There’s a small free carpark adjacent to Kilcoole Station. Through the gate and over the level crossing and you’re on the beach. Usually we walk south along the shingle beach to Newcastle and back again, about a nine kilometre round trip. The gentle oblique curve of Wicklow’s coast gifts an unusually wide horizon to the wanderer. The bleak beauty is accentuated by the lonesome railway line. We’re on the edge of nowhere.
Just past a large intrusion of wild shrub and to our right, across the tracks, a slim finger of placid water intervenes. This is the northern tip of an extensive coastal wetlands stretching along the coastal plain to Broad Lough near Wicklow Town. This is known as the Murrough and is a haven for wildlife and a subtle joy to the eye. The Murrough is 15km long and comprises the largest coastal wetland on Ireland’s east coast.
Kilcoole Wash is a picturesque lagoon that acts as a magnet for migratory birds. It is particularly noted as a major breeding ground for the Little Tern. They come all the way from the western mediterranean and North Africa to their breeding colony here. In season, dedicated amateurs keep watch on them ensuring the little darlings go unmolested. Make sure you keep to the designated pathway to continue through.
The Breaches is a little further on. This is an outlet for the wetlands into the sea. It runs swift and wide and deep so you’ll need to cross by the railway bridge. This is safe but do take care and don’t loiter.
We’re about halfway along towards Newcastle. After the Breaches we walk along Leamore Strand. Large concrete cubes form a line of protection for the railway line and also function as a raised pathway. The blocks are dated, with some going back almost a century.The lonesomeness here is interspersed with the occasional buzzing of small aircraft. Newcastle Aerodrome appears to the right, its 690 metre grass runway in use year round. The place evokes a more halcyon image of aircraft travel.
If you can use some exotic booze, there’s a bar in far Bombay
Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away
Come Fly With Me is the title track of Frank Sinatra’s 1958 album. The song was commissioned by Sinatra from Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. The album’s songs are based on the theme of a musical trip around the world. Sinatra’s sequence of concept albums began in 1955 with In the Wee Small Hours. The notion of a unifying musical theme was novel then, most albums being a random compendium of songs. Sinatra was instrumental in establishing the studio album as a unified concept in artistic terms.
So, trains and boats, and even planes will take you the East Coast’s remotest point. Or thereabouts. The trains don’t stop here anymore and since, unlike Bono, I don’t have my own aeroplane, it’s car or bus for me. Newcastle is about a mile inland. The village runs along a short main street of mixed housing, some echoing olden days. The local pub is bounded by a brook which swings seawards under the bridge, giving the pub its longterm name: the Bridge. It’s the Castle Inn now. The garage and general store is across the road There are a few small estates scattered in the neat farmland surrounding.
The castle in question was not particularly new, being originally constructed circa 1180 by Hugh De Lacy, the first Anglo-Norman governor of Ireland under Henry II. It was located a half mile further inland, on the road to Newtownmountkenedy. Newcastle was the administrative centre of old Wicklow until the county was shired in 1606 and power moved to Wicklow Town. The castle had been destroyed late in the sixteenth century. The impressive ruins now visible are of a large fortified residence built on the old castle’s footprint. They do resemble a castle bastion and you may be familiar with them from Hozier’s video To Be Alone.
Across the road the church crowns a smaller hill. The first church was built in 1189. Subsequently destroyed in 1640 it was rebuilt in 1780 and a tower added in 1821. It serves the Church of Ireland community. It is the perfect manifestation of the traditional country churchyard. A wonderful ornate metal doorway guards the entrance. For the Catholics, the Holy Spirit oratory was built in the village in 2009. The picturesque Saint Patrick’s Church in Kilquade, a couple of miles north, is the parish church. That was rebuilt in 1802 having been burnt down in 1798. Newcastle Down the Years by Canon Robert Jennings, published in 2008, gives an in depth and very readable history of the area.
David Hozier Byrne lives across the road from Newcastle Church, which seems appropriate somehow. Originally from Bray, his father, John, a musician and his mother, Raine Hozier, a visual artist. Hozier’s eponymous debut album was released in 2014 and was a hit worldwide. His second album, Wasteland, Baby was released in 2019, echoing this success.
See him there, holding up the bar at the Bridge, scribbling snatches of songs while he calls another pint. In truth, he’s probably working hard up in his home studio on a third album. Well liked, he’s personable and generous with his time for local and national fundraisers. He appeared recently on the Late Late Show with a rendition of the Parting Glass in tribute to those who had died of Covid. It’s a Scottish traditional song which dates back at least four hundred years. Robbie Burns’s trad based poem Auld Lang Syne has overtaken it in popularity in Scotland, but in Ireland devotion to the Parting Glass has waxed. The Clancy Bros and Tommy Makem set the ball rolling on their 1959 album, Come Fill Your Glass With Us. The Dubliners, the Voice Squad and Liam O Maonlaoi all have versions. Hozier’s is now released as a single, the proceeds going to the ISPCC.
Of all the money that e’er I spent
I’ve spent it in good company
And all the harm that e’er I done
Alas it was to none but me
Newcastle is the last stop on the Dublin suburban bus service with the number 84. So it’s possible to take a bus to here, hike up the coastal trail and hook up with regular DART services at Greystones or Bray. There were times when the 84 was a bit approximate in timetable terms. Planned expeditions to the Bridge have extended into overnighters. There I’d be, regaling customers with my rendition of the Parting Glass, only to sway into the carpark and find the bus gone. Nothing for it then but to return to the bar for another parting glass before closing time.
For all I’ve done for want of wit
To memory now I can’t recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all