"Altogether, we had a incredible time on the river. Being outside on water surrounded by a beautiful landscape all day with hardly meeting anyone at all (and those we met being utterly nice and helpful) made for a very “active relaxing” holiday. Thanks to Charlie’s great organisation we did not encounter any problems. Though we were on the two of us in the boat, we never felt lost. Thanks so much for the trip!"
- Julia and Jochen, Germany, October 2012
About our canoe hire packages
The Barrow river is definitely one of the most underrated gems in western Europe. I have paddled this fascinating and interesting river from close to source to sea on many occasions over the last 20 years. It's like going to your favourite uncle's farm, time and time again. It plays with you, yet holds you safe. It provides you with surprise after surprise. Always something different each time you return. It is the host of a hundred and one amazing stories. It is always fun and often very exciting. Paddling through its land is rewarding all the way. Each little town or village so proud of its heritage so eager to welcome you. Castles and ring forts, ancient dolmens, big old mills from a bygone era. Pubs, little grocery stores, the occasional passing walker on the tow path once used by the draft horses to pull the small barges full of curiosities up and down the country. The river itself is a living memory of the navigation and trade route it once was and you are reminded of this each time you pass or shoot one of the 26 Weirs. The old Locks and lock keepers houses engage you as you reflect on what life was like for the family that lived the river way of life.
And when you consider that the last Guinness Barge only stopped delivering its precious cargo just 50 years ago along this waterway, its hard to believe that you can now paddle 70km of intimate navigation and chances are you may not encounter one moving motorised craft of any description.
(I may start you a bit further up river but here is a sample of what's waiting for you to explore.)
Day 1 will start in Athy, Co. Kildare.
Before you get on the water I suggest a visit to the local Athy Heritage Centre-Museum. This centre has the only permanent exhibition anywhere devoted to Shackleton. Highlights include an original sledge and harness from his Antarctic expeditions, a 15-foot model of Shackleton’s ship Endurance, an exhibition of unique Shackleton family photographs and an audio visual display featuring Frank Hurley’s original film footage of the Endurance expedition.
This scale model replica of Sir Ernest Shackleton's 'Endurance' was used extensively in the making of the highly acclaimed Television drama 'Shackleton' starring Kenneth Branagh.
Now on the water having entered the river just below White's Castle head downriver, destination - Carlow.
Along the way you will pass Grangemellon Castle once the home of Handsome Jack St. Ledger after whom the Classic English race was named. A little furter on we will pass Levitstown Mill
Rest a while at Maganey bridge and have some lunch and God willing wash all that down with a pint at the local Three counties pub. Then off again to view those same 3 counties enroute to Carlow. Starting in Co. Kildare we will be in county Carlow after a couple of leisurly miles and a bit of whitewater and then of course Co. Laois forms our western bank.
Also along the way you will be able to view Grange Castle and a little further down Shrule Castle a former home of William Hartpole the ninteenth century historian.
As you make your approach to Carlow, paddle quietly past Bestfield Lock so as not to disturb the spirits that haunt the channel. In the days of commercial traffic, boatmen who rested nearby told of strange knocking on the hulls of their barges at night.
Now in Carlow tie up at the boat house and head off to explore all that this buzzing market town has to offer.
A suggestion of accommodation in Carlow would be The Dolmen Hotel. Its a little paddle out of the town ( 15mins) but the canoes can be pulled up on the bank at the property and left overnight - no worries. Town then is only a 5 min taxi away.
Suggestions of things to do in Carlow:
- The visual centre for contemporary art and George Bernard Shaw Theatre.
- Visit Brownes Hill Dolmen the largest in Europe
- Visit Carlow brewing company and sample on of the best beers in Ireland then check out some of the famous Carlow pubs like Dinn RI, Tullys, Scrags and McLoughlins.
- The Carlow art collection.
- The farmers market.
- Carlow has plenty of excellent restaurants, pubs and varied night life so be prepared for a late one.
Start and finish times each day are flexible – your choice. However it is envisages that you will do approx 5 hours of paddling daily.
Leaving Carlow, your destination is Bagnalstown. A few miles south you come first to Milford - a beautiful and picturesque river crossing.
Carlow was the first town in Ireland to receive electric street lighting (circa 1890) as a result of genny wheel installed in the mill buildings here.
Continuing south we pass close to Old Leighlin and you can arrange a visit to this site later in the day if required.
Your next port of call is the town of Leighlinbridge. This beautifully maintained little village was the birthplace of John Tyndall in 1820 who went on to make a huge contribution to the science of physics. In fact it was he who first coined the phrase 'physicist'.
The bridge here is the oldest on the river - built in 1320. A ruined Black castle still stands sentinel at the bridge. However it is a shadow of its former self as Cromwell almost razed it to the ground after centuries of guarding this strategic river crossing. Just off the river is the Lord Baganel Hotel a must for a bowl of seafood chowder and a freshly made sandwich on mouthwatering homemade bread. -Not to be missed. Probably washed down by a pint of the Black - in honour of the castle of course.
You will have a couple of weirs to shoot but Bagenalstown is only a few more miles downriver.
The English name Bagenalstown came from Lord Bagenal, who based the town on Versailles in France, and the town's courthouse resembles that of Versailles. Bagenal built the town on the River Barrow to allow for trade and access to the town. He originally wanted the town to be called "New Versailles".
Suggestion for accommodation - Orchard Grove B&B or The Lord Bagenal Hotel.
Things to do and see:
- Dunleckney Manor
- Ballymoon castle
- Ballyloughan Castle
- Finish the day with a bit of trad music at Lawlers
You should have the hang of it by now - well hopefully, because from here on you will encounter more and more of the white stuff -water. Today will finish at Clasganny a renowned centre of whitewater training and fun.
The first weir we have to shoot is Fenniscourt and this is followed soon after by Slyduff the oldest weir on the navigation. Then on to Barracore with its impressive burnt out mill
Nearby, Mount Loftus house and 26 self catering cottages was offer on the market for a mere 1.5 m at the start of the recession. The project remains unfinished. Into Goresbridge
Along the way you will be passing through beautiful, wild rural countryside. encountering many weirs which you can shoot (your choice). Also you will travel along some of the old navigation used by the Guinness barges of the past and see many of the old lock houses. Typical wildlife - Herons, Kingfishers, dippers, duck, swans cormorants and egrets and I could go on ...... did I mention the otters.
Starting below the beautiful 9 arch bridge in Goresbridge in Co. Kilkenny your tour kicks of with a great bit of excitement as you shoot the weir below the village. The river then gently turns through a sweeping right hand bend as the 200 year old Barrow navigation lock house comes into view. Lower Ballyellen lock house is located just across the river from Barrowmount House - the home of the Gore family from 1710 to 1863. Sir Ralph Gore built the bridge in 1756 and the town was named after the family.
Paddling on through serene and majestic pine woods on the right and the old horse towpath on our left we soon arrive at Ballytiglea Weir. The weir itself is low enough but provides a stunning backdrop to a contemporary wooden hunting lodge which looks on from across the flood plain.
Once over this man made dam which backs up the water level to maintain the navigation your next river section is reasonably shallow. The water squeezes between Granite boulders as it drops towards a left hand turn and enters a more agricultural hinterland. Up ahead is Ballytiglea bridge - a five arch granite structure which carries the Borris to Graignamanagh road over the Barrow river. The exact date of this bridge is unknown but it was on Taylers and Skinners road map of 1783.
We will shortly be entering the Borris Demesne but first we have to shoot the weir and negotiate the rapids below. The safer drops are first leaving the high drop for those of you with a little more appetite for adrenaline further along. You will be going down the rapids before you know it - watch out for the plum trees all along the left bank. No really you should try and avoid them or you might take a dip. Anyone wishing to avoid this whole ordeal can of course take the navigation channel and meet up with the river further down where the river is placid and winds it way through the quiet oak woods of the Borris house estate.
Borris Demesne is the seat of the MacMorrough Kavanagh family, descendants of the high kings of Leinster. One of the best known members of this family was Art OG MacMorrough Kavanagh a fine solider who waged incessant warfare against Richard II and his English forces in Ireland. He had many close escapes from capture, and finally died in New Ross in 1417 from poison administered, it is said, by a jealous woman. He was buried at St. Mullins and his funeral procession was said to have stretched the 6 miles from New Ross to the Graveyard.
Another well known member of the family was Morgan, who served somewhat unwillingly in the army of Fredrick the Great - King of Prussia. He was said to have been the largest man in Europe and Fredrick allowed him to visit his homeland on condition that he would return with his four brothers whom he said were bigger and finer men than he. Safely back home Morgan Prussia, as he became known, used to climb nearby Brandon hill on the anniversary of his return each year and make a royal salute to Fredrick.
A remarkable nineteenth century member of the family was Arthur or the Incredible Mr Kavanagh.
It is rare in itself to find a story of coming out of Ireland about a good landlord. But such a story becomes legendary when the landlord-hero happens to be a man born without arms or legs! Starting life with those two staggering handicaps, in the mid-19century, when medical science was still primitive, Arthur Kavanagh lived a more than normal life. Armless he wrote letters and diaries, he drew and painted. Legless, he rode horseback across Europe and Asia and became a skilled huntsman. His adventures in the far reaches of Russia, Kurdistan, Persia and India would have challenged the resources of an able-bodied man.
He was a skilled yachtsman and at the age of thirty-five, having become a member of the British parliament he frequently moored his small sailing craft outside the House of Commons having navigated the Barrow, Irish Sea, English Channel and Thames Esturary.
With none of the advantages of plastic surgery or artificial limbs, Arthur relied on nobody but himself to help him surmount his disabilities. The story of The Incredible Mr. Kavanagh is truly an inspiration for all
Moving on we will shortly be stopping at Bun na h'aibhinn where the mountain river enters the Barrow. Pulling the canoes up on the bank its a short walk within the Borris estate to the final resting place of The incredible Mr Kavanagh who died on Christmas day 1889.
From here its a short walk to up to Borris House where you will be greeted and brought on a tour of the house by a member of the Kavanagh family. (This must be pre arranged) This beautiful and well maintained house has had many famous names as long stay guests such as Mick Jagger and the Stones, Nick Cave, The Cranberries and various other members of the music fraternity. It has also been the venue of quite a few society weddings. The tour is very interesting as the house has many fascinating stories to tell of its sometimes troubled history.
The paddle through the ancient estate is quickly followed by some some excellent, playful white water with the weir at Clashganny and the double drops at Ballykeenan weirs and rapids.
Things to do later:
- Visit Borris House
- Have a pint in O Sheas then Joyces the Daltons the back to Joyces and back to O Sheas again and then finally the last on or as we say in Ireland "DEOCH an DORAS".
Starting where you finished at Clashaganny. Nothing like a quick dip to clear your horizons, right ?
Follow along after all this excitement with a paddle through the pine forest – as you make a quiet entrance into historic Graignamanagh.
A very old eel weirs is your last obstacle. Situated in the middle of the river it channels the water between two walls where the eel cage was lowered into the flow nightly. This type of structure was used extensively throughout the major rivers in Ireland to harvest both fish and eels and was a valuable and profitable asset to any family who operated one.
Our route ends in Graiguenamanagh, a picturesque abbey town and a popular boating and craft centre. Overlooking the River Barrow is Duiske Abbey founded by Norman monks from Stanley Abbey, Wiltshire in 1204. The "Early English" design boasts a lofty nave and it is the largest of Irish Cistercian monastery churches.
Stop off here and have a look around and a bit of lunch. There is a beautiful old abbey and some very quaint shops and pubs.
Leaving Graig we now to St Mullins. There is some incredible scenery along the way as the mountains on either side close in and the river gorge narrows. You will also have to shoot some excellent drops, weirs and rapids. It will take a further 2 hours to reach the tidal section where you can pull in for the night.
Things to do and see: Remains of 6th century St Mullins abbey.
Duiske Glass and crafts
You can stay just outside the village in a local B&B with amazing views.
The next bit of river is a tidal section to New Ross taking approx 4 hours with beautiful enclosed wooded hillside banks. You have to catch an outgoing tide so if required I could transfer the group to the River Nore for an excellent trip from Thomastown to beautiful Inistigoe passing through the beautiful Mount Juliet estate along the way.
This is just a sample of the varied and interesting atmosphere this river creates for the adventurous traveller. If you require further information or clarification on anything please write to me I am only too happy to help.
Thanks, see you on the river, - Charlie
For those who want to camp wild we will provide you with a tent.
- Canoe rental and canoe transportation
- Dry Barrels
- Safety equipment
- Guide book
Minimum 2 people
Donal Carroll from Bushcraft Ireland and his friends rented canoes from Go with the Flow this summer (2012) for a long weekend on the Barrow:
Sincere thanks for the rentals you gave us on the weekend. Everyone had a great time and we really enjoyed ourselves. Thanks for providing the additional gear too. We left the guide book in the blue barrel.
I hope we can rent off you again soon
Fiona Penny along with her husband and teenage son and daughter spent a week on the Barrow river in Summer 2011:
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?
We booked this self-guided canoeing holiday on the River Barrow as a bit of an offbeat last minute adventure. Having never personally canoed before, and with a husband and 2 teenagers who have weekend canoed once, it was definitely an adventure heading off into the unknown. We were given two canoes between the 4 of us and immediately our son and daughter paired up (in the lighter more manoeuvrable canoe I hasten to add). Seeing how they interacted and depended upon each other to navigate the river with its weirs and rapids was so memorable and we all felt a sense of loss when we finally roped the canoes down the last weir. As a family, the sense of teamwork was really noticeable. We were lucky and managed to shoot a few of the weirs lower down the river with Charlie the owner as a welcome guest on one of our days - utterly hilarious watching my husband disappear backwards down the fish channel without our canoe or our son grumpily watching his sister laughing whilst shooting a weir on her own once he had unstuck the canoe. Occasionally we managed to stop the loud singing from our children and caught sight of kingfishers, herons, cormorants and all manner of wildlife. The river is very unspoilt, sometimes overgrown and undeveloped - you can go days only seeing 1 or 2 other boats. A fantastic family holiday - so glad we booked.
2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?
Buy the 'Goodly Barrow' by T F O'Sullivan and this, combined with trusting that Charlie the owner will organise everything, is all you need. On Irish rivers nothing is over-controlled, regimented or signposted, and the local knowledge and tips contained within the book and Charlie are invaluable. Enjoying my creature comforts, we stayed in hotels overnight and this would be my preferred option. We got some super upgrades and the friendly welcome from every place we stayed was superb. Eating out seems expensive so make sure to budget for this and ask for recommendations from Charlie. With common sense you will negotiate all the weirs easily even though at first with all the noise of rushing water and uncertainty they can appear daunting. Take your time, scope out each weir and you will feel a great sense of accomplishment with every one tackled. One other tip - take proper wet shoes with a good grip with you, the firm footing they provide is a must when clambering over the weirs with your canoe.
3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?
Absolutely! I had not appreciated before this trip how unpopulated most of Ireland is. When you leave each village or town make sure you take your lunch with you each day - there are no hostelries along the river banks and the next place you come to in a days paddling will be your evening stop. Every village seems to have some form of deli to obtain sandwiches etc so you need to organise this for yourselves each day. The scenery is lovely, becoming more mountainous and wooded the further you travel but you are adding no pollution to the river or its environs and you definitely benefit an obviously struggling local economy following the collapse of the Celtic Tiger economy.
4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?
Go With The Flow is a very apt name for the company. If you adopt that as your motto you will get the most out of the trip. We had a wonderful time and being someone who usually plans everything to the nth degree it was great to leave all the organising to someone else. Charlie the owner will work with you to make it happen. If you say where you need to be and when he just sorts it all out. You will need to be fairly fit as there is some yomping around making sure the canoes are secure at the end of every day but don't be put off - it is a great holiday for families and friends.
Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?
**** 4 stars! Some wonderful memories, I would not hesitate to recommend it to a friend.
Sophie and Rachel from Dublin hired canoes for a trip down the Barrow in July 2011:
"I recently spent 5 days holiday, with my sister, paddling and camping down the river Barrow.
It was a fantastic experience in so many ways. Firstly the landscape was stunning. All along the river is beautifully kept countryside. There are many places one can pull up the canoe, hop out and have a look around. There are also lovely small, picturesque villages along the way where you can stop and pick up supplies. I have been on holidays before where it can be difficult to find places to camp, not so with this holiday. One can pretty much camp anywhere along the way. If you like it quiet and isolated it is nice to camp on the opposite side of the river to the river-walk way. But if you prefer to have some banter with the odd fisher or walker you can camp on the trail side. At night we lit a fire and cooked up our food. Nobody bothered us and the people we did meet were very friendly and helpful. We were not very experienced paddlers and had brought a lot of gear with us so we generally walked the boat down the weirs, much easier (and requires wellies or runners as the rocks are slippy), but more adventurous types could take them in the canoe. The choice is yours to make. We also took it fairly easy taking 5 days to get to our destination, more experienced travelers could do it in less. It depends on how you like your holidays. So much freedom with this type of holiday.
The experience was one of enormous satisfaction as we charted our way down the river from Athy to St Mullins. I would definitely advise anyone considering this trip to get the book "Goodly Barrow" recommended by the company, Go with the flow - River Adventures. It gives detailed descriptions of all the weirs along the way. It is also full of interesting local folklore.
I will most certainly be enjoying this trip again in the future, the river Barrow is an absolute treasure to have discovered. If you are considering this holiday,pray for good weather, as it really enhances the experience. My sister who was with me had this to say:
'We had the most amazing time. I've travelled the world over the last couple of decades and I've seen some amazing places. But who knew we had this treasure on our own doorstep? Everything about the trip was incredible - the people we met, the landscape, the adrenalin, the "away from it all" feeling throughout! Even the weather co-operated, which made it all the more enjoyable. Will defo be back for more first chance I get.'
We would definitely give this holiday 5 out of 5 stars."