Bray Head (241m / 790ft), defining the southern end of Killiney Bay, is the most prominent landmark on the northern County Wicklow coastline. It is a popular recreation area, attractive despite the monumental Calvary-like cross at its summit.
From the end of Bray‘s seafront promenade it is fairly easy to climb a well-worn track to the Calvary-like summit in order to enjoy the magnificent vistas (on a clear winter’s day it is said that the white peaks of Snowdonia in Wales are visible from here). Sadly, the quaint old chairlift no longer operates. The top can be reached from several other angles, and splendid views can also be enjoyed from the southern slopes, accessible from Windgates or Greystones.
Bray Head used to be famous for pirates and smugglers. According to Weston St. John Joyce, “the natural conformation of the coast around Bray Head lent itself readily to the adaptation of places of concealment, of which there were several, but the principal one was that known as “The Brandy Hole,” half a mile along the shore from where the road crosses the railway on the Head. Here was an immense cavern, with its entrance opening to the sea, and its many ramifications extending far in under the hill, affording ample accommodation for the cargoes of all the vessels plying their risky trade here. Into this great natural store-house, fully laden boats were easily able to make their way by the light of lanterns, and discharge their contents high and dry into the numerous receptacles prepared for them.
“Immediately over this cavern, and adjoining the rude goat track that then encircled the Head, was a shaft sunk in a slanting direction into the earth, communicating with another subterraneous chamber – a sort of second storey to the lower one – but showing no trace of its existence on the surface, as the entrance was carefully concealed by a thick growth of brambles and bracken. This provided for the initiated a ready means of access from the land to the cavern, which was furnished where necessary with steps and platforms whereby a person above could, by means of a rope, assist those below to climb out on top, or if need be, drag up bales of goods for storage in the upper chamber.
“In after years, when reports began to be whispered abroad as to the existence of this Ali Baba’s cave, the locality became the scene of some fierce struggles between the Revenue men and the desperadoes engaged in the contraband traffic. It was a time when a Revenue officer’s life was one of constant excitement; he needed to be a man of courage and determination, and the risks of his avocation were almost as great as those of a soldier’s in the field.
“Both the caves mentioned were utterly obliterated during the construction of the railway, but the name of “The Brandy Hole” still attaches to an inlet in the cliffs, and is the sole memorial of this great smugglers’ rendezvous, the very tradition of which has been lost among the modern population.”
The construction of the railway line around the headland was a difficult undertaking, performed in consultation with the famous English engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859), completed in 1856 and long known as Brunel’s Folly.
The Brandy Hole Accident of 8th August 1867 was reported in The Freeman’s Journal as follows:
When I arrived here (Bray) this morning nothing could exceed the consternation which was caused by the terrible intelligence which was received that the up train from Enniscorthy had run over one of the fatal chasms of Bray head and that all the passengers had been killed and the carriages dashed to atoms. Telegrams announcing the accident were sent to town and Messrs Waldron Maunsell and Payne the engineers and workman proceeded by special train for the scene of the calamity which is known as Ram Scalp’s bridge crossing the chasm through which the mountain torrents flow into the sea at what is known as the Brandy Hole because it was a favourite resort for smugglers running contraband. I cannot convey the slightest idea of the terrible sight that met my eyes. Beneath me at a distance of 40 feet was to be seen the engine and tender turned bottom up bulged and broken as if they had been made of tin. The platform of a third class carriage stood in a semi upright position sustaining the second-class carriage, which partially overhung the precipice.
In fact only two passengers were killed but 23 people were injured, including the driver and the fireman. The derailment was caused by a faulty joint between two rails on the bridge spanning Ram Scalp. An artist’s impression of the accident appeared in the Illustrated London News.
The scenic cliff walk overlooking the single track railway and rocky shoreline is highly recommended – with luck you may see some seals. Many walkers consider it most rewarding to start in Greystones and finish in Bray.
Kilruddery & Windgates (Co. Wicklow / Northeast)
Kilruddery is the estate of the Earl of Meath, a title held by the Brabazon family since the late C16th. The original manor was destroyed c.1650 during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Little remains of its first replacement.
Kilruddery House, designed c.1820 in the Tudor revival / Elizabethan rural style by Sir Richard Morrison for the 10th Earl of Meath, is only open to the general public in May and September. The house has a beautiful interior featuring a particularly impressive library. The domed orangerie / conservatory, designed by William Burn, was added in 1852. Unusually, the house was reduced in size in the 1950s. (Photo –www.buildingsofireland.ie)
The beautiful C17th Gardens, laid out by M Bonet in 1652, feature twin canals known as the Long Ponds, inspired by those in the famous gardens of the Chateau de Courances near the Fontainebleau Forest in France. Magnificently restored by the 13th Earl, Brig-Gen. Reginald Le Normand Brabazon (1869 -1949) and maintained by his descendants, the gardens are open to the public daily from April to October for a small admission charge.
Kilruddery regularly hosts concerts as part of the annual Music in Great Irish Houses Festival. The house and / or grounds can also be hired for festive events and have been used for filming both cinema and television productions.
The extensive estate on the slopes of the Little Sugarloaf, popular with walkers, horse riders and mountain bikers, also features the burnt ruins of the old Dower house and a stile popularly supposed to have used on a picnic excursion by Queen Victoria.
The Little Sugarloaf (Beannach Bheag), aka Giltspur Mountain (Giolspar) (342 m /1,122 ft), readily identifiable by its distinctive rocky double ‘summit’, viewed from the eastern slope of Bray Head. The Bray / Greystones road passes between the two hills. (Photo by Sarah777)
Windgates,(pronounced “Winegates”), on a spur of Bray Head, commands exceptionally lovely coastal and eastern views of County Wicklow.
Belvedere Hall, an imposing Georgian mansion built by Col. Robert Rochfort (1708-1774), 1st Earl of Belvedere, was inherited by his niece Mary Rochfort, who married Thomas Cade Battley; the property was acquired by their son, Major D’Oyly William Battley (1808-1887) and passed to Lt Col. D’Oyly Cade Battley (1841-1924), whose nephew John Battleyspent most of his life in Africa. It has for over thirty years been the Irish headquarters of the Spanish educational organisation SEK, run as a prestigious international boarding school dedicated to Saint Stanislau / San Estanislao De Kosta.
Windgates is linked, via scenic laneways leading to the N11 at the northern end of the Glen of the Downs, with Newtownmountkennedy on ByRoute 2.
Rathdown was the anglicised name given to an ancient fortification on the lower southern slopes of Bray Head, described in a note to the first Ordnance Survey map of 1837, of which very little remains.
When Strongbow arrived this was the seat of a chieftain called Donal MacGillamoholoc / MacLiamog, a son-in-law of Dermot MacMurrough‘s, the erstwhile king of Leinster who had sought help from abroad. Unsurprisingly, he strove for neutrality under pressure from Gaels, Danes and Normans. His territory, straddling the future border between County Wicklow and County Dublin, was soon annexed by King Henry II as a Royal Demesne, and within a short period became become the Barony of Rathdown.
The old castle was given by King Henry VIII to Peter Talbot, whose family held it until Cromwell’s time; King Charles II granted it to a Welsh couple called Edwards, whose descendants subsequently sold it to the LaTouche family.
The site overlooks Greystones on ByRoute 1.