Bray, Enniskerry & Environs

Enniskerry (Co. Wicklow / Northeast)

Enniskerry (Áth na Scairbhe(pop. 3000) (Dublin Bus 44, 180)is nowadays the focal point of an upmarket commuter district, but has carefully retained its picturesque English village look.

A forest was felled in the early C19th to make way for a cluster of vaguely Tudoresque buildings, designed to house the (mostly Welsh) workers on the Powerscourt Estate.

The Wingfield memorial clock tower in the centre of the village  was erected in 1843. (Photo by Thpohl).

The Schoolhouse (1818) and the former RIC barracks (1840), now Enniskerry Garda Station, are quaint, not to mention the Old Forge with the horseshoe doorway. Enniskerry Library (1911), originally funded by the Carnegie Trust, has a panel with  the Powerscourt crest above the entrance.

St. Mary’s church (RC), designed in the Gothic revival style by Patrick Byrne c.1845 and completed on a site provided by Lord Powerscourt in 1859, was the first of its kind in Enniskerry;  prior to then Mass was celebrated in a barn just outside the village known as “Dixon’s Barn”, provided by a widow of that name.

St. Patrick’s church (CoI), featuring an unusual copper spire, was consecrated in 1863 to replace an earlier edifice within the Powerscourt demesne, and totally restored in 1996. The beautifully maintained churchyard makes an exceptionally attractive burial ground.

The prominent Powerscourt Arms Hotel, a lovely building, believed to date from 1715 but largely remodelled in 1835, is popular as a local music / dance venue.

Enniskerry has several other accommodation options.  Ferndale B&B is highly recommended. The Summerhill House Hotel has a great reputation for wedding receptions, but otherwise receives decidedly mixed reviews.

Powerscourt

 

Powerscourt Estate derives its name from a C12th Norman castle built by the le Poer (Power) family, later held variously by the O’Tooles and the FitzGeralds. In 1584 it was acquired by a member of the Wingfield family, later holders of the title Viscount Powerscourt, who extended their domain to cover the entire Glencree Valley and most of the surrounding area until forced by the Land Acts to cede ownership of large tracts to their former tenants, and finally sold the reduced but still substantial property to the Slazenger family in 1961.

 

Powerscourt House, a magnificent Palladian mansion designed by Richard Cassels in 1731 and destroyed by fire in 1974, has since been restored as a tourist attraction and wedding / corporate event venue with  a Childhood Museum centred on a magnificent old Dollhouse, Tara’s Palace, and upmarket shops and eateries, including a branch of Avoca Handweavers with a mouth-watering Food Hall and Terrace Café. 

 

Powerscourt gardens  extend down the slope from the mansion, with terraces, statuary, lawns, exotic plants, tessellated pavements, follies, a beautiful ornamental lake and fine wrought iron work. The garden development, commissioned c.184o by Richard Wingfield, 6th Viscount Powerscourt (1815–1844) and initially overseen by gouty sherry-swigging architect Daniel Robertson from a wheelbarrow, was adapted after visits to the Palace of Versailles, Schönbrunn Palace near Vienna, and Schwetzingen Castle near Heidelberg by Mervyn Wingfield, 7th Viscount Powerscourt (1836–1904), and was finished in 1880, with later additions being made by subsequent owners.

 

Features include winged horse statues, the Triton Lake, the Italian Garden. the Tower Valley (with stone tower), the Dolphin Pond, and the Bamberg Gate.  We particularly like the Japanese gardens, the walled garden, the Pepperpot tower (reputedly modelled on Lady Wingfield‘s favourite), and the poignantly absurd pet cemetery.  There are also woods and plantations of mature trees, masses of rhododendrons and other flowering shrubs. Various viewpoints provide magnificent prospects of the surrounding hills, dominated by the Great Sugarloaf.

 

Parts of the Powerscourt estate are marred by two golf courses. In addition, there is now an ugly Ritz Carlton Hotel*****, with a supposedly world class restaurant run by foul-mouthed celebrity British TV chef Gordon Ramsay. Both the accommodation and the food have received mixed reviews, while our own acquaintances who have been there were angered by the poor standards and value for money on offer.

 

Powerscourt Waterfall, accessible by a separate entrance, claims to be the highest waterfall in the British Isles at 121m/398ft. Part of the River Dargle, it is particularly impressive after a rainy spell, and a lovely spot for a picnic, despite the outrageous entrance fee.

 

The 7th Viscount Powerscourt established a deer park here and in 1858 successfully introduced Japanese Sika deer to Ireland. Nearby, the small Powerscourt Deerpark Cave is of great interest to geologists.

 

The Golden Gate is a particularly impressive old entrance to the Powercourt Estate, now rarely used.

 

The Powerscourt Estate was used for location filming in Laurence Olivier’s Henry V (1944), Stanley Baker’s Where’s Jack? (1969), Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975), John Boorman‘s Excalibur (1981) and Kevin Reynold’s The Count of Monte Cristo (2002).

The Dargle Glen and Cookstown River Valley feature leafy lanes dotted with (very expensive) residences, ranging from cottages to mansions;  some of the older houses have historical associations, while a few of the newer constructions are of architectural interest.

Coolakay Agricultural Museum, attached to Coolakay House B&B, has a fascinating collection of old farming instruments and rural heritage paraphernalia.

Lovers’ Leap, a rocky outcrop overlooking a scenic gorge, popular with walkers and climbers, is accessible via a lane off the Cookstown Road.

Tinnahinch Bridge over the River Dargle is a well-known beauty spot near the Golden Gate.

Tinnahinch House, originally an inn built by Lord Powerscourt, was presented to Henry Grattan by a grateful Irish Parliament in 1782. The politician had a great love for trees. A visitor to Tinnehinch once remarked that a big beech was dangerously near to the house. ‘Yes’ said Grattan, ‘I have often thought that I must have the house moved’. This property is strictly private.

Charleville House, an imposing Palladian style mansion built in 1797 to a design by Whitmore Davis, with a façade inspired by that of Lucan House in Co. Dublin, is privately owned but can be viewed by appointment.

Ballyorney House, a Georgian mansion built c.1810, with splendid interior features salvaged from famous C18th townhouses installed later, was long the home of Dublin restaurateur (Captain America’s) and property tycoon Mark Kavanagh (whose wife and children’s nanny died in a somewhat mysterious riding accident in 1988). A bridge over a stream leads to six acres of ornamental gardens with lovely lawns and shrubs in a naturalistic woodland setting, open to the public only by appointment.

Knockmore Gardens, attached to a small Palladian house looking out to Dublin Bay, feature steep stone terraces, a Victorian dogs’ cemetery, a sundial, a geometric kitchen garden, a small canal, old roses and herbaceous borders, leading to the pools of a Robinsonian wild garden. Beyond are woodland walks overlooking the Dargle Glen. Hundred year old trees give the three acre garden a romantic setting. The story of the garden and its creators is charmingly told in Rubel Ross‘s prize winning book, A Year in an Irish Garden, illustrated by Jeremy Williams. Access is confined to small groups, and by appointment only

The Bray & Enniskerry Railway, proposed in the C19th to link the village and town, was one of several such regional projects begun but never completed; however, although much of the railway embankment has been lost to road widening, a bridge erected to carry it over Dublin Corporation’s Vartry watermain can still be seen directly opposite the ornate bridge carrying the watermain over the Cookstown River on the old Enniskerry Road / R117, known locally as “The 21 Bends”.

Enniskerry village is not far from the Rocky Valley on ByRoute 2.

The Glencree Valley

The Glencree Valley  (Gleann Cri – “Valley of the trees”) is beautiful, with spectacular mountain scenery overlooking the Glencree River and numerous other streams in a patchwork of fields, bogs and woods dotted with cottages, hedgerows and old stone walls. (Photo by Robert Shaw)

Glencree Valley history

 

In medieval times the valley was a Royal Park or preserve, almost entirely covered by virgin oak forest, and probably either wholly or partly enclosed by some description of artificial boundary to prevent wild beasts from wandering away.

 

Later, the enclosing of large estates compelled landless people in Wicklow to move further up the valleys to find subsistence. Trees were felled, small fields marked out and stones cleared from the land were fashioned into the familiar Wicklow dry-stone walls. Holdings were small – one or two fields per family, with shared mountain pasture and turf-cutting rights on a patch of peat bog. Later on, the Wingfield dynasty of Powerscourt, who owned all of Glencree, had cottages built for their tenants, with cobbled lanes and drainage ditches.

 

The wilder Upper Valley became a hideout for bands of insurgents following the 1798 Rebellion. The population 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.

Knockree Youth Hostel, An Óige‘s top of the range flagship facility, is scenically located.

Knocksink Wood is a beautiful 70-hectare Nature Reserve featuring deciduous and mixed woodland, grasslands, scrub, woodland pools and petrifying springs. An unusual geochemistry allows for a great diversity of insect and other invertebrate life, and several species new to Ireland have been spotted. A video of a trek through the woods can be viewed here.

St Patrick’s church (RC) in Curtlestown is a Gothic revival style edifice built in 1891 to replace a previous church erected in 1824. The adjacent St Columcille’s Cemetery, occupying a site donated by Lord Powerscourt in 1866, has great views.

Cloon / Curtlestown Wood, a recently harvested Coillte forestry plantation, provides access to a lovely Oak Glen, an initiative to recreate at least part of the once vast Royal Oak Forest of Glencree. Here the Wicklow Way links Prince William’s Seat (455m) and the Raven Rock. The remains of small farms, characterised by broken stone walls, are common in this area.

Djouce Mountain (725m), on the other side of the valley, features Djouce Wood and the adjacent ever-shrinking Crone Wood, taking in about 10 km of forest and hillside walks with access to Tonduff and Maulin mountains, the Raven’s Glen, Glensoulan Valley and the Coffin Stone, a Bronze Age portal tomb named for its long (6m) narrow capstone. The woods were laid out between 1830 and 1840 on the orders of Sir Richard Wingfield  with drives taking in fantastic views of the surrounding countryside,  including Powerscourt Waterfall (best seen from Ride Rock). Giant oak trees, some ancient, are scattered amongst the firs and pines, interspersed with furze, heather, woodrush, wood sorrel, bilberry, sage and bracken.

On both sides of the valley, the mammals found range from Ireland’s smallest, the pygmy shrew, to rabbits, red squirrels and foxes, to hybrid red / Sika deer, and birds sighted vary from goldcrest to peregrine falcons and hen harriers.

Killmallin Lodge was the home of the poet / lyricist Joseph Campbell / McCahill, aka Seosamh Mac Cathmhaoil, from 1915-21. An IRA activist, he also lived locally upon his return from voluntary exile in the USA (1921-1939) until his death in 1944.

 

 

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