Muine Bheag, meaning "small thicket", is the official name of the town known in English as Bagenalstown. It's in County Carlow and in 2016 it had a population of 2837.
It is far from obvious that this place was modelled on Versailles, yet such was the boast of "Lord" Walter Bagenal (1670-1745). All over 18th / 19th century Europe, plutocrats sat down with the interior designers and the pattern book and said "yes like that, only with better-endowed girls / boys on the bathroom fittings, and much more gilt, and leave out the guillotine." They've bequeathed us a series of glitzy bling palaces that briefy impress on arrival, but somehow don't linger in the memory. Many have succumbed to time but modern ones keep appearing - name the plutocrat of your choice.
The parallel was that Dublin like Paris was dirty, tumbledown and dangerous. Better to build anew, on a classical grid pattern, and make this the power-base: imagine the ambassadors, artists and supplicants that would gather at the gates of Dunleckney Manor while it transmuted into bling. But Bagenal was no Sun King, and all this was castles-in-the-air, as imaginary as his noble title. Later the story was told that he completed the courthouse only to abandon the project when the main coach route altered to bypass town. In truth even the courthouse was only erected about a century later, Bagenal talked big but didn't much improve his own manor let alone town, and Muine Bheag was destined to remain a "small thicket".
Expressway Bus 4 runs every couple of hours from Dublin airport (DUB IATA), Busáras and Heuston station to Carlow, Leighlinbridge and Royal Oak, two hours, and continues to Gowran, Thomastown, Mullinavat and Waterford. Royal Oak is on R448 about 1.5 km west of Bagenalstown.
Kavanagh Bus 873 runs twice M-F from Carlow to Leighlinbridge, Bagenalstown (20 min), Paulstown and Kilkenny.
Trains run every 2-3 hours from Dublin Heuston via Newbridge, Kildare, Athy and Carlow, taking 75 min to Muine Bheag / Bagenalstown and continuing to Kilkenny, Thomastown and Waterford (another 90 min). A walk-up single from Dublin might be €12, see Irish Rail for timetables, fares and on-line tickets.
1 Muine Bheag station is southeast side of town centre.
By road from Dublin follow N7 / M7 onto M9 and take Exit 6 onto R448 south.
Town won't amuse you for long, so you need wheels for the outlying sights; a bike would do. For example Leighlinbridge is only 4 km north on R705, but the road is narrow and busy with no sidewalk, so walking would be tedious by day and hazardous at night. However you could bike or hike there along the canal towpath.
As of July 2021, no taxi firm is based in Bagenalstown, they'd have to come all the way out from Carlow.
- 1 The Old Courthouse is tucked away on Bachelor's Walk, turning its back on town but greeting the Bagenals as they rode between manor and magistrates' bench. It resembles a folly, with its NatWest cod-classical portico, commissioned in 1826; it included a bridewell or lock-up which was unused, proving unsuitable even for Irish offenders. The architect Robertson "used to be driven about in a wheel-barrow with a bottle of sherry; while that lasted he was always ready to direct the workmen, but when it was finished he was incapable of working any more." There was no access to the building or its gardens in 2021.
- Dunleckney Manor the home of Walter Bagenal was built in the 17th century and re-modelled in the 1850s. It's nowadays a private residence, no tours, 1 km northeast of town and hidden behind trees.
- 2 Ballymoon Castle is a ruin 3 km east of town. It was built circa 1300 but nothing is known of its occupation history - perhaps it was never completed. A courtyard is surrounded by stout walls, and you can access it free by the path from R724.
- 3 Ballyloughan Castle is another ruin of a Norman castle of circa 1300. All that's left is the twin-towered gatehouse and two small square corner towers behind. A 17th century ruined manor stands nearby. The ruins are on private land, you see enough from the lane.
- 4 Shankill Castle, Paulstown R95 N7F3 (R448 just over boundary into Kilkenny), ☏ . Th-Su 11:00-17:00. Medieval turret rebuilt from 1708 and much enlarged and prettified in the 19th century, with extensive gardens. The house remains a private residence. Castle + gardens adult €10, conc €8, child €6.
- Bagenalstown Swimming Pool is 1 km north of town on R705. It's an open-air pool open Jun-Sept daily, next to the river; nominally it's heated but you might be wanting a hot drink later.
- Boating: The River Barrow is navigable from tidal waters at New Ross all the way up to Athy, whence a canal links to the Grand Canal between Dublin and the Shannon. Check Waterways Ireland for current navigation status. At Bagenalstown there's a weir with a short bypass canal and lock system; there's no marina, serviced moorings or boat hire here, head for Leighlinbridge.
- Fishing: there's coarse angling on the river, with good access around town.
- Golf: there isn't a full course here. The Pitch & Putt is in McGrath Park north side of town.
- Carrigbeg Riding School is on R724, east edge of town, tel +353 59 972 1962.
- Aldi at the northeast corner of town is open M-F 09:00-22:00, Sa Su 09:00-21:00. In town there's also a SuperValu, Spar and Lidl.
- Main St places include Great World Chinese, Milano's takeaway, Roosters takeaway, and The Mr Chef Indian.
- Railway House (Doyle's), Kilree St, Bagenalstown (corner of Church St), ☏ . Daily 07:00-02:00. Well-run bar and fast-food restaurant.
- 1 Matty's Pub, Royal Oak Rd, Muine Bheag R21 K883, ☏ . M-Th 15:00-20:00, F 15:00-23:00, Sa Su 12:00-21:00. Lively pub at west edge of town, also has a self-catering flat.
- Main St bars include O'Kane's, Lawlor's and Coote Sylvester.
- The Red Lion, Regent St R21 F300, ☏ . Good trad pub; it remains closed in 2021.
- Brewery: O'Hara's are along R724 just east of the river. Tours are normally available but suspended in 2021.
- 1 Orchard Grove, Wells, Muine Bheag R21 RC58, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Clean friendly B&B in the countryside west of town. B&B double €90.
- 2 Lorum Old Rectory, Kilgreaney R21 RD45, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Beautiful Victorian rectory. In 2021 it's only available for exclusive hire and doesn't offer B&B.
- 3 Kilgraney House, Kilgreaney R21 W527, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Georgian house surrounded by five acres of wooded herb gardens. It didn't open in 2021.
- 4 Corriebeg Cottage, Corries Cross, ☏ . Clean welcoming B&B near Ballyloughan Castle. B&B double €80.
As of July 2021, Bagenalstown has 5G from Three, but only a scratchy mobile signal from Eir or Vodafone.
- Carlow the county town has a white castle and a fine cathedral.
- Kilkenny is a miniature medieval city.
- Borris is a quiet country village near the Blackstairs mountains.