Glenmalure is the longest glaciated valley in Ireland. Thousands of years ago, when Ireland was covered in ice – a vast sheet of ice gouged a gash through the Wicklow Mountains. It’s a wild, lonely and stunningly beautiful place. It has a history of rebellion and was the scene of a famous Irish victory over the English in 1580 when the clansmen of the O’Byrne’s and their allies defeated a much larger invading English force, luring them into the valley and then coming down off the boulder strewn sides of the valley with bloody intent. The battle is commemorated in the lyrics of the song ‘Follow Me Up to Carlow’.
The head of the valley lies in the shadow of Lugnaquilla, the highest mountain in Wicklow and the highest point in Ireland outside of Kerry. Walking or hiking one of the trails out of the valley, it’s hard to believe that the city of Dublin is only a little over 40 kilometres to the north. The landscape is wild and inhospitable. The few sheep farmers who make a living in the valley work hard to keep their flocks healthy in such a challenging environment. Whilst snow is a rare enough visitor to our shores, the height and eastern facing aspect of the glen means that the surrounding mountains and Lugnaquilla in particular hold snow for longer than anywhere else in Ireland. For visitors, the surrounding roads such as the Sally Gap and Wicklow Gap are impassable each year for at least a few days.
From the head of the glen overlooking the Avonbeg River, the landscape is spectacularly beautiful. Mountains and forests stretch as far as the eye can see and there is little in the way of human habitation. The sheer sides of the glen are scattered with vast rocks and Carrawaystick Brook falls over the cliffs – a long turf brown and white streak of cascading water – the volume of which depends very much on the amount of rain up on the surrounding summits. Dramatist JM Synge was a regular visitor to the region and based the play In The Shadow of The Glenon the area. Literary associations are also strengthened by the memory of Maud Gonne McBride who owned the house 6km up the glen from Drumgoff – now an An Oige Hostel.
Glenmalure also contains an old British military barracks at Drumgoff, one of several dotted along the Military Road which was built by the British following the 1798 Rebellion. The road stretches from the Dublin suburbs over the heather clad mountains – terminating in the beautiful valley of Aughavannagh, a short distance over the mountains from Glenmalure.
Wicklow and Glenmalure in particular is synonymous with Michael Dwyer, rebel leader of the 1798 Rising in Wicklow. There is a large granite memorial to the famous rising ‘Governor of Glenmalure’ near Drumgoff. After many years fighting the British, Dwyer was eventually transported to Australia where he died in 1825. There are a number of photographs of his Sydney grave in the pub in at the crossroads where the Military Road tumbles over the hills from Laragh.
The landscape gives an indication of why rebellion was such a feature of the area over the centuries. High, heavily forested mountains, glens ending in cul de sacs of sheer granite, and fast flowing rivers with few fording points all combined to make it a difficult region to subdue. Even today, with so few roads in or out of the mountains, it’s no surprise that the Irish retreated to the area as the growing English presence in the Pale displaced them during the Elizabethan period in particular.
Today, all is peaceful. The area is a hikers and walkers paradise, and despite the relative proximity of our capital city it’s easy to find yourself as the only walkers on the trail. Glenmalure is a favourite starting point for climbing Lugnaquilla and a visit to the Glen will reward anyone who loves the Irish landscape – no matter how active or genteel your outdoor pursuits may be.