Carlow’s landscapes are deeply rooted in over 5,000 years of history and culture. The rich plains, rolling valley and mountains, flowing rivers and market towns cherish centuries of history and heritage. Today, we celebrate this heritage through a niche community of business owners offering a powerful and diverse range of artisanal offerings.
County Carlow’s achievements are firmly rooted in history and heritage. A stronghold of Irish agriculture as far back as the early 1800’s, the county earned itself the nickname of the “scallion eaters” due to the high volume of crops grown within the county. Similarly barley grown in Carlow has been celebrated and held in high regard for centuries.
In more recent times we hold claim to the invention of the iconic rooster potato and Carlow is home to the first snail farm in Ireland. Indeed Carlow was home to the first sugar beet factory in Ireland, established in 1926. It was a thriving business for eighty years, contributing greatly to the economy of the entire country.
The fertile plains of the River Barrow and its tributaries are the most likely reason the county was so well inhabited in Neolithic times. The county has earned itself the nickname of the “Dolmen County” due to our high proportion of megalithic tombs and dolmens. The key invention of the Neolithic age was farming and in c. 4,000BC the Neolithic people brought the first domestic animals, cereal crops, cattle and sheep into the county. A strong farming community continues to thrive in Carlow to this day.
In the early 7th century Saint Moling founded one of Ireland’s most significant archaeological and ecclesiastical sites, located along the banks of the river Barrow at St. Mullins. The village of St. Mullins wet on to play a critical role in the movement of goods such as grain, sugar beet, coal and porter as the river is tidal in this location. Later the expansion of the canal system in the 18th century linked the River Barrow and the South East region with the Grand Canal in Dublin.
In the late 18th and 19th century Carlow was regarded as the epicentre of large estates as it held the greatest number of country houses and period homes per hectare of any county in Ireland. Some of those most prominent “Big Houses” are in public ownership today while others are privately owned but offer tours and welcome visitors.
Today the River Barrow is regarded as one of the major waterways of Ireland. It offers some of the most delightful stretches of picturesque waterways in Ireland and has become increasingly important for tourism and the economic development of not just the county of Carlow but also the South East region as a whole.
Since time began it’s fair to say the River Barrow has borne the life of the county upon its slow moving waters. It has always been the catalyst by which the town and county has grown economically.
Carlow town itself was founded in circa 1207 by the Normans and the county was shired shortly afterwards making it one of the oldest counties in Ireland. During medieval times markets were held within the town centre with the coal market, hay market and potato market forming through later developments. Today a select number of speciality food producers come together at the Carlow Farmers Market to sell their local food produce. The market a unique retail experience as all traders produce their own products locally and directly sell that produce on the stalls every Saturday.
A short stroll from the Farmers Market will bring you to Visual Carlow, one of Ireland’s leading contemporary art museums and host to the George Bernard Shaw Theatre. Shaw himself had family ties to the town and he later donated his properties to Carlow Urban District Council. Within Visual Carlow you will also find Lennons, an award winning restaurant and café. Lennons are passionate in supporting local and artisan producers seeking out quality produce to serve to their customers.
Across the county you will come across fantastic eateries: Sha-Roe Bistro, Thrive Café, Clashganny House and the Mullichain Café to name but a few. You will also find exciting eateries in some of the many period estate “Big Houses” such as Huntington Castle or Lisnavagh. Take to the trails with the Blackstairs Eco Trails and take time out to go foraging, enjoy a Celtic tree trail or simply wander and explore the natural habitat.
It’s fair to say that Carlow is small but mighty!