PLANNING YOUR CRUISE
TYPICAL DISTANCE COVERED IN ONE WEEK HIRE
If travelling south from our Vicarstown base you could expect to reach the southern limit of the navigation at St Mullins Lock and return to base on a cruise of ten days duration.
If travelling north from our Vicarstown base you could expect to reach Tullamore on the Grand Canal main line and return to base on a cruise of one week duration.
NAVIGATIONAL LIMITS TO HIRE CRAFT
Hire craft operating on the Barrow Navigation and Grand Canal are restricted from passing the navigational limits as indicated by red markers.
THE BARROW NAVIGATION
For IWAI Maps please click here
The Barrow is the second longest river in Ireland. It is navigable for 69 kilometres (43 miles) between Athy and St Mullins, and this stretch is known as the Barrow Navigation.
To enable boats to be towed from the bank, shallow stretches of the river had to be bypassed.
This was done by constructing a series of short canals running parallel to the river. There are 17.7 kilometres (11 miles) of canals with 22 locks on the navigation. The following are the main towns dotted along its banks.
Athy, the ford of Ae, has been an important river crossing from early times and is full of historical interest. Many battles have been fought in Athy since Ae, King of Leinster, fell here in the 11th century.
Northwards from Athy the Grand canal system links the Barrow navigation with Dublin and the Shannon.
The canals which bypass the river rapids or weirs are tranquil oases compared to the swirling waters of the open river. There is a marked difference in the vegetation of the slow moving canals and the deep, fast flowing Barrow.
At Levitstown canal, which is the longest on the river, Duckweed and Yellow Water-lilies are plentiful.
Locks at the end of the cuts (canals), bring the navigation back to the river level. There is a lifting bridge at Levitstown Lock to serve the island formed where the canal was built. Beside the lock there is a fine ruined mill which operated as a maltings until 1943.
The bridge in Carlow is one of the oldest and the lowest on the river. It was built in 1569 and widened in 1815. Carlow is a thriving country town. It has a variety of pubs, restaurants, shops and excellent nightlife. There is a vibrant traditional scene in Carlow where the Gaelic language, traditions and music have undergone a revival and are becoming very popular.
Immediately south of the bridge, the prospect of the river greatly improves.The rush of white water over the weir enlivens the scene. Weirs along the system support small amounts of vegetation where Herons patiently wait for passing fish. Salmon jump the weirs as they pass up river from one level to the next.
CARLOW TO MILFORD LOCK
There is a lovely walk along the grassy towpath to Clogrennan Lock. The boundary hedgerow supports a diversity of species including Guelder-rose, Spindle and Hazel, all of which produce an autumn fruit crop for birds and animals. If you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of the brightly coloured Kingfisher who makes his home along these banks. Beyond the fields hills rise to shelter the valley. At Clogrennan House, the ruins of a Butler Castle are incorporated into the gateway as turrets.
Milford is one of the more attractive stretches along the Barrow Navigation. The three bridges, large mill buildings, fast flowing river, weir, slow moving canal and large wooded area surrounding Milford makes this a picturesque location with much wildlife interest.
Leighlinbridge is an attractive small settlement. The bridge of seven arches, built in 1320 and widened in 1789, is the oldest on the river.
The ruined maltings – there were once seven on the river – bear witness to a busy past when the main cargo on the Barrow was malt. There are some fine walks either side of the bridge on well maintained towpaths which contrast with the diversity and colour of the banks with its Meadowsweet, Buttercups and Willowherb.
The town lies on the east bank of the river and on the west bank large meadows slope down to the river. The canal here was constructed by mill owners and is separated from the river by a long narrow island which is a bird sanctuary. Access to the island is by lifting bridge similiar to that at Milford. The island is well wooded and there is also a ruined mill building and an associated millrace. Local guide to area here
The river now passes through very fertile country with cultivated fields and pastureland. The Blackstairs Mountains with Mount Leinster rise away to the east and Brandon Hill dominates the view to the west.
The unnavigable side of the river is dominated by a diversity of reeds and other acuatic plants. Many Mallard and Moorhen can be found feeding on the vegetation and insect larvae which are abundant. The nine arch bridge at Goresbridge was built in 1756.
BORRIS TO GRAIGNAMANAGH
This is a very attractive wooded stretch of the river with Borris Demesne on the east bank. The large deciduous woodland of Oak, Hazel, Beech, Holly and diverse ground flora is an area of scientific interest of regional importance.
As the river approaches the hills through which it will pass, both banks, especially south of Clashganna, slope steeply down to the river and are attractively wooded with huge sandstone rocks scattered about. Foxglove and the smaller Navelwort grow in profusion at the edges of the rocks. Ballykeenan Lock is the deepest and narrowest on the navigation and is the only one with a double chamber.
GRAIGNAMANAGH TO ST MULLINS
There are seven arches on Graignamanagh Bridge which was built in the 1760’s. Carriglead Lock south of Graignamanagh is the oldest on the system.
About 600 yards south of the lock is a stone chair known as Freney’s chair. Freney was a highwayman who is said to have used the chair as a reference mark when coming down from Mount Brandon which rises precipitously from the thickly wooded west bank.
South of St Mullins the river becomes tidal.