These pages describe ByRoute 3 between Ballyboden & Killakee on the outskirts of DUBLIN and Mountgarret (Co. Kilkenny).
A Military Road through the Wicklow Mountains, first proposed c.1580, when the Elizabethan administration of the “Pale” had difficulty suppressing the O’Bvrne and O’Toole septs, was finally constructed by the British Army after the 1798 Rebellion, when the area was “infested with insurgent plunderers”. Work began in 1800 on a road from Rathfarnham to Killakee in the Dublin Hills and continued in 1802 over the Featherbed Mountain to Glencree, where a major camp was formed. In late 1803, five barracks were built to ensure that the road would not fall into rebel or French hands. By late 1809 over£14,000 had been spent, but the strategic value of the project had diminished, due to the destruction of Napoleon’s naval power and the shift in emphasis to coastal defences.
Glencree & Sally Gap (Co. Wicklow / North)
Glencree (Gleann Cri – “Valley of the trees”) is the name of a beautiful valley in the Wicklow Moutains, the principal river that flows down it and the tiny village at its head. The population of the Upper Glen began to increase with the construction of the Military Road and a shooting lodge at Lough Bray as other roads linked the area with Enniskerry.
Glencree village, the tiny settlement at the head of the glen, about 300m / 980 ft above sea level, grew up around the British Army barracks and the Reformatory that replaced it as a source of income by purchasing local produce.
The Glencree Centre
The British Army barracks, already obsolete in 1815 when the Napoleonic Wars ended, finally closed in 1841, and later became a Borstal-style Boys’ Reformatory called Saint Conleth’s, run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI). It was rebuilt in 1848 to house 300+ boys, and as the number of inmates increased, several other buildings were erected, including a 30tft long dormitory. The boys were sickly, undernourished and in bad health on arrival (one young pickpocket, barefoot and dressed in rags, died from exposure in a snowdrift on his way to Glencree in 1870). They toiled hard to reclaim and cultivate more than 100 acres of land, for which they received some basic education and skills training. The reformatory closed in 1940, after which the complex served briefly as an Oblate novitiate before passing into State ownership.
After WWII, the UN-sponsored Operation Shamrock saw the premises used as a temporary Refugee Centre from 1945 to 1950, when the Irish Red Cross and the French Sisters of Charity cared for thousands of German and Polish war orphans on three-month rest programmes or en route to longer-stay fostering in Irish homes.
Renamed Saint Kevin’s, the modernised complex has since 1974 housed the Glencree Centre for Peace & Reconciliation, which promotes understanding amongst peoples of different persuasions, working with former combatants, community leaders, victims/survivors, politicians, faith groups, young people and women. The Centre played a significant part in the Northern Ireland Peace Process. (Photo by Ian Stehbens)
St Kevin’s has superb conference installations, available for rent. The charming Armoury Café is open to visitors and, depending on what is happening in the Centre, basic accommodation facilities are usually on offer (replacing the youth hostel that An Óige operated outside the gates from 1950 until sold in 2006)
St Kevin’s church (RC), a fine Gothic Revival style edifice built in 1849, and the adjacent Glencree Cemetery, formerly used by the Oblate Community, now serve the local Parish.
The small German Cemetery is the burial place of WWII servicemen who died in Ireland. Many of the graves are nameless, but one cannot but notice that quite a few of those buried here were very young. It is a beautiful and quietly moving spot.
Glencree Village is linked by a scenic spur of the old Military Road with Enniskerry.
The townland of Old Boleys takes its name from the temporary shelters built by the drovers who brought Lord Powerscourt’s cattle weup the valley to graze every summer. The townland south of the river was reputedly christened when one holder of the title, halting his carriage at the top of Glencree just as the summer sunrise broke above the hills at Barnamire and illuminated that triangle of hillside, was so overcome by the beauty of it that he called this corner of his vast estate after the ancient Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora.
Aurora Cottage, formerly the residence of Major Pat Thunder, a genial Irish officer in the British Army during WWII, long famed for his hospitality to hill walkers, now belongs to the Glencree Society.
The old Military Road undulates across upland bog along the eastern slopes of Kippure. The acclaimed swashbuckling British journalist (the official Times correspondent during the 1923 opening of the Tomb of Tutankhamen in Egypt) and travel writer Henry Canova Vollam “HV” Morton (1892–1979) wrote in his In Search of Ireland (1930) of this area: “Little brown streams trickle through the peat. The whole landscape is a study in various browns: brown peat like dark chocolate; black brown water; light brown grass; dark brown pyramids of cut peat stacked at intervals along the brown road.”
Lough Bray Upper & Lower
“O steel blue lake, high cradled in the hills, / O sad waves, filled with sobs and cries / White glistening shingle, hiss of mountains rills / and granite hearted walls blotting the skies” – from Lough Bray by Standish James O’Grady (1846 – 1928)
Corrie lakes, gouged out of the landscape by retreating ice age glaciers, the two bodies of water are said to be joined underground (possible), “bottomless” (they are undoubtedly extremely deep) and, at least in the case of the Lower Lough, home to one or more mysterious gigantic creatures, the last recorded sighting of which took place in June 1963, when two friends said they had spotted “a large hump like the back of a rhinoceros emerge from the water. Ripples spread out to each side of it and then a head something like a tortoise only many times bigger broke the surface. It came up about three feet above the surface of the water, moved slowly around and swam forward a few yards. As it did so the body was clearly revealed, circular and not less than ten or twelve feet in circumference. It was a dark greyish colour. Suddenly and silently the creature seemed to dive and smoothly vanish leaving an agitated swirl of water. We saw it for not less than three minutes“. Almost three decades later (when Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster was considerably less in the news) the Autumn 2000 issue of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club Quarterly cited an individual researching his doctoral thesis on glaciations near Lough Bray, who claimed to have caught sight of a strong “V” shaped wake slicing through the water, caused by an unseen force.
Lough Bray Lodge / House, built c.1830 on the south facing shore of Lower Lough Bray as a shooting lodge (allegedly commissioned by a Lord Lieutenant as a present for a surgeon who had saved his life, and reportedly owned at various times by the La Touche, Wingfield (Powerscourt), Guinness and Slazenger families), is still private property, only visible from the ridge-top path that leads to the Eagle’s Crag on the opposite side of the lake. (Photo – www.global-vision.org)
A lakeside beach was created by hauling cartloads of sand from Brittas Bay. There is also a former gamekeeper’s house and a gatelodge, Lough Bray Cottage, believed to be the highest inhabited house in Ireland.
Many writers and artists are said to have stayed in the Lodge or one of its associated buildings over the years, including Oscar Wilde and JM Synge, who was reputedly inspired by his visit to write In The Shadow of the Glen (1903), a one-act play set in an isolated Wicklow dwelling. James Joyce‘s friend, the great tenor Count John McCormack, probably appreciated the extraordinary acoustic properties of the giant natural amphitheatre formed by the mountains which surround the lake. Hollywood film director Robert Altman used the location for Images (1972), starring Susannah York.
A muddy path wends its way from the Military Road adjacent to Lough Bray Cottage along the southern shore of the Lower Lake before climbing sharply to the promontory of Eagle’s Crag, from the top of which a trail follows the cliffs above the Upper Lake before descending to emerge briefly back onto the Military Road. A short walk reveals a new trail off the road to complete the circuit around the Upper Lake and back to the start. This walk is best undertaken on a bright sunny day when the blue sky reflects on the surface of the lake, as the area takes on a gloomy character on overcast days.
Military Road (Photo by dickobrien)
Sally Gap (Bearnas na diallaite – “gap in the saddle”), is the highest crossroads in Ireland, and on wintry days feels like the most remote place on Earth. One of only two passes through the Wicklow Mountains, it is sometimes called The Devil’s Crossroads. According to local legend, Saint Patrick died here and was taken off to paradise on a white steed by Oisín.
The summit of Kippure (757 m / 2484 ft), technically just within a bulge of the county border, is the highest mountain in Co. Dublin and the location of RTE‘s oldest TV transmitter, inaugurated in 1961; officially open only to technicians, it is accessed by the highest private road in Ireland. It commands views of the neighbouring Wicklow Mountains / Dublin Hills, notably neighbouring Seefingan / Seafingan (Suí Fingain – “Fingan’s Seat”) (724m /2375 ft), topped with a large megalithic cairn, the Blessington Reservoir and the Irish Sea.
The source of the River Liffey, a small black pool in the Liffey Head Bog on the western slopes of nearby Tonduff Mountain, can be reached by a bog track. Visitors wishing to avoid sinking to their ears in bogwater should only take this path in high summer; in the event of mishap, it may serve as consolation to recall that this same liquid is the basic ingredient of Guinness. The rich local biodiversity includes the Sundew, a carnivorous plant that feeds on insects that become trapped in its sticky hairs. The Rivers Dodder and Dargle also rise in this vicinity to make their separate ways down to the Irish Sea.
A Rocking Stone nearby was reputedly used by ancient druids to determine whether someone was innocent or guilty of a particular crime; the accused would be made lie under it and if his head was crushed before he confessed then he was obviously guilty.
Parts of Mel Gibson’s meretricious Braveheart (1995) were filmed locally.
Sally Gap is at the junction of the R759 to / from Kilbride on ByRoute 4 and the old Military Road (R115), at this point the highest public road in the country, which crosses high and lonely boggy slopes to reach Glenmacnass near Laragh.
Luggala (Co. Wicklow / North)
Luggala (pronounced Lugga-LAW) (aka Fancy) (595m) is not a particularly high mountain, but has seriously imposing cliffs looming over Lough Tay in the spectacularly scenic Clohoge River Valley, and its granite crag is popular for rock-climbing.
Lough Tay, Luggala and Luggala Lodge
Luggala Estate, acquired by Peter La Touche in 1790, has long been known as the Guinness Estate, and currently covers 2500 hectares. Various houses and cottages are available for rent.
Luggala Lodge / Castle, the crenellated lakeside Guinness family residence barely visible from the road overlooking Lough Tay, has attracted admirers for over 200 years, ranging from Sir Walter Scott to Douglas Fairbanks, Lucien Freud and U2‘s Bono. Made famous by the “raffish weekends” thrown by Oonagh Guinness, one of the “Golden Guinness girls” who feature colourfully in many aristocratic memoirs, it currently belongs to her son Garech de Brun, music promoter and arts patron par excellence, and is the subject of a new history by Robert Byrne. Recently redecorated under the supervision of David Mlinaric, this “jewel in the crown of all the places to stay in Ireland” is leased for much of the year to celebri-tenants such as Michael Jackson (RIP), Mel Gibson and Orlando Bloom; rent, including staff, is in the region of 30,000 Euros a week. The driveway meanders down the mountainside through woods above the lake for nearly two miles, and unauthorised visits are deeply discouraged.
Lough Dan (Loch Deán), distantly visible from the high road overlooking the boomerang-shaped valley at the foot of Scarr Mountain (642m), is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful lakes in Ireland. Most of the surrounding land is private, but the northwest corner is part of the Wicklow National Park and lies very close to the Wicklow Way. The lake can be reached on foot from just beside the main gate of the Luggala Estate on the Sally Gap road; the scenic descent is well worth the effort of the return climb if you are reasonably fit. Also accessible from the Roundwood side, the lake is popular with scouts, kayakers and, unfortunately, slobs on water scooters.
Ballinastoe Wood, located in a shallow valley on the southern slopes of Djouce (725 m / 2379 ft), is a good place to spot Sika deer, badger, fox, red squirrel, grouse and many other species of birds. It is easily accessible from just opposite the main gate of the Luggala Estate, and has magnificent views of Vartry Reservoir.