02 May 2011

Visiting a Victorian village that is the gateway to the mountains

Victorian and spring-time charm in the sunshine in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

The early summer sunshine has continued, despite the weather forecasts. This is a bank holiday weekend, and two of us thought about going for a walk on a beach in either Bray or Greystones on the Wicklow coast this afternoon. But when we saw the road-sign for Enniskerry, we realised it had been some years since either of us had been there, and we turned onto the Dargle Valley and drove to Enniskerry.

Enniskerry is just 24km south of Dublin and at the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains. It sells itself as “the gateway to Co Wicklow, the Garden of Ireland,” but has a unique character that makes Enniskerry a village worth visiting for its own charms.

We parked near Saint Parick’s, the Church of Ireland parish church, and strolled around this Victorian village, where three streets converge in a triangle that is lined with tearooms, cafés, food shops, guesthouses and hotels.

The village has a collection of picture postcard cottages, and we stopped to look into some antique and curios shops, a second-hand book shop, and the old AOH hall, where there was a book sale, before sitting down to coffee in Poppies, one of the many cafés clustered around the village Clock Tower.

A Victorian village

Enniskerry takes its name from the Irish, Ath na Sceire, meaning “Ford of the Stones.” The Victorian village, built as part of Powerscourt Estate to house its tenants and workers, was designed and laid out by the architect Frederick Darragh. The Clock Tower in the centre of the village has a base that is shamrock-shaped. It was erected in 1843 by Richard Wingfield (1815-1844), 6th Viscount Powerscourt, who had been MP for Bath, to commemorate the centenary of the third creation of title of Viscount Powerscourt for the Wingfield family in 1743.

The village school house opposite the Clock Tower was built in 1818 and was still being used as the local Church of Ireland National School, but is now available to rent. The Powerscourt Arms Hotel in the centre of the village was first built in 1715 and rebuilt in 1835 and again in 1894.

The forge or smithy on Forge Road behind the village was built in 1855 and was a popular picture postcard image until well into the second half of the last century. It is said horses were shod there until the late 1970s.

The forge or smithy was built in Forge Road behind Enniskerry village in 1855 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

A village church

The ancient church for this parish was known in mediaeval times as Stagonil (Tigh Choniall, Saint Connell’s hermitage or church), and the original church was dedicated to Saint Beccan. In 1192, Stagonil became one of the first prebends of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

The Prebendaries of Stagonil were also the rectors of the parish until the Disetsablishment of the Church of Ireland in the second half of the 19th century. He rectors over the span of history included Theophilus Bolton (1707-1714), who later became Archbishop of Cashel (1730-1744), and Robert Daly (1814-1843), who also became Archbishop of Cashel (1843-1872) – Daly was at the centre of a 19th century Evangelical family that was centred on the Powerscourt estate and involved many members of the Wingfield and Howard families, who wereinter-married.

The Wingfield family had owned Powerscourt Manor from 1603, and built a new church on the family estate that served as the parish church until 1863. Mervyn Wingfield (1836-1904), 7th Viscount Powerscourt, built Saint Patrick’s, a new church for the village, consecrated on 15 September 1863. Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church was built at the same time on a site also donated by the Powerscourt Estate.

River-side and valley walks

By the riverside in the Bog Meadow on the edges of Enniskerry this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

After coffee, we ambled down the village to the banks of the Cookstown River, a tributary of the River Dargle, where we strolled through the Bog Meadow, opposite the main entrance for Knocksink Wood with its babbling brooks and small waterfalls.

A little steep and slippery walk took us down past the playing fields and tennis courts of the Bog Meadow to the Glencullen River. But evening was closing in and shops were shutting. Rather than trying to get to see the Powerscourt Estate with its gardens and Ireland’s highest waterfall, we drove on towards Glencree, with its German war cemetery and the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation, housed in a former military barracks.

Along the road up the valley, the fields were green and sun-kissed and here and there were horses and even some deer.

Crosses side-by-side in the stillness of the German War Cemetery in Glencree, Co Wicklow, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

In Glencree, we stopped first at the German War Cemetery (Deutscher Kriegsfriedhof), which was dedicated in 1961. There are 134 graves there, mostly of air force and navy personnel – 53 identified and 28 are unknown. There are also six prisoners of war from World War I, and 46 German civilian detainees who were being shipped from England to Canada for internment when their ship, the Arandora Star, was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the Donegal coast in 1940. Here too is the grave of Dr Herman Görtz, a German spy, who made contact with the IRA before being arrested in 1941. He died by suicide in 1947, fearing he was about to be handed over to the Soviet Union. He was first buried in Dublin, but his body was transferred to Glencree in 1974.

From there, we went a hundred metres or so further on to the former army barracks in Glencree, dating from 1806, used during World II to hold German air force pilots who had crashed in Ireland and German agents captured planning anti-British activities with the IRA.

The former barracks was handed over to the Oblate Brothers in 1858, and they turned it into an industrial school. For 82 years, the school was home to over 200 boys until Saint Kevin’s Reformatory closed in 1940.

The Glencree Centre for Reconciliation is housed in buildings that have served as a barracks, a reformatory and a war-time detention centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The Glencree Centre for Reconciliation, which has had its home here for almost half a century, opened in 1975 and was a popular venue for seminars for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and other peace groups in 1980s.

The centre continues to run a broad range of programmes on conflict resolution, and just looking through the locked gates brought back warm memories of those campaigning days. It was still bright and sunny as we returned across the Wicklow Mountains, down by the Hell Fire Club, with splendid views across the city.

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