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See and Do at Athy

See and Do

Packed with attractions and filled with fascinating history, the area around Athy and the River Barrow is full of surprises. 

So much of Athy and County Kildare’s appeal lies in its cool, quiet river walks, its rolling green pasturelands, its gentle, almost polished-looking canals. But this is an area of the island that feels packed full of history, heritage and great visitor attractions, too. Away from the water, you’ll find a wealth of incredible sights, landmarks, gardens and fascinating characters from St Brigid, one of Ireland’s patron saints, to Ernest Shackleton, courageous polar explorer. Be transported to the gardens of Japan, gaze on dresses worn by Marilyn Monroe and explore a designer outlet that’s perfect for bargain-hunters.

​The National Stud and Japanese Gardens
Stand on one of the little red humpbacked bridges in the Japanese Gardens in County Kildare, and you could almost be in Kyoto. Laid out by Japanese horticulturalist Tassa Eida, the gardens are designed to explore the Life of Man through trees, plants, flowers, lawns, rock and water. It’s a real escape from the busy world and a place to enjoy a quiet moment of contemplation. Just next door you’ll find more beautiful gardens in the National Stud, thanks to award-winning landscape architect Professor Martin Hallinan. Commemorating St Fiachra, patron saint of gardeners, the focus here is on the Irish landscape in its rawest state. Afterwards, have a walk around the stud and admire the sleek-coated stallions grazing the green paddocks.

Newbridge Museum of Style Icons
It seems like an unlikely location, but this great little museum on the site of Newbridge Silverware’s shop and factory is well worth an hour of your time. Stylishly laid out and creatively displayed, you’ll find everything here from contracts signed by Marilyn Monroe to glorious creations worn by Audrey Hepburn. There’s Diana’s “Revenge” dress, her wedding dress toile and her engagement blouse; a Balenciaga gown worn by Ava Gardener; and an eye-popping Versace frock donned by Victoria Beckham. While here, don’t miss the Newbridge Factory tour to get a behind-the-scenes insight into the production of the silver brand.

Burtown House and Gardens
The serene gardens at Burtown sit just a short distance off the M9, but feel like they’re a million miles away. Overlooked by a beautiful Georgian house, the 10-acre site is full of whimsy and delight with a large herbaceous border, a rock garden, an old orchard and a large woodland garden surrounded by water. The walled vegetable garden has been in continuous use since Georgian times, and today provides produce for the Green Barn restaurant that overlooks it.

St Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare
Sitting on an elevated position overlooking Kildare town is one of Ireland’s most significant ecclesiastical sites, St Brigid’s Cathedral. The name of the town and county can be traced back to this very spot as it’s where St Brigid first established a church in 480 (Kildare in Irish is Cilldara, and means small church). The present structure is built on the remains of a Norman cathedral that was completed in 1230 and can be visited during the summer months for a fee of €2. Also open during the summer is the round tower on the site, which is one of only two round towers in Ireland that can be accessed by the public.

Moone High Cross
Rising to over seven metres, the Moone High Cross is the second highest high cross in Ireland, and boasts both a unique shape and style. Standing proud within the ruins of a medieval church on the grounds of the 5th century monastery at Moone, the cross is decorated with scenes of God coming to help people in need. Among the most striking features are the 12 apostles carved into the base of the west side beneath the crucifixion, but keep an eye out, too, for Daniel in the lion pit!

Shackleton Museum Athy/Athy Heritage Centre
Sitting on Athy’s attractive town square, the Athy Heritage Centre is the site for the world’s only Shackleton Museum. The courageous polar explorer was born close to the village of Kilkea in south County Kildare, and a visit to the museum is a great way of both getting an insight into the history of the area, and more specifically into Ernest Shackleton and his Antarctic expeditions. It’s a small but nicely curated collection, with notable highlights including a sledge and harness from the Antarctic expeditions, as well as an audio visual display that features Frank Hurley’s captivating footage of the Endurance expedition.

Whites Castle and Crom a boo Bridge
Built by Sir John Talbot, Viceroy of Ireland, in 1417 to protect the bridge that curves over the River Barrow, Whites Castle looks like it’s been catapulted in from another era. From certain angles, on the far side of the river, you could still be in the 15th century, and it huge hulking stone walls certainly make their presence felt. While you cannot enter the castle, you can admire it from many angles around the town – it really is an impressive site.

Kildare Village
Tons of shops, loads of places to eat and plenty of parking… When it comes to a shopping day out, it doesn’t get much better than Kildare Village. Everything is very well organised here, with outlet shops from designers ranging from Prada to North Face. It’s small enough not to overwhelm but big enough to host over 100 designer shopping brands.

The Curragh Racecourse
A picture-perfect piece of land, the Curragh is like an equestrian idyll with its soft green grass and gently undulating pastures. And at the heart of it all is the Racecourse, which hosts big racing fixtures including the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, a highlight of the Irish flat racing season. There are lot of smaller race meets throughout the year, meaning that there are tons of ways to experience the galloping hooves, roar of the crowd and huge sense of excitement the Curragh is famous for.

Bog of Allen Nature Centre
Run by the Irish Peatland Conservation Council, the Bog of Allen Nature Centre is a great place for finding out about this unique and fascinating ecosystem. The Bog of Allen is a hugely important part of the Irish landscape and while it is now a fraction of the size it once was, it’s still an enormously valuable wetland system. Step into the Nature Centre here and you’ll experience the interior of a traditional Irish cottage, where a turf fire was the main source of heating and cooking. There are also ancient treasures including bog butter, coins and an ancient dugout canoe, and a exhibition on the future of Irish bogs. Outside the wildlife conservation gardens include flytrap plants, lake and bog habitat reconstructions and a potager garden. A 10-minute walk away, you’ll find the Lodge Bog, a raised bog that comprises water, peat and vegetation, and where you’ll find frogs, bog cotton, curlews and damselflies.

Lullymore Heritage Park
A walk through the woodland at Lullymore Heritage Park is full of surprises – not least of which is coming across a reconstruction of a Neolithic farmstead. This heritage park is a brilliant way to get in touch with the history of peatlands and the lives that sprung up around it, as well as appreciating the ecology of the area where the pastureland of Lullymore meets the Bog of Allen. On top of that there’s a huge outdoor adventure area, 18-hole mini golf, a pet farm, education area and toy train trips. Younger children will enjoy following the treasure hunt, with clues to find letters hidden throughout the park.

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