Much of the little town of Leighlinbridge on the River Barrow has the air of an earlier century, with its ruined castle standing guard over the 14th-century bridge, old malt houses rising behind it and walks on the river banks.
The town’s original Black Castle, built in 1181, was one of the earliest Norman fortresses in Ireland. It was granted to John de Claville by Hugh de Lacy, the powerful Norman baron who governed Ireland for Henry II. The present castle was built by Sir Edward Bellingham in 1547 and fell to Cromwell’s forces in 1650.
The nine-arched bridge across the Barrow, built in 1320 by Maurice Jakis, is said to be the oldest functioning bridge in Ireland. Close by the castle is the site of Ireland’s first Carmelite monastery, built in 1272. Half a mile to the south are the remains of Dinn Righ, ‘fort of the kings’, the ancient palace of the Kings of Leinster. All that remains is a low mound inside a wooded fence.
Size for size, Leighlinbridge has produced as many famous sons as any Irish town. The dashing Captain Myles Keogh, of the Battle of Little Big Horn fame, was born there, as were Cardinal Patrick Moran (1830-1911), Archbishop of Sydney and Australia’s first Cardinal and John Tyndall, the mountaineer and scientist who developed the light pipe, the forerunner to fibre optics.