If God were to open a branch location of Paradise, he probably couldn’t do any better than the Wicklow Mountains National Park in Ireland. Spread out over 50,000 acres, the park includes, lush green and purple mountains, deep, mysterious fog-shrouded lakes and an ancient monastery village that was home to one of Ireland’s most honored saints (who isn’t named Patrick).

The concept of having National Parks in Ireland is a relatively new one. Of the nation’s six parks, four were established in the 1990s. The Wicklow Mountains Park is Ireland’s most extensive and the only one on the eastern half of the island. At over 220 square kilometers (approximately 124 square miles) the park is vast enough to contain runs through a large portion of County Wicklow all the way to the southern exurbs of Dublin. At only about an hour’s drive from the heart of the nation’s capital, the park is a perfect day trip for Dubliner’s and tourists alike. The Irish never really took to cities and outside of Dublin and Cork, the country is mostly rural. Given Wicklow’s adjacency to the urban center is makes a great foray into the verdant heart.

 

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Wicklow Mountains National Park is aptly named. It is the very image I had of Ireland before I visited the country. 

The four most popular areas of the park are an area called “Wicklow Way” an 80-mile hiking trail that runs roughly the course of the park, Powerscourt waterfall a 397ft waterfall, Glendalough Monastery, the ancient cloister for St. Kevin the hermit, and the upper and lower lakes.

 

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Hiking the Wicklow Way. Over the course’s 80 miles the terrain changes many times.  The path starts in the low valley forest, then cuts through bogs and finally the mountainous area and the monastery. 

 

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Given the length of the trail, it is often broken up in segments. There are several trailheads and rest areas along the way with country inns which offer meals and overnight accommodations. 

 

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The Glendalough Hotel is a lovely inn that has comfy beds and substantial breakfast to keep you moving along the way. 
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Rooms run about 100.00 US a night, and a hotel is a great place for trail advice. They even offer guided excursions to some of the lesser visited areas of the park. If you are interested in a less expensive option, there is a youth hostel nearby for about 40.00 US and several B&B in the area for about 50.00 US

Glendalough 

In Gaelic, Glendalough means the valley of the two lakes. The two lakes in the name are the upper and lower lakes and are located next to each other and a relatively easy 3-mile path circles the area.

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The upper and lower lakes are both visible in this picture. You can also see the circling trail. You have another more strenuous path that leads to this vantage point as well.

 

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The lake trail includes many stone bridges that are centuries old. 

 

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In the same area are the monastery ruins of St. Kevin probably the most beautiful area of the entire park. 

For me, the highlight of the park is the monastic area. The monastery was built in the 600’s and is one of the oldest standing buildings in the entire country.  The site was famous in the middle ages and would draw spiritual seekers from throughout Europe. Considered a center of learning and Ireland was known for being the “island of saints and Scholars’. The buildings that remain are from around the 1200s and include a cathedral, several small stone dwellings, stone celtic crosses, and the 100 ft tall round tower. Round tower, 

The grounds were first settled by St. Kevin in the seventh century. St Kevin was a hermit and had chosen to become an ascetic, meaning he swore off all material possessions and lived alone in the area. He didn’t even have a dwelling choosing to live in a cave instead. His reputation as a holy man began to spread, and people started moving to the area to hear the Saint give sermons and after his death, the monastery was founded.

The monastery is worth visiting the park all by itself. It is just a bonus being in such a beautiful area.

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In Ireland, many of the old monastic grounds often have commentaries near them. 

 

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Monastic ruins

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The church of St Kevin

 

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Arches from some of the many ruin areas. In the 1300s the grounds were destroyed in one of the area’s many religious conflicts. 
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Detail of the masonry work on the old cathedral grounds. 

 

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The round tower stands over 100ft tall and can be seen from just about anywhere in the valley. 

Powerscourt Waterfall and Mansion

The falls drop almost 400 feet and are the longest on the entire island. They are what is called a horsetail fall as the falls resemble as such.  Located on the Powerscourt estate there is a beautiful Mansion a couple of miles away.

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The falls are very popular with the wildlife in the area and it is not uncommon to see deer in the area. 
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the Manor has been featured in many films including most recently in “The Count of Monte Cristo”
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The Mansion grounds have many different gardens to explore. Here is the Japanese garden. 

Wicklow Mountains National Park offers an almost Zenlike balance between Natural and manmade beauty. At just an hours drive from Dublin, you have no real excuse to not include this slice of Heaven on any tour of Ireland. The park is a great appetizer or dessert for any visit to the country. Why you could even easily make a whole meal out of it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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