The National Enterprise Town Awards: Carlow Town

We are profiling all the towns to enter this year’s National Enterprise Town Awards. Today we are looking at Carlow Town. 

Carlow Town is the 14th largest urban district in the country and is the capital town for Ireland’s second smallest county. It has a proud history in traditional types of industry including engineering and agriculture, and is now a strong player in distilling, brewing, pharmaceuticals and education. 

The town has a population of 24,272, and while the numbers in the workforce across the county increased in recent years, the 2016 census showed that the rate of unemployment in the county stood above the national average.

The River Barrow flows through the town and forms the historic boundary between counties Laois and Carlow. The settlement of Carlow is thousands of years old and pre-dates written Irish history. The town has played a major role in Irish history, serving as the capital of the country in the 14th century.

The town was hit hard in the mid-2000s when a number of big employers either closed down and left the area. The Sugar Factory’s closure in 2005 saw a loss of 250 jobs in the town. The factory was founded in Carlow in 1926 but closed in its eightieth year in operation. The departure of Braun in 2009 and German engineering firm Lapple in 2007 led to a further loss of 160 and 140 jobs respectively.  

However, while many mourn the demise of the sugar industry, it has left an enormous legacy in Carlow Town. At its peak, the factory and its sister company, Erin Foods employed 1,800 people in and its commitment to the upskilling and education of workers has left a lasting skill base and a wealth of entrepreneurs within the area.

Carlow Town is home to multiple enterprises ranging from single owner businesses to larger companies with hundreds of employees. Many of the businesses in the town centre are owner operated, and numerous businesses have been trading in the area for several generations.

The Business Picnic takes place in Carlow Town every summer and is one of Ireland’s most innovative networking events. Now in its fourth year, the event is hosted by Carlow’s Local Enterprise Office and attracts businesses from across the country.

Coupled with the business and enterprise aspects of the town, there is a thriving community spirit and volunteer sector with many long-established community enterprises such as Delta Centre, Holy Angels Day Care Centre, the Beekeepers Association, and the Éist Cancer Support Network and new enterprises popping up all the time like An Gairdin Beo and the Sugar Factory Studios.

Carlow is home to two third level colleges; the Institute of Technology Carlow and St. Patrick’s Carlow College, both of which will soon be part of The University of the South East, along with Waterford IT, and the student population is expected to increase to over 10,000 students.

The town also has a flourishing arts scene with the state of the art Visual Centre for Contemporary Art and The George Bernard Shaw Theatre. There are also a number of festivals including the Carlow Arts Festival which takes places every year and is now in its 40th year, the relatively new Carlow Fringe Arts Festival, the intimate Pembroke Club D Art and the Dancer in Residence and Writer in Residence programmes.

Written by Stephen Larkin

Published on August 14, 2019

Photo courtesy of Twitter: @CarlowWeather