About the Project

By carlowtourism • February 8th, 2013

There are a number of significant  ecclesiastical sites in Co. Carlow, perhaps the most important being the Cathedral of Saint Laserian in Old Leighlin and the monastic settlements at St. Mullins, Clonmore and Killeshin. These sites have fascinating histories and contain important architectural and ecclesiastical remains.

Source: CHL Tourism Development Strategy for Co. Carlow 2000 – 2006 pp. 19

In Summer 2008 Carlow County Manager, Mr. Tom Barry, along with a number of interested individuals and agencies formed a Tourism Strategic Planning Group with a view to exploring the potential of heritage and cultural tourism for the county of Carlow. Following deliberation, it was agreed that the group should firstly seek to investigate the potential of developing and marketing an ecclesiastical trail of County Carlow bearing in mind the relevant expertise available within the group structure and the richness and variety of sites available within the county.

It was agreed, that at the time, the ecclesiastical product in Co. Carlow was neither fully appreciated nor developed to its maximum potential. There are a number of sites of considerable interest, which if appropriately interpreted could act as a tool for leveraging further appreciation of this valuable heritage resource and in turn improve visitor numbers and economic benefits for the county.

In the 5th and 6th centuries, Carlow became an important early Christian centre. Throughout the county monastic settlements were founded including the internationally renowned site at Old Leighlin. In 630 A.D. in St. Laserian’s Cathedral, Old Leighlin a significant church synod was held which determined the date for the ceremony of Easter worldwide, the formula is still in use to this day. The village of St. Mullins, where St. Moling’s 7th century monastic settlement was founded is one of Carlow’s finest ecclesiastical sites and the remains of a 10th century round tower may still be viewed there. Other sites of interest include the collection of early Christian antiquities at Clonmore, the site of the former Convent at Aghade Church which was established by Dermot McMurrough, King of Leinster as a sub-abbey of St. Mary de Hoggis in Dublin and the 5th century Romanesque Doorway at Killeshin which is considered the finest in the country.

Many important early religious leaders were either born in County Carlow or received their formal training here before establishing significant religious settlements across Europe including St. Columbanus, the precursor of Irish European Missionaries, who was born in Myshall in c. 540 A.D. St. Willibrord completed his studies at Killogan, Co. Carlow and from here embarked on a mission to the Low Countries where he is still celebrated and revered as the national saint of Luxembourg.

In the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries Carlow continued to develop its ecclesiastical profile with the establishment of Carlow College, Ireland’s oldest Catholic third level institution, Carlow Cathedral and the foundation of the Patrician and Brigidine orders which were to develop into a worldwide network over time. The Adelaide Memorial Church, Myshall was built as a miniature of Salisbury Cathedral in 1912 by John Duguid of Dover, to commemorate his wife Adelaide who died in 1903 and daughter Constance who was killed in a riding accident near the village. Lorum Church of Ireland Church is a particularly fine 18th century granite church with earlier church ruins immediately adjacent. In close proximity to the site is Lorum High Cross and two Holy Wells connected to St. Molaoise (St. Mullins) and St. Laserian (Old Leighlin).

Leighlinbridge is the birthplace of Cardinal Patrick Moran, Australia’s first Cardinal. Clonmelsh Cemetery, located nearby features the gravestones of Walt Disney’s ancestors and a Butler family vault, Carlow man Pierce Butler was a signatory of the American Constitution. In the grounds of Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, Bennekerry is the burial place of Frank O’ Meara, the famous impressionist artist (1853-1888) which features a particularly attractive tomb, designed in a style similar to the medieval Killeshin doorway. The town of Tullow holds a strong connection with Fr. Murphy of 1798 fame and there is a dedicated trail to the aforementioned priest in the Tullow area, while, what are reported to be his last vestments may be viewed in Tullow Museum in the town centre.

Membership of Tourism Strategic Planning Group

Membership of the Tourism Strategic Planning Group reflects key experts and agencies in the county who have an important role to play in the future presentation and development of Carlow’s ecclesiastical heritage offering. Current membership includes:

Name Representative Organisation
Mr. Tom Barry arlow County Manager & Chairperson Tourism Strategic Planning Group
Sr. Declan de Paor Historian and author of St. Moling Luachra
Mr. Gerry Moloney Lecturer – Carlow I.T.
Mr. Dermot Mulligan Curator – Carlow County Museum
Mr. Tom McGrath Registrar – Carlow College & Editor Carlow History & Society
Mr. Martin Nevin Historian & former Editor of Carloviana, former President of the Carlow Historical & Archaeological Society
Ms. Bernie O’ Brien Director of Services – Community & Enterprise, Economic Development &

Corporate, Carlow County Council

Monsignor Kevin O’ Neill President – Carlow College
Ms. Eileen O’ Rourke C.E.O., Carlow Tourism
Ms. Mary Walsh Manager – Carlow County Development Partnership Ltd.
Reverend Gordon Wynne Dean St. Laserian’s Cathedral, Old Leighlin (since retired)

To date the work of the group has included:

  1. compilation of a comprehensive list of 51 ecclesiastical sites and religious attractions within the county which may have the potential to form part of an ecclesiastical trail.
  2. completion of a resource audit in respect of each of those sites based upon the following criteria:

a)       access including disabled access

b)      visitor services on site including public facilities, parking, brochure/information material and tour guides

c)       opening season and admission rate if applicable

d)      details of recorded monuments/protected structures

e)      identification of site ownership and management

  1. Compilation of a high-quality print publication “Carlow – Trails of the Saints” which can be downloaded from this site.
  2. Development of a dedicated website – http://trails.carlowtourism.com

The completion of this audit identified that Carlow has a strong ecclesiastical product which could be developed and marketed to form an ecclesiastical trail. Three routes were established which feature on this website.

Route 1:            North Carlow  - St. Patrick’s Trail

Route 2:            Middle Carlow – St. Lazerian’s Trail

Route 3:            South Carlow – St. Moling’s Trail

In developing this ecclesiastical trail the committee wished to link with the existing strong community involvement at many of the sites. For years a large number of the sites have been maintained by local committees because they appreciate their importance and a number of the sites still have annual services taking place such as pattern days and graveyard masses. The communities are supported in their endeavours by Carlow Local Authorities with a specific grant aid scheme. In accordance with the County Carlow Heritage Plan an annual training day based around the care and conservation of graveyards is coordinated through Carlow County Museum to actively encourage groups to continue to adhere to best principles.

Objectives of the Carlow Ecclesiastical Heritage Trail

The objectives of the initiative are as follows:

  • To ensure survival of a valuable heritage resource within Co. Carlow.
  • To generate enhanced awareness of the ecclesiastical heritage product both amongst the people of Carlow, a key target audience for all activities and by visitors to the area.
  • To analyse and identify sites with the best potential to create a memorable ecclesiastical trail.
  • To position Carlow as an area of significance for ecclesiastical heritage in the context of the South East region and of Ireland.
  • To add a further significant dimension to the range of heritage attractions available within the county.
  • To create a unique trail that will have wide appeal within the heritage market and offer a stimulating and memorable experience to visitors, strongly themed around the concept of ecclesiastical heritage.
  • To stimulate increased tourism flows in and around the rural and urban areas of Co. Carlow.
  • Many of the ecclesiastical sites have a spiritual atmosphere of peace, reconciliation and relaxation. In developing this trail it is an objective of the Tourism Strategic Planning Group that the character of these special places is preserved in its truest form.
  • Heritage has a key role to play in delivering on the national architectural and archaeological agenda. In this regard this project seeks to further the key principles of architectural and archaeological preservation.
  • It is important to note that the objective of the Tourism Strategic Planning Group and the Carlow Ecclesiastical Heritage Trail does not involve the delivery of economic performance through ecclesiastical tourism at all costs, nor is it intended to realise short term tourism gains at the expense of Carlow’s rich ecclesiastical heritage. Rather its objective is about building recognition through the synergies which exist between tourism and heritage. These synergies will provide a suitable platform for the development of a sustainable, authentic, high quality ecclesiastical heritage trail which benefits local, domestic and overseas visitors.

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