County Carlow is among Ireland’s smallest counties in terms of both area and population (just over 55,000 people in 346 square miles), but it also houses some of Ireland’s most beautiful ruins and gardens. Located in the province of Leinster and to the south east of Dublin, County Carlow offers a wonderful getaway destination and even boasts Ireland’s national contemporary art center and its own historical museum. County Carlow is also known as “The Dolmen County” for its ancient history and Neolithic ruins that dot the countryside. So pack up and get traveling! Here are our top 7 places to visit in County Carlow.
This megalithic portal tomb predates recorded Irish history and is thought to date from the Neolithic period, though the site has never been formally excavated. With a granite capstone weighing more than 100 tons, this massive structure is actually among the heaviest and largest portal tombs found anywhere in Europe.
DELTA SENSORY GARDENS
The Delta Sensory Gardens are the first of their kind in Ireland, offering 2.5 acres of therapeutic sensory experiences for adults and children with disabilities, including a musical fountain, game garden, and sculpture garden. This tranquil space, opened in 2007 in conjunction with the Delta Centre, founded in 1990 to aid adults with disabilities, is comprised of 16 unique gardens accessible to people of all abilities designed to both stimulate and soothe the senses, making it a perfect place for a fun family day in a safe, calm environment.
One of the most photographed ruins in Ireland, Duckett’s Grove was the 19th century Gothic revival home of the Duckett family, who lived in the house until 1916 when the wife of the last remaining Duckett heir vacated the premises and turned it over to land agents. The agents in turn lent it to the IRA for use as a base during the War of Independence and Irish Civil War. But it wasn’t its role as a military base that turned the estate house into a ruin – the IRA actually left it in prime condition because of the generosity and fairness with with the Ducketts had treated their tenants – but a mysterious 1933 fire, the origin of which has never been determined. Today, it is a public park, having been refurbished in 2005 by the Carlow County Council, who rebuilt the walled garden and stabilized much of the structure to make it accessible to all.
CARLOW COUNTY MUSEUM
Located in the historic center of Carlow town on College Street, the Carlow County Museum is free of charge and open year-round, offering four rooms of artifacts, history, and other ephemera from the history of County Carlow. Originally founded in 1973 by the Carlow Archaeological and Historical Society, the museum was relocated to its current, larger space in 2012, the better to show off its historical items. Some of the most fascinating include the last cigarette smoked by Irish rebel Kevin Barry, who was executed in 1920 for his role in the War of Independence, the 19th century hand-carved oak pulpit from the Carlow Cathedral, and items related to Captain Myles Kehoe, who was killed in the Battle of Little Big Horn.
Constructed in the 13th century, Carlow Castle is one of the finest ruined castles in Ireland, having accidentally been blown up in 1814 by a doctor who wanted to turn it into an asylum. Though only the western wall remains, its location near the River Barrow and beautiful grounds make it one of the best places to visit if you’re a history or architecture buff.
VISUAL CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ART
Opened in 2009 on the grounds of St. Patrick’s, Carlow College in Carlow town, The Visual Centre for Contemporary Art is a beautiful modernist building constructed of concrete, steel, and glass that houses Ireland’s national contemporary art center as well as the George Bernard Shaw Theatre. The building was designed by British architect Terry Pawson, who drew inspiration from the many old factories in the area. The main gallery within the structure is Ireland’s largest exhibition space and houses rotating exhibitions featuring local and international artists.
ALTAMONT HOUSE AND GARDENS
Considered “the jewel in Ireland’s gardening crown,” Altamont Gardens in the town of Tullow are well worth a visit. Located on the grounds of Altamont House (constructed in 1700) along the banks of the River Slaney, these gardens boast an Ice Age-era glen, bog garden, and arboretum, along with a beautiful planting of oak trees, many of which actually predate the house itself by over 100 years.
Have we left your favorite County Carlow spot off our list? Have you been to any of these top sites yourself? Let us know in the comments below!