07 May 2007

Day Tripping to County Wicklow

You cannot truly experience Ireland unless you get out into the country. For that is where the beauty of Ireland abounds.

On Thursday we signed up for a day tour of County Wicklow. Since it was my birthday, GLH left his blackberry behind as a special gift to me. Thereby ensuring there would be no business conducted that day.

Unfortunately, it also ensured that we had no way of reaching the company we reserved our tour with when we arrived at the appointed meeting spot 10 minutes before the appointed pick-up time, but after a 40 minute wait we had not yet seen them. (But that fiasco is a story for another time. And will soon be a formal letter of complaint due to the difficulties that ensued when they refused to cancel the charges on our credit card. And the harassing telephone calls from the customer service representative...)

Instead we managed to arrange for seats on a different tour bus going to the same location and picking up in front of the same hotel.

The bus headed south from Dublin and into the Wicklow Mountains. We stopped briefly at the Wicklow Pass for a photo op and a chance to walk on the spongy, boggy soil. Kind of strange to feel the earth jiggling (not unlike relatively firm jell-o) beneath your feet. Perhaps that is where the Irish Jig originated?

We then drove down into the valley carved out by glaciers to arrive at the site of Glendalough. (From the Irish Gleann Dà Locha, meaning "the glen of two lakes.")

St. Kevin (? - 618), a hermit priest, sought out the location in the 6th century due to its remoteness and serenity. Unfortunately, the poor hermit who just wanted to be left alone had a hard time of it because he developed a group of followers who built a community nearby.

Eventually, this small community developed into a monastery with a large population of monks and laypeople. At the height of its power, it was the most important religious university in Ireland.

As with all monasteries, shelter and refuge were offered to any and all who entered. You were allowed to stay for 90 days to meditate and reflect upon your ways, then you had to leave and go back to face whatever it was from which you sought refuge.

The Round Tower was built in the 10th century. Standing 33 meters tall, it served as a bell tower and perhaps provided protection from the invading Vikings. Although how much protection it could have possibly provided has been called into question. Regardless, several round towers are present throughout Ireland. In addition, there are two found in Scotland and one on the Isle of Man.

The site also contains the ruins of a cathedral, which in its day would have been the largest cathedral in Ireland.

And the smaller, but mostly intact, St. Kevin's Church dating back to the 12th century. It is more commonly called St. Kevin's Kitchen because the belltower resembles a smoke stack.

Although the monastery was frequently pillaged by the Vikings and the Normans, it managed to survive until 1398 when the British all but destroyed it. It remained a functioning church until the English Reformation shut it down completely in the 16th century.

After the monastery closed at the end of the 14th century, the site became a cemetary. Those who happen to have a family plot with vacancies can still be buried there.

After leaving Glendalough we drove through the village of Rathdrum, best known as the birthplace of Charles Stewart Parnell (1846 - 1891). More recently it was the film location for several scenes in the movie, Michael Collins. There was a great deal of build-up as we approached for the village square was used in the scene in which Liam Neeson in the title role delivers a rousing speech to a cheering crowd of hundreds. Of course, as we drove by the town square it was full of construction equipment and scaffolding. It ruined the effect.

Our final stop was in the village of Avoca, home of Avoca Handweavers. Established in 1723, it is the oldest handweaving company in Ireland. Although frankly, it was just an opportunity for the tour bus to stop so that tourists could get off and shop. And the bus driver and tour guide could get a break and a bit of lunch.

After taking a few photos in the workshop we waited in the small shop, drinking tea and eating scones, until it was time to head back to Dublin.

My birthday ended with a lavish meal at Shanahan's, a restaurant that was highly recommended by Beth. And a fabulous dinner it was!


Anonymous said...

Love the pictures! Glad you had such a good trip, and of course a great dinner at Shanahans. :)

Un-Swiss Miss said...

Your photos bring back such wonderful memories! When I was at Glendalough, it was overcast, but the hike back to the Miner's Village was still fabulous. I love Ireland!

Rob said...

My girlfriend and I are visiting Ireland this summer and staying in Wicklow for two days. I'm very eager to do a walking tour in the Wicklow mountains. Your pictures are great, and have gotten me even more psyched than I was before.