Category Archives: County Wicklow

County Wicklow: Enniskerry

Thursday 10th August 2017. Hot.

As the “Route 44 Enniskerry” bus passed southwards along O’Connell Street, I decided that this was my trip for the day. The bus passed by Pearse Street, Merrion and thru Ranelagh, Clonskeagh, Milltown and Dundrum, all in Greater Dublin but beyond Dundrum, it was a climb into the mountains thru the village of Stepaside and then into Enniskerry.

Enniskerry (population 2,000) is about 25 kilometres (15 miles) from Dublin. It is about 5 kilometres (3 miles) from Powerscourt House and Gardens, one of the top tourist destinations.

I first and last visited Powerscourt in the early 1970s. A few days after my visit, it was badly damaged in a fire (I didn’t start it…I have an alibi!). I had (still have?) little interest in “ascendency houses” …the big ruling Anglo-owned houses from the mid 18th century. It is not a history that I like but maybe I am mellowing and I cant choose the narratives that I like. At some point, when I am further along the way to Mellowness, I will re-visit Powerscourt.

For the record, it was built by Viscount Powerscourt in the middle part of the 18th century but built on a site of a castle built centuries before. The house has been owned by the Slazenger (sports goods company) and in fairness, it has been restored magnificently and it actually features as a location in several movies.

Enniskerry has been in its shadow for centuries. Attached to every big “ascendency” house is a quasi-feudal system of Anglican (Church of Ireland) vicars, tenant farmers, merchants and peasants.

Enniskerry retains some of that historical baggage. It would be grossly unfair of me to dismiss it as a “West Briton” oasis which backed the wrong side in the War of Independence. Having been defeated, they would have seen their future with the more moderate “pro-Treaty” Fine Gael and North Wicklow remains conservative and Fine Gael in 2017.

To make a grossly unfair comparison, there are people in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina who are not overly enthused about the United States of America but are making the best of it.

This comparison says more about me that it does about anyone in Enniskerry.

The challenge of my travels around Ireland has been confronting my self. Yes, some things about Ireland have stayed the same. Some things about Ireland have changed. But the real shock to the system has been how much I have changed/stayed the same.

Enniskerry1

A better and more accurate way to think of Enniskerry is “reconciliation”. The coming together of two communities, Church of Ireland and Catholic is under-scored by a local centre for Reconciliation. In a way, it is the perfect place because the Protestant population is large enough to be an important demographic in the immediate area. And there is a history of reconciliation…German refugee orphans were settled thru here after the Second World War.

Enniskerry1 Enniskerry3

And close by is a German War Cemetery…many of them sailors and airmen who were washed up or crash-landed into Ireland in two wars.

As you can see from the first postcard, there is not a lot a room in the “square”. This is where the bus from Dublin left me. There were two or three taxis to take taxis to Powerscourt but mostly the tourists I saw were coach parties.

Interestingly the Irish National Ski and Snowboard Association is based at a very large and very artificial slope on the Dublin side of Enniskerry. I had never really thought that some of my winter travel could be on cold and snowy days. is usually confined to high ground and is comparatively rare.

Enniskerry4

As I was waiting for a return bus to Dublin, an elderly German couple approached and asked me about a bus to Bray, the seaside town I visited earlier in the summer. They had been to Powerscourt and the German war graves. At that point I decided that I should also go a different route so I got on board the bus to Bray.

I assumed the Enniskerry-Bray journey would be more than 15 kilometres (9 miles) but in fact it is only about 6 kilometres (3 miles). A surprise to find that this quiet spot is so close to a busy commuter and holiday town.

I think I was surprised that I liked Enniskerry as much as I did.

This summer, I have already been in some of the districts and suburbs (Ranelagh and Dundrum) but at some point, I need to take a closer look at the village of Stepaside.

In Bray, I connected to the DART train to go back to Dublin.

County Wicklow: Bray

Thursday 22nd June 2017. Hot.

It was a last minute decision to travel. I had the offer of a lift to Portadown train station and I caught the 11am train to Dublin. Much later than usual and more crowded. Arrived in Dublin about 12.45pm.
It was a case of looking at the Destination Board and choosing a fairly local trip. I decided on the DART train south to Bray in County Wicklow.
Bray is about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Dublin and has a population of about 35,000. It is in County Wicklow but the small River Dodder which runs thru the town into the sea is in geographical strictness the line between County Dublin and County Wicklow.
This is the fourth “DART” town I have visited to the south of Dublin in recent weeks. Essentially, Bray and the Railway are linked since the middle of the 19th century. It is also a town familiar to me for over fifty years. And yet it has changed.
Impossible to visit without having a feeling of Nostalgia.
My first visit to Bray was in June 1966, as a 14 year old with about twelve other boys from a church group from West Belfast. The group hired a minibus and we spent a Sunday there. Actually quite a long trip in those days.


Memories of that day include buying a souvenir headscarf for my mother, fish and chips in a small cafe (it has been closed for many years now but can be seen in the photograph as one of the last white-washed buildings) and then we climbed up Bray Head, the hill at the end of town. There is a large cross at the top of the hill. It is not exactly the statue of Christ overlooking Rio di Janeiro.
Nor is the stone beach the Copacabana but it is a seaside town. There were few people on the beach yesterday although there were primary school children day-tripping with teachers and having lunch on the wide expanse of grass.
There was also some windsurfing going on around an activity centre and a very large colony of mute swans.
Clearly the nature of Bray has changed. It is no longer a place for day trippers from Dublin and weekending couples from Belfast or week-long holidays for Irish families. It is now part of the commuter belt for people working in Dublin.

I spent a weekend here in 1977. I escaped the media hype surrounding the Silver Jubilee of the Queen of England (Elizabeth Windsor). As I noted last week when I wrote about Greystones, it was very very hot. One evening I walked along the seafront and walked the six miles of coastal path which begins under Bray Head. I got to Greystones and caught a bus back to Bray.

 


Around 1994, I stayed with my wife, two sons (then aged 9 and 7) and my elderly mother and aunt at the same seafront “bed and breakfast” and we left our elderly relatives in the front garden and as we climbed to the cross at the top of Bray Head, we could see them getting smaller and smaller.
In 2012, my wife and I were in Dublin and took the DART to Bray. That “B & B” on the seafront was being demolished and a block of apartments being built. And in many ways that is the story of Bray in five decades.
The amusement arcades which used to brashly light up the seafront…only one seems to remain and it is somewhat more luxurious than in 1977 …for the sake of nostalgia, I foolishly spent €3 on one-armed bandits. Modern machines are very complicated and amusement arcades should be much more sleazy than this one.
Ice Cream…yes still some outlets on the seafront but the fish and chip shops replaced by the gastro-pubs and fancy coffee shops. A memorial to local soldiers killed in service with the British army is prominently located near the train station.
The commercial heart of Bray is one main street some distance from the seafront. It was always of course a very different place from the brashness of the seafront. But it seems to have lost all ambition of being a tourist town. I only spotted one souvenir shop.

I expect the demise and/or reinvention of the seaside town will be a recurring theme on my travels. The Hospitality “industry” is big in Ireland but mostly it is about the high-end of the market. Rich Germans and Americans…golf, fishing, gastronomic tours, conventions, coach trips to the Cliffs of Moher, Glendalough, Blarney Castle.
While hotels compete for mid-week breaks and wedding receptions, it must be difficult for a town like Bray to compete with the attractions of Dublin. And of course, Irish people, including families find better value…and more consistent summer weather on the Algarve in Portugal , Costa del Sol in Spain and Disney in United States.

Seemingly it is possible to see Sinead O’Connor the singer and Katie Taylor, the Olympic Boxing gold medalist in Bray.
And back to Bray Station…named for Ned Daly, one of the executed leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising.


I got a ticket for Howth, a town on the north side of Dublin.

County Wicklow: Greystones

Friday 2nd June 2017. Warm.

A crowded train from Dublin (it was an “express” to the ferry port of Rosslare) to Greystones about 30 kilometres (18 miles) south of Dublin.

Greystones is a seaside resort, more genteel than Bray (20 kilometres) south of Dublin. Now of course part of the commuter belt.

The atmosphere was very relaxed. The few people on the main street seemed to be retired or posh housewives. The men of working age were probably doing professional work in Dublin.

I have only passed thru Greystones two or three times in forty years. And yet it all felt very nostalgic. In 1977…the weekend of the “Queen” of Englands “Silver Jubilee” was the hottest weekend in living memory.

Trying to get away from the fawning of the BBC, I escaped to Bray. Around 7pm, I decided to walk the 10 kilometres (6 miles) and I walked along the coast to Greystones….walking a cliff path, clambering over rocks. It was wonderful. And when I did reach Greystones, I got the bus back to Bray.

Returning in 2017, I was 25 years old again. I could maybe just about manage that coastal walk again but if I ever do, I hope there is an Intensive Care Unit on standby. Yes…my hair is somewhat shorter (not entirely by design) than in 1977.

And the  odd thing is the soundtrack in my head. It is impossible to pass thru an Irish town without an earworm. Impossible to go to Galway without thinking “The Galway Shawl”. Impossible to go to Kildare without thinking “The Curragh of Kildare”. And impossible to go to Derry without thinking “The Town I Loved So Well”.

I suppose that is normal. As a child I heard the music on the radio. As a teen I heard it on my record player. Irish Music was my introduction to places I have never been. As American Music such as “San Antonio Rose”, “Memphis Tennesse” and “New York, New York” was my introduction to the United States.

The soundtrack to 1977 was Punk. I thought Punk Music and Culture was tuneless and nihilistic…the very opposite of my genteel unfulfilled “Hippyness”. I could not believe that Punk would have any long term effect. So surprisingly, the tunes in my head in Greystones in 2017 were “Anarchy in the UK” and “God Save The Queen….its a fascist regime”.

Have I changed? Yes …but probably not as much as it seems. I am at heart an anarchist…albeit a very unlikely and genteel anarchist. And the best kind of anarchist is the anarchist who is under the radar.