Wicklow, the Garden of Ireland

Written by Ann Rhodes
(A Highly Commended entry in the Heritage Writing Competition.)

Wicklow, the Garden of Ireland, like any good garden, has colour, vibrancy, wilderness, some cosy corners and, occasionally, unexpected places where you feel the presence of an ancient magic. Ireland’s heritage is here in the mountains and coastline, museums and music, gardens and towns.

Wicklow: Kilmacurragh Gardens
Kilmacurragh Gardens

Lovely Wicklow Town can be reached by coach directly from the airport and while it is a perfect place to base your holiday, transport is needed to explore the coastline, including the white sands at Brittas Bay, and the delights the county has to offer.

Top of those delights is Glendalough, the glen of two loughs, the site St Kevin chose to found his monastery in the 6th century. Caress the old stones there and you will sense the essence of learning and devotion, the scratching of quills as scribes worked on beautiful manuscripts. The tall round tower, built to keep the monks and their treasures safe from marauding Vikings stands yet, a reminder that this beautiful glen was not always as tranquil as it is these days. You can stroll around the ruins of the monastic city, walk around the lakes or climb the surrounding Wicklow Hills if the fancy takes you, but make sure you hasten to the Glendalough Hotel or the Wicklow Heather in nearby Laragh for refreshment at the end of the day.

White sands at Brittas Bay
White sands at Brittas Bay

Powerscourt House with its beautiful gardens and nearby waterfall was a favourite Sunday outing when I was young. Nowadays there is an entrance fee for both, but you can stroll, shop and eat at the gardens and at the waterfall there are toilets and a food kiosk. Sadly our childhood adventure of lighting a fire by the waterfall and feasting on the culinary delights of undercooked sausages and overcooked Smash is no longer allowed. Entrance fees (Seniors) for the gardens are €8.50 in summer, (€7.50 in winter) and to view the waterfall where Excalibur was filmed long ago will cost you €5.50.

Wicklow’s best kept secret, though, is Kilmaccuragh Botanic Garden at Rathdrum, 52 acres of gardens looked after by the National Botanic Gardens. The old house there is in ruins, but it is hoped one day to raise funds to restore it for use as a study centre for schools.

Rhododendron at Kilmacurragh Gardens
Rhododendron at Kilmacurragh Gardens

Entrance to the gardens is free and the excellent guided walks, informal and entertaining, led by knowledgeable volunteers are also free. There is a good café too. In the 7th century there was an abbey at Kilmaccuragh and there once was a pilgrim path between it and the monastery at Glendalough – so don’t be surprised if you glimpse a ghostly shadow amongst the trees.

Back in Wicklow Town, have a pint of Guinness in Phil Healy’s while deciding where to eat your evening meal. Indeed you could do worse than eat there but there are lots of places to choose from.

If you have a few hours to spare, head to Wicklow Gaol where the story of this historic place will be unfurled for you by authentically attired guides – €6.70 entrance for Seniors.

Mural at Wicklow Harbour
Murals at Wicklow Harbour

Spend some time strolling around Wicklow Town. Browse in Angela’s Attic on the main street to find quirky gifts and enjoy the memories the ever changing and eclectic stock there will bring. Have lunch in the Bier Café where the day’s special is always €9 – and delicious. And then head down the hill to the harbour with its bright murals. Permanent resident Sammy the Seal will welcome you and, if you are lucky, you may spot a shy otter near the bridge.

If you are planning on staying in the town, Angela’s Attic has a one bedroom apartment above the shop available on Airbnb. It is as quirky as the shop and very popular. A good place to lay your head after a day out and about in the Garden of Ireland.

PS There is a new bus service from Wicklow Town to Glendalough, which would be very useful to travellers who don’t have their own transport.

POSTED 13th JUNE 2019 by STEVE HANSON on behalf of ANN RHODES. Photographs were supplied by the author after the competition had been judged.