For all the house guests we’ve had in our year abroad, it’s hard to believe I’ve only just recently gone to Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow. It was such an easy drive (or easy bus ride, if we have more than one adult traveling with us) from south Dublin. Definitely easier than bringing a pregnant friend to Howth and trying to hike in icy lashes of wind and rain along slippery trails. (That was in May.) So Emily, who loves gardens, this is for you.
The Powerscourt Estate is situated on a hill looking out at two distinctive Wicklow Mountain peaks, Little Sugarloaf and Great Sugarloaf
We had the great fortune of a spectacular fall day, one where Ireland was out from under its frequent gray shroud. In the warm full sun (no wind reaching down into our bones), the shimmering greens and autumn tones of changing leaves were unbelievably beautiful.
View from Triton Lake of the back of the house. You can see the winged horses at the top of the lake
Powerscourt was the site of a castle built around 1300, and by around 1600, the Wingfield family was given the property as part of Sir Richard Wingfield’s appointment as “Marshall of Ireland.” The Wingfield family hired Richard Cassels to construct a Palladian-style mansion around the original structure in 1731. Descendants of the family lived in the estate through the 1950s, although it was mostly a summer home. There was no central heating in the mansion for much of the house’s life, and anyone who visited us this past shivering “spring” would appreciate one family member’s recollection that:
…the old Celtic idea of hell was somewhere intensely cold. Powerscourt in winter would have qualified.
(This grand house was hotter than hell at least on one night, though, when in 1974, the eve of its public opening, a fire gutted the entire thing.)
The original gardens were laid out in the 1740s by Daniel Robinson. An aside in my Lonely Planet guide explains that Robinson supervised the construction laying down in a wheelbarrow with his bottle of sherry, in increasing states of inebriation. Sláinte, Mr. Robinson. The grounds are magnificent in spite of, or perhaps because of, your intoxication!
The walled garden
We strolled for over an hour through the Italian gardens down to Triton Lake, the Japanese garden and through the hollows of the grotto, where it was noticeably colder. On one of the mossy stone archways, I zoomed in with the camera to find a dangling icicle!
On a soft slope in the gardens, there is a pet cemetery my in-laws had mentioned to me, since they know I am insanely in love with my cat.
Touching epitaphs at the pet cemetery
It was so moving to see such loving tributes to animals who meant so much to their owners.
We went on a Friday morning in mid-October, and it was fairly quiet. We glimpsed these beautiful horses through the trees on one of the paths. Seems like one of them had a foal (resting under what I assume is his mama in the left)
The toddling, stroller/buggy crowd would have a tough time negotiating some of the non-paved footpaths and fully exploring the grounds, like climbing to the top of Pepperpot Tower.
Pepperpot tower on the estate grounds with the peak of Great Sugarloaf in the distance.
A better bet for kids is the nearby Powerscourt Waterfall (the largest in Britain and Ireland), which is technically part of the estate but is not accessed through the main gates of the manor house drive.
This is Ireland. Driving in Wicklow.
On the grounds there, you’ll find a playground, picnic areas, and a sand pit with a short nature walk to the thundering fall. (“It’s very loud,” G said, as we approached the almost 400-foot sheet of water.) The moss and lichen-covered rocks were slick, but the boys loved scrambling over them and observing the shallow pools of water in the gaps.
All in all, this was one of my favorite daytrips from Dublin. Definitely worth visiting.
PS: Any more skilled bloggers have tips for reducing image file sizes without compromising quality? These images are exported as “medium” from iPhoto because the original file sizes are much too large and would slow down loading, but I notice quite a decline in the image sharpness.