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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon


Still south I went and west and south again,

Through Wicklow from the morning till the night,

And far from cities and the sites of men,

Lived with the sunshine and the moon's delight.

I knew the stars, the flowers and the birds,

The grey and wintry sides of many glens,

And did but half remember human words,

In converse with the mountain, moors and fens.

J. M. Synge

Why didn’t someone think of it before?

Up to now there was a dearth of celluloid records of my beautiful, historic, serene and inspiring West Wicklow. Now that has been rectified. West Wicklow Films has brought out a video

A Journey Through West Wicklow.

It is directed and narrated by Julie Phibbs.

Julie, who qualified as a broadcast journalist in 2002, grew up in Blackrock, near Blessington, the gateway to West Wicklow.

And, not surprisingly, this is where the “journey” starts.

Vintage photos and an interview with local historian, Aidan Cruise uncovers little known facts about the Church 0f Ireland Church, castles, forges, dances and the legendry Blessington Steam Tram.

The Blessington Tram operated between Terenure and Blessington from 1888 until 1932.

It was immortalised in a ballad The Blessington Tram by Dominican Priest, Father Kevin O’Hannon.

The now beautiful Blessington Lakes didn’t come about without human suffering. Johnny Clarke recounts how 6,500 acres of farmland was flooded when the sluice gate was lowered at Poulaphouca in 1940. Houses had been demolished and families whose ancestors had lived there for generations were uprooted.

Kylebeg singer, Ted Balfe gives a very moving rendition of it.

Lacken features prominently and why wouldn’t it.

Don’t mind what they tell you in Roundwwood, Lacken is the highest village in Ireland. All you Doubting Thomases from the “backs of Wicklow” can check the benchmark at Lacken School.

The photography is superb with breathtaking shots of Baltyboys, Carrig, Kylebeg and Ballinastockan. Ballinastockan was the birthplace of John Balfe (“Balfe the Robber”,) a highwayman who was executed at Saint Stephens Green, in Dublin on Saturday the fifteenth of June 1706.

The opening words of his Gallows speech were,

“I was born in Ballinestocken, in the County of Wicklow, and Barony of Talbotstown, being tenderly brought up, and Educated as became a Gentleman, until I was Seventeen Years of Age; and then was by Lewd Women deluded from my Study………....”

He went on to say that he was innocent of the murder for which he was being hanged.

And on to Ballyknockan “The Granite Village” where even the fencing posts bear the track of a tradesman’s hand. Dublin stonecutters used to derogatorily refer to the Ballyknockan tradesmen as “rowl-me-downs”. But there is evidence in edifices around the world that the stonecutters of Ballyknockan could hold their own with the best of them. Didn’t Seamus Murphy, in his book Stone Mad say that the Ballyknockan granite was the most difficult to work.

In this video Tom Osborne demonstrates his set of, probably, 100-year-old chisels, while Michael Freeman gives a vivid account of the skills, laughs and hardships of the Ballyknockan of yore. On his last night on earth Michael Collins was asked by his sister, “You have been all over Ireland, Mick, which of them do you like the best?"

The Answer?

    “The people of County Wicklow”.

That is why, in 1965, a 110-ton granite boulder was transported from West Wicklow to Sam’s Cross, Collins’s birthplace. It stands, rugged sturdy and unyielding, like Collins himself as a lasting memory to the “Big Fellow.”

Author and Historian Seamus O Maitiu treats the viewer to an in depth account of " The Journals of Elizabeth Smith", wife of the local Landlord, Colonel Henry Smith. Mrs Smith kept a detailed diary during the 1840’s. The fact that nobody died of hunger in the area in the Famine years is testimony to the kindness of the Smiths.

Julie Phibbs and her team spent considerable time at the cottage at Derrynamuck from which Michael Dwyer, a Captain in the local unit of the United Irishmen, escaped in 1899. Derrynamuck was close to his birthplace at the top of the Glen of Imail. He evaded capture for five years.

Kieran Sheedy in his book Upon The Mercy Of Government claims that the forces of law made only a half-hearted attempt to capture Dwyer,

    ”…...these searches ……seemed to be chiefly motivated by the expenses which they received for the efforts. Attempting to capture Dwyer had become a growth industry with them and his actual capture would have brought a valuable source of income to an end”.

That may be partly true, but history shows that the people of West Wicklow were always loyal to their freedom fighters. The camera follows the story of the West Wicklow rebel from the foot of Lugnaquilla to his final resting place in Waverly Cemetery, Sydney.

The ballad Dunlavin Green (the story of how 36 men were massacred by the Yeomen) is brought to life and the town of Baltinglass is a historian’s paradise.

Whether you grew up in the “Barn Cinema” era or the days of colour TV you were entertained by the products of Tinseltown. But did you know where Hollywood got its name? Well, a Guirk man from Hollywood, Co.Wicklow immigrated to California and made good. He opened a Racetrack and called it Hollywood Park. The film industry grew up around it and the powers that were decided to call it…..HOLLYWOOD!!!!

The camera lingers in the mist-covered mountains around the village of Hollywood. And we learn of Saint Kevin’s “journey through West Wicklow” on his way to Glendalough.

One of the last scenes in this collector’s piece is a grim reminder of the last victim of the Civil War:

    The plaque on May Nolan’s house, in Knocknadruce, commemorates Niall Plunkett O ‘ Boyle. Donegalman, O’Boyle was Commander of the Flying Column under the jurisdiction of the Third Battalion, No 2 (South Dublin) Brigade. On Tuesday 15th May 1923 the house in Knockanadruce was surrounded by Free State soldiers under the command of Colonel Felix McCorly. O’ Boyle came out with his hands up and was immediately shot through the eye. A second shot to the head finished him off.

From Manor Kilbride to Shillelagh it’s all there. New Page 1

A Journey Through West Wicklow
is available from;

Ms Julie Phibbs
West Wicklow Films
Blackrock, Blessington, Co.

Price 25 Euro (including P&P.)

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