The lure of Ireland reaches out to us even from nothing more than a photograph. Visions of the yearning Irishman standing on the cliffs of Ireland gazing longingly towards America have been imprinted in our minds through stories and movies, even while we ourselves pine for Ireland. Ireland weaves her mystical thread around our hearts even before we reach her shores. And there is no place more reminiscent of this magic than county Wicklow.
Referred to as “the Garden of Ireland”, County Wicklow is a combination of luscious, rolling mountains, quiet desolate wilderness and vivid coastlines where grassy cliffs seem to hover over the ocean. Ancient Christian ruins hidden in the glens of the Wicklow Mountains attract avid walkers while quaint towns and villages provide unique, local shopping.
Wicklow Mountain National Park
When an Irish friend tells you to take a “shortcut” through the Wicklow Mountains, take it…even though it most assuredly is not a shortcut. But the drive will be one of the most poignant experiences you may ever have. The Wicklow Mountains lie north and south on the east coast of Ireland, a National Park since 1991. Wicklow Mountains have been described as unimpressive by some, but I disagree. Of course, to me, being from the Colorado Rockies, the mountains are more hill than mountain, yet their beauty is incomparable. The first time I drove through these Irish mountains, the luscious hills and deep valleys were shrouded in a soft mist, creating a feeling of aloneness and desolation almost surreal. Yet, we were only about 10 miles south of Dublin.
South on R-115, originally built as a military road, is Glendalough, one of the most important must sees of Ireland. Glendalough, pronounced Glen-da-lock, meaning “two lakes” provides 9 trails of hiking around and between the two lakes. The visitor’s center and museum is located at the lower lake area and the best place to start.
One trail leads to one of Irelands most incredible monastery settlements. The settlement was founded by Saint Kevin in the 6th century and survived many Viking attacks. The amazing 110 foot, round tower has survived almost intact and may be one of the reasons the monks also withstood the Vikings. The graveyard is a piece of history all by itself and has a few good examples of ancient Celtic crosses. You can almost hear the voices on the breeze of those who lived in this deep wooded glen. The settlement housed both St. Patrick and St. Kevin and long after these settlements were dismantled in the 1500’s, pilgrims continued to flock here on June 3, St. Kevin’s Day. A day in Glendalough is so magical it is a favorite weekend jaunt for Dubliners.
The Wicklow Way
One of the most intensive Irish walks is made through the Wicklow Mountains, from Dublin all the way to Carlow. The Wicklow Way, a 132 k walk, takes you through unrefined mountains, parkways, forests and open countryside. The walk will take an average hiker approximately 8 to ten days to complete so definitely plan your trip with enough time. Don’t despair! There are great B&B’s all along the way to revive you for the next day. Hikers taking this walk want to make sure to leave zero trace of their travels along the way to help keep the natural, undisturbed beauty.
Wicklow Town and Wicklow Gaol
Wicklow Town, a place of winding streets and pristine, picturesque houses is home to not only some fabulous local arts and crafts, but also the Wicklow Gaol, on Kilmantin Hill. There has been a Gaol on the same site since 1702 and was actually utilized until the 1920’s. The very vivid displays bring to life the misery and horrors those locked in the Gaol endured before being shipped off as prisoners to the penal colonies in Australia (those who survived the Gaol itself). You can even climb aboard a replica of the ship the prisoners would have boarded for their horrendous journey. The restaurant employees are great for a dose of history and local information, or just a friendly conversation over a cup of tea. Along the coast old weathered cannons seem to guard the town and its rugged shores from an invisible army.
Devil’s Glen Woods
Outside the little village of Ashford is 200 acres of the thick forests of Devil’s Glen. Beautiful walks turn into a work of art with the woodland sculptures dotted throughout the trails and a natural waterfall where the Vartry River comes into the glen. For those who want to take day trips out into county Wicklow or other nearby counties Devil’s Glen cottages and equestrian center rent quaint attached cottages that sleeps 6 to 8 people comfortably. Each cottage is equipped with fireplaces and local peat, fully equipped kitchens and cozy furnishings. Surrounded by the perfection of Irish countryside and deep, mossy woods where Irish deer roam close to the cottages Devil’s Glen is definitely a place to recapture peace and tranquility.
Avoca Woolen Mills
My favorite sweater is a woolen cozy from Ireland. Nothing compares to good Irish wool and there is a woolen mill in County Wicklow world renowned for their woven products. Avoca Handweavers in Avoca, Wicklow is the oldest woolen mill in Ireland. It also has the distinction of being the oldest business in Ireland. Avoca mill has been in operation since the 1700’s and continues to produce some of the finest wool clothing for retail and wholesale. You can visit the mill and see the operation and their entire line of clothing in the attached shop or eat at the terrace style cafe. The mill is located in the magnificent gardens of an old estate which is an added bonus.
No matter what you enjoy, hiking, bicycling, shopping, fishing, golfing, or just simply sightseeing through the misty mountains and woodlands, Wicklow County never seems to run out of new treasures and discoveries. With the close proximity to Dublin, Wicklow County presents one of the most versatile and convenient locations even for those with a limited time on holiday. I know a part of me will always be in Wicklow and when I am longing for Ireland the haunting beauty of Wicklow Mountains and the woods and magical ruins of Glendalough are visions I hold to until I can make my way back to Ireland.
Wicklow Mountains National Park