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.
National Stud and Japanese Gardens
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.
Museum of Style Icons
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
House and Gardens
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.
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
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!
Museum Athy/Athy Heritage Centre
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.