Our route over the past few days has taken us from Dublin down through the beautiful Wicklow Mountains to the Hook Peninsula.
Overview: 4 days, 250 miles exactly
(including the mileage from our side trip from Dublin to Trim Castle, described in our previous post)
We’ve been slowly getting into the swing of motorhome life in Ireland. It’s been pretty easy so far. We’ve had no real problems, we’ve been finding plenty of interesting places to look at, and all of our overnight stops so far have been just great. It’s easy to overlook Ireland as a motorhoming destination given the magnetic attraction of motorhomers to France, just across the Channel. We’re SO pleased that we decided to take the plunge this summer and give Ireland a go.
Our original plan had us heading South out of Dublin, but in the event, we made a slight detour a few miles to the West first. This brought us to Castletown House, which is one of quite a number of Palladian mansions built in Ireland during the 18th century. We had figured that if we looked at one of them during our trip round Ireland, that would suffice. Castletown is an OPW property, so our English Heritage cards got us in for free.
Castletown was the first of Ireland’s Palladian mansions, built in 1722-1729 for William Conolly. Conolly was the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons and the richest man in Ireland at the time of his death in 1730. From humble beginnings, he had studied law, got involved in land deals, and somehow ended up owning 150,000 acres. Luck of the Irish? or a reflection of the slightly dubious nature of 18th century lawyering?
For Conolly, the house was a way of showing off his wealth and status; sorting out the inside was left to Louisa, the wife of his great nephew, Thomas Conolly, who inherited in 1754 following the deaths in quick succession of his great aunt and then his father.
Nice plasterwork and cantilevered staircase:
Unfortunately, most of the contents of the house were auctioned off in the 1960s before the house itself passed into state ownership. One thing that has remained, though, is a set of absolutely hideous Murano glass chandeliers:
Presumably there were no willing buyers for those then….
In stark contrast, the Wicklow Mountains, just South of Dublin, are beautiful. We did our first night of Irish wild camping at Glenmacnass on the R115, which follows the route of the military road built by the British in 1800 to try to establish better control over the Irish rebels who tended to hang around in these parts.
We had a very peaceful night, just us and a family tent camping down by the river, except for a period of exceptionally loud baa-ing from the local woolly population at some point in the wee small hours.
The next day we visited Glendalough, which was very very busy; we’re in prime “day trip from Dublin” territory here! Note for motorhomers: the car park at the visitor centre charges €15 for motorhomes (€5 for cars); we continued up the road to the car park at the Upper Lake, which charges a flat rate of €4. They’re both on the circular walk that everyone does.
Glendalough is the site of a monastic settlement established by followers of St Kevin. Kevin had arrived at Glendalough during the 6th century and taken up the life of a hermit in a cave overlooking the Upper Lake. There’s no peace for the saintly, though, and as word of him spread, other folk started turning up. Typical!
Glendalough soon became an important place of pilgrimage; apparently seven trips to Glendalough are equivalent to one trip to Rome. I suspect that along the same lines, one Roman gelato is probably worth seven of the offerings from Kevin’s Cones:
The monastic buildings you can see at Glendalough today date from the 10th to the 12th centuries. There are remains, in various stages of preservation, of a number of monastic buildings. Among the most complete is Kevin’s Kitchen, the small oratory in the photo below, so named because the belfry looks like a chimney:
One thing you can’t really see in the photo is that behind Kevin’s Kitchen, the whole place is one big graveyard. The thing I found most odd, apart from the fact that the Irish are seemingly happy to use the monastic site itself rather than forming a graveyard to one side of it, is that the dates of the graves are a complete jumble; I saw a 1950s grave squashed into a small space between two 18th century graves, for example. Here’s another 20th century grave crammed in among much older headstones:
It seems that there’s always “room for a little ‘un” here!
The round tower is interesting. It’s 30 metres high with four windows at the top and then one window on each of the lower levels. The doorway, like the one we saw recently at Peel Castle on the Isle of Man, is a good 4-5 metres above ground level. At Glendalough, we were given the same explanation as at Peel, that the towers could be used as a defensive retreat, but were also told that the Irish word for the towers translates as “bell tower”, so that’s what they must be. No bells have been found in or near any of the 80 or so surviving towers in Ireland though…. hmmmm… not even one little bell?
The display at the visitor centre informed us that there are only three Irish-style round towers outside of Ireland. One is at Peel Castle on the Isle of Man. The other two are in Scotland. One is at Abernethy in Perthshire and the other is a few miles further North at Brechin in Angus. Now here’s the slightly spooky thing; in addition to my “descended from a small bald person” GGG grandfather John Mullen, I have another GGG grandfather, James Rutherford, who came from Abernethy, Perthshire. I haven’t been to Abernethy yet and had no idea that it had any particular claims to fame. It’s not as if Abernethy is a big place; its population in 2016 was only 204 people.
(on reading this post in draft form, Mark commented that there is such a thing as the Abernethy biscuit. Further research reveals that this was invented by an Englishman John Abernethy – though of course the Abernethy surname quite possibly originated with a male-line ancestor who hailed from Abernethy the place).
So that’s two blog posts so far from our Irish adventures and two GGG grandfathers we’ve obliquely bumped into. I wonder if this is a pattern that’s set to continue? I’ve got another six GGG grandfathers on my dad’s side to go at (plus eight on my mum’s side if this isn’t just a paternal phenomenon).
We spent our second night of Irish wild camping back up in the Wicklow Mountains, this time at the Wicklow Gap which is one of the highest road passes in Ireland.
Sunday was a very hot and sunny day. Our route took us back to the coast, passing the entrance to Mount Usher Gardens on the way. Given the heat, we were unable to drum up the energy or enthusiasm to visit…..
We followed the coast road South as far as Arklow, where we stopped off for a wander round and a bit of shopping at ALDI. Heritage Trail signs informed us that Arklow was the site of an explosives factory belonging to Kynoch Limited (which Mark tells me is well-known name in the field of ammunition; Kynoch Ltd was consolidated into the newly formed ICI during the post-war years but the “Kynoch” name was retained as a brand). The factory at Arklow opened in 1895 and continued operations until just after the First World War. Over 3000 people were employed at the height of production during WW1.
Our first paid overnight stop after Dublin was at Moneylands Farm just South of Arklow (GPS 52.7844, -6.1638). We paid €10 without electricity (it’s €15 with electricity or €20 if you also want to use their swimming pool). They even have a café, open during the daytime. By evening, the car park was empty and it was just us and two other vans in the very nice motorhome aire:
The next morning, we continued our slow trundle in a vaguely Southerly direction. We got a private guided tour at Ferns Castle (this is another OPW property but it’s free of charge to all comers).
The guide, Larry, really did have a story for every occasion. On hearing that we’d been on the Isle of Man for this year’s TT and were heading to the Ulster GP in August, quick as a flash he whipped out his best road racing tale. Apparently, Larry was a police officer for 33 years before becoming a tour guide. One night, many years ago, Larry and a colleague spotted a white van parked where it shouldn’t really be at the side of the road. Hmmm… They went to investigate…. Peering in through the windows, they could see that the van was full of bikes and there was a sleeping figure curled up across the front seats. The county’s crime of the century foiled? No, it turned out that it was Joey Dunlop and he’d missed his ferry…..
Eventually, Mark and Larry stopped talking about bike racing and Larry started talking about castles. Ferns Castle was built by William Marshal, one of the most famous knights of the late 12th century. Marshal had married Isabel de Clare, a rich heiress whose maternal grandfather was the Irish king who’d got Henry II involved in Ireland in the first place. Her father had been Earl of Pembroke; through the marriage Marshal acquired land in England, Wales, Normandy and Ireland.
We didn’t just learn about Ferns Castle on our tour. We got a great view (above) from the top of the tower. The local kids in the foreground were busy doing hurling practice, so Larry explained all about hurling before pointing out some other landmarks. The hill on the horizon on the left is Vinegar Hill, scene of a huge battle and the rebels’ unsuccessful last stand during the uprising of 1798.
The small hill on the horizon to the right? John F Kennedy’s great grandfather came from just the other side of that hill. He left Ireland during the potato famine in the late 1840s. I asked whether the Kennedys had been well off relative to the general population in the area. No, came the answer, they weren’t, but the Kennedys did have one thing going for them; they were coopers (barrel-makers), so when they arrived in America at least they had a trade to fall back on.
We drove through Wexford on our way South but didn’t stop off for a look around. Maybe next time. Even with eight weeks in Ireland, there’s just no way that we can fit everything in. So much to see, so little time. I guess that’s life in a nutshell really….
So here we are down at Hook Lighthouse at the tip of the Hook Peninsula. It’s beautiful down here. There are quite a few vans parked up as it’s a well-known wild camping spot. We haven’t had chance to have a good look around yet; we’ll do that tomorrow morning before setting out on our next set of Irish adventures.