The Meehan Family
Contributor and Writer
County Carlow is the home of my Doyle and Lynch Ancestors. The Doyle ancestors were from Borris. This Blog is dedicated to them. My great grandfather, Michael Patrick (MP) Doyle was born in Guelph, Ontario, Canada in 1837, but he was so inspired by the stories of Borris and County Carlow that he named is home “Borris”. This Home which is shown below was still standing in 2007 when we visited Guelph but was torn down in 2009.
County Carlow and Borris represented the beauty of Ireland and I can sense that he had the same desire to connect with it as I do. This blog is dedicated to him. Much of the information I have on County Carlow and Borris comes from Wikipedia and an excellent article on Facebook – Carlow. County Carlow Library also sent me some good information on Sacred Heart Church in Borris.
County Carlow (Irish: Contae Cheatharlach) is one of the twenty-six counties of the Republic of Ireland and one of the thirty-two counties of Ireland. It is located in the province of Leinster. It was named after the town of Carlow, which was bulit on the River Barrow. The population of the county is 50,349 according to the 2006 census. Carlow is the 31st largest of Ireland’s 32 counties in area and 30th largest in terms of population.Carlow is the county seat of County Carlow in Ireland. It is situated in the south-east of Ireland, 84 km from Dublin. The population of the town and its environs is 18,204 according to the 2006 census. The River Barrow flows through the town, and forms the historic boundary between counties Laois and Carlow: the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 included the town entirely in County Carlow. The settlement of Carlow is thousands of years old and pre-dates written Irish history. The town has played a major role in Irish history, serving as the capital of the country in the 14th century.
The Carlow area has been settled for thousands of years, evidence of human occupation extends back thousands of years, the most notable and dramatic prehistoric site being the Browneshill Dolmen just outside of Carlow town.
Now part of the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, several early Christian settlements are still in evidence today around the county. St Mullin’s monastery is believed to have been established around the 7th century, the ruins of which are still in evidence today. Old Leighlin was the site of one of the largest monastic settlements in Ireland and the location for a church synod in 630 AD which determined the date of Easter. St Comhgall built a monastery in the Carlow area in the 6th century, an old church building and burial ground survive today at Castle Hill known as Mary’s Abbey. Carlow was an Irish stronghold for agriculture in the early 800s which earned the county the nickname of the scallion eaters. The famines wiped out a lot of the population, cutting it in half.
Carlow Castle was constructed by William Marshal, Earl of Striguil and Lord of Leinster, c1207-13, to guard the vital river crossing. It was also to serve as the capital of Ireland, or more precisely the Lordship of Ireland under King Richard II from 1361 until 1374. This imposing structure survived largely intact until 1814 when it was mostly destroyed in an attempt to turn the building into a lunatic asylum. The present remains now are the West Wall with two of its cylindrical towers. The bridge over the river Barrow – Graiguecullen Bridge, is agreed to date to 1569. The original structure was largely replaced and widened in 1815 when it was named Wellington Bridge in celebration of the defeat of Napoleon’s army by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo in June of that year. The bridge was built across a small island in the river and a 19th century house was constructed on the bridge – this was for a time occupied by the Poor Clares, an enclosed religious order who still have a convent in Graiguecullen. Carlow Cathedral, designed by Thomas Cobden, was the first Catholic cathedral to be to be built in Ireland after Catholic Emancipation in 1829, construction of the cathedral cost £9,000 and was completed in 1833. Beside the cathedral, Saint Patrick’s College dates from 1793. The College, was established in 1782 to teach the humanities to both lay students and those studying for the priesthood. The Carlow Courthouse was constructed in the 19th century. There are still many old estates and houses in the surrounding areas, among them Ducketts Grove and Dunlecky Manor. St Mullin’s today houses a heritage centre.
In 1703 the Irish House of Commons appointed a committee to bring in a bill to make the Barrow navigable, by 1800 the Barrow Track was completed between St. Mullin’s and Athy, establishing a link to the Grand Canal which runs between Dublin and the Shannon. By 1845 88,000 tons of goods were being transported on the Barrow Navigation. Carlow was also one of the earliest towns to be connected by train, the Great Southern and Western Railway had opened its mainline as far as Carlow in 1846, this was extended further to reach Cork in 1849. The chief engineer, William Dargan, originally hailed from Killeshin, just outside of Carlow. At the peak of railway transport Ireland, Carlow county was also served by a railway line to Tullow. Public supply of electricity in Carlow was first provided from Milford Mill, approximately 8 km south of Carlow, in 1891. Milford Mill still generates electricity feeding into the national grid. Following independence in the early 1920s the new government of the Irish Free State decided to establish a sugar-processing plant in Leinster, Carlow was settled on as the location due to its transport links and large agricultural hinterland, favourable for growing sugar beet.
The town is recalled in the famous Irish folk song, Follow me up to Carlow, written in the 19th century about the Battle of Glenmalure, part of the Desmond Rebellions of the late 16th century. In 1650, during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, Carlow was besieged and taken by English Parliamentarian forces, hastening the end of the Siege of Waterford and the capitulation of that city. During the 1798 rebellion Carlow was the scene of a massacre of 600 rebels and civilians following an unsuccessful attack on the town by the United Irishmen, known as the Battle of Carlow. The Liberty Tree sculpture in Carlow, designed by John Behan, commemorates the events of 1798. The rebels slain in Carlow town are buried in the ‘Croppies Grave’, in ’98 Street, Graiguecullen.
Borris, or Borris-Idrone, a village, in the parish of CLONAGOOSE, barony of IDRONE EAST, county of CARLOW, and province of LEINSTER, 3 miles (S. E.) from Goresbridge; containing 671 inhabitants. This place is situated near the river Barrow, on the road from Carlow to Ross: it has a patent for a market on Friday, which is not held, and a penny post to Goresbridge.
Borris House, the noble seat of the late T. Kavanagh, Esq., is situated in an extensive and richly wooded demesne, and commands fine views terminated on the south-east by the imposing range of the Blackstairs mountains. This mansion, which externally exhibits the appearance of an English baronial residence of the 16th century, while every advantage of convenience and splendour is secured within, has been for ages the chief residence of the posterity of Donald Kavanagh, natural son of Mac Murrough, last King of Leinster, whose name and authority he subsequently assumed. In 1642, being garrisoned by the parliamentarians, it was besieged by the Irish, and with difficulty the garrison was relieved and reinforced by Sir C. Coote. In the disturbances of 1798 it sustained two attacks; first, on May 24th, when the insurgents were repulsed by Capt. Kavanagh’s yeomanry corps, with the loss of 50 killed and wounded; and afterwards on June 12th, from a detachment sent against it from Vinegar Hill, on which occasion it was defended with great bravery by a party of the Donegal militia, who compelled the assailants, after burning the out-offices and destroying some houses in Borris, to retire with considerable loss.
At Kilcamney, in the vicinity, an action was also fought, in which the insurgents were routed with the loss of their stores by the king’s forces under Sir C. Asgill. Petty sessions are held here every alternate Thursday, and road sessions occasionally: the court-house was lately erected by Mr. Kavanagh. This is a chief constabulary police station; and there is a small barrack for the accommodation of about 30 men.
Attached to Borris House is a very handsome private chapel, erected by the late Mr. Kavanagh, and open to the inhabitants. In the R. C. divisions this place is the head of a union or district comprising parts of the parishes of Clonagoose, Ullard (county of Kilkenny), St. Mullins, and Ballyellin, and the whole of that of Kiltennel: the parochial chapel is a handsome edifice, lately built at an expense of £2000. There is a school, in which 150 boys and 90 girls are taught: the school-house is a commodious building, erected and fitted up by local contributions amounting to £274. 5. 6., and a grant of £97. 5. 6. from the National Board. A dispensary is maintained in the customary manner; and there is an institution called the Borris Benevolent Society, established about eight years, to which the payment of one shilling monthly entitles each member, in case of sickness, to a weekly allowance of 5s. for the first three months, and of 2s. 6d. afterwards so long as he shall continue sick. At Borris House is preserved the “Figeen,” a curious ornament of silver and tin, found on the demesne; and an ancient horn and a casket, called the Liath-Mersicith, esteemed among the most valuable curiosities in the museum of Trinity College, Dublin, are relics which formerly belonged to the Kavanaghs.
Sacred Heart Church
There is a plaque in Sacred Heart Church, Borris that states: “This church was built AD 1820 J Walsh PP. Enlarged and remodeled AD 1836 J Beauchamp PP”. Also read that the church was remodeled in 1896. My great, great, great grandfather James Doyle married Ann O’Neill on February 2nd, 1797 in Sacred Heart Church. I assume this church was built on the spot of the old Sacred Heart Church.
The modern Parish of Borris comprises the Parish of Kiltennel, and parts of those of Clongagoose, Ullard, St. Mullin’s and Ballyellin. The town of Borris, called Borris Idrone, to distinguish it from other places of the name, is picturesquely situated on the richly wooded slopes adjoining the river Barrow, and at the base of the Blackstairs mountains. The ruins of the Church of Clonagoose, in which Parish the town of Borris is situated, are distant from it about a mile.
One of the most unusual fortresses. Ballymoon Castle was possibly built around 1300 by a member of the Carlow family, Anglo-Normans who acquired lands in Carlow in the late 13th Century. The castle layout is unique it consists of a square courtyard around which there was originally a continuous 2 and 3 story range of rooms. The original courtyard walls are largely destroyed or – as local tradition records – were left unfinished.
The Normans had little control of this area around 1300, and the castle may have been built to defend the Barrow Valley from Irish raids. Although the high walls and cross-shaped arrow loops give it a military character, the high number of garderobes (toilets) and fireplaces suggest it was also designed for comfort. The site of th Great Hall, main public room of the castle, with it’s double fireplace and high windows can be seen along the interior of the north wall.
The river Barrow is about half a mile outside of Borris. It is, of course, excellent for trout fishing. It is also used extensively for boating because it is partly canalised. Another bonus is that the path which runs beside the canal provides easy walking, and access for people in a wheelchair or pushing a pram. After a couple of miles, the canal path arrives at the lovely stone bridge of Graiguenamanagh. This is quite an up-market village, with plenty of mooring for pleasure boats and several excellent restaurants.
The railroad bridge south of town is a remarkable sight.
The following video captures a little of the beauty of the Barrow River.
Mount Leinster rises well over two thousand feet above Borris. It is the tallest peak in the Blackstairs Mountains, which run for fifteen miles or so. The best access to Mount Leinster from Borris is to drive five miles to the Nine Stones, where you can park your car nearly a thousand feet up.
The view North from the top of Mt Leinster. The origin of the Nine Stones is lost in time, but, being Ireland, there is no shortage of stories about their origin. This is probably a good time to mention that stories in Ireland often value enjoyment above accuracy. If you want to get the most out of a story, you might need to relax your critical faculties and just enjoy it. You’re not neccesarly supposed to believe a story, but you are supposed to enjoy it.
The view South from the top of Mt Leinster. Click for a more detailed view (23K) Mount Leinster is, of course, a Mecca for hill walkers. There is the well-blazed Mount Leinster way, or you can walk off the track. Alternatively, a road leads from the Nine Stones to the very top of Mount Leinster, so walking up to the summit is straightforward. You can even push a pram up or walk up on crutches. At the top, you can enjoy views like the photos on this page. No need to worry about cars on this road, it’s normally closed to traffic.
Step House Hotel
James and Cait Coady’s lovely old house on the main street of this pretty village has offered some of the area’s most appealing accommodation for many years and, further to a major redevelopment which has also taken in the family pub next door (in the Coady family for 5 generations), it has re-opened as The Step House Hotel.
Cait has always had a good eye for interior design and the new hotel is stylishly decorated and furnished in upbeat period style, with a mixture of antiques and more contemporary touches.
An impressive foyer sets the tone for handsome public areas that include a fine bar, 1808, (where excellent informal meals are served) with attractive terrace, and The Garden Room, a fine banqueting room that opens onto a landscaped garden and can also used at busy restaurant times, perhaps including Sunday lunch.
Bagenalstown, otherwise known in its Gaelic version as Muine Bheag is sited on a pleasant reach of the River Barrow and derives its name from Walter Bagenal, who in founding the town had visions of mirroring the city of Versailles, in northern France. Bagenalstown is the home of my Co Author and Contributor – Michelle Thomas and is located 13 km north of Borris, County Carlow.
Shortly after he had made an impressive start by building a magnificent square courthouse, his efforts became frustrated due to the re-routing of the coach road away from the town. He left more than enough however, for visitors to enjoy, with handsome stone public buildings including the impressive Courthouse, now a public library.
The arrival of the railway in 1846 rejuvenated the town, and its neo-classical railway station is one of the finest in Ireland. This former mill town made full use of the river to transport grain, beet, coal, turf and Guinness by barge, evidence of which can be seen in its fine industrial architecture. Near the railway bridge on the Borris road is an example of the Carlow fence, a distinctive feature of the Carlow landscape which consists of a decorative fence made of granite pieces, crudely worked to shape and assembled together.
One of the finest views of the town may be enjoyed on the approach road from Leighlinbridge and includes the spire of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church and the fine tower of St. Mary’s Church of Ireland Church. St. Andrew’s Catholic Church was built in 1820 on a site provided by the Newton family, successors to the Bagenals. The stained glass behind the altar is worthy of particular attention. Nowadays, riverside walks, picnic tables and a picturesque lock enchance this fine town which has been twinned with the French town of Pont Pean since 1999
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The following is an Irish Blessing: