10 cool Carlow businesses to watch

The ancient county of Carlow is brimming with entrepreneurial zeal as these 10 firms identified by Barry Walsh confirm.

With a population of more than 27,000 people Carlow is one Ireland’s of longest inhabited regions, with evidence of human occupation going back thousands of years.

Key urban centres include Carlow Town, Bagenalstown and Tullow.

There is plenty of entrepreneurial spirit evident in the county. Here are 10 to watch:

The Arboretum Home & Garden Heaven

Front door of garden centre in Carlow.

Arboretum is an award-winning garden centre and lifestyle retailer. The family business, founded in rural County Carlow in 1977 by horticulturist Rachel Doyle, is today a €14m turnover enterprise employing 170 people in three locations. The flagship store is set on a 10-acre site in Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow.

Arboretum Kilquade in County Wicklow became the second store in the stable when it was acquired from the National Garden Exhibition Centre in 2015, and Arboretum Urban Green, a version of the brand’s offering aimed at city centre gardeners, opened in May 2023 on the first floor of Chapter’s bookshop on Parnell Street, Dublin.

The Doyles have just announced a major €4m redevelopment of the 2,390 m² garden centre at Kilquade. The development will increase the number employed by 25, bringing the total to 195.

Arboretum creates destination garden and lifestyle centres characterised by a wide range of plants including specimen plants and trees, gardening tools, seeds, bulbs, treatments, garden furniture and Weber barbecues. Each one has a high-quality in-house restaurant. The business has always placed an emphasis on excellent customer service.

Today, Rachel’s sons are at the helm with Barry Doyle as CEO and Fergal Doyle as CCO. Rachel Doyle remains a director of the company and is also Executive Chair.

The business has invested heavily in e-commerce in recent years and the Arboretum experience is available to customers anywhere in the Republic of Ireland via www.arboretum.ie

Arboretum Home and Garden Heaven, Leighlinbridge, was named the Retail Excellence Ireland Retailer of the Year 2021/22. Arboretum Kilquade was named Retail Excellence Ireland Garden Store of the Year 2022/23.

The Big Idea

Four students jump in air with colourful umbrellas.

Launched in 2021 by Kim Mackenzie-Doyle, the non-profit is one of Ireland’s ground-breaking organisations of the last two years.

The Big Idea is a free 14-week creative thinking programme that teaches the world’s most in demand skills to 15 to 19 year olds.

Using creative thinking skills and activating their voices, students develop solutions to issues they identify as major stressors in their lives with the help of hundreds of industry professional mentors, who help bridge the gap between education, industry and society.

The programme is being delivered across 22 counties across the island of Ireland, to teach creative thinking, identified by the World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Work Report 2023’ as a top-ranking global skill.

The inclusive programme is for all learning abilities and has connected 700+ industry professionals from 256 companies with 6,500+ students since 2021.

The B!G Idea is already available to Transition Year, Leaving Cert Applied and Northern Ireland students, as well as Youthreach and Community Training Centres for early school leavers.

The 2024 programme is now open for teachers to register classes, industry professionals who are eager to mentor, and progressive companies interested in team mentoring opportunities. If that sounds like you, email hello@thebigidea.ie and check out thebigidea.ie.

Carlow Brewing Company

group of men sitting on beer kegs.

Also known as O’Hara’s, the Carlow Brewing Company is based in Bagenalstown in Carlow and has a long history of brewing high quality beers in the county. Now brewing stouts and ales, wheat beers and lagers, each beer is expertly made in a traditional Irish style. One of the original microbreweries in the 1990s that led to the explosion of craft beer recently, the brewery now has two of its own pubs, Brewers Corner based in Kilkenny and a pub and restaurant Urban Brewing and Stack-a-Restaurant in Dublin. They offer tours of their brewing production in Carlow and their beers have won more than 30 national and international awards from around the world.

“Our employees actively promote the natural ingredients and hand crafted ethos behind all of our beers and we take our position as a provider of a sustainable working craft brewery very seriously We have recently been awarded Origin Green certification form An Bord Bia, Ireland’s Food Board. Origin Green certification is given to food and drink producers in Ireland that operate in an environmentally conscious way, and set ambitious targets for reducing their environmental impact. We are very proud to be a part of Origin Green, as it reflects the fact that environmental issues are a core value of the company.”


Smiling young woman in purple t-shirt.

Carlow based HaloCare was co-founded at the end of 2020 by entrepreneurs David Walsh and Niall Kelly of Netwatch, alongside digital health innovator Dr Johnny Walker.

Aimed at older generations and people with a disability in Ireland, HaloCare provides 24/7 365 support for those who wish to remain independent in their own homes but need a little extra support day-to-day. HaloCare specialises in alleviating isolation and promoting safety in the home and improved health for the people in their care while also giving peace of mind to their families.

It does this by creating a solution where discreet sensors are placed in the home; if one of the sensors is triggered by the person falling or something as simple as leaving the oven on, the HaloCare team responds immediately and can alert the person or their next of kin to ensure their safety. The company also provides daily check-ins, a user-friendly tablet for social connection, medication reminders, exercise and nutrition and vital sign monitoring where needed.

As their technology and devices work in the background without the use of any cameras, HaloCare’s aim is for their clients to continue living their everyday lives with privacy and dignity, in the knowledge that HaloCare is there to support them if they need it.

HaloCare was named as a finalist in the National Start-up awards and ‘One to Watch’ in the 2022 Furthr awards.

Murphy’s Craft Butchers Tullow

Irish beef in a butchers.

One of the oldest businesses in Carlow, Murphy’s Craft Butchers was originally opened in 1909 and has gone through five generations of ownership. Having an EU-certified abattoir and sourcing all of their animals locally means that Murphy’s Craft Butcher customers can get the freshest cuts of meat available, while still believing in the scientific method of dry aging all of their beef for between 21-to-35 days.

In addition to their meats they also feature a range of chickens, a get fit range of health alternatives, ready meals, a coffee house, a wine cellar and an artisan bakery.

Not only has Murphys Craft Butchers Tullow won regional and national awards for their butchery but owners Jim Murphy and his wife Bernadette were on the winning team at the World Butchers’ Challenge in Sacramento, California, scooping the title of best sausage in the world. Jim told The Carlow Nationalist: “The sausage mix is our old family recipe from 1934 and the team perfected the recipe during the course of our training in preparation for the competition.”

They also were named winner of the 2022 Carlow Business Awards, Food and Beverages Producers Award at the National Enterprise Awards, Carlow County Winner Green and Sustainably Award Winners 2022, National Enterprise Awards Carlow County Winner and the to watch Award 2023 on the same night.


Man in front of screens.

Netwatch co-founder David Walsh

An example of a business born out of founders’ first-hand experience of the problem. In 2002 the founders David Walsh and Niall Kelly were in another company when they were called to a break-in. What they first thought was a false alarm ended up resulting in both men being seriously assaulted.

After this, they designed a first in Europe technology that combines “specialist video processing technologies with satellite communications to provide preventative, immediate and cost-effective protection solutions for clients.” They install bespoke systems into the client premises, they are then monitored 24/7 by trained specialists to detect threats on or near the premises and this will be managed on an ongoing basis to give the client peace of mind. The company now employs more than 500 people in the town.

O’Leary Guitars

Guitar in guitar case.

Michael and Alec O’Leary make guitars that are aesthetically remarkable and tonally profound for both the professional and non-professional musician. Each instrument is made with care and passion to a unique and personal design that reflects their belief in past traditions and future possibilities. Michael was born in the picturesque medieval village of Graignamanagh, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. The workshop is located nearby in Co Carlow. Michael played guitar from an early age, influenced by his father, who was also a keen player. He grew up in an environment rich in music, of which the guitar held pride of place. Michael followed a rich family tradition in the art of creativity and along with his son found working with fine woods his most gratifying medium of expression.

Both Michael and his son Alec produce just a few bespoke guitars per year and are already regarded as two of the top makers in the world. Their instruments are made with a unique system that combines features of both lattice bracing and fan bracing carbon fibre concepts to produce a truly phenomenal sound. Their unique design concept was developed over many years and working closely with many of the world’s most famous guitarists they have created an instrument that is capable of the most beautiful tones imaginable, a work of pure art in the world of luthiers.


Rathwood Garden Centre Carlow.

First established in 1994, Rathwood has been a favourite garden centre and meeting point for families for decades to come. Not only does it have an award winning garden centre and retail space, but their playcentre, deer park, mazes, and woodland trains makes it a perfect meeting point for children’s birthday parties and other occasions for natives from Carlow and people from the surrounding counties for many reasons

Rathwood now employs more than 100 people and the 40,000 square foot site also hosts music concerts during the summer, while the retail space is a must see for children wanting to see Santa at Christmas. It was named Carlow Business of the Year at the County Carlow Chamber Business Awards in 2021.

Seed Golf

Man in dark sweater.

Dean Klatt

There are more than a few excellent golf clubs in Carlow. From these clubs, Seed Golf has grown. Being a golfer himself and seeing how the market doesn’t cater for younger or female golfers in terms of the price range of essential equipment, Australian CEO Dean Klatt decided to create a business that delivers golf balls and other equipment on a subscription basis.

With a range of golf balls and other equipment to choose from and a delivery schedule to suit your needs, the Institute of Technology Carlow based company also has several golfing apparel products to choose from.

According to the Irish Independent: “The balls are all designed in Carlow and made in Taiwan and while Irish people tend to love their brands, golfers are prepared to do their thinking with their wallets.”

Walsh Whiskey

Bottle of Irishman whiskey.

Created by Bernard and Rosemary Walsh, the business was established in 1999 and their motto is “Never Say Die. And that resilient attitude, along with our passion, innovation and attention-to-detail drive our family’s dream to create a legacy of whiskey excellence.”

Their two main brands include The Irishman and Writers’ Tears and both are award-winning brands. Their whiskeys always have a deep understanding of the past and where the couple wants their brand to be in terms of taste, the excellence in production and what their customers are looking for.

Their innovative website lets the consumer choose their flavours in terms of what they like in their whiskey ingredients and how much they like them. This then leads the website to recommend the consumer’s ideal match to one of the products that they offer. Their stockists include exports to more than 30 countries worldwide and the stockists available in Ireland.

Barry Walsh
Barry Walsh is a journalist specialising in business, diversity and inclusion and is also a content marketing specialist.