Although we don’t have the hottest of summers we do have very humid ones, and this week even more so due to a stream of clouds coming upon us with the Jet Stream, riding over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, bringing us cloud from the Sargasso Sea. We had a very dry spring and summer in Wicklow up until a few days ago, and the change in weather is very welcome to the plants and the insect world. It is a great time to see insects. They like it a little damp.
Wicklow, like many other places around the world is going through a cycle of change due to human activity. The natural world is always in a state of flux,and always has been, but what we human beings do makes things more complicated. For example, here is one of the most common moths found in gardens throughout Wicklow:
The Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana) above, is a very handsome small moth. However, it is not quite what it seems – this species only a very recent arrival in Ireland. This moth actually originates from Australia. It was first recorded in the British Isles on the island of Great Britain in 1936, and is now found pretty much everywhere on Great Britian and in eastern and southern Ireland. This just goes to show how things can change within an ecosystem very fast. And, while new species are arriving, some resident species are becoming rarer:
I heard this Curlew before I saw it, as it was calling loudly, piping across the sky as it flew. They are large birds and have an incredibly curved bill, as you can just make-out in the photo above. The numbers of curlew staying in Ireland to breed in summer are getting fewer and fewer due to overhunting. However, they can still be heard regularly in Wicklow, but for how long is anybody’s guess. Many come from other parts of Europe to overwinter here, creating the illusion of high numbers on the island of Ireland. They are a very rare sight in spring.
One of the most unique heritage-related experiences you can get in Wicklow is a trip to Wicklow Gaol (or ‘jail’ as it has come to be speled today), a fortress-like building used to hold Irish prisoners from early Penal times (when Roman Catholics were legally second-class citizens in the British Empire) until Irish Independence in 1922.
What makes this combination of museum and architectural artefact most interesting is that it tells the story of the Irish Diaspora prior to, and in the wake of the 1798 Rebellion in a superb and memorable way. It is not the usual museum experience by a long way. For example, in the 18th century and in the immediate aftermath of the rebellion Irish people (Protestant and Roman Catholic) were detained here en masse before many of them were sold into slavery in the Caribbean, and sometimes also the North American colonies too.
Experts on the subject both act and educate before letting you free in the prison to experience the bleakness. The story of Irish people being punished by being sent to Australia also tells the story of the European settling of the continent and the real freedom that would eventually lead to the global Irish movement to obtain independence for the island of Ireland, an adventure that was actually started by the mostly Protestant leaders of the United Irishmen who were inspired by American Independence and the French Revolution. But the ordinary people who got caught up in all this history are give special treatment. Use of Holograms and innovative methods or education make these tales very effective.
It has to be said that the events in Wicklow before during and after the 1798 Rising have often been ignored by historians, but Wicklow Gaol goes to great lengths to put that right, and to remind us that it isn’t all that long ago. But there is a spooky bonus too, with Wicklow Gaol being considered one of the two most haunted buildings in Ireland, and the subject of many paranormal investigations and TV shows. In the very last cell you enter on the tour you will definitely see some very pooky things thanks to brilliant use of special effects, and a display of equipment used to identify spectral activity. There are also special night time paranormal tours and I’m told the occasional séance also takes place. A truly remarkable museum and a must-see.
There is car-parking available and tickets are a mere €7.90 for adults and €5.00 for children (be warned, they will see ghosts) and the Gaol is open everyday between 10.30 am and 4.30 pm, but do ask about the night-time paranormal tours (they cost a little more, but are an incredible experience. They’re a great place to take a girl on a date as hand-holding is practically a requirement…).