Haunting tales of submerged villages and steam trams in the Ghost's Hole

A lonely stone cross stands as a reminder of a handful of villages submerged beneath the waters at Poulaphouca

A lonely stone cross stands as a reminder of a handful of villages submerged beneath the waters at Poulaphouca

THE RESERVOIR at Poulaphouca was created in the 1930s and early 1940s by the damming of the River Liffey as part of a joint project by the ESB and Dublin City Council to build a second hydro-electric power station.

The reservoir created by the project would be used to supply water to Dublin and the surrounding area.

Poulaphouca (from the Irish ‘Poll na Phúca’ meaning ‘The Ghost’s Hole’) takes its name from a small village at the southwestern corner of the reservoir.


The creation of the reservoir submerged a number of villages. A 12th century cross was moved to the town cemetery when its original site was flooded.

Today, the reservoir is used for fishing, rowing and sailing.

The area is known around the world for its greylag goose population and has been designated as a Special Protection Area by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The reservoir sits at the edge of the Wicklow Mountains and is bounded by a fine road which travels around most of the edge of the waterway.

We begin our exploration from the busy town of Blessington which was once the terminus of the Dublin and Blessington Steam Tramway.

Blessington’s tree-lined main street was laid out in the 1680s by Michael Boyle, the archbishop of Dublin, and was once an important staging post for coaches travelling between Dublin and Carlow.

In 1895 a four and a half mile extension of the tramway to the village of Poulaphouca was opened.

Although the steam trams stopped running in 1932, the old ticket office still sits on the eastern side of the N81 where it once overlooked the 150ft high Poulaphouca Waterfall.

The construction of the dam reduced the flow of water over the falls to a trickle.

Turning westwards off the main street of Blessington at the signpost for Kilbride, the road winds downhill under a canopy of trees to the Blessington Bridge, which crosses to the eastern side of the reservoir.

From the bridge the road winds south and then southeast under the shadow of a succession of hills of increasing height: Lugnagun (446m), Sorrel Hill (599m), Black Hill (602m) and Moanbane (703m).

Along the way the road passes through the pleasant village of Lacken before swinging around a wide bay to the southwest and into the village of Ballyknocken.

A few kilometres southwest of Ballyknocken, we turn north on the R758 which soon passes through Valleymount with its curious St Joseph’s Church.

The church was built in 1803 and has a facade designed by Mexican immigrants.

Shortly after Valleymount a bridge takes us across to the Boystown Peninsula.

From here we enjoy the best views across the reservoir, looking east towards the Wicklow Mountains.

Before long the road turns west and once again we cross a bridge which leads to the junction with the N81.

Before turning northeast and returning to Blessington, it’s worth taking the time to divert southwest along the N81 via Russborough House and as far as the Poulaphouca bridge and the hydro-electric dam.

This is an unusual drive with plenty of opportunity for short, interesting diversions to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace and hopefully on a fine day which shows off the surrounding countryside at its magnificent best.