(IRISH INDEPENDENT, September 18th, 2015)
Wicklow Town has a gaol and they know how to reuse it.
Reputed to be the most haunted in Ireland, Wicklow Gaol was a stone-walled hellhole from when it opened in 1704 to when the cell doors clanged shut for the last time in 1924. Captured rebels from the 1798 Rebellion were locked up here and if they didn’t die from the beatings or the awful food, they were transported on as convicts. If walls could talk … and some believe they do.
The sane and the insane, men and women, were thrown together in the most brutal conditions and their ghosts are said to still clank along its corridors at night. So, who you gonna call?
Well tomorrow night (*September 19th), the people who now run Wicklow Town goal as a heritage centre and host tours and even birthday parties there, with actors playing the roles of nasty warders and tormented inmates, have called in the real-life husband and wife ghosthunting team of Angie and Keith Freeland, and anyone willing to fork out €50 can stay here between 9pm and 3am. If there’s something weird and it don’t look good, it will be all in a paranormal night’s entertainment …
But then Wicklow Town was always a spirited place right from when it was founded by the Vikings in the 8th century around the crescent curve of its wide bay. The Vikings called it Wykinglo, which roughly translates as “meadow of the Viking”.
Today, just east of the national primary N11 route, and linked by dual carriageway and motorway with the capital, 42km to the north, and with regular commuter train services to the city and also connecting with Arklow, Wexford and Rosslare Europort, it has long been popular with house hunters from Dublin and beyond. Little wonder, with the odd fixer upper available for as little as €100,000, but you would properly expect to pay between €250,000 and €300,000 for a decent three-bedroom semi-detached home
In Norman times the town was centred along Main Street which runs parallel to the natural harbour, and the fine stone beach. As with most medieval towns, small lanes and streets open off this to the north and south, while the wider parts at the north and south ends may be the location of the market place.
The ruins of a monastery dating back to Norman times can be found at Abbey Grounds. The Black Castle founded locally by the Vikings, was destroyed in 1641 in an attack which led to the massacre of the parish priest and his congregation, it is claimed, in the vicinity of what is now known as Melancholy Lane.
At the northern end of the town, which according to the 2011 census, has a population of 10,356, lies The Murrough, a 15km-long coastal grassy wetland area stretching north almost to Greystones, and where the waters of the Broad Lough enters the sea via the Vartry River. This magnificent wildlife haven is also a popular walking area and as well as hosting the obvious water sports activities, there is a fine children’s playground, including a new BMX bike track, and an outdoor gym.
The town has also been boosted by completion of both the Wicklow Port Access Road, whereby heavy trucks can bypass the town centre, and the Town Relief Road, which has opened up the town for local car owners and visitors alike.
In from the harbour, the land rises into rolling hills to the west, going on to meet the Wicklow Mountains in the centre of the county. The dominant feature to the south is the rocky headlands of Bride’s Head and Wicklow Head, the easternmost mainland point of Ireland. The natural elevation of the town means more than the usual access to sea views for dwellers.
Considerable residential development has taken place to the west of the town along Marlton Road (R751). More recently, housing developments have been concentrated to the northwest towards neighbouring Rathnew.
The county town hosts the headquarters of Wicklow County Council and the offices of Wicklow Urban District Council. Industrial activity (light, medium and heavy) is accommodated in an industrial zone discretely located to the north of the town and adjacent to the harbour.
Wicklow county is known as the Garden of Ireland and is home to some of Ireland’s most beautiful gardens, including Mount Usher, the National Botanic Gardens at Kilmaccuragh and Kilruddery Gardens. There is also the famous Powerscourt Gardens, voted third best garden in the world by National Geographic, and Avondale House and Forest Park, which have much to offer visitors, whether their interest is in former owner Charles Stewart Parnell or its extensive collection of trees and shrubs.
The mountains, lakes and coastal areas all offer a vast range of leisure options for Wicklow Town residents, including swimming, diving, climbing, walking, riding, fishing, golf (Wicklow Town GC and Blainroe), GAA (the St Patrick’s club caters for 19 teams from nursery to minor level), rugby, soccer, hockey and tennis (Wicklow Town TC claims to be one of the most modern of court facilities with its Tiger Turf Advantage surface and Philips 1kw court lights).
Wicklow Boat Hire Kayaking and Tackle Shop, based on The Murrough, continues to develop more activity opportunities in the area.
The annual Taste of Wicklow held in June attracted over 5,000 people to the town, with over 30 stallholders offering the best in local food, with TV chef Neven Maguire along to sample the fare. The Secret Garden Music Festival to Kilpoole Hill the same month had Damien Dempsey headlining.
There’s fine dining to be had in the Mystic Celt, on Church Street, where chef Paul Smith has a novel barter system in place for local organic vegetable growers who can trade in their extra produce for a voucher from the restaurant, and The Dairy restaurant at the long-established Phil Healy’s pub on Fitzwilliam Square, is highly recommended on TripAdvisor.
The Square Steakhouse, on Market Square, does a great Surf and Turf, a prime fillet steak garnished with prawns in a garlic butter, while Halpin’s Bridge Cafe, a combined cafe and restaurant on Bridge Street, won the Wicklow & District Chamber of Commerce’s “Best Eating Establishment Award in 2010. There’s also good Italian fare at Casa di Pietra (with their new a la carte menu) and Donelli’s (known for desserts such as Lemon Chiffon Tart or Decadent Raspberry Chocolate Torte), both on Market Square.
Bus Éireann (133) and Irish Rail both operate through the town. Bus Éireann provides an hourly -half-hourly at peak time – service to Dublin Connolly and Dublin Airport. Trains also operate to Rosslare Europort.
The brand new Wicklow Educate Together primary school complex, on the Town Relief Road, near the Rocky Road junction is on track for its mid-February 2016 opening. It will also have an Early Intervention Pre-School unit, including a sensory garden. Glebe National School, on Church Hill is also highly regarded, as is the Glebe National School, a co-ed Church of Ireland school. Colaiste Cill Mhantain, a secondary co-ed, is also very good.
Eugene Dooley of Dooley Poynton Auctioneers says one will get a fine three-bed semi for between €240,000 and €275,000, and these are selling easily, both new and second hand. Mid-range properties in the likes of Pebble Bay, or in Marlton Demesne, off the Marlton Road, are also going well, but at the higher end, very much dependent on the Dublin market, things are slower.
“People in Dublin are not getting rid of their houses so easily, so this has slowed things down,” he says.
At this higher end of the market, in places like Seapoint, Ballyguile Mor, Dunbur Road, Churchhill, Keatingstown and Martin Court, one would expect to pay upwards of €425,000 for a large detached house. In the new development opposite Colaiste Cill Mhantain at Burkeen, a 1,900 sq ft dormer will fetch around €450,000.
“First-time buyer tend to have their homework done, are more discerning, and deals are closing quicker,” says Dooley.
Catherine O’Reilly of Sherry Fitzgerald Catherine O’Reilly agrees the market has improved after a quiet second quarter. She predicts a 6 and a half per cent growth in sale prices by the end of the year. “Buyer sentiment is good, which is very important for us,” she says.
At entry level, a three-bed semi is the town, in an older estate like Willow Heights, will go for between €230,000 and €270,000.
Sherry Fitzgerald Catherine O’Reilly has placed Auburn, a four-bed detached property in Blainroe Lower, at €525,000; Dooley Poynton has the three-bed 4 Wentworth Place bungalow for €320,000; while CD Auctioneers has priced the two-bed terraced 2 Brides Road at €154,950
- Beautiful surrounding area
- Good restaurants, pubs and cafes
- Inner relief road and port access road
- Housing stock limited
- Could do with a good-sized hotel to aid tourism
- Needs a strong major employer
- Next Week: Welcome to Adamstown