Living here: A year in the miraculous Wicklow landscape
For three centuries poets and painters of the loftiest reputations have been drawn into the magically timeless clutches of this Wicklow retreat. For me, it fell into my clutches, by cosmic coincidence, when I sold my house in the Dublin Mountains in December 2012 and needed a place to stay
Ian O’Riordan outside Mickey’s Kitchen, a stone-cut cottage in the heart of the 6,000-acre Luggala Estate, in Co Wicklow
Mickey’s Kitchen, a stone-cut cottage in the heart of the 6,000-acre Luggala Estate, in Co Wicklow
Each day I dreamt I woke up, the river whispering in my ear, or the wind heaving under empty sky. Then, from the half-door of my old trapper’s cottage, all space could be whitened by snow, spread under iron clouds – while outside, below, the shivering dark edges of Lough Tay mimic the icy shores of the Arctic, before the lofty Fancy Mountain of crumbling lunar granite draws the eyes across to the bulking tip of Scarr, and beyond the limits of society.
Or, each evening, when the summer sun leaned in from across the openness, still warming the golden-fleeced gorse and the sweet blooming ferns, there could be a run to Lough Dan. The pink foxglove and violet lavender sprouting from the side of the ancient path, through traces of 18th-century farmland, like a jungle now, and the miracle of growth that is the Cloghogue Valley in scorching July.
And all year, around the scatterings of native Irish oak and giant Umbrella Pine, the herds of Sika deer roam beside the beer-coloured streams, and between the distant flickering of black ravens up on Spooks Corner on one side, and the anonymous rock face of Ballinrush on the other, this post-Ice Age landscape remained miraculously preserved.
For three centuries poets and painters of the loftiest reputations have been drawn into the magically timeless clutches of this Wicklow retreat, long before the Guinness family snapped it all up. Still it fell into my clutches, by cosmic coincidence, when I sold my house in the Dublin Mountains in December of 2012 – with spectacular ill-timing, evidently – and so found myself contemplating a refuge from the stale air and familiar scenery.
It wasn’t about self-discovery, but simply discovering a little more self-reliance, or at least some shift away from the over-reliance on the various boxes that have penetrated most of our lives – starting with the television.
So, as if on cue, Mickey’s Kitchen presented itself – a very deliberately basic stone-cut cottage in the heart of the 6,000-acre estate: one bedroom, with a wooden loft for guests, dressed in thin sash windows and tiled concrete floors, with no insulation in the roof or walls, and no heating, besides the wood-burning stove that lies against the wall of the living room. BER exempt, naturally, and lots more energy expended by chopping wood and building fires.
But “Available to Rent” – so what else was there to know? John Boorman describes this part of Wicklow as a place that had always existed in his imagination, and in making it his home, found somewhere in the outer world that coincides with his inner landscape. That was my hope and intention, and Luggala never once disappointed.
Luggala is a landscape that by turns of the hour or light can be touchingly calm or tortuously bleak, and never remains the same. Inevitably, my idealistic endeavour was constantly confronted by stubborn practicalities, such as stepping out the door to find some mobile phone coverage, or the ultimate reliance on the Jeep to make it up the meandering hill to the Pier Gates, then the three miles down into Roundwood for an urgent supply of firelighters, Rioja, or mousetraps, depending on the time of year.
This is what Seamus Heaney meant when he wrote of Luggala: “The minute you start going down, you do cross a line into a slight otherwhere” – and that other world is indeed left behind.
My work and a close relationship did mean regular jaunts into Dublin, although never longer than a day or two, and always loaded with fresh inspiration. Some more creative plans were lost in the simple pondering of the nature and wildlife in front of me, with the background tunes of Leo Rowsome and Seán Ó Riada that grew out of this valley.
Luggala is also a working estate, so never left entirely to its aloneness, or without the occasional wondering gaze of the Sunday morning hillwalkers: who on earth lives there?
Now, after bidding farewell to my part-custodian and landlord, the Honourable Garech Browne, in the toasty drawingroom of Luggala Lodge, I’ll leave it all as I found it, one year on, and return to the Dublin Mountains, having bought again with spectacular good-timing, evidently.
For information on the cottages available to rent at Luggala, see crawfords.ie
Ian O’Riordan is a sports writer with The Irish Times