WICKLOW TOPOGRAPHY

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

The county is somewhat of a rectangular form, about 40 English miles in length from north to south, and 33 in breadth. A vast tract of mountains, composing almost the whole of the baronies of Ballinacor and Upper Talbotstown, with parts of Lower Talbotstown, occupies its entire central portion from the confines of Dublin to those of Carlow, and nearly cuts off all communication between its opposite sides, where there are more fertile districts, thickly inhabited, as the barony of Newcastle on the east, bordering on the sea, and the vales of Blessington and Baltinglass, on the confines of Kildare and Carlow. Its natural divisions are four, the central mountain region, the fertile districts on the east and on the west, and the barony of Shillelagh to the south.

The general direction of the mountain ranges is from north-east to south-west: the declivities towards the north and west are mostly abrupt; while on the south and east, where their ascent is commonly more gradual, basins and hollows are scooped out, forming the most romantic glens. These mountains constitute a splendid background to most of the extensive prospects in this and the adjacent counties, and some of their summits command views of superior magnificence.

The mountains do not form extended chains, but are assembled in lofty groups separated by precipitous ravines, usually narrow and straight. The groups are eight, that of Kippure on the north; those of Djouce, Thonelagee, Comaderry, and Lugnaquilla in the centre; those of Slieve Gadoe and Cadeen on the west; and that of Croghan Kinshela to the south. The summit of Lugnaquilla, the highest in the county and in the south-east of Ireland, is 3070 feet above the level of the sea; that of Djouce is 2392; of Kippure, 2527; of Thonelagee, 2696; of Slieve Gadoe, 2200; of Cadeen, 2158; and of Croghan Kinshela, 2064. The interior of this large tract, though almost uninhabited, has been rendered accessible by the military road; and on its eastern side are the celebrated scenes of Lough Bray, Luggelaw, Lough Dan, Glendalough, and Glenmalur, all embosomed in mountainous recesses of vast depth, and characterised by wildness and sublimity.

To the east of the mountain range, and at the northern extremity of the county, rise two conical mountains called the Great and Little Sugar-loaf, the former 2004 feet high; and Bray Head, a vast mass with a remarkable broken outline, 870 feet high, which projects into the sea to the south of the town of Bray. From the Little Sugar-loaf commences a mountain range of secondary elevation, cultivated in some parts to the very summit, and extending in a direction south by west to the rugged heights of Carrickmacreilly, near Glanealy; and thence sweeping eastward, it joins the range that, to the south of Wicklow, forms the elevated promontory of Wicklow Head.

Between this range and the more elevated mountain chain is a cheerless table land, watered by the Vartrey river, and formerly entirely overspread with bogs and rocks, which yet occupy great portions of it, though cultivation has made considerable advances near the lines of road by which it is now intersected. The most conspicuous of the secondary range are the Downs mountain, Dunran, and the mountains above Glanealy.

Encircled by these mountains from Bray Head to Wicklow Head, and extending to the coast between those promontories, lies a tract distinguished for its fertility and beauty, which justly entitle it to be called the garden of the county. At an elevation greatly below that of the sheltering range, it is diversified by extensive swells and fertile vales enriched in every direction with fine seats, neat villages, and thriving plantations, opening to the sea on the east, towards which the surface gradually declines, until it reaches a flat tract of boggy marsh, extending along the shore from Wicklow to near Greystones, and protected from the sea only by a broad bank of sand and gravel called the Murrough, presenting at the back a beautiful smooth sward.

The streams of the vale find their way through it to the sea at Wicklow and at a place called the Breaches, where the sea is making considerable encroachments. From this shore the view of the encircling amphitheatre of mountains is extremely grand, particularly to those sailing along the coast through the channel between the land and the range of dangerous banks running parallel with it at some miles distance. The encircling range last described displays some of the most splendid of the picturesque scenes of the county, in the Glen of the Downs, Hermitage, Dunran, and the Devil's Glen. Very extensive panoramic views are obtained from the summits of Lugnaquilla and Djouce.

The celebrated valley of the Dargle intersects the elevated grounds between the Sugar-loaf mountain and the confines of Dublin county. The peaked cone of the Great Sugar-loaf appears prominent in every prospect on this side of the county, and commands views of great scope and grandeur, extending northwards to the mountains of Mourne in the county of Down, and eastward to those of North Wales. In the country east of the great mountain chain, and south of Wicklow, the only scenes of peculiar beauty are the celebrated vales of the Ovoca and the Avonmore.

The general aspect of this part of the county is marked by extensive swells and ranges of elevated ground descending to vales of little picturesque beauty, though the road along the coast, from Wicklow to Arklow, presents many fine sea views. One of the southern extremities of the great central mountain tract is Askeaky, close to Aughrim, from which hill a range of mountainous heights stretches south-westward, by Tinahely and the western side of the Aughrim or Derry river, through Shillelagh, to the confines of Carlow and Wexford counties.

The barony of Shillelagh, though much improved of late years through the exertions of the late Earl Fitzwilliam, still wears a rugged and forbidding aspect. The alluvial district to the west of the great mountain range consists for the most part of low, long, and flat hills, with intervening valleys, sometimes spread out into broad meadows of great fertility; the only hills of considerable elevation being those of Baltinglass, 1371 feet high: Brisselstown, 1330; and Spynan's, 1351.

This district is enriched with numerous gentlemen's seats, though some parts exhibit a neglect of improvement, such as the great glen or valley of Imale, between five and six miles long and three to four broad, extending from Stratford-upon-Slaney to the foot of Lugnaquilla mountain, and presenting an appearance of desolate wildness, though containing every inducement to cultivation.

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