ByRoute 2.1 Co. Wicklow & Co. Wexford

Ashford (Co Wicklow / East)

Ashford (Ath na Fuinseoige) (pop. 2000) has engulfed and devoured the former hamlet of Ballinealy (Bel-atha-na-laegh – “the Ford-Mouth of the Calves”); the resulting higgledy-piggledy straggle is unlovely, but the surrounding countryside makes up for it, and there are several good pubs and restaurants.

Mount Usher Gardens & Arboretum comprise over 20 hectares of exotic shrubs planted by generations of the Walpole family around their charming lodge beside the river Vartry. In accordance with the precepts of William Robinson, plants gathered from all corners of the globe are informally interspersed with paths across grassy expanses patterned with bulbs, and on through light woodland and groves of eucalyptus and magnolias. Birds sing, the brook babbles, and we once saw an otter here. Paradise!

Ashford is near Rathnew and Wicklow Town on ByRoute 1, and is also linked by the scenic R763 with Annamoe on ByRoute 3.

Bel-Air

Bel-Air is a fine partially wooded 200-acre estate of great charm, farmed by the Freeman family since 1937.

Bel-Air Hotel, formerly Cronroe House (c.1890), set on a rise commanding superb views, has friendly staff, great food, a cheerful bar and 10 charming bedrooms.

Bel-Air Equestrian Centre, the oldest such establishment in the British Isles, specialises in cross-country ride-outs for experienced adults, with purpose-built fences dotted across the estate and access to thousands of acres of Coillte forestry land. Empresses (of Austria and Iran) have hunted from these stables.

Glenealy (Co. Wicklow / East)

Glenealy is a hamlet set in a sheltered valley between thickly wooded hills and verdant farmland.

The old bridge was the scene of a notorious incident in 1641, when a local man driving a cartload of straw refused to reveal the whereabouts of a priest who was in hiding to an English army officer called Captain Gee, who had him hanged and then burned on the spot.

The Cottage Green was once the venue for garden parties given by local landowners such as the Actons of Kilmacurragh and the Tighe family of Rathnew, who built the CoI church, modelled on Old St. John’s College, Cambridge, in 1790.

In the graveyard there is a Cullen tombstone of which legend has it that during the 1798 Rebellion a Ballymacsimon man trying to escape from the yeomen ducked behind it, and a musket ball pierced a hole in the stone and another hit the edge.

The local community hall has long been called “the lager“, a Boer word presumably picked up by Glenealy men serving in South Africa.

Ballyknocken House & Cookery School, run by Catherine Byrne-Fulvio, provides very pleasant B&B or self-catering accommodation and excellent evening meals.

Glenealy is connected by two seperate roads to Wicklow Town on ByRoute 1.

Deputy’s Pass, now a pleasant broadleaf forest nature reserve, was named for a road cut through the woods in 1596 by Sir William Russell, Lord Deputy of Ireland. This was the site on 29th May 1599 of a serious defeat for English troops led by Sir Henry Harrington at the hands of Phelim and Redmond O’Byrne, sons of Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne, who had been beheaded in Glenmalure in 1597. It is said that during the battle the Potter’s River turned red with blood. On return to their base, the surviving English soldiers were literally decimated by their officers, every tenth man being shot for cowardice in running away from the enemy.

Kilmacurragh

Kilmacurragh (formerly aka Westaston) is a derelict house with a beautiful walled garden and woodlands and a famous arboretum, planted during the C19th by Thomas Acton and his sister Janet in conjunction with David Moore and his son, Sir Frederick Moore, curators of the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. Victorian Empire-building was accompanied by extensive scientific exploration and discovery, with exotic botanical species regularly sent to Glasnevin for classification; many that failed to thrive there were transferred to the more favourable soil and climatic conditions of Kilmacurragh.

Kilmacurragh Arboretum has been run by the National Botatanic Gardens since 1996.

The Acton family lived in County Wicklow from the reign of King Charles I, acquiring Kilmacurra in 1697. Tom’s brother William was a hero at the Battle of Inkerman, while another brother was prominent in India. The Boer War and the WWI killed three Acton brothers, leaving the house vacant for many years, although the last surviving member of the family, Charles Acton (1914 – 1999), who became a distinguished music critic and wrote for the Irish Times, lived nearby.

In 1932 the property was rented to a German called Charles Budina, who ran the place as a hotel and had a ballroom built in the garden behind the house. This proved to be a very successful venture and for twenty years “Kilmacurra Park Hotel” was one of the best-known hotels in the country. All food was grown on the estate. “The manufacturing of meat“, a hotel brochure boasted “into 100 different table delicacies was carried out for the first time in Ireland at Kilmacurra“. A post World War II ownership dispute led to the estate falling into neglect until rescued by the State in 1970.

The elegant mansion, one of very few Restoration style buildings in Ireland, was constructed in 1697, extended in the mid-C19th, and partially destroyed by disastrous fires in 1978 and 1982. An avenue of rhododendron arboreum and Irish yews runs from the rear of the house, surrounded by glades of southern conifers and many other rhododendron species.

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