Today was day three of our road trip. It was another gorgeous sunny day, perfect for a visit to "The Garden of Ireland", Wicklow Mountains National Park. From rock-strewn glens to lush forests, blogland, and purple heather, this park is famous for its rugged natural beauty.
We began our trip through the park at Powerscourt, one of the largest Palladian mansions in Ireland. The inside of the house was tragically destroyed by a fire in 1974, however, the outside remains impressive and the terraced Italian Gardens are reputed to be the finest in Ireland .
No formal garden is complete without a touch of whimsy, and Powerscourt is no exception. On the east side you will find a Pepper Pot Tower (modeled after the 8th Viscount’s actual pepper pot). There is also a pet cemetery containing the graves of the Wingfield family dogs, cats, horses, and even cattle!
From Powerscourt we drove the infamous Military Road to Glendalough. It’s called the Military Road because the British built it to flush out Irish rebels who were hiding in this rugged, inaccessible terrain. The mountains still remain thinly populated and the scenery is breathtaking. Waxing poetical about the confluence of the Avonbeg and Avonmore rivers that flow through this area, Thomas Moore once wrote, “There is not in the wide world a valley so sweet as that vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet”
Glendalough is home to one of Ireland’s most atmospheric monastic sites. Established by St Kevin in the 6th century, the settlement was sacked time and again by the Vikings, but nevertheless flourished for over 600 years. The monastery has an interesting history. The story goes that St Kevin was a descendant of the royal house of Leinster, but early on he rejected his life of privilege, choosing instead to get back to nature - going barefoot, wearing animal skins, and living as a hermit in a cave at Glendalough.
His cave, which can still be seen today, but is too dangerous to access, overlooks the upper lake. It is here that the famous Wicklow rebel, Michael Dwyer, is reputed to have taken shelter when on the run from British soldiers. The story goes that he escaped capture one morning by diving into the lake and swimming to the opposite shore.
There are a number of colorful legends that surround St Kevin including one that tells of a blackbird laying its eggs on his outstretched hands while he was in prayer. Apparently, he did not move until the eggs had hatched and the chicks fledged. Another, not so pretty tale, tells of how he drowned a woman in the lake because she attempted to seduce him, but I think we’ll stick with the blackbird image!
As his fame spread, many people came seeking his help and guidance. In time Glendalough grew into the renowned monastery that we see echoes of today. It proved to be an important center of learning, preserving precious knowledge that might otherwise have been lost in the dark ages that consumed the rest of Europe.
After a relaxed 20 minute hike to the upper lake we enjoyed a picnic lakeside before heading back to the car and our hour and a half drive to Kilkenny, our next overnight stop. Before checking in to our Airbnb we fitted in a quick tour of Kilkenny Castle, home to the powerful Butler family for over 500 years. The castle is beautiful, but I found the town of Kilkenny even more fascinating with it's medieval buildings, narrow streets, and colorful little shops - a great place to end the day!
Glendalough and Powerscourt