One of Ireland’s smaller counties, Carlow is overwhelmingly rural, peppered with small villages and farms. The only town of any size is Carlow itself, which has good shopping off its wide open square. Away from the heart of town is a pleasing tangle of early 19th-century streets. The courthouse is a striking replica of the Parthenon, and was supposedly intended for Cork city until a mix-up of documents bestowed upon Carlow one of its grandest buildings.
Carlow’s castle lies stranded amid modern housing schemes by the Barrow River. The two remaining round towers and a section of curtain wall date from the 13th century. The rest was, bizarrely, destroyed in 1814 by a local doctor trying to convert the site into a hospital for the mentally ill, with the aid of high explosives. The early 19th-century Gothic Cathedral of the Assumption, one of the first Catholic churches built after the Emancipation Act, was designed by Thomas Cobden and is topped by an impressive lantern tower. The area around Carlow has much to offer, not least a prehistoric portal tomb 2 miles east of the town. Religious sites dot the countryside as well as gardens to visit.