One of the great things about the village of Leghlinbridge is it’s right on the banks of the Barrow River. The Barrow River is Ireland’s second longest river at 120 miles long and starts in the Slieve Bloom mountains. It along with River Suir and River Nore form a sisterhood of rivers, which all merge together to empty out in the Celtic Sea in Waterford. The river passes seven towns on its trip to the sea. The Barrow River is a key part of a transportation network that has been used for the last 100 years to ship goods to Dublin and away from the rich farmlands of Carlow, Wexford, and Waterford.
The Barrow is much more than a pretty river though; it’s actually an engineering marvel. By building the Grand Canal, which connects to the waterways of Dublin to the Barrow River in Kinsale, it literally connects one side of the Ireland to the other. Using a series of canals with weirs , locks, and gates, it allows boat and barge traffic to traverse back and forth.
What’s a Weir you ask? Great question, I had no idea at first either. The definition via Wikipedia is A weir /wɪər/ or low head dam is a barrier across the horizontal width of a river that alters the flow characteristics of the water and usually results in a change in the height of the river level.
Ultimately they are little dams that water is meant to flow over, creating nice waterfalls, and controlling the river flow, but more importantly, the river level. By having these weirs, and then gates and locks, you create a system in which boats can travel up and down the river. Then you have a wonderful trail going along the river and canals, originally for donkeys to pull barges filled with goods.
There are lock houses at every lock, and there are over 23 locks on the trail. Most of the houses are stone ruins, but some are still lived in, and a few are downright gorgeous. I loved all these little buildings along the trail. Back in the day a Lock keeper would live there running the locks so boats could go back and forth. Usually they were married and the wife would help clear out the drainage canals and maintain the locks. Hard work, but steady pay.
Though it has not been used commercially since the 1960’s, it is now maintained for pleasure craft and a great trail. Starting in Robertstown, Co. Kildare, the trail runs more than 74 miles(120 km), all the way to St. Mullins, Co. Waterford. In general it is a neatly maintained path, though there are some sections that can be a bit of an ankle breaker.
When I moved to Ireland I had already signed up for the Dublin Marathon, but I had not trained that much. So this trail was a blessing for sure. For one thing, you won’t find me running on the roads here, no way in hell. Way too dangerous, what with the high hedges, twist and turns, and rain and fog. So having a safe, level path, at my doorstep was wonderful. The scenery is great too, with rolling hills, old buildings, locks, plenty of nature, and farms. I have seen everything from herons, sheep, cows, horses, cormorant, hawks, kingfishers, and lots of dogs on the trail. There are otters out there but I have not been fortunate enough to see them. I plan on writing a bit on each section I ran, conditions and all. When I started running the trail, I had decided that I was going to run all 75 miles of it. I am now over 50 miles in give or take, and have one last leg to do.
Wish me luck!
This is a video from the “Hurricane”