On this 26km round trip you will get to experience one of Wicklow’s hidden gems. The drive surrounds the valley where the Kings river once met the river Liffey. In 1940 the valley was dammed at Poulaphouca and flooded to supply water for Dublin city. On this trip you will experience breathtaking views and enjoy a hidden part of Wicklow that is steeped in history and intrigue. Brendan Behan wrote of the area in a piece entitled “Journey to the Jewel of Wicklow”in the Irish press in October 1952 , “it is a beautiful land round here and would be better known if he people were as vocal as the Killarney people. Maybe they want to keep it to themselves”. This part of Wicklow has appeared in many Hollywood films from “Captain Boycott” in 1947 to Excalibur 1981, Braveheart, The Lilac Bus, Widow’s Peak, PS I love You and the TV series Vikings.
Drive through Blessington past the garage in the direction of Baltinglass on the N81. Take the turn for Valleymount one and a half Kilometers outside the town. The firstbridge you will come upon is Burgage Bridge. From here you can see the ruins of one of the “Three Castles” in the direction of Blessington. This area has been the location for many episodes of the TV series “Vikings”. At the end of the Bridge on the right hand side is Baltyboys House former home of Elizabeth Smith. Elizabeth Smith’s diarys and memoirs were published and give a great insight into how life was in the area during the famine times. She provided education for the children of her tenants and founded Lacken school. Five Kilometers further on the lake drive you will reach Humpreystown Bridge. This is a nice place to stop have a break or picnic and get a view of the mountains. Looking out at the lake across to Ballyknockan and Lacken under the water was once the village of Ballinahown. The only village to be completely wiped off the map of Ireland.
One Kilometer the other side of the bridge lies the village of Valleymount , the setting of the book “In Monavalla” by Joeseph Brady. Once a thriving little village full of industry it is now a quaint little village. Valleymount is the parish centre for most of the townslands on the lake drive. It’s most interesting feature is its church which was founded in 1803 and later was redesigned and built using a Latin American design. It is thought that stonemasons from Ballyknockan brought the design back with them from travelling to the Americas. The church is an unusal building and inside is well worth a look to see the great stained glass windows by Harry Clarke. Just up from the church you can stop off at O’Connor’s “The Star Inn” and get refreshments and food. The Pub is very old and has a homely feel about it. Local produce of fresh eggs and bread can be taken away from the pub.There are a few other intersting buildings in the village. Just up from the pub on the left is “Valleymount House” which was once the shop and post office and just after it Johnny Tipper’s forge which was in use up until the mid 80’s and used as a location to film “Excalibur” in 1981.
About a Kilometre past the Valleymount is a left turn for Ballyknockan. You will see the hills and Silsean and Moanbane will be in your view. The Village of Ballyknockan also known as the Stonecutters Village is full of History that extends far beyond its famous granite walls. The Quarry’s began to supply stone for the building of Dublin city from he 1820’s onwards. The fruits of the labours of generations of Stonemasons can be seen on a stroll from Grafton St by College Green and up O’Connell St in Dublin. Just before you get to Cullen’s pub there is a turn up
to the Quarry on the right hand side. A turn to the left up this road leads to “Granite House” outside this is the “Stormont Lion”, a flawed sculpture of a lion in granite that was originally intended for Stormont Castle in Northern Ireland. At the very end of the road C McEvoy and Sons operate and fifth generation stonemasons operate out of what is the only working quarry in Ballyknockan today. If you take a turn to the right before “Granite House” you can find the statue of the “Madonna and Child” carved by James Freeman in the late 1800’s which was reject because the child was held in the wrong hand. There are great views from the Quarry land but be careful as some of the property’s are private and the old Quarry’s are dangerous. Cullen’s pub is on the left just after the Quarry turn and here you can get refreshments and food. There is a great tradition of music in Ballyknockan and if you are lucky you might catch one of the local bands playing some music in one of the pubs. Beside The Ballyknockan Inn is the “Barn Cinema” a building that was once a dance-hall and cinema before being turned into apartments. The famous dancing scene in “Widows Peak” was filmed here with local musicians and dancers. The village has a lot of interesting granite buildings and ruins and one of the most interesting is at the bottom of the bog road. The bog road is at the bottom of the hill a few hundred metres to the left after Cullen’s pub. The lane is a Cul de Sac so be careful if you drive down. At the bottom of the cul de sac just to the right is the gable end of the “Landgrabbers” cottage. In 1888 the widow Biddy Mulvey was evicted and the house was tore town. The local men built it up overnight and “the grabber” was defeated in the courts. A law at the time stated that if a house was built up overnight the tenant could claim the holding. There is a picnic area on the road toward Lacken just as you are leaving the village.
Between Ballyknockan and Lacken is Ballinastocken, the site of the Knockanstockan music festival every July Just before you reach the village of Lacken on the left is St Bodens cemetry and after it on the right is the Reilig where un-baptised children were buried.. St Bodens well is now under the lake and was famous for its healing properties and many miracles were said to have happened there. From Lacken there are great views of Ballyknockan and the lake. Buildings of note are the old School house built by Elizabeth Smith. Below the road lies Zellar’s Pub where you can get refreshments and under Zellars there is an old Catholic church. At Richardson’s old shop you can take a right turn and drive up less than a kilometer, park and take a walk up Sorrell hill. From Sorrell you can get great views of Kildare, Dublin and Wicklow.
Leaving Lacken you can enjoy the views until you meet a bridge crossing the lake, cross the bridge and at the end of the bridge take a left and you will be back in Blessington.
For the perfect accompaniment to this trip get a copy of “The Hills above the Valley” by Barry Kinane a ten track CD of ballads about the area.The history and folklore of the area is brought to life in song. Copies can be purchased in the Tourist Office Blessington, The Parish Office Blessington, The Bookstore Blessington, O Connors Pub Valleymount and Cullen’s Pub in Ballyknockan, more info on this www.batkinanemusic.com