History of Wicklow

cropped-glendalough-5-1024x226Irish Monastic Heritage

Anglo Saxon Colonising Campaign

Irish as Slaves, Indentured Servants, Convicts

The Great Famine Occurs in Food Rich Ireland

Wicklow encapsulates all that is Ireland’s story, rolled into one county; home to one of the most renowned Monasteries in the world at Glendalough, home to a long line of Irish Chieftain families including the O’Tooles and the O’Byrnes, Wicklow also experienced loss of lands to the land grab of Henry VIII, Wingfield estate now known as Powerscourt was at one time owned by OTooles, Kilruddery House lands were owned by St Thomas’s Abbey. Wicklow experienced mass loss of life during Famine years with the most notable Famine grave at Blessington, it also held the title of longest standing stronghold of resistance in the rebellion of 1798, it experienced one of its most unfortunate massacres at Dunlavin Green.


seefin passage tomb 2

Physical evidence of inhabited Wicklow starts with a number of passage tombs most notable, Seefin Passage Tomb dated 3000BC


There are also numerous examples of Stone Circles and Ogham Stones.

rathgall hillfort, wicklow

Rathgall Hillfort dated circ 800BC, is located near Shillelagh. A concentration of artifactual evidence was found at the Rathgall site suggesting this was home to a wealthy family or small community, an extensive metal workshop was uncovered in the inner and outer circles for casting large quantities of bronze weapons and tools.

Shillelagh is also noteworthy as the erstwhile home of Great Irish Oak Forests. The Great Forest fell to meet the needs of british shipbuilding, in 1606 a report of Ireland was commissioned, in it it was estimated that Shillelagh Woods could furnish the Crown with timber for shipping and other uses for the next twenty years, in 1608 a further report records Ireland as “abounding in timber, mainly noble oaks, fit for shipbuilding”.


St Patrick is thought to have first landed on a Wicklow beach. Medieval Wicklow saw the arrival of the renowned Glendalough Monastic Complex with numerous Celtic Crosses, Holy Wells and Bullaun Stones. America’s First Lady is pictured below at the Deer Stone, a bullaun stone where it is reported St Kevin had access to an unlimited supply of deer’s milk.

first family glendalough


From the beginnings of the  English in Ireland Dublin, known as the Pale, was the first region that became an English colony being secured with a perimeter wall, the speaking of Irish became outlawed in the Pale in the Statues of Kilkenny, 1367.

The confiscations of all catholic owned property took place under Cromwell, Charles II and William III in the second half of the seventeenth century and through the periodic enforcement of the penal laws during the eighteenth century. Native Irish, mostly Catholic were eventually banned from owning property. In 1804, when Ireland’s total population was 5.4million, there were only between 8,000 and 10,000 land owners, this minority was almost exclusively of British ancestry.

Powerscourt-1901 Wingfield Family

Wingfield family, picture taken outside Powerscourt House held land in four counties; Wicklow (40,986 acres), Wexford (11, 641 acres), Tyrone (9176 acres) and Dublin (634 acres). The estate remained in the Wingfield family up to the purchase of the Slazenger family in recng decades.


Fitzwilliam Estate in the above map can be seen as Wicklow’s largest estate owner, with Lords’ Wicklow, Meath, Beresford, Carysfort, Hugo, Powerscourt, Downshire also showing extensive holdings.

MonsterMeeting O'Connell

Daniel O’Connell in the 1840s was known for his Monster Meetings, these were peaceful rallies where up to 1,000,000 Irish would attend, these famously took place without incident. Two years prior to famine, in 1843, one of these meetings took place near estates of Lord Wicklow at Baltinglas, Wicklow, the account reads, “The proprietor of most of the land thereabouts was Lord Wicklow: and his lordship had posted over his estate a placard exhorting, or almost commanding, his tenants to stay home at their work, and not to be flocking to a meeting “only to minister to the vanity of an individual.” They all disobeyed; and O’Connell, when he rose up to address them, opened a copy of the placard. He read it, and the hills re-echoed the laughter of a hundred and fifty thousand throats. “I know whom he means by an individual,” he exclaimed. “He means me. Individual in his teeth! I’m no more an individual than Lord Wicklow’s mother!” O’Connell died in 1847, having pleaded in vain for the ports to be closed and exports prohibited for the duration of the potatoe blight, its likely he died from a broken heart as accounts reached him of the high numbers of hungry dying, the same hungry who had come out in such numbers in 1843.


An Irish Eviction, many evictions took place during the Great Hunger, this continued through to the 1890s.

While Wicklow’s forests were felled for shipbuilding, it also became an invaluable resource for lead with innumerable mining locations supplying British Munitions Manufacture and the growing needs of the Industrial Revolution.

1796 Wicklow Gold Rush, fact or fiction? Records indicate sizeable finds of gold did take place in Wicklow drying up soon after the works were taken over by the authorities.


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