The town's English name derives from Arnkell's Lág (Arnkell was a Viking leader; a "lág" (low) was an area of land). Its Irish name, Inbhear Mór or An tInbhear Mór, means the large estuary. It is also known in Irish as Inbhear Dé, from the River Avonmore's older name, Abhainn Dé. Historically it was a major seafaring town, with both the shipping and fishing industries using the port, with shipbuilding also being a major industry. The town has a long history of industry.
After the arrival of the Anglo-Normans, their leader Theobald Walter, ancestor of the Earls of Ormonde, was granted the town and castle of Arklow by King Henry II. In 1264 the Dominicans were granted a large tract of land, which is now known as Abbeylands, and they built an abbey, which became known as the Priory of the True Cross or Holy Cross.
Some time after 1416, the Manor of Arklow came into the control of the MacMurrough Kings of Leinster, possibly after the death of the 4th Earl of Ormonde in 1452. In 1525, Muiris Kavanagh (McMurrough, King of Leinster 1522–31) returned the manor and castle of Arklow and its lands to his nephew Piers Butler, the Earl of Ormonde.
During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in September 1649, Oliver Cromwell arrived at Arklow on his way to Wexford and took the surrender of the town. In 1714, James Duke of Ormonde, sold the Manor of Arklow to John Allen of Stillorgan, County Dublin. In 1750 Allen's eldest granddaughter Elizabeth Allen married John Proby who was raised to the peerage in 1752 as Baron Carysfort of County Wicklow and came into possession of the Arklow Estate.
On 9 June 1798, the town was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the 1798 rebellion when a large force of Wexford rebels attacked the town in an attempt to spread the rising to Dublin but were repulsed by the entrenched British forces with huge slaughter.
There are eight primary schools located around the town, including one Gaelscoil.
There are four secondary schools serving the town, which are St. Mary's College, St.Kevin's C.B.S., Glenart College and Gaelcholáiste na Mara.
The N11/M11 from Dublin to Rosslare bypasses Arklow between junctions 20 and 21, becoming a motorway heading southbound from junction 20. A 16.5 km upgrade to the N11 between Arklow and Rathnew got underway in April, 2014. This will connect the existing N11 Arklow Bypass with the existing M11 Rathnew/Ashford Bypass creating motorway from Dublin to Gorey. This project will also include the construction of a service area on the M11-Northbound, just north of Gorey, with direct access from the M11-Southbound via an overpass.
Rail connections are provided by Iarnród Éireann along the Dublin-Rosslare railway line, including commuter and intercity services in and out of the capital. There is also a train to Dundalk available daily. Arklow railway station opened on 16 November 1863.
Bus Éireann provides several routes through Arklow, including the 002, 005, 133 and 384 services. In addition, Wexford Bus operates several services day and night linking Arklow with Dublin Airport.
In 1884, Charles Stewart Parnell rented Big Rock townland from his cousin William Proby, Earl of Carysfort, and commenced quarrying. Parnell was also a supporter of the Arklow harbour scheme. The Parnell quarries closed in the 1920s.
In the early part of the 20th century, a large munitions factory, Kynoch, was established on the north side of the town. This factory employed several thousand workers during the First World War but closed shortly after it, all production being moved to South Africa. 17 workers were killed in an explosion at Kynoch in 1917. The town is also famous for its pottery (which eventually closed after first being taken over by Noritake) and for its shipbuilding industry.
In the 1960s, a state-owned fertiliser factory, Nitrogen Éireann Teoranta, later Irish Fertiliser Industries, was established on the outskirts of the town. This factory complex comprised a number of chemical plants and manufactured a range of fertilisers from basic raw materials. It was one of the first major chemical plants in Ireland and contributed to the present-day success of the Irish chemical industry. It closed in 2002.
There is still a good industry base in Arklow, with Servier and Allergan still remaining, just two of the biggest manufacturers in Arklow. Allergan confirmed on 30 January 2008 that they will move their production to Costa Rica. This will take place over the next two years. In 2009, Elavon, a credit card processing company, purchased its business site at Arklow Business Park which signified a long-term commitment to the town.
The former national sail training vessel Asgard II was built by John Tyrrell & Son Ltd in Arklow. Another John Tyrrell & Son boat Gipsy Moth III was sailed to victory by Francis Chichester in the 1st Single-Handed Trans-Atlantic Race in 1960. His time of 40 and 1/2 days was 16 days faster than the previous record crossing. Recent times have seen large reductions in both cargo and fishing. However the town retains its significance to shipping in Ireland as the headquarters of Arklow Shipping, numerically the largest shipping company in Ireland, which maintains a fleet of 49 cargo ships and a subsidiary in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
The River Avoca is classified as seriously polluted by the Irish EPA as a result of the discharge of sewage directly into the river in addition to a long history of industrial pollution in the area from early mining operations and more recent chemical industries. In previous centuries, Arklow was renowned for oyster beds, however, these were destroyed over a century ago by pollutants from mining operations flowing down the river into the estuary.
A few kilometres into the Irish Sea is the Arklow Bank Wind Park, currently made up of a test of seven GE 3.6 MW machines, with 106m turbines. .
A recycling centre is located in one of the town's industrial estates, where a range of materials including cardboard, plastic bottles and paper (amongst other materials) can be brought for recycling. It is run by Wicklow County Council.
Raw effluent from the entire town still travels through the drainage system built in the 1930s, and spews out into the River Avoca untreated via several sewage outfall pipes along the river between the bypass bridge and the Nineteen Arches bridge, on both sides of the river. The proposed sewage treatment plant was first awarded planning permission in 1993. This was challenged unsuccessfully to An Bord Pleanála, however subsequently no funding arrived from government, and the planning permission was allowed to lapse. A further ten-year planning permission was granted in 1999. Since then it too has been challenged unsuccessfully to An Bord Pleanála. The current situation is that yet another legal challenge has been mounted by the objectors to the plant. Meanwhile, raw human effluence continues to flow untreated into the River Avoca. The Arklow Sea Scout group has started an online petition in favour of the proposed plant. A new planning process is underway.
To many foreign music fans, Arklow is best known as the title setting for Van Morrison's 1974 song "Streets of Arklow", one of eight songs he wrote on a three-week vacation back to Ireland, and featured on his album Veedon Fleece. The "Battle of Arklow" is a well-known hornpipe and non-traditional set dance tune, and is often played at feiseanna and other Irish dance competitions. Arklow is also the home town of pop group Moloko's lead singer Róisín Murphy. The Arklow Silver Band were featured on the track Red Hill Mining Town by U2, on their 1987 album The Joshua Tree. Arklow is known for very talented musicians. Each year "Arklow Music Festival" is held in the town. It was established in 1970. The festival lasts a week and it involves people coming to compete from all around the country. They compete in solo forms and group forms.
The Seabreeze festival is a three-day event in mid-July. The festival is a popular visitor attraction with many live shows and events at various venues throughout the town, ending in a fireworks display.
Arklow has been both the birthplace and place of residence for many artists such as Arthur and George Campbell who were born there sons of Gretta Bowen, a self-taught artist who had a unique and individual style devoid of pretensions or attached to any particular movement.
The seaside town has also been the backdrop for artists and philosophers such a Ludwig Wittgenstein who frequented the town for its beaches and vivid sunsets as lighting conditions here are excellent in particular during winter and summer months. Also the surrounding countryside and valley stretching back to the village of Avoca along the Avoca river is calming, leaving one with a sense of well-being, there is little doubt then as to why it is popular in art and poetry. Laterly Avoca village and the surrounding area were popularised in the T.V. show Ballykissangel, drawing many visitors from abroad who come to see where the show was filmed.
As a haven for inspiration and recuperation, Arklow was ideal for artists such as Lilian Davison, A.R.H.A. (landscape, portrait and genre painter) born in Bray in 1893 died 1954, who painted subjects such as Jack B. Yeats, Sarah Purser, 'AE' George Russell, Austin Clarke and Joseph Holloway. She would visit the town regularly as it was and still is a popular beachside resort; during her many trips there she drew many sketches and painted scenes of the town and beaches in particular "The Netter, Arklow" which depicts a scene of a man repairing a net by the harbourside with the harbour in the background; on the reserve-side of the painting is a sketch of children playing on the south beach.
Percy French, artist and poet, was also known to visit Arklow and Avoca so much so that he married there, He made many sketches and wrote poems describing his feeling for the place.
Arklow is part of the South European Parliament constituency and the Wicklow Dáil Éireann constituency. In local government, Arklow and the surrounding areas has six councillors on Wicklow County Council, representing the Arklow Municipal District.
The following elected representatives are based in and around Arklow and the Arklow Municipal District:
County Councillors:Cllr. Sylvester Bourke (FG; Cathaoirleach of Arklow Municipal District)
Cllr. Pat Kennedy (FF; Leas-Cathaoirleach of Arklow Municipal District)
Cllr. Tommy Annesley (FF)
Cllr. Pat Fitzgerald (FF)
Cllr. Mary McDonald (SF)
Cllr. Miriam Murphy (Ind)
Arklow is twinned with: Aberystwyth, Wales
Born in Arklow:Garrett Byrne, Irish nationalist and MP (1829–1897).
Ron Delany, won Ireland's last gold medal in track and field at the 1956 Olympics in the 1500m.
Róisín Murphy, singer-songwriter.