Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Welcome To Wicklow

In the second part of our Irish mini-series we pay tribute to “the Garden of Ireland”, County Wicklow.

We start with Pierce Turner who is wandering among the “Wicklow Hills”. Christy Moore did a very good cover version of this on his “Ride On” album, but I still prefer the original.

Next we have Van Morrison with “The Streets Of Arklow”. I have a bit of a bone to pick with Van about this one. When I first heard this on “Veedon Fleece”, references to “drenching beauty”, “God’s green land” and so on led me to believe that Arklow was an earthly paradise. So when my friend Shelley and I went on a driving holiday down the east coast of Ireland sometime in the early 1990s I insisted we spend at least one night on Arklow. We were severely disappointed. I hesitate to use the word “dump” – and it may have been that the contrast between what Van had promised and reality made things seem worse than they were – but is certainly wasn’t Shangri-la.

Matters were not improved by our accommodation. We spent the night in the home of Mrs Lourdes Crotty (which according to the Wicklow tourist board website is still going strong and masquerading under the name “Vale View”). Mrs C was a landlady of the old school. Our room was full of notices along the lines of “No talking”, “No smiling” and “Close your eyes when bathing because naked flesh is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord”. There was also a large photograph of her mother on the dresser to discourage any thoughts of hanky panky or other such nonsense. To be fair though, her sausages were excellent.

You will have gathered from this that I would not put Arklow high of a list of must-see sights in Ireland. I would however thoroughly recommend a visit to Glendalough. The scenery around the twin lakes is spectacular enough, but when you add the remains of the old monastic settlement it makes it a bit special. The monks under St Kevin arrived in the early 7th Century and remained until the settlement was destroyed by English forces in 1398. It is one of their number that The Dubliners sing about with their customary reverence in “The Glendalough Saint” (apologies for the sound quality on this one – it was burned from an album of my Dad’s that has been played regularly for over 40 years).

We finish with a clip which has nothing to do with Wicklow, but brings back many happy memories for me. On the same live album the Dubliners did a rambunctious tribute to Dublin’s former red light district, “The Mento”. In my student days this song was adopted by me and my friend Dave, and it became traditional for us to sing it in the streets of Colchester while making our way back to our digs after a session. The Dubliners did it better - and with added facial hair. Here they are to prove it.

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