In the year that we are celebrating the Easter Rising I was reminded of another great struggle when I recently visited Woodstock House in Wicklow. The Pikeman statue, a tall and arresting symbol of the 1798 Rebellion and a reminder of brave and bloody times, stands guard in front of the fine Georgian house.
It was built by Sir John Stratford in the 1770s and was designed by the famed architect and stuccodore Robert West who worked on many of the countries great houses. It has been faithfully maintained and a visit is a veritable walk through history. In the basement there is a museum showing what it was like in the ‘big house’ and the circular gallery offers a history of Ireland. Upstairs in the Yellow Room there are some fine paintings of Irish heroes, including Michael Collins, CS Parnell and Robert Emmett.
The tiled hall with its tall golden columns is particularly well preserved with the Dining Room off to the side. It was interesting to find out that due to its superb acoustics that none other than Rod Stewart and the Thompson Twins each used the space for recording in the 1980s.
Nowadays the house is the centre of Druids Glen Golf Course, one of the best and most beautiful courses anywhere and a regular on the ‘must play’ list for golfers. I saw it described as the ‘Augusta of Europe’ and on the day that I visited – a warm day under a bright, blue sky – I could only agree with the scribe. From the roof the view down the coast and over to the Wicklow Mountains beyond was stunning.
And of course there is more history in the name – Druids Glen. Apparently during the construction of the golf course a Druids’ altar was discovered near the lake (by the 12th hole). I don’t know what the Druids think of golf but they would certainly have been happy with what I saw the other day. It’s a magical place!
The Druids’ Altar
Filed under History, Ireland
Howth is situated at the northern tip of Dublin Bay with commanding views that made it a perfect stronghold for the Vikings who first invaded in 819. The name is derived from Old Norse ‘Hofuth’ (meaning ‘head’) and it is where many fighters fled after their defeat in the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. The Norse maintained a presence there until they were eventually defeated by the Normans in 1177.
The original Howth Castle was situated atop Tower Hill which affords a wonderful view of Howth harbour, marina and the islands – Ireland’s Eye and Lambay to the north. You can visit Ireland’s Eye (best in the summer) but Lambay is privately owned. There are Martello Towers on both, and that on Tower Hill is now home to Ye Olde Hurdy Gurdy Vintage Radio Museum.
Across from Tower Hill is St Mary’s Church. The original was built by Sitric, King of Dublin, in 1042. This was replaced in 1235 and the current building was erected in the following century. Again, the views of the modern marina from the medieval building are superb.
The harbour has plenty of history associated with it, as it was where King George IV first set foot in Ireland on 12th August 1821. This event has been commemorated with ‘his footprints’ (cut by stonemason Robert Campbell) at the end of the West Pier. Check them out and see if you could ‘fill the royal shoes’. And on the 26th July 1914 Erskine Childers and his crew (it included his wife Molly) of the Asgard landed 900 rifles and almost 30,000 rounds of ammunition that Irish Volunteers used in the Easter Rising 1916 and the War of Independence 1919-1921. The harbour is a busy commercial hub and supplies seafood to many of the local shops and restaurants. Wrights of Howth and Beshoffs of Howth, both at the start of the West Pier, are long established and perennial favourites.
A walk around the marina and a bracing stroll on the East Pier is a particular pleasure and not to be missed.
Howth Marina & The Islands
Although I had passed by it many, many times over the years I had yet to open the door and step inside. Marsh’s Library (beside St Patrick’s Cathedral) is one of those places that is little known, but has a lot to offer.
It was commissioned by the wonderfully named Narcissus Marsh and opened its doors in 1707. It is one of the few early 18thcentury (Enlightenment) buildings in the city still being used for its original purpose. Considering the changes that have occurred in the last three centuries, it is a testament to the building and to what it offers that have helped it survive.
Open the door and you step back in time. The stillness and quiet rule here, and the tall dark oak shelves are crammed with books that were old when Marsh got permission to build Ireland’s first public library.
It is laid out in two galleries (First & Second) joined by a reading room in an ‘L’ shape. It is interesting to think that most of the books are resting the same places that Marsh chose. At the end of the Second Gallery are the ‘Cages’. These were to prevent theft of the smaller books which would have been expensive, and very difficult, to acquire. And here you can test your Quill Power by writing in the old style – very interesting.
Centuries of learning
Some of Dublin’s greatest writers spent time here, researching and enjoying books that were unavailable elsewhere in the city. It is thought very likely that Jonathan Swift’s most famous work Gulliver’s Travels owes a lot to books on Formosa and Japan – published in the early 1700s. James Joyce and Bram Stoker also visited, and the place features in Joyce’s Ulysses.
Of a more contemporary note there are bullet marks in the shelves and books, leftovers from the Easter Rising. They, thankfully, are the only scars it bears from the conflict and show that even somewhere like the old library was not safe. The place, however, is, as someone wrote ‘living history’ and long may it continue to enthral and excite booklovers.
Marsh’s Library on St Patrick’s Close