Carlow Town Park

Carlow Town Park was commissioned by Carlow Urban District Council and Carlow County Council. The park will be a nucleus of open space for the town of Carlow and will become an essential component of the regeneration of the social infrastructure of the area as a whole, particularly the area around the river Barrow. The park will also provide a more strongly defined, high quality riverfront area for the town, which will encourage interaction with the river, strengthen links between the two sides of the town and foster development along the frontage. . A strategic urban plan is in progress for the 2008 celebration of Carlow’s 800th anniversary. It is anticipated that development in the context of this report will be of high quality and will lead to strong urban form. In developing the design for the park, cognisance was taken of the changing urban character of this area and the town in general. Many of the older buildings in the vicinity are scheduled for urban redevelopment and it is anticipated that the town of Carlow will undergo a transformation in the near future.

The area identified for the creation of the Town Park is a central location along the bank of the River Barrow in the Townland of Graiguecullen (see location plan). The development of the park in this location is part of a strategic development of amenities in the area which extends to include Barrow River walks , sports facilities and street upgrading. The population of Carlow town is expected to double by the year 2010 and the provision of quality passive and active recreational facilities is considered necessary for the reason of proper planning and development of the area to meet the demands of a rapidly expanding population.

Another aim of the park is that it will provide new and stronger links between the Carlow and Laois sides of the town. A new pedestrian bridge provides the main access point into the park from the Carlow bank of the river. The central location and quality of open space will also make this a ‘people-friendly’ area encouraging social interaction in an informal setting.

The site was used as a landfill up to the 1970’s, and was then loosely configured as an open space area. The River Barrow itself is an integral part of the site which must be addressed in the design of the park. The banks of the river within the site are informal in character and organic. Included in the site for development are two islands in the centre of the river. Both the islands and banks are currently heavily vegetated with naturally occurring riverside plant material and populated by wild birds and other aquatic fauna.

River frontage

The river frontage area is an important space within the town. This frontage will become a main focus of activity for the new park. The riverside edge is configured with a large scale pavement area, through which a grid of Lime trees will be established. The stonework on the existing watercourse will be repointed and capped. A planted earth terrace will define the opposite side of this watercourse.

The river edge has been carefully examined in terms of the various configurations which could be applied. Along the Graiguecullen side of the river Barrow, a high quality river edge with cut stone capping and steel handrail was constructed. When works commenced on site, the river wall was found to be in such a poor state of repair that it was demolished and rebuilt from the bedrock. The clean line of the handrail was achieved by constructing a reinforced concrete ringbeam on top of the new wall formation. This beam acts as a socket for the limestone capping and provides an excellent fixing for the handrail. This area is also utilised for swimming and boating. To facilitate these activities and to promote user interaction with the water, a stepped edge  was constructed using the tobermore reconstituted kerb.

The lower section of the site is liable to flooding in the wintertime as the level of water in the river swells and overflows. As part of the flood relief scheme for the town, a flood wall was designed into the riverside area. The top level of this wall represents the 100 year flood level. A particular difficulty with this area was the issue of inundation of the paving by flood waters in the winter period. This issue was overcome by the use of a lined pavement sub base, which was then overlain by lean mix concrete. The paviors which are tobermore tegula, were then laid with 10mm joints. These joints were partially filled with dry grit and hot bitumen tar was then poured into the joints. The overall effect was dramatic, and allows for power washing of the surface, as well as creating an excellent bond to the sub base.

As an integral part of the planned park, a millennium bridge spans the river from the end of Cox’s Lane into the heart of the park.

The riverside area contained a dry dock area. This area was renovated and cleaned down. It now remains for a new set of lock gates and drainage system to be installed by Waterways Ireland.

Play area

It is considered desirable to present the user with a variety of spatial, visual and tactile experiences. The open, terraced parkland area contrasts with the more intricate layout of the Graiguecullen section of the park. This area will be fully accessible to old and young and to those users who may be mobility-impaired.

As has been mentioned previously, it is anticipated that the park will be used intensively in future years. This section of the park area will be configured as high quality series of small parkland and garden areas. These intimate spaces, designed in collaboration with Kompan and their Irish agents Go-Play, contain a large variety of plant types and function as an opportunity for users to be educated about and captivated by exotic, rare or unusual plants, aromatic plants and herbaceous material.

It is also proposed to integrate the proposed play facilities into these high quality spaces. The high quality play spaces will be developed utilising different colours, textures and materials. The highest standards of safety will also be adhered to in the design and construction of the equipment.


The northern section of the park will be configured as an informal parkland area. The river bank vegetation in this location has been retained as an informal, organic edge. The intention is to provide a naturalistic, relaxed setting within the contemporary framework.

The parkland area is configured as an informal walking and sitting area. A large earth configuration gives form and scale to the overall park. This moat or motte is configured as a counterpoint to Carlow Castle, echoing the defensive position which the park has on the river. It also symbolises the Norman history of Carlow in an abstracted manner. It will be constructed as a series of grass terraces, each rising 500mm in a 1:3 slope (to accommodate maintenance).

The parkland area also provides a great deal of open space for the development. Which will accommodate active pursuits such as running, ball games, etc.


The dominant existing feature is the River Barrow and the design proposal addresses the river through built elements and by providing access to the water. The river frontage design works and Millennium Bridge gives a contemporary, urban image to this space and connect it to the town centre. This new linkage provides a new dimension to the town of Carlow in the form of increased interaction with its riverside amenities and those of the new park.

The park will offer a contrasting range of experiences are offered to the user; from intimate spaces with fascinating and unusual planting to open riverside walks; contemporary urban space to parkland.

This park design addresses the history of Carlow through abstract symbolism in the shape of the motte form in the parkland area. The park also looks to the future: it will become a node within the town and a focus for Carlow town as it moves into the 21st century with a rapidly expanding population and bright economic future.

Project Info.

  • Location: Carlow
  • Client: Carlow Town Council
  • Size approx.: 10 Ha.
  • Year of Project: 2002 - 2003

  • Project Team
  • Principal: Mr. Terry Murray
  • Director: Mr. John Ward
  • Associate: Mr. Mark Boyle

  • Team Members
  • Project Engineer for Council: Mr. Simon Walton
  • Main Contractor: Mr. David Walsh Civil Engineering
  • Landscape Contractor: SAP Landscapes
  • Playground: Go Play
  • Paving Materials: Tobermore
  • Stone: Stone Developments