Discover Ireland's Silver-linings Amidst Its Clouds

Issue 23

By Bridie Chomse, Travel Planner, Travel Bureau Destinations If you visit Ireland, chances are it's going to rain at least once whatever the season! But don't let this put you off for, as I discovered when I visited County Wicklow, the Emerald Isle's inclement climate is all part of its charm.

Glendalough is an early medieval monastic settlement set amid the stunning scenery of the Wicklow mountains. My visit was not blessed with clear skies and dazzling sunshine but the place lost none of its magic for this.

St Kevin founded the settlement here in the 6th century, seeking out Glendalough, “Valley of the Two Lakes”, as a place for peaceful contemplation to be at one with God and nature. It’s not hard to see why Kevin chose this spot for such a pursuit, even with groups of tourists roaming around the remains of the settlement, Glendalough has a pervading atmosphere of serenity. On the day I visited the site, the misty gloom which hung in the air only added to its mystical quality, hinting at hidden magic in the ancient valley.

I would have loved more time to explore the surrounding forests and mountains but if I felt I had missed an opportunity for adventure and discovery, my next destination more than made up for it.

Approaching Powerscourt I was expecting the spectacular gardens that I’d seen in photographs on the internet, and I certainly got these, but what I did not expect was the elating feeling of excitement I would get from discovering the daringly imaginative and diverse grounds of Powerscourt Estate.

The weather had not improved since departing Glendalough and while you might imagine it would be disappointing not to see the gardens in spectacular sunshine and set against a bright blue sky, this didn’t dampen my spirits. The gardens are so vast and varied, with hidden nooks and crannies and something different around every corner, that you get a real sense of adventure when moving through them, which was only increased by the opening of the heavens and a slight battle with the elements.

My first surprise was the Pepperpot Tower, a fairytale fortress complete with cannon which peeks out from among the trees. The next sight to take my breath away was the remarkable Japanese garden, a veritable wonderland of winding paths, trickling streams and mossy grottos. The great lake with its central fountain and flanking statues dominates the scene at the heart of the estate.

As I reluctantly made my way out of the gardens I passed, once again, the sculptures that had first greeted me upon my arrival. There is something about the statues at Powerscourt which reflects the nature of the estate, or at least reflects my experience of the grounds and gardens on a grizzly Autumn day.

The great stone figures from ancient mythology have a grand majesty about them but they also exude a very real and rugged dignity: they are not shining marble in a well-lit museum but wind-beaten and weather-stained stone, standing firm against any conditions the Irish countryside can throw at them.

At the top of the gardens statues of the twin gods, Artemis and Apollo, welcome visitors to Powerscourt. Apollo, his face turned back towards approaching visitors, seems to beckon you into the gardens while Artemis, a goddess closely associated with the wild, untamed aspect of nature, gazes out across the grounds to the Wicklow mountains. For me, it was precisely this sense of wilderness, embodied by the Greek goddess of the hunt and amplified by the bracing Irish weather, which made Powerscourt estate so much more than just another garden.

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