ByRoute 2.1 Co. Wicklow & Co. Wexford

Rathdrum (Co. Wicklow / Wicklow Mountains)

Rathdrum, (Ráth Droma – “Ringfort of the Ridge”) (pop. 1500), a pretty village with an old Fair Green, is set in exceptionally scenic surroundings on the western slopes of the Avonmore River valley.

Records indicate that the locals used the services of a wolf-trapper as late as the C17th.

St Savior’s church (CoI) dates from 1793.

The church of Ss Mary & Michael (RC) was built in 1856.

Rathdrum village was used as the set for several scenes in Neil Jordan‘s 1996 film Michael Collins.

Rathdrum has a several good pubs and decent eateries, notably The Cartoon Bar & Restaurant, The Woolpack and The Railway Bar.

Local accomodation facilities include several B&Bs, a couple of highly recommended hostels, a caravan & camping park and numerous self-catering rental options.

Stirabout Lane, an award-winning B&B located on the Main Street, is particularly highly rated for its lovely gardens.

Avondale Hose & Forest Park

Avondale House is a neat but unimposing Palladian mansion built in 1779 by Samuel Hayes, based on a design by James Wyatt. It was the birthplace and home of the great Parliamentary leader Charles Stewart Parnell (1846 – 1891).

It is now a State-run shrine to Parnell’s memory, with personal, family and political mementoes on view and an informative biographical video presentation.

The most interesting parts of the impressive interior, furnished as it was c.1850, are the dining room, the library, and the “American Room” dedicated to his mother’s family; she was the daughter of Admiral Charles Stewart, famous for the pivotal role he played in the 1812 Anglo-American War on the USS Constitution (still on view in Boston Harbour).

The house is surrounded by pleasant gardens wih lawns, shrubs and woods. Visitors’ facilities include a restaurant, a book / gift shop, picnic spots and a children’s play area.

The 200-hectare estate, purchased by the UK government in 1904 and used for Ireland’s earliest silvicultural plantations, is now a Coillte Forest Park reservation, home to red squirrels, hedgehogs, Irish stoats, badgers and foxes. Over ninety species of bird have been recorded. Deer can be seen at the enclosure at the entrance to the park.

The Great Ride is the most beautiful of Avondale’s many forest walks and trails. There are two orienteering courses in the woods.

Rathdrum is linked by a scenic stretch of the R735 to Laragh on ByRoute 3.

Greenan and Ballinaclash (Co. Wicklow / Central)

Greenan is a small hamlet on the River Avonbeg.

Greenan Farm, Museums & Mazes

Greenan Farm was established in the C16th; the Old Farmhouse, now fully restored, was used as a safe house during the 1798 Rebellion by insurgents such as Michael Dwyer and Andrew Burke, and weapons of the era are on display together with original household utenils.

The Celtic Hedge Maze, planted in 1988 with a stream flowing through it to a pond in the circular centre, is amusingly disorientating. The Solstice Maze is a more abstract labarynth set within a large stone circle.

The Nature Trail and Dragonfly Walk meander through pleasant countryside, abundant with wildlife and dotted with surprising sculptures. In addition to the native woodlands and ponds, a wide variety of exotic trees have been planted with a view to an Arboretum.

Greenan Farm Museum, housed in a spacious barn, is one of the largest exhiitions of its kind in Ireland, featuring agricultural and artesans’ implements spanning two hundred years, including horse-drawn ploughs, harrows, carts, wagons and traps, together with prints and photographs dating back to the time of the Great Famine. The Bottle Museum is a collection of interesting bottles, jars and vessels, some with their contents intact for up to two centuries.

Greenan Farm is still run by the Wheeler family as a working hill farm, with cows, sheep, pigs, horses, donkeys, turkeys, ducks, geese and chickens. A traditional cottage houses tea-rooms and a craft shop.

MJ Byrne‘s pub, last redecorated c.1921, serves a great pint of Guinness.

Experience hillwalkers who are well skilled in map and compass navigation can tackle the fantastic horseshoe ridge walk over Fananieran (426m), Croaghanmoira (664m) and Ballinacor (531m) which links Glenmalure to Greenan.

Ballinaclash (An Chlais) is a hamlet beside a bridge spanning the River Avonbeg. This area used to be heavily populated before the Great Famine and subsequent emigration.

Greenan is within easy reach of Drumgoff in the Glenmalure valley, and both Greenan and Ballinaclash are connected to Macreddin and Aughrim, all on ByRoute 3.

Avoca River Valley (Co. Wicklow / Central)

The Meeting of the Waters is where the Avonmore and Avonbeg rivers join to form the Avoca, formerly aka the Ovoca, and included as the Obhoca by Ptolemy on his map of Ireland.

Castle Howard, romantically overlooking the beauty spot from a wooded hill, was built around the fabric of an earlier edifice in 1811 for Lt-Col Robert Howard to a design by Sir Richard Morrison combining medieval castle and monastic elements. Beautiful manicured gardens feature a tall folly. Although stricly private, the property is open to the public on certain stipulated days per year.

Tom Moore’s tree, nowadays reduced to a stump, is famous as the place where the once fashionable C19th minstrel is said to have spent long hours in contemplation and found the inspiration for his eponymous 1808 poem.

The Meeting of the Waters, by Thomas Moore

THERE is not in the wide world a valley so sweet
As that vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet;
Oh! the last rays of feeling and life must depart,
Ere the bloom of that valley shall fade from my heart.
Yet it was not that nature had shed o’er the scene
Her purest of crystal and brightest of green;
‘Twas not her soft magic of streamlet or hill,
Oh! no-it was something more exquisite still.
‘Twas that friends, the beloved of my bosom, were near,
Who made every dear scene of enchantment more dear,
And who felt how the best charms of nature improve,
When we see them reflected from looks that we love.
Sweet vale of Avoca! how calm could I rest
In thy bosom of shade, with the friends I love best,
Where the storms that we feel in this cold world should cease,
And our hearts, like thy waters, be mingled in peace.

The Vale of Avoca is especially lovely in late spring, when drifts of white blossom from the wild cherry trees contrast with the surrounding dark green foliage. However, there used to be copper, lead, zinc and sulphur mines in the area, and it does not require much exploration to find their unromantic remains.

Avoca village, formerly named Newbridge and later aka Ovoca, was the setting for the BBC television series, Ballykissangel, and as a result is exploited as a major tourist attraction. Although picturesque, the village has become an embarrassing “Oirish” caricature of itself.

Avoca Handweavers, founded in 1723 and claiming to be the oldest extant family business in Ireland, was the epitome of Celtic Tiger chic.

The Old Courthouse library contains a Tourist Information Centre.

From Avoca village, scenic walking routes lead via Kilmacoo Cross to the Motte Stone, a glacial boulder perched on a hilltop commanding extensive views of the valley, and up the Red Road via Ballymurtha to the Bell Rock, where miners used to be summoned to work.

Knockanree is an attractive and entertaining modern 1.5ha garden with ramparts, cannons, woodlands, stone bears, a giant moonstone, granite elephants, a Zen Circle, a fernery and wildflower area, a rose garden, a Chinese bridge linking to a little island in a lake, and lots of exotic plants. There is a small concert hall where occasional performances take place to raise money for charity.

Avoca Village is linked by rural roads to Redcross, Glenart and Arklow on ByRoute 1 and Aughrim on ByRoute 3.

Woodenbridge, a small village at the junction of the  Rivers Avoca and Aughrim, is surrounded by scenic countryside, ideal for exploration on foot, bicycle or horseback.

The district  came to great prominence during the 1795 Gold Rush,  after tiny nuggets were found in a stream flowing from a source on Croghan Mountain; the stream was renamed the Gold Mines River, and such was the frenzy of speculative panners and amateur prospectors that the Kildare Militia was called in to maintain order. No convincing bedrock was ever found, and it is now thought that the gold originated from glacially derived material.

The Woodenbridge Hotel, first licensed as a Coaching Inn on the old Dublin to Wexford road in 1698, claims to be Ireland’s oldest hotel, and probably reached its zenith of popularity during the 1795 Gold Rush. Eamonn and Sinéad DeValera spent their honeymoon here in 1910, and Michael Collins attended secret meetings with senior British officers in February 1922. It is now run as a Best Western establishment, and also has a modern Lodge.

Across the road from the hotel is where John Redmond MP addressed a Monster Meeting of Irish Volunteers on the outbreak of WWI in 1914. He exhorted them to join the British Army and fight for “morality, freedom and religion“.

The IHWT (Irish Horse Welfare Trust) Equine Centre at Ballinamona rescues, rehabilitates and retrains abandoned and starving horses.

The remains of an abandoned railway station on the mainline railway between Dublin and Rosslare Harbour can be seen beside the golf course, flooded to a depth of several feet during Hurricane Charlie in August 1986, which also destroyed a number of local bridges.

Woodenbridge is linked by the scenic riverside R747 to Glenart outside Arklow on ByRoute 1 and Aughrim on ByRoute3.

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