My husband and I had a trip booked to Ireland in June 2020. Due to Covid, the trip never happened. For a myriad of reasons, it’s a trip that likely won’t happen any time soon. I’ve pulled up my old itinerary, and I’m going to explore as much of this holiday as virtually as I can!
DAY 5: WICKLOW MOUNTAINS TOUR
GOAL: Today’s goal was to enjoy some true Irish scenery: “County Wicklow, more commonly known as the “Garden of Ireland”. Beautiful lakes, dense forests and beautiful views were to make this an incredibly scenic drive and a fine day away from the hustle and bustle of Dublin city.” -greyline tours
We were booked on Greyline’s Wicklow Mountians tour (I think it was $40-ish per person, and they never refunded us even though they said they had. That still irritates me when I think about it.) Anyway…here are the highlights of what we missed:
- Visit Glencree, Ireland’s only German military cemetery, which holds the remains of a spy who was moved there under cover of darkness.
- A chance to visit Wicklow’s National Park and Glendalough Lake & Valley, renowned for an Early Medieval Monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St Kevin.
- Great picture opportunities overlooking the scenic Lough Tay/ the Guinness Lake, once home to Arthur Guinness and his family!
- See the P.S. I Love You Bridge, made famous by Gerry & Holly and their 2007 award-winning film.
- Explore the picturesque Avoca Village and enjoy a bite to eat in Fitzgerald’s Pub!
Okay, that all sounds fine and dandy, but what does that all mean? Time to do some internet sleuthing about the Wicklow Mountains:
- The mountains are primarily composed of granite surrounded by an envelope of mica-schist and much older rocks such as quartzite. They were pushed up during the Caledonian orogeny at the start of the Devonian period and form part of the Leinster Chain, the largest continuous area of granite in Ireland and Britain. The mountains owe much of their present topography to the effects of the last ice age.
- The dominant habitat of the uplands consists of blanket bog, heath and upland grassland. The uplands support a number of bird species, including merlin and peregrine falcon. The valleys are a mixture of coniferous and deciduous woodland.
- The mountains have been inhabited since Neolithic times and a number of typical monuments, in particular a series of passage tombs, survive to the present day.
- The principal farming activity in the uplands is sheep grazing, using mainly the Wicklow Cheviot breed. Land is also used for forestry and turf cutting. Tourism and recreation are also major activities in the uplands. Glendalough remains the most popular destination, receiving around one million visitors each year. Recreational activities in the mountains include walking, rock climbing, winter climbing, fishing and cycling.
- Glendalough is a glacial valley in County Wicklow, Ireland, renowned for an Early Medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St Kevin. Glendalough, or the Glen of two Lakes, is one of the most important sites of monastic ruins in Ireland. Before the arrival of St. Kevin this glen would have been desolate and remote and would have been ideal for a secluded retreat. The present remains in Glendalough tell only a small part of its story.
- Saint Kevin, of noble birth, founded a monastery where the ‘two rivers form a confluence’. Kevin’s writings discuss his fighting “knights” at Glendalough; scholars today believe this refers to his process of self-examination and his personal temptations. He lived as a hermit in a partially man made cave (sometimes incorrectly described as a Bronze age tomb) now known as St. Kevin’s Bed. Kevin lived the life of a hermit there with an extraordinary closeness to nature. His companions were the animals and birds all around him. He lived as a hermit for seven years wearing only animal skins, sleeping on stones and eating very sparingly. He went barefoot and spent his time in prayer. Disciples were soon attracted to Kevin and a further settlement enclosed by a wall, called Kevin’s Cell, was established nearer the lakeshore. By 540 Saint Kevin’s fame as a teacher and holy man had spread far and wide. Many people came to seek his help and guidance. In time Glendalough grew into a renowned seminary of saints and scholars and the parent of several other monasteries. Until his death around 618, Kevin presided over his monastery in Glendalough, living his life by fasting, praying and teaching.
- The monastery in its heyday included workshops, areas for manuscript writing and copying, guest houses, an infirmary, farm buildings and dwellings for both the monks and a large lay population. The buildings which survive probably date from between the 10th and 12th centuries.
- Circa 1042, oak timber from Glendalough was used to build the second-longest Viking longship recorded (circa 30 m). A modern replica of that ship was built in 2004 and is currently located in Roskilde, Denmark.
- In 1170, during the Norman invasion displaced two important Gaelic clans from Kildare, the O’Byrnes and the O’Tooles. The Wicklow Mountains thus became a stronghold and hiding place for those Irish clans who opposed English rule. The O’Byrnes moved to the east and the O’Tooles to the west. The O’Byrne and O’Toole families carried out a campaign of harassment against the settlers for almost five centuries. From their mountain strongholds both families conducted a persistent campaign of harassment against the invaders and the Wicklow Mountains became known as the terra guerre (“land of war”), as opposed to the terra pacis (“land of peace”) of the settled lowlands.
- Glencree, Ireland’s only German military cemetery. It contains 134 graves of mainly Luftwaffe (Air Force) and Kriegsmarine (Navy) World War II personnel. Many of those interred within washed up on the country’s beaches or crashed their aircraft overhead. The last set of remains is the only one to have an individual memorial: a downturned sword entwined with thorns. This is a memorial to Major Hermann Görtz. His story is one of intrigue and deception, and his life ended when he pulled a small glass vial of prussic acid from his pocket and swallowed it.
- Lough Tay, also called “Guinness Lake” because it resides within the Guinness Estate, has limited public access, but can be easily viewed at a distance.
- Lough Tay is the setting for the fictional village of Kattegat in the 2013 television historical drama series Vikings. Seeing this lake was one of the main reasons why we wanted to go on this tour! Go Lagertha!
- I never saw the movie, P.S. I Love You, so I could have gone either way about seeing that bridge. But here’s a link to someone else’s blog about it. Looks like it was in a nice setting.
- Avoca Village sounds like it was an interesting old mining town: Copper mining is reported to have begun in the Avoca River valley around 1720 and it continued, with interruptions, until 1982. Earlier mining, perhaps dating back to the Bronze Age, may have occurred. The East Avoca site, today, is composed mainly of a number of rock waste spoil heaps, abandoned quarries (Cronebane and East Avoca open pits) and disused roads. The village experience was our chance to chat with weavers about how they make their famous Avoca throw. Well, blimey, we missed out!
Next up: CASHEL day.