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Notes on County Carlow

Reactions to the destruction of Carlow Castle. From an Illustration by Derry Dillon, extracted from Past Tracks (2021).

The stories of a man born without limbs who became an explorer, as well as a Czech engineer who invented the water-bike, the murder of a Hollywood director, the prince of Antwerp who made Carlow his home, the crazy doctor who blew up Carlow Castle and the mystery of one of the world’s biggest ancient monuments. Extracted from Past Tracks, with Irish translations by Jack O’Driscoll.




Franz Schwatschke, Water-Bike Inventor


Ireland’s first sugar-processing plant was established in Carlow in 1926 and took in 79 consecutive beet harvests before its closure in 2005. One of its first engineers was Franz Schwatschke from Moravia in the present-day Czech Republic. Although he did not speak English, Franz settled in Carlow and married Charlotte Meredith, the daughter of a prominent land agent. Blessed with a tremendous talent for solving technical problems, he invented various electric motors and transformers, as well as the world’s first water-bike, which he tested on the River Barrow but never patented.


Brownshill Dolmen


The Brownshill Dolmen, just east of Carlow town, is a 6,000-year-old man-made burial tomb. Its massive, weather-beaten granite capstone is estimated to weigh a whopping 103 metric tonnes.  That’s about the same weight as seventeen fully grown Indian elephants or a Boeing 757 jet. If the All Blacks and the Lions rugby teams were to unite with the hundred strongest National Football League players from the USA, they would struggle to nudge the Brownshill capstone by an inch. So how did they get the capstone up there?


Carlow Castle, as depicted in ‘Antiquities of Ireland’ (1792) by Captain Francis Grose. See here for a full history.

Lionel, Prince of Antwerp


In 1361, Lionel of Antwerp, Governor of Ireland (and son of King Edward III of England), ordered the Exchequer to be relocated from Dublin Castle to Carlow Castle. When he moved the Court of Common Pleas to Carlow the following year, the castle became home to a sheriff, a constable, a man-at-arms, two lawyers and a chief serjeant, as well as numerous money-collectors, clerks and eight archers. Both the Exchequer and the Court returned to Dublin after Lionel left Ireland in 1367. He died soon afterwards, aged 29, having allegedly been poisoned by his Italian father-in-law. For more on Carlow Castle, see here.


The Blasting Doctor


The stone fortress at Carlow Castle was built by William Marshal, the greatest (and richest) knight of his generation. His wife Isabel was the sole heiress of the Norman baron Richard de Clare (Strongbow) and Aoife, the daughter of Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster.

Completed in 1213, Carlow’s central keep rose 70 feet high and was flanked by four drum-towers. In 1814, the castle was bought by Dr Philip Middleton who planned to convert it into a psychiatric asylum. When he tried to widen its windows with blasting powder, the explosives caused the two eastern towers to collapse, along with three quarters of the adjoining walls. Amazingly nobody was hurt. (See here for more).


Murder in Hollywood, 1922


Carlow native William Desmond Taylor directed 60 silent films before his sensational murder in Los Angeles in 1922. His father was the first captain of Carlow’s Volunteer Fire Brigade. Born at Newgardens on the Athy Road, Taylor spent his childhood at Elms House (now The Elms), near the Seven Oaks Hotel. Following a row with his father in 1889, the 18-year-old sailed for the US and went to work on a dude ranch in Kansas. By 1914, he was directing films with icons such as Mary Pickford, as well as the first screen adaptations of ‘Tom Sawyer’, ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and ‘Anne of Green Gables’ (now better known as ‘Anne with an E’.) He was shot dead in a case that remains unsolved over a century later.


The Remarkable Mr Kavanagh


Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh, P.C., M.P. (1831-1889)

Arthur Kavanagh, the Member of Parliament for Carlow from 1868 to 1880, was born at Borris House in 1831 with stumps instead of forearms and lower legs. His well-to-do mother insisted he be treated just like her other children and the boy grew up to be an intrepid traveller, as well as a noted sailor, a keen angler, a passionate huntsman, an amateur photographer, a best-selling author and a father of seven. In his twenties, he travelled overland from Scandinavia to Persia (Iran) and worked as a postman on the west coast of India. Listen to Turtle’s 2022 podcast about Arthur here.


The Hanging of Lucinda Sly


On 30 March 1835, 10,000 people gathered on the streets of Carlow to witness the last public hanging that ever took place in the town. The luckless duo to face the hangman’s noose were Lucinda Sly, a 58-year-old Protestant landowner, and her 26-year-old lover John Dempsey, a Catholic labourer who worked for her. They were condemned for the murder of Lucinda’s husband Walter Sly, a wife-beater by repute, at his home in Old Leighlin. Carlow Gaol, where they hanged, is now the Carlow Shopping Centre, while the trapdoor from the scaffold is on show at Carlow County Museum.


The One-Minute Butter Churn


Carlow-born Ida M Murphy was educated in Birmingham before she emigrated to Manhattan. In 1902, she invented the ‘One Minute  Churn’, which was claimed  to  be  “a  household  necessity that  will  not  only  make  butter in  one  minute,  but can also be used to freeze ice  cream  at  odd  times.”  She was president of the One  Minute  Churn  company, a New  York  corporation  organized  in  1902 for  the  purpose  of  manufacturing  and selling  one minute butter  churns. It did not run entirely smoothly. See here and here for more.


Patron Saint of Luxembourg


The English monk St Willibrord and his Benedictine mentor, St Egbert of Ripon attended a preeminent Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical settlement at Rath Melsigi, near Clonmelsh, in the 7th century. In the 690s, Willibrord began his mission in the Kingdom of the Franks by preaching to the recently conquered Frisian populace in the modern-day Netherlands. He also founded Echternach Abbey in Luxembourg, for which he is today hailed as the patron saint of Luxembourg.


The Last Duel in Georgia


Charles Dawson Tilley was born in Carlow on 16 June 1845, educated at Trinity College and later Paris. He is said to have had an uncle who was a clergyman in the Church of Ireland while a sister reputedly married a noble. (See here).  In 1865 he emigrated to Augusta, Georgia, where he became a broker. He died in a duel on 17 December 1875, defending the honour of his landlady Mary Clark de l’Aigle. The victor George E. Ratcliffe, who had been spreading rumours that Tilley and Miss de l’Aigle were an item. They met on the South Carolina side of the river at Sand Bar Ferry. Both men fired Colt Navy 6-shooter pistols.  Tilly was mortally wounded and so became the last Georgian man to die from duelling. The de l’Aigle family buried him beneath a large Celtic cross in their grave plot in Magnolia Cemetery.

[See here. His Carlow birthplace is given in The Augusta Constitutionalist. (Augusta, Ga.), 18 December 1875.]

In 1826, Carlow-born Captain Mark Rudkin, a son of William Rudkin, became the last person known to have fought a duel in Newfoundland, having shot Ensign John Philpot of the Royal Veteran Companies. See here.

Potatoes at Dawn


In County Carlow, Ireland, an aggrieved member of a certain congregation, declining to accept his parson’s assurance that he was not one of the sot of miserable sinners rather pointedly referred to in the Sunday sermon, challenged his vicar to personal combat, and offered him his choice of weapon. The challenge was accepted, the clergyman declining, however, to use such secular arms as swords or pistols, but expressing his willingness to try a novel kind of ammunition – i.e, raw potatoes – to be used as missiles, the bigger the better.
The morning on which the novel duel commenced was as raw as the potatoes, which lay in heaps by the side of each combatant. The potatoes were to be thrown alternately. The challenger commenced and missed, The clergyman, aiming calmly and scientifically, raised with his first shot a bump upon his opponent’s forehead almost as large as the missile which caused it.
The layman promptly lost his temper, and aimed wildly and recklessly, hitting the second and missing the vicar with great regularity. The vicar, feeling that he could afford to be magnanimous, put down his potato, advanced to his aggrieved parishioners, held out his hand, and said, “Come, Mr O’R, I think we’re & couple of idiots. Let us shake hands and be friends, and utilise those vegetables for a more peaceful purpose at dinner to-night.”.

Reported in The North Otago Times, 11 September 1890, Page 4, reports on:


Other Carlow People


Pleasants Street in Dublin 8 is named for Thomas Pleasants (1729-1818), a Carlow-born merchant, property developer and philanthropist best known for helping Dublin’s Liberties (including the Meath Hospital) and for donating his library and considerable funds to the Royal Dublin Society.

William Dargan, the engineer and philanthropist known as ‘Father of the Irish Railway’, was born in Carlow in 1799.

John Tyndall (1820-1893), the physicist credited (sort of correctly) with working out why the sky is blue, was born in County Carlow. He was professor of physics at the Royal Institution of Great Britain (1853 to 1887), in succession to Michael Faraday.

Richard D’Alton Williams (1822-1862), a member of the Young Ireland movement, was educated at St Patrick’s College, Carlow, before studying medicine at Saint Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin. He emigrated to the USA in 1851, practicing medicine until his death from tuberculosis in Thibodaux, Louisiana in 1862.

Sir Benjamin Baker designed the Forth Bridge in Scotland and the Barrow Bridge in Ireland. He was also the consulting engineer on the building of the Low Aswan Dam on the River Nile.

Manie Payne Ferguson (1850–1932) was a Carlow-born pioneer leader in the American Holiness Movement, a Christian evangelist and social worker. She co-founded the Peniel Mission, and the author of several hymns, most notably “Blessed Quietness”.

The father of Jimmy McCudden, the World War One ace, was born in Co Carlow. See The Irish Air Aces.

Patrick Dowling (1904-1999), an electrical engineer from Tinryland, is considered an ‘apostle of rural electrification’ after he helped bring electricity to over 99% of the population between 1947 and 1980.

Monsignor Caoimhín O’Neill (1944-2023), known as Father Kevin, was one of the leading lights in Éigse and president of Carlow College (1994-2015). He was a major advocate for the creation of what became Carlow’s VISUAL Centre of Contemporary Art & The George Bernard Shaw Theatre. See here.


Shilling a Night, attrib. Rory Wadd

As I strayed into Carlow one day last July
I was making my way to the town of Athy.
My head it was weary
My pockets were light
All I had was a shilling for lodgings that night.

When I woke up in the morning I thought I’d go wild
The fire it was out , and no kettle boiled
Put her name on the paper
And make her do right
It’s an awful lie down for a shilling a night.

Now I remember a time when three pence was alright
But now they are charging a shilling a nite
With bugs and Highlanders
Twas bite after bite, twas an awful lie down for a shilling a night.

Now to conclude and to finish my song
Tis awful to think how a poor man gets on.
Go to bed hungry, and that isn’t right,
Then give the auld lady a shilling a night.



A New Plough


The Agricultural Gazette states that a Mr P. Haulen, of Grangeford, Carlow, a large tillage farmer, has invented a plough of singularly novel construction.
The mouldboard is attached to the wooden frame, running on two wheels of 30 inches in diameter. One of these wheels runs on the unplowed land while the other, set at an angle of 4 deg. is against the edge of the last cut furrow: A seat, as in a mowing machine, is on the frame, and the driver sits on this, and has nothing to do but direct his team. A lever on his left hand raises and lowers the breast work and controls the path: An adjustment on the wheels provides for the width and depth of the cut. Having once started and properly opened the land, the rest of the work requires no skill or experience, as it is all automatic.
A public trial of this new implement was made near Dublin, before a considerable  gathering of the principal farmers of the district. A couple of ponies were tackled to the seat, as in a field mower and they ploughed in succession a stiff piece of grass, some potato land with a heavy subsoil, and a very heavy stubble.
The work done was extremely good, and to the surprise of all, the draught was so light that the ponies were able to turn a sod of 13 inches by 8 or 9 inches, with ease. A pair of horses will plough about an acre and a half (English) in a day. The inventor says that on his own land this plough saved him at least £50 or £60 last season.’

 Traralgon Record (Victoria, Australia), 30 Apr 1886, p. 2



CEATHARLACH (Translations by Jack O’Driscoll)



Tuama adhlactha 6,000 bliain d’aois de dhéantús an duine is ea Dolmain Chnoc an Bhrúnaigh atá suite go díreach soir ó bhaile Cheatharlach. Meastar go bhfuil 103 tonna méadrach meáchain sa leac mhullaigh eibhir an-mhór síonbhuailte atá air.  Tá sé sin beagnach chomh trom céanna le seacht n-eilifint Indiacha déag nó le scairdeitleán Boeing 757. Dá dtiocfadh foirne rugbaí na Nua-Shéalainne agus na Leon le chéile leis an gcéad imreoir is troime sa tSraith Náisiúnta Peile Meiriceánaí ó na Stáit Aontaithe, bheidís ag streachailt chun leac mhullaigh Chnoc an Bhrúnaigh a bhogadh oiread agus orlach amháin. Conas in Éirinn a cuireadh an leac mhullaigh in airde, más ea?


The effigy of William Marshal at the Temple Church, London. The damaged was caused during the London Blitz.


Ba é William Marshal a thóg an dúnfort cloiche ag Caisleán Cheatharlach. Bhí sé ar an ridire ab fhearr (agus ba shaibhre) lena linn. Ba í a bhean chéile, Isabel, an t-aon bhanoidhre amháin ag an mbarún Normannach Richard de Clare (Strongbow) agus ag Aoife, iníon Dhiarmaid Mhic Mhurchadha, Rí Laighean.

In 1213, cuireadh críoch leis an obair thógála ar dhaingean lárnach Cheatharlach. Bhí sé 70 troigh ar airde agus bhí ceithre thúr druma thart air. In 1814, cheannaigh An Dr Philip Middleton an caisleán agus é mar rún aige gealtlann a dhéanamh de. Nuair a rinne sé iarracht na fuinneoga a leathnú le púdar pléasctha, thit an dá thúr thoir anuas chomh maith le trí cheathrú de na ballaí taobh leo. Bhí an t-ádh dearg air nár gortaíodh aon duine.



Sa bhliain 1361, thug Lionel Antuairp, Gobharnóir na hÉireann  (agus mac Rí Éadbhard III Shasana), ordú don Státchiste athlonnú ó Chaisleán Bhaile Átha Cliath go Caisleán Cheatharlach. Nuair a bhog sé Cúirt na bPléadálacha Coiteanna go Ceatharlach an bhliain dár gcionn, ba iad na daoine seo a chuaigh  a chónaí sa chaisleán: sirriam, constábla, fear cogaidh, beirt dlíodóirí agus ardsáirsint, chomh maith le roinnt bailitheoirí airgid agus cléireach agus ochtar boghdóirí. D’fhill an Státchiste agus an Chúirt ar Bhaile Átha Cliath tar éis do Lionel Éire a fhágáil in 1367.  Fuair sé bás go luath ina dhiaidh sin agus é 29 bliain d’aois. Dúradh gur thug a athair céile Iodálach nimh dó.



Stiúir an fear de bhunadh Cheatharlach, William Desmond Taylor, 60 scannán tostach sular dúnmharaíodh é – scéal dochreidte atá ann – in Los Angeles in 1922. Ba é a athair an chéad chaptaen ar Bhriogáid Dóiteáin Dheonach Cheatharlach. Rugadh é sa Gharraí Nua ar Bhóthar Bhaile Átha Í. Chaith sé a óige in Elms House (ar a dtugtar The Elms anois), gar don Óstán Seven Oaks. Tar éis dó titim amach lena athair in 1889, d’imigh an fear 18 mbliana d’aois go Meiriceá agus chuaigh sé i mbun oibre ar rainse aíochta in Kansas. Faoin mbliain 1914, bhí sé ag stiúradh scannán – agus na mórphearsana scannáin, leithéidí Mary Pickford, mar aisteoirí aige iontu. Stiúir sé an chéad leagan scannáin de ‘Tom Sawyer‘, ‘Huckleberry Finn‘ agus ‘Anne of Green Gables’ (nó ‘Anne with an E‘ mar is fearr aithne uirthi anois). Scaoileadh marbh é agus tá an cás fós gan réiteach céad bliain ina dhiaidh.



Teachta Parlaiminte do Cheatharlach ó 1868 go 1880 ab ea Arthur Kavanagh. Nuair a rugadh in 1831 é, is amhlaidh a bhí stumpaí aige in áit rítheacha agus cosa faoin nglúin. D’éiligh a mháthair, bean shaibhir, go gcaithfí leis díreach faoi mar a chaithfí le haon duine eile dá páistí. Ní ba dhéanaí ina shaol, bhainfeadh sé cáil amach mar thaistealaí calma, mairnéalach, slatiascaire, sealgaire, grianghrafadóir amaitéarach, údar sárdhíola agus, murar leor é sin, bheadh seachtar clainne air. Nuair a bhí sé sna fichidí, thaistil sé thar tír ón gCríoch Lochlainn go dtí an Pheirs (An Iaráin) agus d’oibrigh sé mar fhear poist ar chósta thiar na hIndia.



Bunaíodh an chéad mhonarcha phróiseála siúcra in Éirinn i gCeatharlach in 1926 agus bhí 79 fómhar biatais as a chéile curtha isteach aici sular dúnadh í in 2005. Bhí Franz Schwatschke as an Moráiv i bPoblacht na Seice an lae inniu ar dhuine de na chéad innealtóirí inti. Lonnaigh Franz i gCeatharlach agus phós sé Charlotte Meredith, iníon gníomhaire talún mór le rá – é sin go léir d’ainneoin nach raibh Béarla aige. Bhí an-luí aige le fadhbanna teicniúla a réiteach, cheap sé mótair leictreacha éagsúla agus claochladáin, chomh maith leis an gcéad rothar uisce ar domhan. Thástáil sé é ar an mBearú ach níor chuir sé paitinn air riamh.