(IRISH INDEPENDENT, September 4th, 2015)
“And our souls were clean and the grass did grow
And as we walked through the streets of Arklow”
— Van Morrison ‘The Streets of Arklow’
Take another bow, Arklow, down there in Co Wicklow. Van “The Man” Morrison, no less, has been singing your praises for years, but did you know a new version of his classic The Streets of Arklow was recently named one of American music bible Rolling Stone’s top 25 songs of the year to date?
If you can make that old curmudgeon come over all warm and fuzzy, you have got to be doing something right.
The testy troubadour spent an astral week and more hanging out in Ireland in the early 1970s to recharge his creative batteries and suitably inspired, the short-fused septuagenerian wrote the paean to Arklow and the bulk of what would be his 1974 album Veedon Fleece. Now, the version he has recorded with Mick Hucknall, taken from Van’s new Duets album, has been wowing them Stateside and beyond.
If Arklow’s marks for artistic impression don’t impress you, you might note that a typical mid-range three-bedroom house in the likes of Meadowvale costs around €30,000 less than its equivalent in Wicklow Town, only 15km up the coast to the north, coming in around the €200,000 mark.
There’s been a lot of changes since Van first pulled up in this old fishing town on the mouth of the Avoca river, but the landmark old stone Nineteen Arches Bridge which spans the river near where it meets the sea and links the main southern part of the town to with the northern part, called Ferrybank, is still standing strong.
It’s a well laid out town and despite much expansion over the years, the centre has generally retained its compact form and essential architectural qualities, while the main street still retains its medieval layout.
There is a wealth of buildings of architectural merit, including one of Wicklow’s most impressive churches, the Church of Ireland St Saviour’s Church. Erected in 1899, this late Victorian gem dominates the high ground of the town, and looks particularly impressive floodlit at night.
Founded by the Vikings in the ninth century, and named after Arnknell, a fearsome warrior leader, Arklow (from the Old Norse Arnkell-lág, “meadow of Arnkell”, or in Irish, An tInbhear Mór, “the great estuary”) was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the 1798 Rebellion, when a large force of Wexford rebels attacked the town in an attempt to spread the rising to Dublin but were repulsed by the entrenched British forces with huge slaughter.
Arklow was once one of the busiest ports in Ireland and a renowned centre for boat building and commercial fishing, and seamen from here have sailed, traded and fought in navies all over the world, bringing home trinkets and treasures from their great adventures, and many of these artifacts are on show in Arklow’s own Maritime Museum, located in the Bridgewater Shopping Centre which is well worth a visit.
Moving out from the town, there is wonderful countryside all around, with scenic spots like the Vale of Avoca, to the north, and picturesque Glendalough all within easy driving distance. Avoca Handweavers, containing Ireland’s oldest mill, is located in nearby Avoca village, where the TV series Ballykissangel was filmed.
The fine sandy beaches of Brittas Bay are also north of the town, while Clogga Beach is 6.5km south.
There is any amount of fine woodland walks, and for those of a sporting bent, two fine golf courses in Woodlands (parkland), described by the legendary Joe Carr as “Ireland’s Augusta” and “The most scenic golf course in Ireland”, and Arklow GC (links); strong GAA clubs in Arklow Geraldines Ballymoney, on Pearse’s Park, Vale Road, and Arklow Rock Parnells, on Emoclew Road, just between the cemetery and the local boxing club; and naturally, the sailing, water sports and fishing fraternities are well catered for in the busy harbour and marina.
Arklow Town FC’s two senior teams are members of the Leinster Senior League and the Wicklow & District Football League, and play at Bridgewater Centre Park.
Sir Francis Chichester’s famous Atlantic-traversing Gypsy Moth III racing yacht was built here by the Tyrrell family boatyard, who also built the ill-fated Asgard II, which sank in the Bay of Biscay in 2008.
There’s been a lot of water under the nineteen arches since its shipbuilding heyday and with huge reductions in cargo and fishing, the yards have closed. Although it no longer handles major cargo vessels Arklow is still the base for Arklow Shipping, numerically the largest shipping company in Ireland, with a fleet of 45 cargo ships and a subsidiary in Rotterdam.
Today, situated on the N11 road and the Dublin/Rosslare rail line, Arklow’s proximity to Dublin has led to it becoming a thriving commuter town, with many residents travelling daily to work in the capital city and with a population of 13,009 at the 2011 census, it is the third largest town in the county.
These commuters are delighted with the new M11 Arklow to Rathnew four-lane dual carriageway which has removed a series of dangerous bends which have been the scene of 33 deaths over the past two decades, and has further reduced their commute time by 20 minutes or so – and made property in the town even more attractive.
Arklow is also home to leading retailers Tesco, Dunnes, Aldi, Lidl.
A short walk from the town centre to the harbour area and then further along the road via Qualceram is the south beach and the jetty. Picnic tables are provided. Embrace the sea air and watch the harbour activities as you stroll and pass by the RNLI lifeboat station, which is in operation since 1826 making it the oldest lifeboat station in Ireland.
There is a white, sandy beach, but it lies between the docks and a gravel plant; you’re better off heading 10km north to Brittas or to the more sheltered Clogga Beach.
Food and drink
Christy’s bar and lounge, on Main Street is an institution (we recommend the fish and chips), while Darcy McGees and Sally O’Brien’s night club are also popular. It’s more a cafe town than a restaurant type of place, with coffee, chat and cake the order of the day in the likes of Blue Cafe, Joanne’s Cafe, Le Cafe, and the River Bank Cafe and Bistro.
For a nice sit-down meal, it’s hard to beat Asian Harvest, on Bridge Street, which has a smashing, location,overlooking the river and the bridge, and offers good food at competitive prices. The Irish Coffees are top notch.
Arklow is on Iarnrod Eireann’s Dublin-Rosslare line, and there are commuter and intercity services in and out of the capital.There is also a train to Dundalk daily. Bus Eireann provides several routes through Arklow andWexford Bus operates several services day and night linking Arklow with Dublin Airport.
A thriving town with a growing population places demands on the educational front, and the local schools network have moved to meet these needs. St Michael’s Girls National School, Arklow Boys National School and St Peter’s Infant Boys have just been amalgamated and the main primary schools also include Scoil Eoin, for boys,on Coolgreaney Road; St Joseph’s, in Templerainey; the Church of Ireland Carysfort NS, in Knockenrahan; and Gaelscoil an Inbhir Mhoir on Emoclew Road.
The gaelscoil feeds into Gaelcholaiste Na Mara, in Pearse Park, and there is also Glenart Community College, formerly Arklow Community College, on Coolgreaney Road; Arklow CBS (boys only), on the same road; and St Mary’s College for girl, on St Mary’s Road. There is also new Glenart College, on Woodenbridge road
At the higher end of the market, in the likes of Old Ferrybank, or locations on the Dublin Road such as Highfield, Templerainey, or Tiknock you will find larger, individual detached houses going for €500,000 and more, while at the middle end of the market, you will pay up to €175,000 for a three-bed semi, or up to 250,00 for a four-bed detached in the likes of Knockmore
In older terraces like Rory O’Connor Place, and St Peter’s Place at the top of the town, or St Michael’s terrace at the other, southern end, you will expect to fork out between €120,000 and €130,000 for a three-bed semi detached home.
Sherry FitzGerald Myles Doyle are seeking €419,000 for the 4-Bed detached Summer Hill, Seabank , but also have 1 Woodlands Close, a 2 bed end-of-terrace for 139,000); the 3-bed detached 35 The Pines, (DNG Somers Properties) is on offer for €210,000; while Des Lalor has priced the detached 7-bed Koliba, on Beech Road, Raheen, for €625,000.
- The Bridgewater Shopping Centre on North Quay has Dunnes, TK Maxx, Next, Euro2, a food court, plus a cinema
- From a sailing point of view an excellent place to sail or wait out foul weather
- Scenic Vale of Avoca and any amount of woodland walkways adjacent to the town
- Local business life only starting to recover ground in the wake of Bridgewater Shopping Centre’s arrival. Industrial units like Knockenrahan Industrial estate and Croughan fairly full again
- Traffic always an irritant, especially over the beautiful, but narrow Nineteen Arches Bridge
- Few derelict sites in central areas don’t look good