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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.