The River Barrow is the longest of the grouping of rivers known as The Three Sisters (the other two being The Suir and The Nore). It rises in the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Co. Laois and enters the sea through Waterford Harbour. During the 18th century a plan was put in place to make the Barrow navigable for boats in order to provide a link between the Grand Canal (Dublin and the River Shannon) and the port of Waterford. In order for a river like this to be navigable the development involved the construction of sections of canals and locks to bypass rough sections of the river. The development also required the building of a towpath along the river and the canal sections which was used by horses which traditionally towed the boats and barges. Although it has been a long time since the towpath was used for this purpose, it has been left as a perfect walking trail which also allows people to take in the serenity and peace of this beautiful river.
The Barrow Way is a perfectly flat walk which meanders through farming land as it makes its way south where the surrounding countryside becomes hillier. Along the way the walk will take you through towns and villages and past castles, abbeys and mills.
Your Barrow Way walk with IrelandWays.com starts in the town of Athy at Whites Castle beside Crom-a-Boo Bridge which was built in 1796. The castle was built in 1417 as protection for the town, which at the time sat on the edge of The Pale. If you travelled west of here 600 years ago, you would have been quite literally ‘beyond the pale’.Your first day walking will bring you to the town of Carlow which is a bustling market and college town. Carlow was, until relatively recently, the centre of the sugar industry in Ireland. Close to the river in the town centre you will find the impressive remains of Carlow Castle which dates from the 13th century.
From Carlow, the river continues South passing some wonderful locks, weirs and mills along the way. The river passes through the picturesque village of Leighlinbridge with its 14th century bridge and Norman castle, before reaching Muine Bheag which is also known as Bagenalstown.
Muine Bheag was the site of a major plan by Walter Bagenal to model the town after Versailles in France, however due to changes in transportation links at the time, only the courthouse was built as part of the plan. The canal-side walk past Muine Bheag is particularly lovely with its old mill and raising bridge.
As you continue South you will walk past the quiet village of Goresbridge, which was the scene of a battle during the 1798 rebellion. From here the next point of interest is the town of Borris which is a quaint little estate town, built in support of Borris House.
The last leg of The Barrow Way brings you past the town of Graiguenamanagh where you will find the remains of the 12th century Duiske Abbey, before reaching your final destination of St. Mullins. St. Mullins is set in a beautiful, tranquil bend in the river and is home to the remains of a round tower, a 9th century high cross, a Norman Motte and the graves of some of the rebels killed during the battles of 1798.
Along with the natural vistas and relics of human history, you will be passing through an area which holds an abundance of flora and fauna. Heron, mallards, swans and dippers are common sights and if you are lucky you may see the metallic blue flash of a kingfisher or the splash of an otter.