Carlow (Ceatharlach) is the county town of County Carlow, some 85 km south of Dublin. It's become a commuter town for the city and in 2016 had a population of 24,272; it's fairly compact and has preserved its old centre.
This lowland, fertile area has been inhabited for thousands of years, with Brownshill Dolmen the chunkiest relic of prehistory. Carlow's main feature is the River Barrow flowing south towards Waterford. In Irish the town is Ceatharlach, "four-legged", referring to livestock that were brought to market here, and swum across the river until the bridge was built in the 16th century. (Another version has it as Ceatharloch, "four lakes", but there's no trace of any such thing.) The Normans fortified the crossing, and from 1361 to 1374 made Carlow their seat of government in Ireland. The town was damaged but not wrecked in the many upheavals of the following centuries, and was able to grow up as a quiet provincial place. It prospered from 1800 when the entire river was made navigable up to Athy, whence a canal connected to the Dublin-Shannon Grand Canal. The railway arrived in 1846, industries were established, and from 1891 Carlow was powered by hydro-electricity generated above Leighlinbridge. The river formed the county boundary, with the west bank community of Graiguecullen standing in County Laois, until the boundary was adjusted in 1898.
The town languished in the 20th century, so its old centre was never re-developed. Its population boomed when the M9 put it within an hour's commuting distance of Dublin, and city centre prices drove individuals and businesses to settle further out. Perhaps as a sign of healthier times, Carlow's sugar beet industry closed but was replaced by the manufacture of electric toothbrushes. That too has closed but the pharmaceutical company MSD have opened a large vaccine production facility here, not a moment too soon.
Carlow Tourism is the TIC, open M-F 09:30-17:00, Sa 10:00-16:00. It's in the library on College St, next to the county museum.
Trains run every 2-3 hours from Dublin Heuston via Newbridge, Kildare and Athy, taking an hour to Carlow and continuing to Bagenalstown / Muine Bheag, Kilkenny, Thomastown and Waterford (another 1 hr 45 min). A walk-up single from Dublin might be €11, see Irish Rail for timetables, fares and on-line tickets.
Carlow 1 railway station is 500 m north of the town centre.
Expressway 4 / X4 runs every hour or two from Dublin Airport and Busáras to Carlow, for a single fare (as of June 2021) of €20. X4 takes 75 min and continues non-stop to Waterford and New Ross. Bus 4 also stops at Dublin Eden Quay and Heuston, taking 1 hr 40 min to Carlow and continuing to Carlow IT, Leighlinbridge, Gowran (for Kilkenny racecourse), Thomastown, Mullinavat and Waterford.
JJ Kavanagh competes on this route, with Bus 736 every hour or two from Dublin Airport and several city stops but not Busáras, taking almost two hours to Carlow (single fare €18) and continuing to Paulstown, Kilkenny, Waterford and Tramore. They have at least one overnight run.
Bus Éireann 73 trundles across the midlands from Athlone to Moate, Clara, Tullamore, Mountmellick, Portlaoise, Stradbally, Carlow, Kilkenny, Thomastown, Mullinavat and Waterford. There are two M-Sa and one on Sunday.
Local Link Bus 880 plies three times M-F from Naas along R448 via Timolin, taking about 90 min to Carlow.
The 2 coach park is at the foot of Barrack Street, junction with Kennedy Ave. It's just a draughty bus shelter.
From Dublin take N7 / M7 onto M9 and follow it to Exit 4 for R448 into town; an hour should do it. M9 continues to Waterford. From Rosslare ferry port, take M11 to Enniscorthy then N80 northwest.
Carlow is on the national waterways network. The Barrow Navigation branches off the Grand Canal (between Dublin and the Shannon) and courses south through Athy, Carlow and into the tidal river at New Ross and Waterford. Obviously there are limits on how far a rental boat may be taken.
Walk, town centre is compact. The historic main streets are Dublin St north, Castle St and Bridge St west, and Tullow St east.
Bike will easily get you to the outlying sights, which lack public transport. There are half-a-dozen shops for bicycle sales, spares and repairs, but no bike hire.
By car is pointless for town centre but the quickest way to reach outlying sights. Lower Tullow Street in the central one-way system is closed to traffic M-Sa 08:00-18:00.
Carlow has over 3000 car parking spaces, so there's never a shortage. There are two multi-storey car parks, with the largest in Carlow Shopping Centre, and another on Dublin Street. You collect a ticket on entry, which needs to be validated by a local shop.
Taxi fares are nationally regulated and taxis must use the meter. As of March 2021, fares M-Sa 08:00 to 20:00 are €3.80 flagfall then €1.14-1.50 per km, 20:00 to 08:00 and Sunday €4.20 flagfall then €1.45-1.80 per km. In slow traffic or if asked to wait they charge by the minute, 40-50 cents. There's a taxi rank on Potato Market, and they meet the trains and buses from Dublin. Operators include Bridge Cabs +353 59 917 0777 and Carlow Cab Service +353 59 914 0000.
- 1 Carlow Cathedral (Cathedral of the Assumption), College Street. Daily 11:00-18:00. Built 1828-1833 in neo-Gothic, and embellished by its 46 m spire. The interior has been renovated several times, and in 1997 a parishioner went to the Supreme Court to try to block changes recommended by the Second Vatican Council, but these went ahead.
- St Patrick's College or Carlow College is east side of the cathedral; indeed the college is older, founded in 1782, and owns the land where the cathedral now stands. There's no public right-of-way but you can stroll the grounds of the elegant buildings. Until 1989 it was a seminary for the priesthood then became an independent arts college, with some 700 students.
- 2 Carlow County Museum, College St, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Sa 10:00–17:00. This is housed in the beautifully renovated Presentation Convent, a former convent school; the nuns' chapel has a gold-leaf ceiling and stained glass windows. The museum is bigger than it first looks as it's over four floors (full wheelchair access) covering the area from prehistory to modern times. Free.
- 3 The Liberty Tree is a fountain at the centre of Potato Market, commemorating the 640 United Irishmen slain on or around 25 May 1798. The 1798 uprising sought to unite all Irishmen of every creed; it flopped in Dublin but had stronger support in the south. Some 1200 rebels, called "Croppy Boys" for their short hair, converged on Potato Market unopposed. But their plans were known and they had walked into a trap - a deadly fusillade tore into them. Over 400 were killed in the next few minutes, and another 150 were executed in the aftermath. The loyalist forces suffered no casualties, but some 200 civilians died as their houses were torched or fired upon and they attempted to flee. The rebellion held out in Enniscorthy, County Wexford for another month until they were encircled and slain. The fountain was commissioned for the 200th anniversary.
- 4 Carlow Courthouse, at the junction of Dublin St and Athy Rd, looks like it wants to be on a banknote. It's a neo-classical design, modeled on an Athenian temple, and completed in 1834. The Russian cannon in front was a trophy of the Crimean war. Refurbished in 2002, it's always been a courthouse; in the early 20th century the County Council shared the premises before moving to their own offices.
- 5 County Carlow Military Museum, St Dympna's Hospital, Athy Rd R93 PK46, email@example.com. Apr-Nov Su 14:00–17:00. Small volunteer-run museum within the former church of St Dympna's Hospital. Various military memorabilia and a reconstructed World War I trench.
- 6 Town Hall is the charming late 19th century building on Centaur St. It's still used as local government offices and was refurbished in 2006 but Carlow no longer has a "town council" - it's a municipal district and electoral area within Carlow County Council. Their main building is modern, on Athy Rd.
- 7 Carlow Castle remains only as its western wall and adjoining towers. It was built on the river bank circa 1210, the reign of King John - Anglo-Norman castle architecture was still evolving so it doesn't have features that would later be typical, such as a gatehouse and great hall. It went through multiple ownership and spells of being empty, and was damaged (of course) by Cromwell, but what did for it were the humane new approaches to mental health flourishing in the 19th century. Dr Philip Parry Prince Midleton leased the building and spent a fortune trying to turn it into a lunatic asylum, the Charenton of the west. In 1814 he had a brainwave: by packing the lower level with explosives, he could open up the interior and a passageway entrance. What followed was not really a blast, more like a protracted crump as three of the four walls subsided, and locals regretted that the castle was no longer suitable for confining Dr Midleton himself.
- 8 Graiguecullen Bridge is a five-arched stone structure of 1569, though re-built and widened in 1815. The west bank neighbourhood of Graiguecullen was in County Laois until the boundary was adjusted in 1898.
- Town Park is the pleasant green space west bank of the river, reached by a footbridge from town centre. It's open daylight hours.
- 9 Croppies Grave just west of Town Park on Ninety-eight Street is the mass grave of the United Irishmen, the "Croppy Boys", killed in the 1798 uprising.
- 10 Sleaty Church 2.5 km north of town is a medieval ruin. The two High Crosses are from the earlier abbey.
- 11 Brownshill Dolmen or Kernanstown Cromlech is a portal tomb dating from 3000 BC. It hasn't been excavated but its occupant must have been one helluva swell, as it has a humonguous granite capstone of some 150 metric tons, probably the largest in Europe. This is supported by upright stones, with a portal stone closing the burial chamber, and originally the whole structure would be covered in earth. Free access, reach it on R726 Hacketstown Road, 3 km east of town.
- 12 Duckett's Grove, Kneestown. Daily 09:00-dusk. Gardens centred on the substantial shell of an 1830 neo-Gothic mansion, which was unoccupied from 1912 and burnt out in 1933. In 2005 the County Council acquired the estate, stabilised the ruin and re-established the gardens as a public park. The Upper Walled Garden was planted with roses and other flowering shrubs, the Lower Walled Garden was restored as an orchard. Free.
- 13 Killeshin Church is the ruin of a 12th century Romanesque church. It's 5 km northwest of town on R430, just across the boundary into County Laois.
- Cinema: Carlow Omniplex is within Fairgreen Shopping Centre by the coach park.
- Gaelic games: Carlow GAA play football and hurling at Dr Cullen Park, capacity 21,000. It's on N80 ring road 1 km north of town centre.
- River Barrow is navigable from tidal waters up through Carlow to Athy, then the canal continues north, eventually joining the Grand Canal. Boat trips sail from the west bank just upstream of the bridge. The towpath on the east bank is a long-distance hiking and cycling route. Go with the Flow organise canoeing at various spots along the river.
- Graiguecullen Swimming Pool (St Fiacc's), The Numbers (off Chaff St, west bank), ☏ . M-F 07:00-21:00, Sa Su 11:00-18:00. Church-run heated 25-metre swimming pool, plus kiddy pool. Adult €5, child €3.50.
- Dome Entertainment Centre, Sleaty Rd (Next to Talbot Hotel), ☏ . W-Su 10:00-21:00. Children's entertainment centre with arcade games and bowling alley.
- 1 Oak Park is a pleasant woodland 2 km north of town. There are walking trails, picnic sites, and toilets at the car park.
- 2 Carlow Golf Club, Deerpark R93 HX46, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an "inland links" type course on the former Oak Park estate. The 18-hole Deerpark course is 6025 yards off blue tees, par 70, and there's also the 9-hole Oak Park course. Deerpark round €50.
- 3 Carlow Golf Centre, Springhill Rd, Crossneen, ☏ . M-F 08:00-21:00, Sa Su 08:00-18:00. Modern driving range in tranquil surroundings at the foot of the Killeshin Hills.
- 4 Quinagh House Par 3, Quinagh R93 V741, ☏ . 09:00-dusk. 18-hole par-3 golf course with refreshments and light snacks in the clubhouse. Club hire available.
- St Patrick's Day is celebrated on 17 March whenever it falls in the week. There's usually a street parade and live entertainment.
- Gordon Bennett Classic Car Rally, open to vehicles of 30+ years, is based in Portlaoise and circles through Kildare, Stradbally, Athy and Carlow. It's held in June over the Bank Holiday weekend. The next is probably 3-6 June 2022, tbc.
- Carlow Arts Festival (formerly Éigse) is held over ten days in June. Wide programme, multiple venues, including many free events. The next is probably 3-12 June 2022, tbc.
- Carlow Garden Festival at the end of July opens up many gardens that aren't usually accessible. The 2020 and 2021 events were cancelled and the next is probably 22 July - 2 Aug 2022, tbc.
- African Film Festival was last held in Sept 2018 and it doesn't look likely to return in 2022.
- ATMs are plentiful in and around the shopping areas.
- Tullow St is the original downtown retail strip, with the lower part pedestrianised during shopping hours. Stores include Hadden's (clothing), Shaw's department store, and Allen's for hardware and giftware.
- Carlow Shopping Centre is the block south of Tullow St and Potato Market, with a multistorey car park.
- Fairgreen is the large shopping centre just east across Barrack St, extending south to the coach park and river. Tesco is open M-Sa 07:00-22:00, Su 08:00-22:00.
- The three main strips are Kennedy Ave / Hanover Square near Fairgreen Shopping Centre and the bus park, Tullow St through town centre, and Dublin St leading north.
- Lemongrass, Unit 6, Hanover Square, ☏ . W-Su 17:00-21:00. Good standard of Thai / Malay food. They also have branches in Clonmel and Kilkenny.
- Shapla, Hanover Court, Kennedy Avenue R93 D2C0, ☏ . M-Sa 16:30-22:30, Su 13:00-23:00. This Indian place near the bus park gets very mixed reviews.
- Lotus, Unit 3, Kennedy Avenue R93 P7W4, ☏ . Th-M 16:30-22:30. Reliable Chinese near bus park.
- Reddy's of Carlow, 67 Tullow St R93 FN44, ☏ . Daily 10:00-20:00. Friendly pub with carvery and restaurant.
- Brooks Café, Tullow St (within Dinn Ri complex). M-W 08:00-17:30, Th-Su 08:00-21:00. Good central spot for breakfast, lunch or coffee.
- Café Roma, 51 Tullow St R93 AK19, ☏ . Daily 16:00-00:00. Reliable pizzeria.
- Teach Dolmain (formerly Carlovian), 76 Tullow St R93 NY70, ☏ . M-Sa 09:30-23:00, Su 11:00-23:00. Lively gastropub with à la carte menu and extensive wine list, plus outdoor dining area.
- Weeping Thaiger, Quinn House, Mill Lane (by Castle), ☏ . M-Sa 17:00-22:30, Su 13:00-22:00. Great reviews until 2021, but they changed owners and have disappointed since.
- Lennon's, Old Dublin Rd (within VISUAL Arts Centre, St Patrick's College), ☏ . W Th 12:00-14:00, F Sa 12:00-14:00, 17:30-23:00. Gets great reviewsfor its modern European cuisine.
- Liberty Tree Restaurant is within Talbot Hotel along with Corries Bar & Bistro, see Sleep.
- (formerly Courthouse Hotel), 38 Dublin St R93 D7X9, ☏ . Daily 08:00-00:00. Restaurant in "Cell 38½", they also have rooms.
- 1 Jasmine Chinese Restaurant, 1 Staplestown Rd R93 E4P2, ☏ . Daily 16:00-22:30. Gets great reviews for food and ambience.
- 2 Toughers Restaurant, Ballyvergal, Dublin Rd, ☏ . This remains closed in 2021.
- La Boheme, 1 Brown St W93 HD93, ☏ . M-F 16:30-23:30, Sa 13:00-01:00, Su 13:00-23:00. Tapas bar.
- Carpenter's Bar, 10 Barrack St W93 R1X2, ☏ . M-F 10:00-23:30, Sa Su 10:00-00:30. Traditional bar and lounge with food, near the bus park.
- Corcoran's Bar, Castle St R93 C2D9, ☏ . Daily 17:00-23:00. Authentic trad bar with old-style interior.
- Dinn Rí, Tullow St, ☏ , email@example.com. Entertainment complex within Dinn Ri Hotel, with bars, restaurant and Foundry night club.
- O'Loughlin's Bar, 53 Dublin St R93 R221, ☏ . M-F 15:00-23:30, Sa 12:00-00:30, Su 12:30-3:00. Popular venue with young and old alike.
- Racey Byrne's, 83 Tullow St F2W8, ☏ . Daily 10:30-23:30. Long established trad bar, has rooms. B&B double €70.
- Scragg's Alley, 12 Tullow St R93 PP79, ☏ . This remains close in 2021.
- The Barracks, 32 Tullow St R93 HW30, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily 12:00-02:00. Smart but lively late-night bar, the DJ gets buzzing after dark.
- Tully's Bar, 148 Tullow St R93 W243, ☏ . M-Sa 11:00-23:00, Su 15:00-23:00. Good midtown bar with decent food.
- The Tullow Gate (formerly Buzz's Bar), 7 Tulllow St R93 YC66, ☏ . Daily 09:00-23:00. Now a JD Wetherspoon, decent food and drink.
- Nancy Whiskeys, Haymarket, ☏ . This remains closed in 2021.
- The Castle Tavern, Castle St, ☏ . This remains closed in 2021.
- Corries Bar & Bistro is in Talbot Hotel, see Sleep. They have live music Friday & Saturday nights.
- Brewery and distillery: 12 Acres are a micro-brewery at Clonmore, off R430 towards Killeshin. No tours. Carlow Brewing Company are now known as O'Haras and have moved away to Muine Bheag / Bagenalstown. Walsh Whiskey is a distillery on Dublin Rd, 2 km northeast of town, no tours.
- 1 Green Lane B&B, Green Lane, ☏ . Pleasant B&B ten minutes from town by foot. Wheelchair accessible. B&B double €80.
- 2 Avlon House, Green Lane R93 NT26, ☏ , email@example.com. Comfy clean place a 10-minute walk from town centre. B&B double €80.
- 3 Carlow Guesthouse, Green Lane R93 NF85, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Welcoming clean B&B a five-minute walk from town.
- 4 Barrowville Town House, Kilkenny Rd R93 WK30, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Charming period townhouse, welcoming hosts.
- 5 Red Setter Guesthouse, 14 Dublin St R93 HA26, ☏ . Friendly well-run place in town centre with 17 bedrooms. Parking in the multi-storey next door. B&B double €90.
- 6 Tudor Lodge, Kilmeaney R93 C5F1 (Exit 5 of M9 for N80), ☏ . Peaceful edge-of-town B&B.
- 7 Coolanowle House, Ballickmoyler R93 C3K4, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. B&B on a working organic farm, set amid beechwood gardens and 18th century flax ponds.
- 8 Quarry Ridge, Killeshin R93 Y5T7 (6 km west of town on R430), ☏ . Welcoming family-run B&B in a scenic setting in Killeshin. B&B double €80.
- 9 Talbot Carlow, Barrow Valley Retail Park R93 Y504, ☏ . Smart efficient hotel on N80 bypass north of town, with fitness centre. B&B double €120.
- 10 Seven Oaks Hotel, Athy Rd R93 V4K5, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Just north of town centre, this 3-star hotel has 89 bedrooms and leisure centre with pool. Friendly helpful service and they can cater for vegans. B&B double €120.
- 11 Woodford Dolmen Hotel, Kilkenny Rd R93 N207 (3 km south of centre on R448), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. On the banks of the River Barrow, this smart hotel has 93 rooms, great reviews for comfort and service. B&B double €100.
- 12 Dinn Rí Hotel, Tullow St R93 CF77, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Within Dinn Rí entertainment complex in the centre of town. Comfy and central, but the "Dinn" comes from the nightclub. B&B double €100.
- Carlow doesn't have a standout hotel, but the countryside near Tullow has a couple of plush places.
As of June 2021, Carlow has 5G from all Irish carriers.
Hotels and other premises often have free Wifi, and Carlow County Library has access desks.
- Tullow is near Altamont Gardens and Baltinglass Abbey.
- Athy has the white castle and a fine cathedral. Travel via R448 to take in Castledermot monastery, Moone High Cross and Burtown House and Gardens.
- Kilkenny is the medieval miniature city that for six turbulent years was effectively capital of Ireland.