Kilcoole (Co. Wicklow / Northeast)
Kilcoole (Cill Chomghaill) (pop. 3300) (sporadically served by Dublin Bus 84 and 84X) is most famous in Ireland as the set for an RTE TV soap opera called Glenroe, and nearby Glenroe Open Farm cashes in on this. (Photo – www.wicklow-online.com)
St Mary’s church, a C12th nave and chancel structure, stands in a quadrangular graveyard containing a large number of early C18th gravestones. A Holy Well consisting of a natural spring 100m to the northeast is associated in local tradition with this church.
The Rock is a carefully maintained patch of wilderness featuring interesting plants and flowers.
St Patrick’s Convent, run by the Holy Faith nuns, was built c.1830 as a private house.
Kilcoole railway station first opened in 1855. An adjacent monument commemorates the landing of a consignment of guns on the nearby Murrough beach by Sir Thomas Myles for the Irish Volunteers in August 1914.
Kilcoole is not far from Newtownmountkennedy on ByRoute 2.
The Murrough & the East Coast Nature Reserve
A Little Tern
The Murrough, Ireland’s longest beach, stretches 15km south from near the end of the sandy strand at Greystones down to Broadlough, just north of Wicklow town. It comprises a steep shingle ridge sheltering a low hinterland, until very recently scantily mapped by the Ordnance Survey. This seasonally flooded area known as the Murrough Wetlands complex attracts a wide range of birdlife, particularly waders, and is visited by thousands of seasonal migrants.
The Kilcoole Marsh is effectively the northern boundary of the Murrough. Several species of bird from around the world use this natural habitat as their breeding and feeding ground. In the spring and summer, you can hear the Reed Warbler singing.
The East Coast Nature Reserve, the flagship project of Birdwatch Ireland, centres on Blackditch Woods near Newcastle. The wildlife observation amenities are exceptional.
Six Mile Point near Leamore Strand, also under Birdwatch Ireland administration, is notable for its summer colony of Little Tern, which nest in the gravel, and are so splendidly camouflaged that it is hazardous to walk on the beach hereabouts at all during May and June.
The railway runs the entire length of the Murrough, overlooking the beach, with pleasant perambulating pathways beside it. Four roads come down to the sea, so the full stretch may be broken into smaller sections for leisurely strollers. The more determined can walk from Bray or Greystones to Wicklow and get the train back.
Newcastle (Co. Wicklow / East)
Newcastle (pop. 1800) (served once in a Blue Moon by Dublin Bus 84 and 84X) takes its name from a Royal Castle called Newcastle Mackynegan, constructed between 1177 and 1184 by Hugh de Lacy, governor of Ireland under King Henry II, and long a major stronghold in the outer fortifications of the Pale. In 1308 it was repaired by Piers Galveston, the unfortunate favourite of King Edward II, who was then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Frequently attacked and sometimes occupied by the O’Toole and O’Byrne clans, the Castle was the sporadic regional centre of administration until it was partially destroyed in 1580 by Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne and subsequently besieged and “slighted” by Oliver Cromwell on his march south to Wexford.
The main ruin now visible in Newcastle is of a fortified Tower House, burned down along with the rest of the settlement in one night in 1667 by the O’Toole clan, angered by King Charles II‘s refusal to compensate them for land lost during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. (The survivors of this attack were the first settlers of Newtown Mount Kennedy).
St Francis’ church, largely destroyed in the 1641 Rebellion, rebuilt in 1697 and again in 1788, and extended in 1853, retains features dating from the C12th, and parish records exist from as early as 1698. The church contains several points of interest, including a bronze doorway designed in 1977 by Imogen Stuart, inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun, and a brass cross made from an old shell case during the Korean War. Owned by the Church of Ireland, the building has also been used for Roman Catholic services since a sharing agreement was reached in 2000.
There is a ruined church and graveyard about 2 miles from the village.
Blackditch Woods is the point of access to the East Coast Nature Reserve and the Murrough beach. Six Mile Point and Five Mile Point are popular spots for shore angling.
Newcastle is within easy reach of Newtownmountkennedy on ByRoute 2.
Rathnew (Co. Wicklow / East)
Rathnew is the name of a rapidly growing village and the scenic district around Newrath Bridge, where the now little-travelled Old Wicklow Coachroad crosses the leafy River Vartry.
Clonmannon House, built c.1700, is a brick edifice designed in a Classical style reminiscent of Inigo Jones, but marred by the loss of one wing. Long part of the Chester Beatty estate, it was the home of noted horse breeder Princess Frances Prospero Collona di Stigliano from 1969 to 2006.
The Rosannagh Dower House, home to a branch of the Tighe family for over 200 years, has exceptionally beautiful gardens, open to the public by appointment only during the months of May and June.
Clermont House, a Palladian mansion erected c.1730, possibly designed by Francis Bindon, was run from 1956 to 2005 by a French order of nuns as Our Lady’s Convent, a moderately prestigious girls’ boarding school attended by my elder sister, and is now Clermont College, the Wicklow County Campus of Carlow Institute of Technology.
Hunter’s Hotel, an elegant C18th inn brimming with tradition, artefacts and atmosphere, has been run by the same family since 1825. Look for the famous sign as you emerge into the hotel’s lovely old-fashioned gardens, where diminutive lawns set amongst formal box hedges and intricate flowerbeds contrast with a very attractive walled vegetable and herb garden with orchard and beehives. The restaurant features excellent Country House style home-cooking and serves Afternoon Teas outdoors.
Tinakilly House, (from Ti na Coille – “house of the woods”), a Victorian Italianate edifice, was designed by James Franklin Fuller for Robert Halpin, the captain of Brunel’s Great Eastern which laid the first transoceanic telegraph cables. It has lovely gardens sweeping down to the sea, with distinctive sections such as the Fox’s Wood, the Badger Walk, the croquet lawn and the harb garden. Nowdays it is a highly rated Country House Hotel with a superb restaurant.
Knockrobin House, until recently another beautiful Country House Hotel, has lovely grounds overlooking the Broadlough.
Rathnew is very close to Ashford on ByRoute 2.
The Broadlough is centred on a tidal lagoon at the mouth of the River Vartry, sheltered behind sand dunes and a shingle beach and surrounded by gorse bushes and reed beds, with some lush islets in the centre.
The Broad Lough itself is an expanse of fresh water, running north for 4 to 5km, just inside the shoreline, a thin spit of low-lying land down which runs the main Dublin to Rosslare railway line. It is fringed with some of the finest reed beds a thatcher ever saw. Wild flowers abound, and in addition to Cormorants, Egrets, Black-Bellied Dunlin (“noncholantly feeding like sewing-machines“) etc., recorded sightings have included a wide range of ducks and gulls, Little Terns, Little Grebes, Little Egrets, Reed Warblers, Bearded Tits and Mute Swans, Peregrine falcons,, Merlin, Ruff, Bar-tailed Godwit, Kingfisher, exotic Spoonbills and, excitingly, Hen Harriers and Ospreys, as well as wintering Greylag Geese.
The Leitrim River, only 1km long, connects the Broad Lough to Wicklow Harbour. The river is tidal, with a significant flow on the narrower stretches when the water level in the harbour is lower than that in the lough.