Route reflects on Grand Canal history


DRIVING over the graceful Palladian bridge over the Barrow, we park just beyond and set off on the Carlow bank, walking downriver. Old warehouses above the bridge evidence the town’s history as a port connected to the Grand Canal.

A broad weir on our right divides the flow; the water nearest us is navigable and along our route locks allow the passage of river traffic. The electricity wires above the weir are hung with shiny discs, to alert swans. Houseboats, power boats and even small yachts are moored alongside the path. We shortly pass the ruins of the Butler castle, and then Upper Tinnahinch Lock, the first of three on our route.

Tarmac gives way to grass. Woods rise on the opposite bank. If the day is damp, (my wife and I walked it under a large umbrella), the mist over the treetops, the silence and the broad, brown river imbue this riverside path with romance, despite the occasional squelching underfoot.

Myriad fishy life thrives beneath the water. Grey herons are seen, stalking the shallows or standing hunched like the silhouetted figure in the Sandeman ad. Grey wagtails, exceedingly dainty as they wag their long tails, are also common, and little siskins, feeding on alder cones in patches of reedy wetland, where crops of green lichens colonise the trees.

We came upon stretches and bends where the canal divided from the main flow. At St. Mullins lock, the canal is raised above the river and there is a sizeable community of boats. The grassy way becomes gravel, with short jetties sometimes reaching from the bank. Despite the deep-water pot-holes, the ambience was still lovely, perhaps even more so as we approached St. Mullins hamlet, with a tall stone mill or warehouse on the river bank. The graceful curve in the river beyond, with woods on both banks, is reminiscent of a Canadian scene. It is unfortunate that the legend “Home Sweet Home” is painted in big, garish letters on the side of a barn just beyond, the river-frontage of which sports ten-foot high portraits of Bob Marley and other graffiti, and Marley’s line, “Stand up for your Rights”. If the good Bob were still alive, I doubt he would “stand up for” the tasteless desecration of the unique beauty and peace with which nature has endowed this scene. From the river bank, with picnic table — and a café, open March to October — we turn left up the road to where the second car is parked.

The pudding-like grassed-over mound on our left is a Norman motte, once ringed by fortifications. Atop the motte, there would have been a low, wooden tower housing soldiers posted to guard the river and extract tolls for the Norman overlord. Opposite is the impressive enclosure of St. Mullin’s Monastery.

The four ruined churches and the many gravestones within, along with the remains of a round tower, were raised centuries after the monastery’s founder, St. Moling died in 697AD. St. Moling was a busy saint, building a monastery to his own designs, still preserved in the Book of Moling, displayed alongside The Book of Kells in Dublin. He personally dug a mile-long watercourse to power a mill, and often ferried travellers across the Barrow. He became Bishop of Ferns and, revered for his learning and holiness, lived to a great age.

Get there

Start point: Start at Graiguenamanagh, 30 mins. south east of Kilkenny (R700 to Thomastown, then R703) and 30 mins. south of Carlow (R448, then R705). A linear walk, a car may be left on the Carlow side of the bridge and a second car in St. Mullins village.

Distance: 8km.


An easy 8 km tow-path walk, part of Carlow’s Barrow Way.

Map: OS 68

*For maps and information on Ordnance Survey products visit:

Club News

Bishopstown Hillwalking Club (bishopstownohc/bhc_membership.html) Mar 13: Purple Mountain, Grade B, 12km, 5.5hrs, ascent 850m Meet Kate Kearney’s Cottage 10.30am; Mar 16: Ballingeary South, Grade D+ 10.5km., 3hrs., ascent 250m., small roads, meet Ballingeary (western end) 10.35am; Mar 16: Comeraghs, Mahon Falls car park to Coumtay, Grade C, 6km, 3hrs., ascent 220m., meet Midleton10am/ Lemybrien 10.45am; Mar 16: Stumpa and Mangerton, Grade B, 13km., 5.5hrs., ascent 900m., meet Molly Darcy’s 10.30am; Mar 17: Hag’s Glen to Cronin’s Yard circuit, Grade C, 8km., 3.5hrs, ascent 200m., meet Fossa church 11am; Mar 17: The Bone—ZZ Path, Grade B, 12.5km., 5hrs., ascent 930m., meet Fossa church 10.15am. (Walks for members only).

Slieve Bloom Walks (

Mar 17: Knockbarron Woods, Grade C, 5km, 2/3 hrs., meet Kinnity Community Centre, 1300hrs (visitors; €5 per adult, children free).

Cork Backpackers Club (

Mar 17: The Reeks/Gap of Dunloe, register Counihan’s Bar, Pembroke St, Cork on preceding Wed. 9pm. Members €50 pa. Meet Counihan’s 8.45am.


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