Phoul-a-Phuca, Shelton Abbey, Kilcarra Castle, County Wicklow

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter VII-12 | Start of chapter

Although we have in the preceding pages noticed many of the most attractive scenes in this romantic district, it would be impossible within the limits of a work of this nature to enumerate all the beautiful spots that invite the attention of the tourist. We cannot, however, complete our desultory sketches without describing a remarkable waterfall, at a place called POUL-A-PHOUCA,[46] on the north-eastern borders of this county. The cataract is formed by the descent of the River Liffey through a narrow opening in a craggy precipice, falling from a height of upwards of one hundred and eighty feet, over several progressive ledges of rocks, till it is precipitated into a dark abyss, where it forms a whirlpool of frightful appearance and immense depth. Owing to the manner in which the water is broken in its descent, Poul-a-Phouca is by many considered the most picturesque fall in the county of Wicklow. A handsome bridge, of a single Gothic arch, has been thrown across the chasm through which the water rushes. The span of this arch is sixty-five feet, and its key-stone is one hundred and eighty feet above the level of the river. On one side, the glen for some distance, both above and below the fall, is overhung by abrupt and naked rocks; on the other, the banks being less precipitous are cut into walks, and otherwise tastefully embellished. This is a portion of the demesne of the Earl of Miltown, whose splendid mansion of Russborough, at a short distance from the fall, is the most conspicuous ornament of this part of the county.

As the united streams which form the Avoca River approach the spot where their waters mingle with those of the sea, the vale expands, and the mountains subside into gentle undulations. Amidst this scenery, Shelton Abbey, the seat of the Earl of Wicklow, is beautifully situated on the northern bank of the Avoca. It stands at the base of a range of hills which rise gently around it, and are luxuriantly clothed with oak and birch-wood. The mansion is of considerable antiquity, and has recently received several important improvements, which have converted it into an appropriate baronial residence, resembling an abbey of the fourteenth century, with additions of a later date. The picturesque character of the edifice has a fine effect, and, with the surrounding scenery, forms one of the most charming landscapes of which this delightful county can boast. The demesne stretches for a considerable distance along the bank of the river, and is thickly studded with beech and chestnut-trees, some of which have attained an unusually noble growth. On the southern bank of the river, nearly opposite to Shelton, stands Kilcarra Castle, the seat of the Earl of Carysfort, girt by venerable woods, which extend almost to Arklow.

This little town, when approached from the Vale of Avoca, presents, with the barracks, the ruins of the castle crowning the hill, and the bridge of nineteen arches spanning the waters, a very pleasing appearance. The town is divided into two parts; the upper town, in which the houses are neatly built, and the fishery, which consists of a number of mud cottages, irregularly huddled together, and wholly inhabited by fishermen and their families. Like the Claddagh men of Galway, the fishermen of Arklow are a distinct race from the other inhabitants. They will allow no persons but those engaged in the fishery to live in the quarter of the town they have appropriated to themselves; and being wholly devoted to their own particular pursuits, they hold but little intercourse with their neighbours; neither will they, even when reduced to absolute distress, employ themselves in any occupations not connected with their favourite element. Their lives afford an incessant variety, which seems the zest of their existence. They endure all the hardships and privations of a seafaring life with astonishing patience and resolution; but as soon as the cause which urges them to exertion is removed, they relapse into indolence, and remain sitting at home by the fireside for days together, in the full enjoyment of the pleasure of "doing nothing at all." Sometimes they have money in abundance, at others they are suffering under the bitterest effects of imprudence and poverty. But probably in these respects they differ little from the same class of men all over the world; and both their defects and good qualities, it is likely, may be traced in all cases to the same cause—a life of chance and adventure. The herring-fishing on the coast between Wexford and Dublin has of late years become an object of considerable importance, and consequently of increased attention; the fishing in the Bay of Arklow is considered, next to that of Galway, as the best on any of the Irish coasts.

The only relic of antiquity that Arklow boasts, is an old ivy-grown tower adjoining the barracks,—the remains of the castle built by one of the Ormond family, who once held large possessions in this county. In 1331, it was taken from the English by the O'Tooles, the Irish princes of this district, who, however, were shortly after driven from it by Lord Bermingham. Subsequently, the Irish became its masters, but were again expelled by the English. In 1641, the Irish surprised the castle, put the garrison to the sword, and kept possession of it till 1649, when it was captured by Cromwell, who dismantled it, and reduced it to a heap of ruins. The remains of a monastery, founded by Theobald Fitzwalter, Lord Butler of Ireland, in the reign of Henry II., were visible at the rear of the town at the close of the last century, but they have now wholly disappeared.


[46] Poul-a-Phouca, i.e. "The Phouca's Hole." In the fairy mythology of Ireland the Phouca or Pooka is descrihed as a misshapen imp, haunting lonely glens and dark recesses; he resembles in his habits and disposition the Scotch Brownie and the Scandinavian Troll.