Borris is a Georgian, granite village, full of charm and heritage nestling in the fertile valley of the River Barrow and the ideal gateway for nearby Mount Leinster and the Blackstairs Mountains. Its old granite houses and Victorian shop fronts have remained largely intact. Most of the town’s buildings stand on the north side of a steeply rising main street, overshadowed by the presence of the very substantial demesne walls of Borris House.
Built in Tudor style, Borris House is the home of the Kavanagh family, direct descendants of the McMorrough Kavanagh dynasty, former Celtic Kings of Leinster. The town prospered in the late 1800s as Arthur McMorrough Kavanagh, the landlord of the time, developed a sawmill. The Borris Lace industry was started by his mother, Lady Harriet McMorrough Kavanagh in the mid-1840s to provide employment for local women and help relieve the hardships which followed the Great Famine. After their marriage in 1855, Arthur’s wife Frances took over the management of Borris Lace and, from all accounts, was just as capable and earnest as her mother-in-law. Borris Lace soon became famous for its beautiful, intricate patterns and found its way to stately homes as far afield as Russia.
Arthur also instigated the building of the spectacular 16-arch viaduct, situated at the lower end of the town, which carried the now defunct Great Southern and Western Railway Line between Bagenalstown and Palace East in Co.Wexford. A pleasing feature of the town is the Sacred Heart Church, built in 1820 with a facade of granite decorated with limestone which incorporates a Romanesque style doorway.
The parish of Borris also includes two smaller villages, Ballymurphy and Rathanna. Ballymurphy is a hillside village that derives its name from Matthew Murphy of Clonroche, County Wexford, a landowner and builder of a castle in the area in the mid-17th century. This is the first village encountered on the County Carlow side of the Blackstairs Mountains by the traveller passing close to the Sculloge Gap. Close by on Shannon’s Lane is the site of the 1941 German bombing which killed three members of the Shannon family. Rathanna is located at the foot of Mount Leinster and is the ideal spot to stop off after a ramble in the hillside.