Wicklow Town (Co. Wicklow / Southeast)
Wicklow Town(Cill Mhantáin – “Church of the toothless one”), (pop.13,000) is the county capital, rapidly growing as a commuter satellite of DUBLIN. Located on the lower slopes of Ballyguile Hill, the town has a pleasant atmosphere, with several good pubs and eateries.
Wicklow Harbour, from which many boats fish for whelks (sea snails), abundant in local waters, while occasional ocean-going ships bring in timber and other construction materials, is popular with sailing and other maritime sports enthusiasts.
According to legend, Saint Patrick attempted to land nearby, but was attacked by unfriendly locals who broke the front teeth of one of his companions; undeterred, the toothless one returned and eventually founded a church. Unfortunately, there is no other evidence that such a local holy man ever actually existed.
Around 870 AD, Scandinavian mariners established a seaport named Vikinglo – “Viking Lough”. The isolated settlement was for several centuries the only urban centre in the region, and the Norse name was still used by its inhabitants when the Normans arrived in 1170.
The remains of a C13th Franciscan Friary are located within the grounds of St Patrick’s church (RC), an imposing Victorian edifice, while the C18th St Thomas’ church (CoI) has an ancient stone font and a Norman doorway, thought to have been relocated from a hilltop building of which nothing else survives.
Several elegant Georgian and Victorian buildings stand out, notably the Town Hall.
A town square monument commemorates Billy Byrne of Ballymanus, falsely denounced and executed as a ringleader of the 1798 Rebellion; the statue is sometimes dressed up in the local GAA football team regalia.
In Fitzwilliam Square there is an obelisk in honour of Captain Robert Halpin, born in Wicklow in 1836, who grew up to be one of the most interesting mariners in C19th maritime history.
The old Courthouse is now a Heritage Centre displaying some interesting artefacts, and also provides a genealogical service.
Wicklow Gaol (1702 – 1924) was a place of execution, especially after the 1798 Rebellion, when Wicklow endured fierce fighting and destruction.The grim edifice nowadays houses a museum with an interactive display about C18th and C19th prison conditions and the transportation of convicts to the penal colonies in Australia, plus the Wicklow Family History Centre and a tacky souvenir shop.
Wicklow Head & the Black Castle
Wicklow Head, the looming promontory overlooking Wicklow Harbour, is the easternmost mainland point in the Republic of Ireland, and commands splendid views up and down the coast. Its cliffs are home to thousands of seabirds such as kittiwakes and guillemots, and seals and other sea creatures inhabit the rocky reefs at its foot, where scuba divers have to be extremely careful of the strong currents.
Black Castle was built on the clifftop facing inland at the end of the C12th by Norman warlord Maurice Fitzgerald and attacked frequently by the O’Toole and O’Byrne clans, who captured it in 1320. In 1395 Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March, 6th Earl of Ulster and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, along with the Earl of Ormond, retook it, but the O’Tooles counter-attacked and defeated the English, spiking sixty heads on the gates of their stronghold at Powerscourt. Crown forces later recaptured the Wicklow Head bastion.
In 1642, at the beginning of ther Confederacy Wars, the O’Byrnes attacked and captured the castle, for which almost all their remaining lands were confiscated ten years later. Although “slighted” by Cromwellian troops, the bleak fortification was still garrisoned at the beginning of the C18th. Little now remains of the castle, but the gloomy ruin is undeniaby atmospheric. The Local Authority has rather inanely landscaped the approach with canons aimed pointlessly out to sea.
From a distance, the sinister silhouette is somewhat offset by a rather friendlier C18th octagonal lighthouse, which is available for holiday rentals.
Wicklow Head is a good spot for a stroll to watch local wildlife, from seabirds to birds of prey such as kestrels, peregrine falcons and ravens, songbirds, small mammals and butterflies.
Wicklow Town is connected by two seperate roads to Glenealy on ByRoute 2.
Kilpoole Hill is the address of Polo Wicklow, run by Michael and Siobhán Herbst as Ireland’s only all year round Polo Club and training centre, with an impressive modern Clubhouse, a full size Polo Arena and an International sized grass Field. The club hosts several international events every year. (Feedback required, leave a comment please?)
The Old Coast Road (R750) south of Wicklow Town provides scencviews of a string of clean and well-managed sandy strands, popular in summer with bathers and anglers alike. Although all Irish beaches are public, access to the shoreline along this stretch of coast is controlled by private landowners, many of whom are primarily interested in profits from caravan & camping parks or parking lots, some even charging for the right to walk across their fields.
Magheramore is a popular spot for surfers as the waves there are some of the best on the East coast of Ireland.
Magherabeg is the location of a dynamic fixed and shifting sand dune system of Special Consrvation Interest, patrolled by wildlife rangers. Several rare plants grow here, and sea otters can occasionally be spotted.
Silver Strand is a gentle beach at the bottom of a steep rocky slope with interesting caves.
Brittas Bay is the location of the most famous of these beaches, a 3.3km / 2mi long wide strip of soft, powdery sand with dramatic shifting sand dunes.
Further inland, the pretty hamlet of Redcross is the address of Kilpatrick House, a famous Guesthouse where Ludwig Wittgenstein worked on his Philosophical Investigations in 1947-48; still run by the Kingston family, it has gained an excellent reputation over the years, not least for its beautiful gardens.
Redcross is within easy reach of Rathdrum and Avoca on ByRoute 1.