Wild about Wicklow: a photographer waxes lyrical about his chosen county
Michael Delahunty: 200 photographs taken over five years in every season capture a dreamland
Renowned for its gardens, Powerscourt House was designed by German architect Richard Cassels. It was built between 1731 and 1741, destroyed by fire in 1974 but restored and renovated in 1996. Photograph: Michael Delahunty
Wild garlic in the Glen of the Downs, which grows in great profusion in woodlands in Wicklow during May. Photograph: Michael Delahunty
Bluebells in the Devil’s Glen. Photograph: Michael Delahunty
A ray of sunlight catches a headland north of Arklow. Photograph: Michael Delahunty
Glendalough’s Upper Lake at sunrise. Photograph: Michael Delahunty
A track over the Brockaghs. Photograph: Michael Delahunty
Sun setting on Mullaghcleevaun in winter, from Kippure Estate. Photograph: Michael Delahunty
A couple and their dog enjoying autumn in Cloghleagh. Photograph: Michael Delahunty
In This is Wicklow I set out to show the diversity that makes Wicklow what it is, a unique part of Ireland with mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers, flora, fauna, beaches, dramatic coast, towns, villages, woodlands, great houses, beautiful gardens and, above all, a vibrant, enthusiastic people, living the dream in a dream land.
Wicklow the dream land, it’s a magical, almost spiritual, experience to stand at the upper lake in Glendalough at sunrise on a clear morning with your back to the sun and watch as the rays warm the tops of the mountains and then creep down into the valley and the lake until the entire space is lit with a warm orange light, the first light of the day and a new beginning. Often small mists will form on the surface of the lake and drift slowly up the walls of the cliffs taking on mystical shapes before being absorbed into the heavens.
The wild variety of Wicklow changes with the four seasons. In winter, the uplands are often covered in snow and are inaccessible, so it’s a good idea to check into the hostel or the hotel in Glendalough or to rent a house in Kippure estate when snow is forecast. The picture of the sun setting on Mullaghvleevaun (p150) was taken from the window of a house in Kippure. I had checked in just as the snow started to fall and it fell all through the night and most of the next day. When it eventually stopped there was so much snow that it was impossible to access the hills even on foot so I made do with taking photographs from the windows of the house and from the driveway. It was four days before the snow had eased enough so that I could drive home.
One of the great signature sights in Wicklow in late summer is to see purple heather on the mountains. My favourite heather pictures is “a track over the Brockaghs” (p118). This picture has everything that makes the Wicklow uplands special: wonderful walking tracks, colour and texture, wilderness and solitude. The track leads the eye out into the middle distance and then focuses on the dark blue form of Tonelagee, one of Wicklow’s highest mountains. The picture, despite the threatening sky, invites one to walk into the unknown where one can find a new dimension in themselves. A leisurely four- to five-hour walk in the uplands of Wicklow can be a transforming experience, one that lifts the soul and elevates awareness while suspending the everyday concerns of life.
Autumn is a magical time in Wicklow. The bracken and the purple moor grasses turn a golden colour in the uplands and in the valleys the leaves on the trees turn to yellows and reds. Wicklow is alive with colour and there are few better things than to sit by a babbling brook and immerse yourself in the colour and sound and let your mind go silent, let the present in and enjoy the escape from the world without. The picture of a couple and their dog enjoying autumn in Cloghleagh captures one such moment; the moment is enhanced by the dog in his golden coat sitting and enjoying the scene. There is a great sense of peace in the picture with the strength of the trees and the speckled light of the leaves (p157).
Spring is a time of renewed hope in Wicklow. The bracken that died off in the late autumn pushes its head above the ground, displaying a small coiled top that rapidly expands and unfurls to a bright, new green colour across the uplands while in the woodlands in the valleys bluebells and wild garlic make their presence felt with colourful displays and pungent smells. Bluebells in the Devil’s Glen (pp68/69) and wild garlic in the Glen of the Downs (p49) capture the essence and the profusion of the wild flowers of Wicklow.
Wicklow has about 50km of coastline from Bray in the north to Arklow in the south. There is great variety along the coast: a fantastic cliff walk from Bray to Greystones; Brittas Bay has one of the finest sandy beaches to be found anywhere in Ireland; a myriad of coves and the dramatic lighthouse on Wicklow Head. The picture that best expresses the coastline for me is a ray of sunlight catching a headland north of Arklow (pp86/87). The drama of the waves and the dark foreboding of the hills and the sky are brought to life by the sun catching the breaking waves and the green field on the headland, the picture captures a moment in a storm and gives hope that the storm will soon abate.
The towns, villages, great houses and gardens of Wicklow are alive and offer lots for the visitor to see and do – there is plenty to satisfy everyone: Killruddery with its wonderful gardens, house and farmers’ market; Powerscourt with its Italian gardens and waterfall; Mount Usher with its incredible variety of plants; Bray with its vibrant seafront and cliff walk; Greystones with some great restaurants and an amazing number of coffee shops, just to name a few. My favourite picture is the one of Powerscourt house (pp28/29) – the light was perfect and the imposing presence of the palatial building and its ornate garden jump off the page and demand to be taken seriously.
This is Wicklow has 200 photographs taken over a five-year period that grasp the essence of Wicklow and bring this magical place to life. Enjoy Wicklow.
This is Wicklow by Michael Delahunty is published by The Collins Press, price €19.99. It is available in all good bookshops and online from collinspress.ie.