Using local knowledge, I have added some recommended watering holes and eateries to be found locally. Although I have no connection with these businesses, I have used them and pass their details on:
Note: Pubs in rural Ireland are generally not part of a chain or owned by breweries, as they often are in the UK. This means you find each one distinctively different. Many have been in the same family for several generations. Some towns are renowned for their pubs. Graiguenamanagh and Borris for example have fine examples of groceries / bars where you might find yourself buying a shepherd’s crook after several pints in convivial company!
This list is not exhaustive – sadly i can’t spend my life sampling the wares at all the pubs in the area – and there are others you will enjoy. Everyone has their favourite or fond memories of a night in a particular pub (or pubs), so try a few. Most pubs serve tea & coffee and, often, food as well, so you need never go home.
Smoking: these days smoking is only allowed in a designated ‘smoking room’ – usually a shed out the back with a corrugated roof, although they vary. I’ve sometimes found myself in seemingly empty pubs, where everyone was out the back talking (smoking not compulsory).
Borris: Joyces, (see photo), O’Sheas and Daltons – the little blue place across the road (if you are lucky enough to find it open).
Graiguenamanagh: Doyles, Ryans. Both old-style Irish pubs. Doyles (see photo) is also a hardware store so you can pop out ‘for a set of farm gate hinges’ and arrive home hours later in time to fit them by moonlight!
Leighlinbridge. Another good place for a pint. The Garrison Bar is friendly and across the bridge are several more pubs which get busy at weekends. The Lord Bagenal hotel has a carvery and restaurant. Try to avoid sitting near the children’s indoor play area.
St Mullins has one pub (Blanchfields). I’ve spent a pleasant afternoon there so can heartily recommend it.
Shops are dotted around the Barrow Valley area, often attached to petrol stations, some to pubs. If you fancy shopping by the river, try Aldi in Bagenalstown. At weekends there are markets selling local produce in Carlow Town and a few other places but it’s not like France. Cafe-style food is available in most riverside towns, notably in the seasonal Mullicháin Cafe (closed Mondays), St Mullins and most good pubs do food of some kind but you are advised to bring your own food & drink with you if you are walking the riverside Barrow Way.
Don’t forget Kilkenny!
Not strictly in the Barrow Valley but quite near, Kilkenny City is a compact and interesting place to visit. Beside the various medieval remains and a big castle, it is known for it’s good pubs (especially around Irishtown) and places to eat plus numerous festivals. Traditional music is generally available in the evenings so walk around and look for notices in pub windows. You could do a lot worse than staying in butlercourt.com – very central location and professional yet informal and listed by influential US travel writer Rick Steves guide. Mention James Burke sent you for star treatment!