approach of another weir and the following lock. After Bestfield Lock comes Carlow Town. The boatstream which has been close to the east bank from Athy, now switches to the west bank after Graiguecullen Bridge (1815) and its weir. Looming above the bridge is the imposing ruin of the 13th century Anglo-Norman Carlow Castle. The expanse of grassy quays and the huddle of warehouses bear witness to the town’s pivotal role in trade and commerce along the Barrow Navigation.
Carlow is the county capital with bustling, friendly streets, sophisticated fashion shops and an exciting traditional and contemporary nightlife scene. The elegant Cathedral (1833), with its magnificent tower and lantern is well worth seeing as is the graceful Courthouse (1830). Take a walking tour of the town and discover the rich history of this busy market town. Below Carlow Weir, the banks are liberally endowed with walls of willow, sallies and alder. The landscape is, according to Thackeray, the 19th century satirist and author of Vanity Fair – “exceedingly beautiful, with noble hills rising on either side and the broad silver Barrow flowing through rich meadows of that astonishing verdure which is only to be seen in this country”.