Takeaway

As Irish as it gets

Khursheed Dinshaw | Updated on August 21, 2020 Published on August 21, 2020

Wicklow to the core: Glendalough has a smattering of stone structures from the 6th century   -  IMAGES: KHURSHEED DINSHAW

A monastic village, a national park and a wooden stick: County Wicklow in Ireland has a lot going for it

* The monastic settlement of Glendalough that dates back to the 6th century. It was counted among the most revered pilgrim sites of Ireland

* The Wicklow Mountains National Park is a happy shelter for nearly 100 species of birds

* The shillelagh stick, too, is a component of Wicklow’s Irish heritage. It has a history of over 1,300 years

On a bright sunny morning last year, the breakfast table at BrookLodge & Macreddin Village in County Wicklow, Ireland, looked all prepared to hold me captive through the day. There were eggs, laid by frisky hens I had met the previous evening, a range of preserves and jams, coffee and the all-important pot Irish soda bread. I pinned my appetite to the hearty plate before me while my eyes wandered in the direction of the gurgling brook by the church in the distance.

Later, sitting in the lawn, I munched on apples from the estate’s orchards. Covid-19 was still a few months away, so the only thoughts that ran through my mind were as sunny and cheerful as the day itself. The danger of staying in a hotel such as BrookLodge & Macreddin is the resultant urge to not step out at all. But Wicklow deserved both time and attention.

My first stop was the monastic settlement of Glendalough that dates back to the 6th century. It was counted among the most revered pilgrim sites of Ireland. The Irish believed that seven pilgrimages to Glendalough were equal to one pilgrimage to Rome. I signed up for a tour of Glendalough, which, in Gaelic, is Gleann da Loch (valley of two lakes).

Starting from the visitor centre, the group I was part of crossed the stone gatehouse, which used to be the entrance to this ancient settlement. Inside this peaceful sanctuary founded by St Kevin, stone structures — the Round Tower, the cathedral, St Kevin’s Kitchen, St Kevin’s Cross and The Priest House — brought back to life stories of the medieval Irish. The 100-ft tall Round Tower stood out for obvious reasons. It was the bell tower built by monks to issue summons for prayer.

The long end: It takes an average of three years to craft one shillelagh stick

 

Picturesque Glendalough is also hiking paradise. It is a part of the Wicklow Mountains National Park, my next destination. Surrounded by mountains, the park has diverse habitat including blanket bog, woodlands, lakes and rocks. It is also a happy shelter for nearly 100 species of birds, including peregrine falcon, kestrel, red grouse, wood warbler, redstart, crossbill and merlin. I encountered a herd of deer while walking a meadow. The deer were a hybrid of the red deer, which is native to the area, and the sika deer, which were brought to Wicklow as residents of the Powerscourt Estate (popular for its gardens and stately building) in the 1800s. The hybrid is now a common sight across the county. I saw them several times during the hours I spent in the national park.

The walk didn’t just work my muscles. It also stirred a voracious appetite for the organic dinner at the award-winning The Strawberry Tree restaurant. From beef fillets in full bone gravy with parsnip and onion to smoked salmon with almonds, leek and cucumber, wild mackerel with fermented vegetables to potato gnocchi with olive crumbs, the spread was as large and local as the restaurant itself. The only activity I could manage after the meal was the walk to the bedroom.

The next morning was devoted to the traditional art of stick making — at the Olde Shillelagh Stick Makers. Like Glendalough and its natural assets, the shillelagh stick, too, is a component of Wicklow’s Irish heritage. It has a history of over 1,300 years and it was first used in combat. It is said that the stick owes its name to the Ealach Mac Faelchon, king of a certain clan. Yet another story attributes the name of the stick to the village of Shillelagh, also in County Wicklow. The heavy knob on the head could be a watered down version of the stick’s former avatar as a battle club. I learned that it was also used as good luck charm.

The sticks are made from blackthorn wood, which is not just durable and light but was also used in pagan traditions. And let this sink in: It takes an average of three years to craft one stick, which undergoes almost 17 processes.

The small shillelagh I got as a keepsake reminds me of its journey through the ages. I haven’t tested its good luck skills yet. Maybe it can club a virus into submission.

Khursheed Dinshaw is a Pune-based freelance writer-photographer

  • Getting there
  • From Dublin Airport, Wicklow is 2 hours by road.
  • Stay
  • BrookLodge & Macreddin Village (brooklodge.com/) is a luxurious property that has the only certified organic restaurant between Ireland and UK. It also has the only organic bakery in Ireland.
  • BLink Tip
  • While in Wicklow, also visit the Powerscourt Gardens and House and drive to the Powerscourt Waterfall. Another scenic spot is the Meeting of the Waters where the Beg River and the Avonmore River join to flow together as the Avoca River.

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Published on August 21, 2020
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