Welcome to my ‘5 Things Friday’ blog, where this week I’m taking a look at some interesting Wicklow facts. It is known as the Garden of Ireland and is one of Ireland’s most beautiful counties. Wicklow is bounded in the East by the Irish Sea and is a county of rolling hills, mountains, lakes forests and gorgeous gardens, hence the name association! It has lots of interesting things to see and do and some pretty amazing scenery. Below are some of my favourite Wicklow facts about the county or its sons and daughters.
Population of Co. Wicklow: 136,448 (2011 Census)
Area: 2,027 Sq. Km (783 Sq. mi)
Co. Wicklow was the last of the original 32 counties of Ireland to be formed, as late as 1606. It is the seventeenth largest county in Ireland, being 33 miles long and 20 miles wide. There is a wealth of interesting places and sights in Wicklow, from historic delights like Glendalough to natural wonders like Powerscourt Waterfall, Ireland’s largest waterfall. As a student living in south county Dublin I spent many happy weekends at these falls, burning food on a makeshift barbeque and drinking cheap beer. As ever with my ‘5 Things Friday’ blog, there are many amazing things that I’ve learned on my Ireland Planner journey that I could have added below, but I’ve chosen a select few of my favourite Wicklow facts for your reading pleasure. I hope you enjoy them.
Wicklow is home to Ireland’s largest period doll’s house, Tara’s Palace, which is located at the Museum of Childhood in Powerscourt House. It contains 22 exquisite rooms in 1:12 scale, with hand painted ceilings and hand crafted wooden and rare marble floors. But the real joy is in the furnishings of the doll’s house, many of them priceless antiques. From gold violins to Waterford crystal chandeliers, each room has literally dozens of pieces to marvel at.
My particular favourite was a room containing a collection of carvings made by Napoleonic prisoners of war made from bones that they kept from their meagre rations. The talent and skill on display is truly extraordinary. The wider Museum of Childhood is small but very interesting with such items as the smallest doll in the world, a collection of dolls houses, some over 300 years old and a priceless antique ‘house in a bottle’. There are also antique toy car collections and many other items to explore. A very interesting
The staff here are well-informed, passionate and very friendly and add to the overall experience. At €5 per adult, €3 per child or €12 for a family of up to 5, this is a lovely, affordable way to spend an afternoon. And in such a spectacular setting as Powerscourt, there is loads more to see in the Avoca shops and cafe, or just enjoy a stroll through the gardens. It’s not the biggest museum I’ve ever been too, but it might be the most charming and definitely one of my favourite Wicklow facts!
At the top of a grassy lane in the imposing shadow of the Kaedeen Mountains sits the very pretty thatched Dwyer-McAllister cottage. Its peaceful and picturesque exterior belies its bloody history and role in the fight for Irish independence. It is so-called after two brave men who fought off a troop of British soldiers there in the aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion. Michael Dwyer was a United Irishman and 1798 Rebellion leader born in Co. Wicklow in 1772. He had prominent roles in the rising in Wexford, Carlow and Wicklow. He fought at both the Battle of Arklow and Vinegar Hill and led the rebels at the Battle of Hacketstown. He withdrew to the safety of the Wicklow Mountains in July of that year and evaded capture by the British for many months by ducking and diving amongst the civilian population as he amassed a strong force of rebels around him. In February 1799, he was hiding out in one of three cottages in Dernamuck when an informer led a large force of British troops to the area. Surrounded, the first two cottages surrendered but Dwyer and his men decided to fight on in the third, having negotiated the safe passage of women and children first. It was a hopeless battle with the Irishmen vastly outnumbered. Sam McAllister, an Antrim man and Dwyer’s comrade, stood in the doorway of the cottage to distract attention from Dwyer who managed to make his escape over snow covered mountains. The cottage lay in ruins for almost 150 years until it was restored in the 1940’s and visitors can today enjoy it in all its historic glory.
Avondale House is the birthplace and home of Charles Stewart Parnell, one of the most famous leaders in Irish political history. Built in 1777, the Georgian home is a great place to visit, with a museum dedicated to Parnell for visitors to enjoy with beautiful plasterwork and many original furnishings. But equally as impressive for me is the stunning Avondale Forest Park surrounding the house. With over 500 acres of tree trails and walks, you can spend hours here taking in all nature has to offer. You might happen across the ruins of Parnell’s old saw mill or Parnell’s Well. It’s a lovely park to while away some hours in and boasts a collection of some of Ireland’s tallest trees.
One of my favourite Wicklow facts is about the small village of Hollywood in Co. Wicklow which lays claim to being the ‘first’ Hollywood, having had its name at least 1,000 years before the famous American one! Arguably, it gets its name from Holy Wood, being so called after St. Kevin who lived here towards the end of the sixth century. Legend has it that he left Hollywood as he was tormented by a local woman named Kathleen and he fled the area for the even quieter solitude of nearby Glendalough! Visitors can enjoy getting a photo at Hollywood Post Office in the village or at the Hollywood sign in a field outside the town. The village even makes the claim that Hollywood, California is named after it! A local emigrant Matthew Guirke went to make a new life for himself in California after the famine and became successful in business, eventually owning a race track. It is said that he (allegedly) is responsible for giving the name of his birthplace to the suburb in Los Angeles. Whether this is actually true or not (who am I to stand in the way of a good story!) Hollywood, Co. Wicklow can also boast many a cinematic connection, having been the shooting location for several big movies including Michael Collins, King Arthur and Dancing at Lughnasa.
Now for one of those incredible Wicklow facts that will stick in your head! A Wicklow man called Richard Crosbie is credited with being the first Irishman to make a manned flight, and it was only 14 months after the first ever manned balloon flight in the world by the Montgolfier Brothers in France! He spent months testing and launching several balloons before attempting one with a human. One of his balloons, containing a cat, was seen passing over the west coast of Scotland before descending close to the Isle of Man. Both the cat and the balloon were thankfully rescued by a passing ship! Crosbie was 30 years old when he flew a hydrogen air balloon from Dublin’s Ranelagh to Clontarf on 19th January 1785 in front of a crowd of 35,000 spectators. At a later date he intended to cross the Irish Sea, but came down during a severe storm and had to be rescued half way across the sea. His achievement is commemorated by a statue in Ranelagh Gardens in Dublin dedicated to ‘the first Irishman to fly’, who was first and foremost a proud Wicklow man.
So there you have it for another edition ‘5 Things Friday’. A few of my favourite ‘interesting things’ about stunning Co. Mayo. As ever, there are many more, but I’ll save those for another date. Please feel free to comment and please share the blog with your friends.
Happy Irish travels,