County Carlow may be small (it is the second smallest county in Ireland) but it has an incredible history. Part of the Irish Province of Leinster, County Carlow has a number of attractions you will not want to miss, plus some interesting sights that are slightly off the beaten path. So why not take your time and spend a day or two in Carlow when visiting Ireland? Here are some ideas to make it worth your while.
County Carlow in a Nutshell
Here are the most important facts on County Carlow that you might want to know (or use in a pub quiz):
- The Irish name of County Carlow is Contae Cearthalach, with the literal meaning of "Four Lakes", though it is hard to say what four lakes the nickname refers to.
- County Carlow is part of the Province of Leinster.
- Cars registered in County Carlow bear the letters CW.
- The county town is Carlow Town, other important towns are Bagenalstown and Tallow.
- The size of County Carlow is 346 square miles.
- The population of County Carlow is 54,612 (according to the 2016 census)
- A popular nickname of County Carlow is “The Dolmen County“, referencing mainly the famous Brownshill Dolmen (see below).
- People who live in County Carlow are also (not always fondly) known as “The Fighting Cocks” (cock-fighting having been very popular here in the 19th century), “Barrowsiders” (as in "living beside the rover Barrow) or “Scallion Eaters” (Hinting at smelly breath?).
County Carlow is sometimes known as the "Celtic Center of Ireland" because of its huge number of ancient monuments. Browne's Hill Dolmen (often shortened to Brownshill Dolmen) just east of Carlow Town is regarded by many as one of the finest prehistoric monuments in Ireland. It certainly is the largest dolmen to be found on the island. The huge monolith forming the roof of the burial chamber is estimated to weigh around 100 tons. Maybe the one thing you really need to see in Carlow - even if it usually means a detour from the most frequently traveled roads through the county.
Strictly by appointment and suited for small groups or family parties, a stay at stately Lisnavagh House is something of a treat. Feel like the landed gentry for a while, and enjoy the long walks across this splendid Carlow estate. It is also a pretty wedding venue and sometimes hosts yoga retreats for those who want to escape to the countryside.
Charming Carlow Town
Carlow Town itself has retained some adorable "olde worlde" charm, so make time for a stopover there. Things to see are the remains of Carlow Castle near the river Barrow, the courthouse in the classical style of the early 19th century, the modern high cross commemorating the fallen of the 1798 rebellion in Church Street and the Carlow County Museum. All in all quite a pleasant Irish county town for a walk and some snapshots, and there are some decent pubs here, too.
Soak up the History at Carlow Castle
Built between 1207 and 1213, Carlow Castle was once an important fortification set along the River Barrow. It stood for centuries until a 19th-century doctor tried to convert the stone castle into an insane asylum. His attempts at reconstruction actually destroyed most of the castle, but the two remaining towers are an impressive testament to what once was an even grander building.
Moving On ... Beyond Carlow's Borders
Enough time spent in County Carlow? This could happen faster than one thinks, many people actually only drive straight through. Then carry on in the neighboring counties, just across the Carlow borders. County Kildare - full of ecclesiastical history and horses.County Wicklow - with the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough in the middle. County Wexford - with one of the oldest lighthouses in the world, and stunning coastal scenery.County Kilkenny - beer, witches, and a "medieval" city to boot.County Laois - pleasant, but not overly exciting.