Glendalough Monastic City

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Before and after my walk around the two lakes at Glendalough I took the opportunity to look around the Monastic City, an early Christian monastic settlement founded by the Celtic saint, St. Kevin (Caoimhín in Irish) in the 6th century although mst of the surviving buildings are from the 10th to 12th centuries. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in this part of Ireland being only an hour’s drive from Dunblin. I’d visited the site with my wife 9 years ago, but thought it was worth another look.. 

The view towards the site is dominated by the 33 metre tall Round Tower.

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It was built almost 1000 years ago by the monks of St. Kevin’s monastery. Round towers are found all over Ireland and there are various theories about what they were for. However, the Irish name for the towers is “Cloigtheach”, which translates as “bell tower”. It is also thought that the towers were sometimes used as a place of refuge for monks when the monastery was under attack from Vikings and other raiders. They may also have been used as lookout posts and as beacons foe approaching monks and pilgrims. The Glendalough tower is a fine example, many others are partially ruined, although the conical roof had to be replaced in 1876 after it had been struck by lightning.

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St. Kevin’s Church better known as St. Kevin’s Kitchen is a nave-and-chancel church of the 12th century. It is called St Kevin’s kitchen because people believed that the bell tower was a chimney to a kitchen.

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The Cathedral is the largest of the seven churches around Glendalough.  It was built in several phases from the 10th through the early 13th century.

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Originally, the site was enclosed within a circular wall. Most of this has gone but gateway remains and is Ireland’s only surviving example of a medieval gateway to an early monastic city. The arch is built with Roman style columns and the stones were cut specifically to scale and they held themselves up without the need for mortar.

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A walk into the cloud

I woke early on the Saturday morning during my stay in the Wicklow Mountains. I’d checked the weather forecast the night before and wasn’t very optimistic as rain was expected. It wasn’t raining when I got up, but after breakfast, when I popped down to the village to pick up some supplies, it arrived. I hung around in my pod for a while but there was no sign of it stopping. However, I had my waterproof coat and I wasn’t going to let a little rain stop me from getting out onto the hills.

I’d plotted myself a walk from the campsite that would take me to the top of Scarr, a mountain 2105 feet high just a few miles north ofthe site. I’d worked out a couple of possible circular routes, but hadn’t any definite plans as to which I would follow, I thought I’d see how it went depending on conditions.

I set out along the Military Road (as the name implies it was built by the British to facilitate the movement of troops to keep the Irish under the imperial heel)

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for about half a mile until I reached the point where the Wicklow Way crossed the road.

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Turnng right I followed the trail up through a forest,

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climbing on to moorland. The rain began to ease off and had more or less stopped by the time I came out of the cover of the trees.

I continued on the Wicklow Way for a while across the moor before turning off on a path that would take me over Paddock Hill towards Scarr. Views were opening up over the Glenmarcnass Pass to the Mullaghcleevaun, Tonelagee and Brockagh mountains, or at least they should have been! Low cloud was was covering the mountain tops.

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I carried on over the moor and started the climb up Scarr,

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up into the cloud that was covering the mountain.

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I stopped to chat with some walkers on their way down. They’d been to the summit but as visibility was poor were making their way back down towards Laragh. I carried on.

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It was a gradual climb; nothing too steep but due the cloud I couldn’t see the top. A couple of times I thought I was there but then realised that it was a false summit.

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Eventually I made it to the top. I couldn’t see a thing!

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I’d planned to carry on to another peak, Kanturk, a little further along the ridge, and then loop back. But given the lack of information on the maps I decided there was a real chance of getting lost so, reluctantly, turned back to retrace my route.

After turning round there was a break in the cloud – I could see the summit!

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and some of the nearby countryside

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I hung around for a little while to see if it was going to disperse so I could resume my original plan. But it was a false hope, it soon closed back in

I retraced my route back over the moor and then down through the forest

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Reaching the Military Road, rather than walk straight down into Laragh, I crossed over and followed the Wicklow way for a while, down through more forest

Crossing over a recently constructed bridge over the turbulent river

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rried on along the path I’d have reached the monastic site at Glendalough, but I cut down through a forest track back to the village where I picked up some supplies from the convenience shop.

Despite the conditions it was an enjoyable walk. I’ll have to return one day and repeat it when the weather’s a bit better.

After a shower and something to eat it was soon time to head down to the local pub to watch the match.

A weekend in the Wicklow Mountains

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I missed out on the late May Bank Holiday this year. I needed to schedule a course in Ireland and the only week that worked was the last week in May. So on Sunday 26th I sailed over to Dublin and then drove over to Naas. This time, however, I’d decided to extend my stay and spend some time in the Wicklow Mountains, a range of hills to the south of Dublin in County Wicklow. Ever since we visited the area 9 years ago I’d always fancied getting up on the hills and with the long days of May, this seemed like a good opportunity, so I decided to book a couple of nights in suitable accommodation around the village of Laragh, do some walking and then return home on the Sunday.

What I hadn’t reckoned was that the first Monday in June is a Bank Holiday in Ireland, so I some trouble finding a B and B near Laragh at a reasonable price. However, I found a “glamping” site in Laragh that had availability, and having found staying in a “pod” quite good when I went for a sea Kaying weekend in Anglesey last year, I thought I’d book myself in for a couple of nights. It turned out to be a good call. Glendalough Glamping was a really good site with spacious pods (larger than the one I stayed in in Anglesey) and excellent facilities including a kitchen and dining area with cooking equipment available and even with cutlery and crockery provided. There were walks out in the hills right from the door so once I checked in I didn’t have to use my car until I drove home.

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My “pod”

My course finished at midday on the Friday so I drove over to Laragh across the hills over the Wicklow Gap arriving an hour later. Although check in was 3 p.m. I’d arranged in advance to arrive at 1 and as my pod was ready was able to check in, get changed and head out for a walk.

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Inside my pod
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view from the campsite

Unfortunately the weather forecast for the weekend was mixed, with some rain expected (the story of my life this year!) but I managed a couple of good walks over the weekend. One worry was that I’d miss the European Champions Trophy final. As a lapsed Liverpool fan I was keen to watch the match. But the Irish are generally pretty much football mad and I knew that Liverpool have a big following over there, so it was pretty certain that the local pub would be showing the match. The pub was crowded but I squeezed in amongst the locals, many of them wearing red shirts. So I felt quite at home, especially as the Reds managed to win the match.

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Walking in the Wicklow Mountains is a bit of a challenge. I’d got hold of a good map, 1:30,000 scale, for the area. But paths aren’t well documented, so it’s difficult to plot a route just from the map if you’re not familiar with the area. However, I had a good walking guide to the hills and the internet, as usual, is a good resource for routes, so with a little homework I had some ideas on what I could do. The very friendly and helpful campsite owner (very typically Irish) also gave me some information on possible routes.

Dublin & Wicklow: A Walking Guide by [Fairbairn, Helen]

But I had one route in mind ever since my last visit 9 years ago – a walk around the two lakes of Glendalough, where there are a number of well marked trails. So on Friday afternoon I set off down the Green Road from Laragh to the monastic site at the foot of the “valley of two lakes”. (to be continued …….. !!)

Russborough House, Ireland

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Summer’s over and I’m back working in Ireland again.  I came over on Sunday and decided to take the earlier boat so I could have an afternoon free time. During previous visits I’d noticed signs in Naas for Russborough House, a former Stately Home near Blessington and only 10 miles or so from where I usually stay. So I decided to go and have a look.

When checking up about the house I realised I had heard of it before. A number of the major paintings displayed in the Irish National Gallery, including their paintings by Vermeer, Metsu and Goya had previously were part of the collection of the last private owners of the house, Sir Alfred & Lady Beit, who’d originally bought the house so they could display their art collection. Initially 12 paintings were stolen during a raid by the IRA in 1974. They were all recovered. However in 1986 there was another burglary organised by the infamous Dublin criminal, Martin Cahill, who is better known as  ‘The General’. All but 2 paintings were recovered. Following this some of the most valuable of the works were donated to the National Gallery.

The Beits were of German and South African heritage and part of the De Beer diamond dynasty. Sir Alfred Beit bought the house in 1952. The original owners were  the Earls of Milltown, the Leeson family, who made their money through their Dublin breweries before they were ennobled.

The grounds can be accessed free of charge and there are a couple of pleasant walks around the “Desmesne”. The grounds near the house where there is a playground and maze (3 Euros entrance fee) was busy with families with young children. the cafe was also very good with some nice looking savoury dishes and cakes.

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The first Earl of Milltown, Joseph Leeson had it built between 1741 and 1755 and it was designed by the Irish architect Richard Cassells, who was also responsible for a number of major buildings in Dublin including the Rotunda Hospital and Leinster House and he also designed another well known Stately Home near Dublin, Powerscourt House.

It’s an example of Palladian architecture, symmetrical, well proportioned with Classical features. There’s a central block linked to two pavilions by curved collonades. The central block is relatively simple, it’s main feature being a “suggested portico” , with Corinthean pillasters “supporting” a triangular pediment, surrounding the front entrance.

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here was a great view of the Wicklow “Mountains” from the front of the house (the photo doesn’t do it justice)

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The rear of the house has a similar look, but with a simpler portico

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The tour of the house took just short of an hour and took us into all of the rooms on the ground floor of the main house and the main lobby and a couple of bedrooms on the first floor. The East wing houses the cafe and the west wing has been converted into holiday apartments.

The interior of the house itself can be accessed via hourly guided tours. So I bought a ticket. One thing was very apparent from the tour – the Milltowns loved their stucco. It was everywhere – the ceilings and the walls. There were some exceptional fireplaces too. And despite the most notable paintings from the Beit collection being passed on to the National Gallery there were still a number of works by significant artists on the walls – not all to my taste, though.

The Dining Room:

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The Entrance Hall:

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The Drawing Room

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The Music Room

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The Saloon

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The Library

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The main staircase

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One of the bedrooms – 1930’s style

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After looking round the house I had a walk around the grounds

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