Vikings on the River Barrow

The word ‘Viking’ means to go on a voyage.

Go on your own Voyage in Ireland’s Ancient East this year and feel like you are travelling through time as you paddle down the River Barrow.



The Vikings arrived in Ireland which they called ‘Eireland’ in a raid on Rathlin Island, the most Northernly point of Northern Ireland in 795. They left a path of destruction behind them wherever they went as they took no mercy on the natives. The Vikings used the rivers to raid inland Ireland. They were very fond of monasteries as that were where the wealth of the country lay.


The Viking Raids on St Mullins

As the tide goes out from St. Mullins and the river Barrow falls, rocks appear at the bend just below the Mill, known locally as the “Scar” a Viking name for weir.

“Around the swelling waters a graceful swallow glides

As the ever patient Heron awaits the falling tides.

Shadows of raiding Viking ships about the scar appear

The clash of swords, the shouts men, the ancient smell of fear.”



  • 824 a large fleet of Vikings sailed up the Barrow from Waterford to St Mullins and plundered the monastery of St Moling.
  • 888 Riagan, son of Dunghal defeated the Vikings at St Mullins after which 200 hundred heads were left behind.
  • 915 The Chiefs of Liphe of “Broad Deeds” waged a battle with the Vikings leaving 500 heads in the valley over Tigh –Moling St Mullins. The Irish were no Angles and great men for counting the heads of their enemies.

Round Tower Ruin, St. Mullins.

[Annals of the Four Masters, Vol 2. pp 590-1]


  • AD 951: Teach Moling was plundered by Laraic from Waterford the same fellow that Waterford is named after Port –Lairge .

Raiding Vikings from Waterford came up the Barrow River into the settlement at Athy and pillaged South Kildare.

Cluain Andobair was a temporary camp, ‘dunad’ made by the Dublin Vikings in the barony of Narragh and Reban West, Co. Kildare, just east of the Barrow river, with a longphort (Viking ship enclosure) situated across the Barrow from this site.



Ireland’s Ancient East – St. Mullins

Go on your own Voyage in Ireland’s Ancient East this year. Feel like you are travelling through time as you paddle down the River Barrow. Explore the ruins from where the Vikings raided St. Mullins, book a canoe trip now 




Best Outdoor Provider / Outdoor Escape Outsider Awards 2017 2nd Place

Thank you so much again to everyone who voted for us in the Outsider Awards.

We came in a very proud 2nd place taking over 25% of the overall vote for the Best Outdoor Activity / Provider in Ireland.

This is a MASSIVE achievement for a small family business.

Go with the Flow River Adventures are delighted to come in 2nd place and we are hugely grateful for everyone who voted and shared our posts!

We had a great time at the Sugar Club last Wednesday at the Outsider Awards.

At the awards we heard some fascinating stories from many inspirational people! Great experience and really looking forward to the year ahead. 😀

Book your trip now for 2018!

Outsider Awards 2017 Nomination
Go with the Flow River Adventures are proud to announce that we have been nominated as:

‘The Best Outdoor Escape / Outdoor Provider’ with the Outsider Awards 2017

We would love more than anything to win!! The winner of the award will be decided by public poll so we need all the help that we can get. If you have been on one of our trails and enjoyed your experience please vote for us!

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE follow this link and vote for us. Make sure you hit ‘submit’

Thank you so much for all your support in 2017

Beauty on the Barrow: A unique perspective on Ireland

The canoe might be the finest vessel ever built for the traveller.

In a canoe you can explore slowly and intently, just like walking or cycling, but from the water you see everything from a new perspective.

The landscape takes on a certain freshness.

Writer Lenny Antonelli spends a slow weekend exploring the river on a canoe-camping trip

Dan paddles down the Barrow river in an open-top Canadian canoe

Dan paddles down the Barrow river in an open-top Canadian canoe

My first trip in a Canadian-style open canoe was on the Royal Canal in 2015, paddling slowly from Enfield to Mullingar over three days. Then I canoed the Barrow and Upper Lough Erne, each time camping along the way. This summer, I return to the Barrow, the best of Ireland’s big rivers.

On a breezy bright evening, my friend Dan and I meet Charlie Horan of Go With The Flow River Adventures – who’s been guiding on the Barrow for 20 years – in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow.

Horan gives us a canoe, paddles, waterproof barrels, buoyancy aids, helmets and sets us on our way. We pack the boat with camping gear, spare clothes, food and wine and launch into one of the Barrow’s many side-canals.

We bring the boat through a lock and out on to the river, then paddle on under the Royal Oak road bridge and the high arcs of a railway viaduct. As the wind eases, the setting sun casts the river in pale oranges and purples. The still air above the water thrums with flies and midges, and bats come out to feast.

Lenny Antonelli paddling his canoe down the Barrow
Lenny Antonelli paddling his canoe down the Barrow

At Slyguff, we make camp in the dusk by a ruined lock house under beech trees. A family is eating dinner in a barge just above the lock. Later, when I knock and ask if they could boil some water for us – to my horror, I’ve brought the wrong camping gas for my stove – they offer us hot goulash, then invite us in for whiskey. Dan and I drink ours straight, our new German friends prefer theirs with Coke.


Through broken English, they tell us that they come boating on Irish waterways every summer. They have barely explored the west coast, but know the midlands intimately. And they are taking it even slower than us, planning to travel just four kilometres the next day.

We sleep well and wake early. With no fuel to cook, we eat chocolate and get back on the water, paddling in the morning silence.

We pull in at Goresbridge, Kilkenny, a sleepy little village. The only cafe is closed, so we raid the local shop for croissants, chocolate, fruit and coffee. “What’s going on in the world?” I ask Dan, who is looking at the papers.

When canoe touring, you shed your normal concept of time. Instead, your day becomes a slow rota of activities that anchor you to the present moment: you wake, make coffee and breakfast, break camp, paddle a while, stop for lunch, paddle some more, make camp, cook dinner, have a nightcap, sleep.

“You are kind of a self-sustaining unit as you travel down the river, that’s one of the real adventures of it, you leave the world behind,” Horan tells me. “You have your tent, your sleeping bag. If you’re smart enough you’ll turn off your phone.”

In 1783, work began on a waterway to link the Grand Canal with the Barrow. This canal, the Barrow Line, stretches through Kildare from Robertsown to Athy, where it meets the river proper. From Athy south to St Mullins, the navigation follows the Barrow and a series of side-canals built to bring boats around shallow, rocky stretches of river.

Weirs were built to provide sufficient water for each side-canal. Experienced paddlers might choose to shoot the weirs and the rapids below. Newbies should take the canals, which means either bringing the boat through a lock if you have a key, which is slow going, or portaging around (carrying the boat), which is hard work.

We get back on the water as the grey day warms up. Below Goresbridge, the Barrow is a revelation, winding south through endless forest. Down on the water, the skyline is nothing but fir and larch, willow and ash.

This is the Barrow’s beautiful deceit. The riverside woods might only be tens of metres of deep, but in your canoe you have no way of knowing. So where woods overhang the river near Borris estate, the Barrow feels so wild and empty you could be a voyageur exploring the waters of deepest Quebec.

Horan tells me that when guiding on this wondrous stretch of the river, he asks his clients to be totally quiet, just to experience the silence.

At Borris Lock we stopped for lunch in the close heat. Dan spots a young buzzard perched deep in the woods, as one of its parents shrieks overhead. Travelling with Dan, a skilled naturalist, is an education. He points out the whooper swan loitering for the summer when most had returned to Iceland, the jays calling from the woods, the sparrowhawk circling overhead.

He tells us the woods fronting the river are known as gallery woods, and that one bird call we hear is a great-spotted woodpecker – a species that has only recently recolonised Ireland.

Graiguenamanagh, Co Kilkenny. A perfect stop off for a trip a down the Barrow.
Graiguenamanagh, Co Kilkenny. A perfect stop off for a trip a down the Barrow.

Later on, the clouds burn off and the evening sky turns blue. We paddle into Graiguenamanagh and set up our tents on the grassy riverbank above the village. We walk up the town’s pretty, curving main street, have dinner in the Chinese and walk around historic Duiske abbey. We climb up to a terrace of Tudor-revival style “widow’s cottages”, built around 1850 by the local landlords for “indigent widows” according to the plaque, as dusk comes over the valley.


Then we make our way back to the tents, but slowly, via three pubs. Kilkenny have just beaten Limerick in the hurling, and the town is buzzing, the main street thronging as cover bands and disco lights fill the bars and locals ease from pub to pub.

The next morning is bright and still. Back on the water, the morning is hot as we paddle on under the forested slopes of Brandon Hill. The valley grows deeper, the trees seem taller. At Carriglead Lock a sign outside the lock cottage protests plans to turn the grassy towpath into a cycling greenway.

We paddle down the long canal to St Mullins Lock, where barges and cruisers sit, some half-sunk and forgotten. This is where the Barrow Navigation ends. We tie up the canoe and walk the kilometre downriver to the Mullicháin Cafe, situated in an elegant old riverside grain store.

From here south, the river is under the pull and push of the tides. This is also where the towpath ends. There is talk of extending the planned greenway south of here, where the valley becomes deep, wild and inaccessible. And while I’m sure there are good economic reasons for doing so, there are other good, less tangible reasons, for doing nothing at all.

The cafe is buzzing, the riverbank thronged with people sunbathing in the heat. After a big lunch we get back on the water; our car is back in Graiguenamanagh. We launch the boat for one last paddle back up river as the white sun beats down on this wild little world.

Canoe touring the Barrow: how to do it

The calm, sheltered waters of the river Barrow are ideal for your first canoe touring trip. “There are very few waters in Ireland where a compete beginner can just take off,” says Charlie Horan of Go With the Flow River Adventures.

Go With The Flow offers self-guided and guided tours, from one night to week-long trips. You can start from as far north as Monasterevin in Co Kildare, or any of the towns and villages down along the river, many of which are accessible by train and bus. Go With The Flow is offering a special deal of €99 per person for a weekend self-guided canoe trip, from Friday to Sunday. Horan can provide tents, or organise B&Bs or luxury accommodation along the river.

Lenny Antonelli for The Irish Times, Saturday August 26, 2017

For more information or to book a 3 day canoe & camping adventure click here