In Killruddery Woods

Kilruddery woods

From our last stop, the Bus Stop, Killarney Road makes for the M11 to the southwest. The road to the left is officially known as Oldcourt Park, but known locally as the Soldiers Road.  It runs alongside the ravine carved by the Swan River. Lost amongst the trees, the ancient tower house of Oldcourt Castle looms above, forever beyond reach. The river slithers through Wheatfield, past Swiss Cottage, across the Boghall, up to Southern Cross and on to Killruddery where the brook drains off Giltspur, or the Little Sugarloaf. 

These lands south of Bray were granted to Walter de Riddlesford, one of Strongbow’s loyal adventurers in the invasion of 1169. The large demesne is centred on Killruddery, the Church of the Knight. The Brabazon family came into ownership of the estate in the early 16th century through William Brabazon, Lord Justice of Ireland. The title Earl of Meath was granted to his great-grandson William in 1623. Killruddery House had to be rebuilt following destruction in the Cromwellian wars of the mid century. The current building is largely an 1820s reconstruction in the Tudor revival style. The original gardens remain. Designed by the French gardener Bonet, they are a unique example in Ireland of seventeenth century design, haunted with an exquisite Gothic gloom. Classically inspired additions blossomed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The house and gardens are a popular attraction, with coffee shop, farmers market, garden centre and regular music and art events. There’s an adventure playground and Ireland’s largest obstacle course. Best of all are the walks through the estate, beyond the walls where nature wrestles amiably with farmland and forest. I have variously met friends and strangers, no one at all, amiable vikings and post apocalyptic hippies (these later visions being on film set).

I recently took a path less travelled on the borderline between Killruddery and Belmont. In natural woodland on a sunny day there’s a tangible frisson in the air as light and dark dance with uninhibited abandon, together all alone, but for me. This acrylic is unusual for me in the choice of palette, which is very, very green.

But most of all I miss a girl in Tipperary town

and most of all I miss her lips as soft as eiderdown

again I want to see and do the things we’ve done and seen

where the breeze is sweet as shalimar and there’s Forty Shades of Green 

This song became such an iconic evocation of the Emerald Isle that it is presumed to have originated here. In a way it did. Johnny Cash wrote the song when touring Ireland in the late fifties. Once, after performing the song, a fan thanked him for his respect in singing a grand old Irish traditional air.

Bray – Overlooking the Swan River

Swan R 2

At the top of Bray Main Street there’s a fork in the road. Imagine this through time as being something of a village green, with timber frame tavern and monthly fair days. The Old Town Hall from 1881 originally included a covered market and is Elizabethan in style. Picture it in a Tudor setting, or perhaps Dickensian, surrounded by leaning buildings with gabled fronts and muntin windows.

The fork to the left is the coastal route, climbing up to the gap between Bray Head and Giltspur, (the Little Sugarloaf), and on to Greystones. To the right, Killarney Road is the principal route south towards Wicklow Town and Wexford, via the N11. Gothic redbrick houses of the Fin de Siecle line the road out of town, set in extensive gardens behind granite walls.

The road rises towards the massive spire of Christchurch, Bray’s towering landmark. The Gothic revival church, built of stern granite blocks, was completed in 1863 to serve the Church of Ireland community. The tower was added some decades later, the octagonal spire rising to 175 feet is garlanded by stone pinnacles. Christchurch’s imposing presence is further emphasised by its elevation, standing atop the Rock of Bray, the summit of the rising ground that defines the town.

Past Church Road, we crest the hill, and from here the route falls into the valley of the Swan River. This tributary of the Dargle rises in Kilruddery Estate on the slopes of Giltspur, flowing through Oldcourt and past its castle, under the bridge below our vantage point and on to the Dargle. The Swan trails a score of varied woodland along its deepening chasm. A rich mixture of oak, ash, birch, pine and poplar, with some exotics such as Eucalyptus, cloak the area with a sylvan beauty. With the town centre only a couple hundred metres behind us, and the suburban housing estates gathered on the next hill, this spot is like a blink in time, remote from surrounding urbanisation.

This view, rendered in acrylic, is taken from the junction with Beechhurst estate. Christchurch is out of sight to our left, Patchwork Cottage, to the right, and the bridge await below. After a long uphill climb from the seafront or Dart station, it’s a welcome downhill stretch. Past the bridge, the road will rise continually to Fairyhill, surmounted by the ancient, weathered cross of St Sarain, the area’s patron saint. (Killarney is an Anglicisation of the Gaelic ‘Church of Sarain’.)

On this day, a shower has just cleared, veils of cloud are pulling off to the West. Ahead the sun has broken through, turning all it touches to silver.