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Durrow, County Laois, Ireland

Durrow Heritage Guide

Enjoy a leisurely stroll with surprises around this heritage village.

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Difficulty: Easy
Length: 1.1 miles / 1.8 km
Duration: 1 hour or less
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Overview: The village of Durrow is small, but perfectly formed with a rich history and an active community keen to ensure you enjoy your time here.

This heritage guide starts at Castle Durrow and takes you past a very special organ, the Square, the old bridge, the vintage bicycle museum, the mills memorial, the unique Fawlty's pub, the 'magical' water pump, Tae Lane and Chapel street before returning back to the castle.

Our heritage guide begins appropriately enough in the village's main edifice, but we'll start off by telling you a bit about the origins of Durrow.

The earliest record of Durrow dates back to 546A.D. when the village – then called Dervagh, was the site of a monastery, founded by St. Columb. The earliest recorded church in the village was in 1155 when records show that a raiding party led by O’Loughlin burned the church at Darmhagh-Ua-nDuach (Durrow in Odagh, or Castle Durrow) to the ground.

By the mid-13th Century an urban tradition had been established as Durrow (then called Deverald) became a Norman Borough Village and was granted an urban constitution to attract settlers. In 1245, the village was given the right to hold a week long fair in the third week of July and a market every Thursday.

Parish maps show that in the mid 17th Century, Durrow was a parochial hamlet with eight ‘surrounds’ and was owned by the powerful Ormondes. By 1659 a total of 105 families lived in the area. Sir William Petty’s 1685 Map shows that there was both a Catholic and Protestant Church in the village. The Catholic Church – which probably consisted of mud walls with a thatched roof, stood on the site of, or close to, the old Courthouse (now a library and cultural centre). Under the Ormonde Family, Durrow was annexed to County Kilkenny and was only returned to County Laois in 1846 by an Act of Parliament.

The physical form of the village as seen today, largely results from the great influence of Viscount of Ashbrook, William Flower, M.P. for Portarlington and local landlord who, throughout the 18th Century oversaw the construction of a planned estate village.

Durrow's present form is indebted to the Flower Family, Viscounts Ashbrook, who gained ownership of the town in the early 1700s. They built Castle Durrow and granted permits for many of the fine Georgian and Victorian houses that still line Durrow’s streets.

Over the next two centuries, Durrow prospered. Stagecoaches rattled over the old bridge and stopped at the nearby coach house, the Ashbrook Arms. In its heyday, the village had its own brewery, a flour mill, a malting enterprise and a factory that made high quality bricks and tiles. We'll tell you more about these as you walk along.

In recent years the local community has worked hard to preserve Durrow’s beautiful setting, as well as its architecture. See for yourself on this leisurely stroll down Durrow’s fine streets.

THANKS: This guide is indebted to the help and support of the people of Durrow, Laois Partnership, Noeleen Dunphy and all at Durrow Development Forum, Michael G. Phelan and all at the South Laois Tourism Partnership, the Laois Heritage Officer, Catherine Casey, Failte Ireland, Bob Campion, Philip Sheppard, Ann Lanigan and her brother Sean Conroy with a special thanks to Peter and Shelly Stokes and Castle Durrow staff for their generous hospitality and faith in this project.


Tips: It's always a good idea to prepare for rain in Ireland and a good pair of walking shoes will do you no harm either. The only slope is the gentle one up to the castle. After that, we'd suggest you take your time on this walk. It can be done very quickly or if you wander into Bob's or Fawlty's or divert up to the church or the Cholera field, a lot longer. That's the nice thing about Durrow - you can go at a completely different pace.

PLEASE NOTE: each guide needs to be downloaded separately in order to work offline with the EveryTrail Pro app. Best to download only the ones you are likely to be using during your stay. If downloading when at Castle Durrow, make the most of the foyer area WiFi and download your chosen tour/s once you've reviewed the material. All guides are subject to acceptance of the navigatour™ Licence Agreement, the link of which is on the right hand column.

Points of Interest

Landmark
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Castle Durrow

Built by earlier generations of Durrow inhabitants, the legacy of Castle Durrow is its unique sense of proportion, restrained good taste, and a spaciousness that has largely disappeared from present-day living. Complex traditions unite at Castle Durrow; it was built and lived in during a period of high taste and high culture.

Formerly the home of the Flower family, Barons Castle Durrow and Viscounts Ashbrook, it was built in the early 18th century (1712-1715) when domestic architecture in Ireland was developing an independence of the need for defence and economy that had characterised earlier construction.
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Castle Durrow
Landmark
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Ancient vaults

A gentle stroll down the lane of Castle Durrow will take you the arched entrance to the graveyard that contains the vault of the Ashbrook family. Look out for it on the left hand side of the lane, after the marked signs for the Leafy Loop/Dunmore Loop walks.

Stepping inside the graveyard, keep walking straight - the vault is 20 metres in front of you. At the time of writing, it is overgrown, somewhat taking away from the splendour. In its day, it was the immaculately maintained, as was the adjoining crypt for the Staples family from nearby Dunmore.

The family had an unusual burial ritual with all all deceased members being buried after midnight. It is thought that this unorthodox tradition gave rise to the phrase 'falling off the wagon'. The preceding wake was one in which all family members toasted the deceased over many drinks. The only sober member of the burial party by the time the burial took place was the driver taking the deceased by carriage and he was also known to imbibe. Thus when it got too much, it was said that he'd fallen off the wagon!
Audio
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Vault
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Staples' funerals
Junction
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Gate Lodge

The gate lodge into Castle Durrow has had its fair share of activity. One resident we spoke to remembers a family of eight living in it, another recalls it being used as part of fire drills with various firemen acting as damsels in distress on the turreted roof.

Across the road from it was another look out post that may be overlooked. It was here that some lowly soul had the job of ensuring the gates remained locked when the master of the castle was out.
Audio
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Gate
Information
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The Square

As you continue on past the gatehouse, you will notice the spire of the local Church of Ireland. The church has a Sunday service at 11am and if you're quick enough, you'll be able to view the famous organ after the service at say 11.45. It's the oldest organ in the country with a unique sound - see the next piece for more on this priceless instrument.

As you continue on to where we've marked Point of Interest No. 4, you'll see a noticeboard telling you some more about the village. Thankfully the village is a lot more peaceful since the motorway made the village largely redundant from the endless traffic passing between Dublin and Cork. It allows the community to hold events such as the Scarecrow festival in July with a greater degree of safety and comfort for all concerned.
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The Square 1
Landmark
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Green's organ

Of great pride in the village is the organ in St Fintan's Church. It was built by Samuel Green and is the only original instrument by Green in Ireland. The firm of Samuel Green built organs for Buckingham Palace Chapel, St Petersburg, Canterbury Cathedral, Windsor Castle, the University Music School in Oxford, and Westminster Abbey. The Durrow organ was originally presented to Trinity College, Dublin, by King George III in 1797, and Lord Ashbrook employed William Telford to bring the instrument to Durrow in 1842.

In the audio piece, hear how this rare instrument has been lovingly brought back to life and how a 15 year old is tasked with playing it every week.
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Green's organ
Information
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Bygone and vintage bicycle museum

On the corner of the Square to your left, you'll come to Bob's Bar. Bob Campion is one of those great local heroes that every village needs. Not only does he have a lively pub with a snug, regular Sunday trad music sessions for children, but he has two museums - one small one downstairs on bygone days and the other upstairs on vintage bicycles or High Nellies as they're known.

On the audio piece, hear a bit about both the bygone museum and the Sunday sessions. You'll hear more about the high nellies on the Elephant and Castle audio guide.

Have a wander about and ask Bob about renting a High Nelly to take the 16 mile Elephant and Castle Trail around the locality - it finishes its route at Bob's and gets its curious name as the route resembles the head and trunk of an elephant. Well to Bob it does. Try a drink or two and see for yourself. Handily, the Elephant Trail is one of the guides in the Durrow bundle so you've no excuse not to do it.
Audio
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Ceili Sunday
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Back to our roots
Viewpoint
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View from a bridge

The Old Stone bridge of Durrow was built in 1788 replacing an existing wooden bridge over the Erkina River. An earlier bridge – dating back to the mid 1600’s, had stood 500 metres up river. The late 18th Century also saw the construction of the Catholic Church on Chapel Street (on the current site of the Old Courthouse now in use by the FCA). The 19th Century saw the construction of many distinctive buildings including a Courthouse, the Castle Gate Lodge and the Obelisk (in the Castle grounds).

Thankfully the old stone bridge of Durrow outside of Bob's Bar was left in one piece after the building of the current bridge of the N77 and is a wonderful place from which to watch the gentle flow of the Erkina river. Bob is planning to having canoeing down the river to the Tallyhoe bridge from here in the near future. Ask at the bar for details

The river itself has served the locality well having helped the area develop its milling industry, now gone alas. More information of this can be found at the next point of interest.

If you look down closely at the corner of Bob's Bar, you should be able to see the face of a man about 2 metres above ground. It's not Sheila na Gig, but was placed there when the corner was rounded to allow for horses get around the corner in days gone by.
Audio
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Mills and Perrys
Junction
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Cholera field

The Cholera Field on the Swan Road is the burial place for the unfortunate victims of the 1832 cholera epidemic. This field has been recently marked by the erection of a memorial stone. You can find it by walking over the old bridge, past the fire station on the right and about two hundred metres up the gentle slop - it is on the right. It's a fairly busy road so 'saying a prayer' for the poor souls who perished'd be enough if the road seems busy when you're passing by.
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Cholera field
Information
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Milling in Durrow

Across the road from the old bridge is a thought provoking memorial to the long tradition of milling in this area called the Mill Road Amenity Area. The earliest mills in Durrow were built in the late 1500s on the river Erkina, north if the Square. At the time, the street was called Mill street. The remains of the building (mill, malting house and brewery) and mill race can still be seen there - the laneway by the Centra shop on th eSquare is the entrance.

In 1716, after the death of Anthony Ranger, the old miller, Thomas Ansley acquired the tenancy of the mills at £24 per annum. Those mills closed in 1751 in the face of competition from the new more powerful mill that had been built a mile downstream.
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Mill wheel area
Food/Dining
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The Ashbrook Arms Restaurant and Guesthouse

After coming back from the Mill Amenity Area, you'll notice a fine looking white edifice on the left. The building was originally one of the Bianconi coach houses built around the country where weary 18th century travellers could rest on long journeys. It was purpose built by Lord Ashbrook, proprietor of Durrow, in 1777.

From the early 18th Century the village was serviced by mail coaches travelling between Dublin and Cork. The Red Lion Hotel – which had been constructed circa the 1790’s, was the resting stop for this service. In 1842, this service was replaced by Bianconi’s long-cars, which travelled between Mountmellick and Kilkenny daily.

The building was lovingly restored in 2005 and returned to pristine condition as a guest house and restaurant by the Murphy family. While the front of the house faces onto the main road, the rear has a beautiful sweeping lawn which extends down to the river Erkina – a lovely back drop for photographs. Take note of the stables to the right of the building where you can see where the stables that the horses rested.

Sean and Rosezita Murphy have already established a glowing reputation for their hospitality, food and service and if the positive comments they have received are anything to go by then their future success is assured.

Telephone: (057) 8740989

WEB: http://www.ashbrookarms.com
Audio
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Ashbrook Arms
map

The splendour of Durrow

Hear from Durrow Development's inimitable Noeleen Dunphy on just why Durrow is such a special place. We feature two audio pieces - one on the All Ireland Scarecrow festival and the other on what else is going on in Durrow.

As you'll hear, Durrow is an incredibly active and vibrant place to live. This is a hidden gem in the heart of Ireland that deserves to be shared with some discerning friends. Spread the word and come back for one of the festivals, some cycling, walking, paddling, golfing, dancing, eating or just relaxing in a very picturesque part of the world with a very welcoming community.
Audio
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Scarecrow festival
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Durrow overview
Shopping
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Sheppard's auction house

Amongst the splendour of the village is Sheppard's auction house. What may look like a genteel provincial auctioneers is in fact one the most sophisticated art house sin the country where international auctions take place with bidders around the world able to participate with Sheppard's state of the art online bidding system.

There's always something of interest being sold here and timing your visit to experiencing the buzz of a Sheppard's auction is well worth while. All sorts of colourful creatures attend these events and you may well find s great bargain - go to www.sheppards.ie to find out more.
Audio
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Sheppard's overview
Landmark
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Fawlty's pub

You're now making your way onto Mary street. The sign for Mary street hangs over what looks like a down at heal pub that would be best walking past at speed. Wrong. Fawlty's is one of those great country pubs that you hope you'll find. It's not necessarily slick or scrupulously run, but it make sup for it in spades with character, both in front of and behind the counter. You can even shoot a game of pool. Pop in and be dazzled at a hidden slice of Ireland.

After a public meeting in 1951 it was decided to re-name Queen’s Street became Mary Street and George’s Street as Carrigan Street. In light of the formal declaration of the Irish republic in 1949, it was felt such royal names were anachronistic.

In terms of other progressive moves, the village of Durrow was lit by electricity for the first time in 1929 - well the castle at least; it would be after 1960 before every household would acquire the facility.

Audio
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Fawlty's bar
Landmark
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Old pump and church

At the top of Mary street, you'll see on your left an old diesel pump that looks like it last served fuel in 1929! In fact, this machine still works if you're interested - you'll need to ask next door to get some fuel though. At the corner of Mary street and Chapel street is the old pump, which is not quite working at the moment. When it does work, they claim the water from this pump has the ability to give a person great health and old age. In the surrounding houses, several people are in their late 80s and two are in their 90s!

Further up Carrigan street you'll find the Catholic church whose spires you can see for miles around. Although the erection of the Catholic Church began in 1836, it wouldn’t be until 1904 that the four spires would finally be fitted to complete the building.
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Well corner
Information
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Tae Lane

The name Tae Lane derives from the Beef Tea ('tae') a watery soup that has been distributed to the poor and destitute of the area from a kitchen on this street during the Famine of the late 1840s.

Today, it is a memorial to those that have left the locality and settled elsewhere - you'll see the names, addresses and ages of just some here. The memorial has an extract of the poem "The Whispering Roots' by local poet Cecil Day Lewis. To the great excitement of the local ladies, his son, the actor Daniel Day Lewis, officially opened Tae Lane on St. Patrick's Day in 2007.
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Tae Lane
Viewpoint
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Old Chapel Street

Old Chapel street's chapel has long since gone and in its place was used by the local FCA (army reserves effectively) which is pictured. It now functions as a cultural centre and library, opening hours of which can be seen from the picture.

The street is very much from another age. On you right, take note of the victualler who really is the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker of the town - well the undertaker, publican and hardware provider at any rate! If the weather is good and you've a thirst after this walk, Dec Bar run by Declan and Stephanie has a great beer garden.

The 1831 and 1841 Census recorded populations of 2,911 and 2,977 persons respectively. By that time there were six schools in the village and it was described as a ‘small market and post village’ containing an infantry barrack, inn and posting establishment. From the mid 19th Century the flour bolting ‘Mill at the Course’ was operated by the Delaney family. Although the mill changed hands, it operated successfully until it closed in the mid 20th Century.

Changes in the village throughout the 20th Century are closely linked to national political influences and trends. During the population peak of the early 20th Century, many civic facilities were provided in the village. In the early 1900’s a Village Hall was built on Patrick Street and a concert hall, billiard room and reading room were developed on this site. The hall was built using Durrow brick and had three white windows, a large entrance door and a large side entrance gate fronting directly onto the street. This building was later demolished in 1976. The first Garda barracks in the village was first located in a building on the north side of The Square and later this was moved to its current location here on Old Chapel Street.

As we conclude on perambulation around Durrow, the function of the settlement has changed greatly from its early monastic origins, through the great influence of the local landlords – the Flower family, and the strategic importance of its location on the coachline.
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Chapel street
Information
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Fr. Carrigan's house

The village certainly has had its fair share of famous clerics. You may have noticed the plaque on the wall of the house on your right - it was here that Fr. Carrigan lived. He was a priest that got things done from writing the official history of the diocese of Ossory to getting that church spire finally completed!

Although Durrow only truly established itself in medieval times it is said that St. Benedict was born in Durrow Co. Laois around the year 460 A.D. Legend decrees that while on a visit to Rome, St. Benedict briefly succeeded St. Hormisdus as Pope before homesickness bade him to order another election, allowing him to return home, and the new Pontiff elected was Pope John Paul 1. Yes indeed, Ireland's only Pope came from this village...
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Fr. Carrigan
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Raw milk
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