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The county is shaped like India, protruding between oceans of Kilkenny and Wexford to the south. Laois and Kildare border to the NW & N, with Wicklow in the NE. It is landlocked, but the River Barrow runs down its length N-S. The Barrow was navigable enough for Viking longboats and is still navigable to narrow-boats through its Navigation Canal (begun 1761). The river & canal have been crucial to the area's economy for much of history. Being pretty they still pull in tourist money through boating, fishing and walking. Down the SE border march the Blackstairs, a picturesque range of hills culminating in Mt. Leinster (654m) which dominates the landscape in the south of the County. The Mountain has a picnic spot with spectacular views at the Nine Stones. The Nine Stones are nine small stones installed in a line by prehistoric man, no doubt for a good reason. A few years ago I found the ninth stone missing, but they seem to have put it back now. At the summit is a TV mast; hanglider pilots say it's a great spot to break your neck; Celtic Tiger nouveaux-riches have built houses of noteworthy tastelessness; the mountainsides sweep around and you feel a lot higher up than you are. Especially if you go up it on a pushbike. To the west of the County runs the Ridge, which is a plateau of high land. Technically this is in County Kilkenny, but in fact it's given over to isolated barbarians and is best avoided unless you like fighting and incest. Otherwise, the County is flat and dry. Which is odd because its name (from the Irish 'Ceatharlach') means 'four lakes'. Never trust an etymologist.
The inhabitants are culturally distinct from their neighbours. Carlovian English consists largely of aspirated grunts, and sense is conveyed tonally. E.g. Carlovian "HWNH?" = Standard English "How are you?"; "HWNH!" = "Very well thankyou!"; "HWNH" = "Bagenalstown"; and so on. Discourse in the rural areas centres on arable farming (which is more important than livestock to the County's largely agricultural economy). Barley is discussed in some depth. Sugar beet was big until the recent end of government subsidy. Much more fun is the machinery needed for the farming, because your average Carlovian is first and foremost good with his hands, a capable amateur builder and all-in grease-monkey. These traits are inherited, or so we should infer from the prehistoric masonry. The local stone is granite, hard but strong and packed with nuggets of quartz. Ancient Carlovians found ways to split and dress this and made odd structures like the Carlow Fence. A Fence is low, built à la Stonehenge with thin uprights and crossbars of granite. It is unique to the County. While a rustic Carlovian does not usually take an interest in Grand Opera, he can build you an extremely ugly house which will never, ever fall down, no matter how hard you might wish it. Carlow Town is much the same but with fewer farmers. It also has a population of newcomers, both commuters driven far from Dublin by the economic boom and immigrants attracted to Ireland by the same phenomenon. It is not as cosmopolitan as other cities in the South East and lacks attractions like medieval Kilkenny's Arts Week or maritime Wexford's Opera Festival. It is home to a Regional Technical College, the only seat of higher learning in the immediate region, a Division One rugby team, and is the base for the County Carlow's spectacularly unsuccessful Gaelic Football and Hurling teams. Their colours--red, yellow and green--are the only thing the County shares with Rastafarianism.
The youth of the area sometimes say that Dinn Rí (‘The King’s Fort’) in Carlow Town is the County’s premier nightspot. Pubs abound and are all much the same as one another, serving, like every pub in Ireland, a selection of mass-produced lagers along with Guinness/Murphy’s. There is also the local Carlow Brewing Company. They produce a red ale, a "Celtic wheat" beer that tastes suspiciously like Harp (Curim), and a well-regarded stout (O’Hara’s).
Those in search of the eccentric might like to look in on Bagenalstown. Here in the 18th century Sir Walter Bagenal ('Mad Wally' as he should have been known) decided to found a spa and resort for the Dublin Quality. It was to be called 'Versailles'. Consequently the town's public buildings are grandiose and classical, with the station based on Stonehenge, and the Courthouse in the form of a stumpy Greek temple built, of course, in granite. The spa plans came to nothing and the town became a small canal settlement.
Carlow fell in the ancient Kingdom of Leinster, and the MacMurroughs who last held the Kingship still live in the County, in Borris. Dermot MacMurrough is remembered for inviting the intervention of Richard “Strongbow” de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, who began Anglo-Norman involvement in Ireland (1170). The celtic church had a strong presence in the County, notably at Old Leighlin west of the Barrow where Saint Lazerian (a.k.a. Molaise) founded a monastery (c. 600). In the middle ages Vikings and local warlords regularly sacked the monastery, and the monks felt they needed an escape route across the river. Hence the charming little town of Leighlinbridge grew up, which still sports the original elegant Bridge (14th century). There the Lord Bagenal hotel, restaurant and canal marina has an excellent wine cellar. At the southern tip of the County is St. Mullin’s, where another ancient monastic site is augmented by a mott-and-bailey castle probably put up by Strongbow and his boys to guard a bend in the Barrow. But the County’s most notable & culturally appropriate monument is the vast dolmen (a gigantic rock that prehistoric man propped up on other rocks, no doubt for a good reason) at Browneshill on the outskirts of Carlow town.