County Wicklow was long known as the Last County, mainly because it was not formally established until 1606, and is thus the youngest of Ireland’s 32 counties, as well as being at the end of the alphabetrical list.
Nowadays, the county is marketed as “the Garden of Ireland”, and promotes its charms vigourously to both domestic and foreign tourists.
For a garden, Co. Wicklow is dominated by a rather disproportionate rockery.
The wild Wicklow Mountains are a range of domed granite hills, many quite high and formidably steep. The rock-strewn, boggy highlands are treeless for the most part, though coarse grasses, gorse, heather and ferns abound. This bleak, moonlike landscape, is penetrated by deep glens and wooded valleys filled with rushing streams, waterfalls, rivers and spectacularly beautiful lakes. Regarded as bandit country for many centuries, the area is now popular for climbing and hillwalking. The Wicklow Mountains National Park, established in 1991, covers over 17,000 hectares, and the Wicklow Way is a scenic hiking route through the region.
The Wicklow coastline varies from rocky cliffs and pebble coves to long stretches of shingle and marsh to broad sandy beaches with shifting dunes.Between the sea and the mountains the countryside is leafy and bucolic, largely given over to cultivating market fruit and vegetables. Inland to the west of the mountains the landscape gradually settles into Ireland’s broad central plain. Oats, potatoes, cattle feed, and market crops are grown in the fertile lowlands.
Apart from agriculture, the county’s traditional industries are dairying, cattle and sheep raising, mining and fishing; however, tourism now plays a vital role in the county’s economy, and there are so many facilities for outdoor pursuits such as golf, horse riding, hang gliding, sailing, scuba diving etc. that the county should really be dubbed Dublin’s Recreation Zone.
County Wicklow History
The territory now known as County Wicklow was formed by the movements of glaciers From shortly after the end of the last Ice Age until about 200 years ago it was heavily forested with oak, elm, hazel etc.
There is archaeological evidence of Bronze Age settlers and later prehistoric inhabitants, but the Wicklow Mountains were still wild when Christianity began to make its mark on the landscape, most notably in Glendalough.
The Vikings established theports that were to become Wicklow Town and Arklow, taken over in the late C12th by Nrman invaders, who also built castles at Newcastle and Bray. However, the territory remained outside the Medieval Pale, and was largely controlled by the O’Byrne, O’Toole and Kavanagh clans. Their merciless harrassment of English troops led by King Richard II in 1399 led to his disgrace and loss of the Crown, while Lord Furnival was highly praised in 1414 for having the courage to march an army through the region without any dire consequences resulting either to himself or his men.
The reign of Queen Elizabeth I saw massive changes all over Ireland, including the Wicklow region. In 1580 a combined force of Gaelic warriors led by Fiach McHugh O’Byrne and Old English under Sir James Eustace defeated an English army at the Battle of Glenmalure, but failed to capitalise on their victory; almost all land held by thre O’Tooles, O’Byrnes and other natives had been confiscated by the end of the C16th, and County Wicklow came into being in 1606.
Over the next 250 years, the wild topography of trackless woodland, with wolves and scattered cultivation plots, was transformed by Wicklow’s new landlords into English-style countryside. As trees were (very profitably) felled and land cleared, the modern pattern of boundaries, ditches and roads gradually came into being. The demands of industry and the Royal Navy took their toll on the remainder.
The 1798 Rebellion saw hard fighting in the southern part of the county. There is a tendency to honour the doomed bravery of the pikemen against overwhelming odds, without recalling the appalling sectarian atrocities committed on both sides; but there is no doubt about the savage reprisals and brutal repression that followed. The British government ordered the construction of the Military Road through the Wicklow Mountains in order to bring the hinterland “bandit country” under control.
County Wicklow’s most striking architecture dates from the C18 and C19, mostly built for the huge Beresford, Downshire and FitzWilliam (Malton) Estates and those held by the Earls of Wicklow, Meath, Carysfort and Aldborough, General Cunninghame and his successors as the Barons of Rossmore, the See of Dublin, the Wingfields of Powerscourt, and the Acton, Grattan, Hutchinson, La Touche, Leeson, Parnell, Synge, Tighe and Whaley families.
The Great Famine and its aftermath wrought great suffering in County Wicklow. Solutions promoted by some of the more humane landlords included Relief Works and sponsored emigration. Between starvation, illness, evictions and mass exodus, the population of the county was vastly reduced, and has only begun to recover fully in recent years.
County Wicklow has an area of 2,024Km, making it the 4th largest county in the Province of Leinster and the 17th largest in Ireland,