A Day Trip to County Wicklow
My first trip to the Emerald Isle in 2014 was like a dream come true. My sister, Beth, had traveled to Ireland many times, researching our maternal ancestry, in hopes of finding living rellies. Never having the funds to go, I listened intently to her stories, imagining the gorgeous green countryside, ancient castles, and, Beth’s favorite, the sheep and their little lambs frolicking in the grass.
Ultimately, Beth was successful in her genealogy research, and discovered we had rellies alive and well in Ireland. She was able to meet them, and, almost on a whim, they helped her find a home to purchase in County Westmeath! Genealogy is not for the weak-willed, as she basically put her personal life on hold for a year in order to fulfill her research mission.
We had our itinerary for the trip planned. One day was allotted to travel a bit south east to view the Wicklow Mountains. It was a Saturday, and traveling was absolute madness–the roads were overflowing with tourists and locals alike, seemingly racing to see who would arrive at the mountains first!
The park attracts over 1 million visitors a year. And I’m guessing the majority are there on a Saturday. Even though there was rain predicted throughout the day, it didn’t seem to dampen everyone’s craze to get out and explore. Our itinerary was jam-packed, however, and this was the chosen day.
Beth decided this was the perfect day for me to learn to drive in Ireland. Feeling up to the adventure, I gave it a go. This didn’t last much more than ten minutes; besides the traffic, we also encountered road construction and rain. But, at least I can say I drove in Ireland– and caused no harm to anyone!
The Wicklow Mountains run from the outskirts of Dublin city south westwards for about 60km to the bottom of County Wicklow. It is a protected area, and the largest of Ireland’s six National Parks.
I chose the following as my 5 favorite things about the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland:
Our first destination was Avoca Valley. Beth has put an enormous amount of time, energy, and cash into researching our family history in Ireland. The results of her efforts are well worth it-Beth found rellies still living in Ireland! She also found our ancestors Margaret Murtha, Eliza Butler, and John McDonald, who once lived in Avoca Valley.
The Avoca Store and Café and a working hand-weaving mill, built on the banks of the Avoca River from where it used to draw its power. The oldest surviving working mill in Ireland today, it dates back to 1723. Margaret Murtha was born here 100 years later. Wonder if any of my ancestors worked at the mill. The store offers a lovely variety of hand-knit goods. There was such an array of choices it was almost overwhelming; I finally settled on a gorgeous soft, purple shawl that would keep me warm on a cold Wisconsin evening. I doubt that the mill produced such a variety of items in so many vibrant colors back when it first opened!
Glendalough Monastic Settlement
This historic site, whose Gaelic name means Valley of the Two Lakes, offers a 6th-century monastery founded by St. Kevin. The famous round tower stands over 112 feet high and is quite impressive. The settlement includes a cemetery rich with history. I have developed a fascination with cemeteries due to Beth traipsing through so many of them across Ireland and Wisconsin, looking for genealogy clues. The location is gorgeous and the old settlement buildings are quaint and serene. The area is known as the Valley of Solitude. There was no solitude to be found that day-we couldn’t even find a parking spot!
My sister dropped me off to explore a bit, while she searched for a parking spot-she had been to the area on a previous trip. I quickly ran through the settlement, making an honest effort to see all that was offered, snapping photos, and even taking a selfie with the sheep in the pasture just beyond the historical area. Can’t believe such a violent movie as Braveheart was filmed in such a peaceful locale.
Blessington Lakes & Bridge
The Blessington Lakes are serenely located in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains, in Blessington. The lakes offer 5,000 acres of tranquil, clear water and are stunning.
One of my all time favorite movies is P.S. I Love You; part of it is filmed in Ireland. The scene where Holly (Hillary Swank), and Gerry (Gerard Butler), first meet is at the Sally Gap. Sally Gap is one of two east-to-west passes across the Wicklow Mountains. Sally Gap is a cross-road that leads you North to Dublin, West to Blessington, South to Glendalough or East to Roundwood. They walk together to find ‘Dun Laoghaire’ in the beautiful village of Lacken, overlooking the Blessington Lakes. Interesting, as Holly and Gerry are at a bit of a crossroads themselves and didn’t even realize it.
The conservation of biodiversity and landscape are the main purpose of the Wicklow Mountains National Forest. The area offers plenty of adventure to hikers and bikers who are, in my mind, very brave, if not a bit mad. No way would I bike down those narrow, winding mountain road ways. Experiencing the natural beauty of the mountains, valleys, and streams flowing into the lakes takes your breath away.
Powerscourt Gardens & House
Our last stop was Powerscourt Gardens and House. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to spend here, as they closed at 5 p.m. The Garden was started in the 1740’s and extends over 47 acres. It includes formal gardens, rambling walks, and walled gardens. There are over 200 varieties of trees and shrubs planted throughout. I read where Powerscourt Gardens was voted No. 3 in the Top 10 Gardens of the World by National Geographic.
In 1974 the house underwent a major refurbishment, returning it to its original state. Sadly, the day before it was scheduled to reopen, there was a fire that destroyed much of the homes grandeur. Over twenty years later, Powerscourt House was repaired and opened as a hotel. It is tragic, so much history, gone forever.
The house now includes a variety of shops offering furniture, decor, clothing, and souvenirs. There is a café, a greenhouse, and the coolest feature is a Georgian Ballroom that is two stories high. It has been restored and can be booked for weddings and special events. Can you imagine throwing a party here?
The day was such an adventure–the joy of discovering the intoxicating beauty, cultural heritage, and ancient structures of Ireland is a feeling I won’t forget. The country tugs at my heart and calls to my soul, and I have never felt so connected to any place as I do to Ireland!
Have you found a place that feels like home, that calls you back the moment you leave? Please share your experience with us in the comments below.
Till next time-Sandra