History of Carlow
The name Carlow is considered to be derived from the old Irish place name Ceatharlach, meaning ‘four lakes’ or ‘city on the lakes’ and is bordered on the east by the Blackstairs mountains and on the west by the Killeshin Hills. Carlow has a long and fascinating history dating back to the Neolithic period in Ireland. Rich in historic monuments Carlow holds many megalithic tombs the most famous being the Brownshill Dolmen situated three kilometres from the town centre. The capstone is the largest to be found in Europe. It has been calculated to weigh 100 tons. Browne’s Hill Dolmen is of international importance and is of particular importance to local tourism.
The influence of the Early Christian period is evident throughout Carlow with old churches and monastic settlements such as St Mullin’s, founded by St Moling in the 7th century and St Lazerian’s in Old Leighlin being two examples. In 1361 the Exchequer moved from Dublin to Carlow under the direction of the Duke of Clarence, son of Edward III. He built a wall surrounding the town but despite this, persistent raids by the Kavanaghs of Leinster ensured its relocation back to Dublin some time after. Always under threat of attack from the Kavanaghs in the South and the Moores in Laois, Carlow was no stranger to battles and even suffered an invasion by Lord Thomas Fitzgerald (Silken Thomas) in 1534 during Henry VIII’s reign.
The Anglo-Norman age left its mark on Carlow town in the shape of Carlow Castle, built between 1207 and 1213 AD by William the Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and Lord of Leinster. The castle survived until 1814 when an attempt to convert it into an asylum led to it’s almost complete destruction at the hands of one Dr Middleton. The seventeenth century saw Carlow under the control of the Earls of Desmond with Leighlinbridge providing the main link to the south of Ireland and Munster. For the most part of the eighteenth century, Carlow flourished as a thriving market town, serving a rich farming hinterland.
However, 1798 and the outbreak of the Rebellion saw Carlow once more at war resulting in the massacre of 600 United Irishmen at the hands of the British. The bodies were buried in a pit across the Barrow in Graiguecullen. Called the ‘Croppies Grave’. A memorial was erected one hundred years later which still stands to this day.
Nineteenth-century architecture features prominently in Carlow town and county. Two of the most notable architects were William Vitruvius Morrison responsible for the design of Carlow Courthouse built in 1830 and Thomas Cobden who designed both Ducketts Grove and Carlow’s impressive Cathedral. During this period Carlow also became part of the great railway boom and travellers were able to journey the length and breadth of the county by train.
Smaller towns in County Carlow are also historically significant. Tullow was the seat of the Catholic Bishops of Kildare and Leighlin and was the execution place of Fr Murphy for his part in the 1798 Rebellion. A monument in commemoration of him stands in Tullow’s main square today. Bagenalstown is known for its planned grid structure attributed to the Bagenal Family.
Carlow became the location for the first sugar beet factory in Ireland in 1926, which thrived for eighty years contributing greatly to the economy of the country. In the 1960s international companies like Braun and Lappel chose Carlow as a location for their industries.
As with all other Irish counties Carlow has a rich and varied sporting history. Handball, hurling, football, golf, rowing and horseracing have all been popular here since the eighteenth century. The Carlow branch of the GAA was founded in 1888 to promote Gaelic games and both Hurling and Gaelic Football are played enthusiastically throughout the county. Carlow’s first golf club was formed in 1899 and moved to Oak Park in 1922. Golf has grown to be one of the most popular sports in the county.
Carlow and its environs have also produced many artists and writers throughout the years. Natives of Carlow such as popular children’s writer David Donohue and the multi-talented Val Vousden have contributed to the literary and artistic scene in Carlow. Others have made Carlow their sanctuary as Christabel Bielenberg did on her escape from Nazi Germany in the 1940s or Mim Scala whose electrifying journey in rock n’ roll lead to tranquillity fishing on the River Barrow. George Bernard Shaw even left his mark on Carlow with his donation of the Assembly rooms on Dublin Street now the home to the CANDO office.
A county rich in agriculture and industry, Carlow has much to offer its residents and visitors. Carlow is a vibrant, modern and ever expanding town, and looks to the future with confidence. Cultural and recreational facilities abound and provide an excellent quality of life for young and old. A dynamic and progressive town Carlow is constantly growing and is an attractive location for anyone coming to live and work in Ireland.