THE ruins of Carlow Castle by night. Photo: David Burke

Follow me up to Carlow

A beet-shaped county between two great rivers

WE ALL love a good rebel song, happy or sad. While many of them lament dead heroes, there are optimistic songs too, like The West’s Awake. One of my favourites is the March of Fiach Mac Hugh O’Byrne, written a century or more ago by PJ McCall.

You might recognise it from the last line of the chorus — “Follow me up to Carlow”. It celebrates the Irish victory over the English army at Glenmalure in 1580, and it has some great rhymes. One of the best is addressed to the enemy, Lord Fitzwilliam: “Fallen is your star, low”.

The song was in my head as we drove south-east to the town that was always coupled with Tuam, Thurles and Mallow in the glory days of the Irish Sugar Company. It’s 18 years since the Carlow factory closed, but when I told people where I was going there, some said: “Bring back some sugar”!

The factory was at Strawhall, just outside the town. The site is now an industrial estate which also includes a remarkable garden, of which more anon…

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