Saturday 22 July 2017

Wicklow: When Barry Egan played tourist in the Garden County

Short breaks in Ireland

The Lower Lake at Glendalough, one of the most peaceful and becalming places of natural beauty in Ireland
The Lower Lake at Glendalough, one of the most peaceful and becalming places of natural beauty in Ireland
Kilruddery House
The Druids Glen Hotel and resort in Newtownmountkennedy
David and Stephen Flynn at work at The Happy Pear in Greystones. Photo: Ronan Lang
Tinakilly Country House is set on 14 lovely acres
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Mother nature's magic, sumptuous hotels and beachside sambos - it's all in Wicklow says Barry Egan.

Lord Byron could have been writing about the Garden of Ireland, Wicklow, when he rhapsodised thus: "There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.'

 Byron would also have loved the fact that Wicklow is home to Anglo-Irish grandees and aristo/artistic types like film director John Boorman, Guinness scion, The Honourable Garech Browne and various others who posh up the place.

If you have ever been to Annamoe, you will see why Daniel Day-Lewis and his wife Rebecca Miller lived so happily on a farm near Annamoe once upon a time.

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow. Photo: Deposit
Glendalough, Co. Wicklow. Photo: Deposit

There is something very special, and unspoilt, about this part of Ireland. And it's on our doorstep - all this unspoilt magic courtesy of Mother Nature. So, after setting off by car from our home in Dublin suburbia, within 60 minutes we were in the midst of immense bucolic bliss.

We were in Glendalough (above), a place that stands out as one of the most peaceful and becalming places of natural beauty in Ireland, by 11am. Whenever I walked around Glendalough, I half expected Van Morrison to pop out of the trees and sing something spiritual about being in the garden, wet with rain, with our Lord. The air appeared so fresh in the Valley of the Two Lakes - the Lower Lake and Upper Lake - you could almost taste the freshness, here where St. Kevin founded his monastery in 498.

Looking up at The Round Tower, erected 1,000 years ago, you can't but look up at the sky, at the heavens, which is probably what St Kevin intended all those years ago.

After the morning amid the mystic wonder of Glendalough, we decamped to our hotel, the beautiful five-star Druids Glen in Newtownmountkennedy (below).

The Druids Glen Hotel and resort in Newtownmountkennedy
The Druids Glen Hotel and resort in Newtownmountkennedy

After checking into our palatial suite, we had a swim followed by an exquisite lunch in the restaurant overlooking the rolling hills and peaks of Wicklow. Our 17-month-old child was running around like an escaped lunatic. Therefore, after lunch, there was nothing else for it but to bring her to Glenroe Farm in Kilcoole to run the manic energy out of her.

In the end, it was us who were exhausted chasing her as she chased animals. Be that as it may, we spent three wonderful hours here. I never thought I would enjoy an afternoon on a farm so much.

Our little girl was in her element, as we were in truth, pointing at, petting and feeding the animals on this lovely farm in Wicklow. She fed horses and rabbits and pigs in the fields before we had a mini picnic of ham and pickle sandwiches in the sunshine in a quiet corner of the farm.

What could be more agreeable than that? Where would you get it? It was the perfect staycation. Sometimes it's fun to be a tourist in your own country.

David and Stephen Flynn at work at The Happy Pear in Greystones. Photo: Ronan Lang
David and Stephen Flynn at work at The Happy Pear in Greystones. Photo: Ronan Lang

Early the next morning, determined to make the most of our whistle-stop trip to Wicklow, we drove early to Brittas Bay. We were exploring its famous five kilometres of sandy dunes by 11.30am, and by noon, our tireless little baby was padding about on the glorious beach in the sunshine and, with mummy and daddy holding her hand, splish-splashing about in the sea. Mummy and daddy took turns at taking a swim in the relatively warm-ish water.

The swimming gave us an appetite, so we drove to Greystones for lunch in that organic bastion, The Happy Pear on Church Road.

The two lads, David and Stephen Flynn, weren't there, or I didn't see them, but there was a massive queue of people. The place was so packed, we took our fancy sambos down to the beach in Greystones and ate them looking out at the sea. How is it that sambos at the seaside somehow seem much more seductive?

Once we got back to our home-from-home for two days, Druids Glen, we took our child for a swim in the hotel's pool in the vain attempt to tire her out. Then we tried the same trick in the hotel's fabulous kids' playroom. This didn't work either. Stupidly, after we had all washed and changed, we took her to the hotel's five-star dining experience, Hugo's Restaurant.

Kilruddery House
Kilruddery House

Despite the French waiter's best attempts to placate her with artisan breads and telling her how sweet she was, she was soon demanding non-verbally that I take her out of her baby-seat and take her for a long walk around the admittedly gorgeous gardens. So I had half a steak -it was delicious, albeit, but half - before I ended up back in the room getting her to sleep. My wife, you'll be delighted to hear, had a delightful full meal.

The next morning, we drove to Killruddery House & Gardens on Southern Cross Road near Bray. This is another place (like the Powerscourt gardens) that my wife and I absolutely love visiting. It was a perfect setting to while away a few hours surrounded by beauty.

After a tour of the house, once home to the Earls of Meath, we went for an early lunch in the Tea Rooms. We were on a tight schedule, so straight after lunch, we jumped in the car again (please note: my beloved wife does all the driving because I am learning to drive at my ungodly age) and zoomed down the motorway to Tinakilly Country House. I fell in love with the Victorian mansion on 14 eye-wateringly lovely acres the second we drove up the driveway.

Tinakilly Country House is set on 14 lovely acres
Tinakilly Country House is set on 14 lovely acres

The sun was out and we sat in the garden in the pods and had tea and sandwiches, and just enjoyed an hour (the baby was sleeping) listening to the birds singing their little hearts out in the trees all around us. Our room had an antique four-poster bed and a view across Wicklow to die for. We explored the old house and learned about its history (built in 1833 by the British government for Captain Robert Halpin) and that it has a huge wine cellar.

You won't begrudge me having a beautiful half-bottle of wine that night with my dinner after only getting to eat half my dinner in Druid's Glen. And because Emilia had slept and was in great form, I got to eat all my dinner in Tinakilly House. And what a dinner it was.

Indeed what a staycation we had in Wicklow. It is only a short trip from Portobello down the motorway for us. So we'll be back.

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