(extract from the Gordon Bennett Rally 2011 programme)
The River Barrow is Ireland’s second largest river system, running for 192km from its source in the Slieve Bloom Mountains to the sea. From Athy in Co Kildare to St Mullins in Co Carlow the Barrow is a river navigation with lateral canals bypassing the weirs. Winding its way through peaceful woods, fertile valleys and picturesque villages, the Barrow is used by boating enthusiasts as well as anglers and walkers. If hiring a boat, hire companies will cater for your needs and as you travel along the 65 kilometres you will be assisted through the locks by lockkeepers. The speed limit is 6km/h on the lateral canals and 11km/h on the river sections; however with the variety of countryside and scenic views, speed is likely to be the last thing on your mind.
Waterside towns offer full services to boating visitors. Carlow, the largest town, provides a range of facilities to cater for the growing demand, but wherever you are, you’ll never be short of a place to moor and enjoy the local hospitality. There are opportunities for canoeing, with many people hiring canoes or bringing their own. Try a short day trip or travel the full distance over a long and energetic weekend. Rowing clubs along the Barrow offer Junior and Senior opportunities. With its beautiful setting, mountain views and wooded banks, there is no better place to let the weight of the world fall from your shoulders. Relax on board and watch the banks drift lazily by.
An essential part of the experience is walking the Barrow Way, from the summit level of the canal at Lowtown to St. Mullins. Take the opportunity to walk above the lock at Clashganna for a magnificent view over the lock and the surrounding countryside. Anglers have a rich and varied choice on the Barrow, with both game and coarse fishing. Brown trout, perch, tench, and bream are just a few of the species to be found, and several areas are renowned for their stocks. Between Goresbridge and Graiguenamanagh brown trout up to 2lbs can be caught, while abundant stocks of pike, up to 20lbs, can be taken along the entire waterway.
Many of the buildings along the Barrow are mills; some of them still use the water current to turn turbines. While some mills are new, many are examples of old traditional mills which relied on the Barrow Navigation and the Grand Canal for the transportation of flour to Dublin. Waterside events mostly take place between May and November and include walking festivals, regattas, music and arts festivals. The annual events not to be missed are the Carlow Regatta in June, the Athy Bluegrass Music Festival in July and the Bagenalstown and the Graiguenamangh River Festivals in August.
If you want to shop and restock there are several towns and villages along the route, all offering the opportunity for an enjoyable day out or an entertaining evening in. Of course Ireland is famous for its food and drink, and you’II have plenty of choice along the Barrow Navigation. Canal-side inns are to be found near locks and mooring berths and the picturesque villages cater to all tastes. Leighlinbridge, Bagenalstown, Goresbridge and Graiguenamanagh all stand out, but there’s something for everyone wherever you are.