A Short History of Wicklow Town

State of Rebellion

By Stan O'Reilly

Their boat was stoned by natives


The place name of Wicklow is of Viking origin and the segment 'lo' means meadow or grassland. It has been put forward that the full name translates as 'Bay of the Meadows.' The old Irish name for the town Chill Mhantain dates back to the time of St. Patrick and translates as the church of 'gubby' or 'gap toothed.' This comes in tradition, from an attempt by Patrick and his followers to land at Wicklow. Their boat was stoned by the natives and one of his followers was struck in the mouth and had some teeth knocked out.The boat pulled away and headed north. The follower who lost his teeth was afterwards christened Mhantain and instructed to go back to Wicklow and establish a church there.

This area became known as Craftsman's Creek

The first settlers arrived about 1,000 bc and lived around the banks of the Vartry river where they hunted and fished. This area also houses a mound of earth known as Nati's Mount. He was the pre-christian chieftan of Wicklow. The mound of earth may also harbour Viking archaeology. The vikings from Norway, the Norse, settled in this area which became known as 'bac na saor' or Craftsman's Creek. The natives christened it so having watched the vikings repairing boats, carrying out building work and working on jewellery and weapons. Later vikings from Denmark, the Danes, built a timber fort on the site of the Black Castle. The vikings formed political alliances and inter-married with the natives.

The town was burned

Later invaders such as the Anglo-Normans, the Old English and the New English were constantly the target of attacks from the natives over hundreds of years. The town was burned and laid waste in the early 14th century and again in 1370. One area worth a visit is the old Abbey Grounds in the town, a monastry which dates back to Anglo-Norman times, the ruins are to be seen there to this day. The Black Castle was destroyed in 1641 in an attack by Confederation forces which led to the massacre of the Parish Priest and his congregation, it is claimed, in the vicinity of Melancholy Lane.

William 'Billy' Byrne was executed in 1799

In 1798 Wicklow Gaol housed a large number of local rebels, many died, executed within it's precincts. Their headless bodies disposed of from fishing boats into Wicklow Bay. The famous local rebel leader William 'Billy' Byrne of Ballymanus, a Captain of the Ballymanus Corps, was executed at Gallows Lane in 1799. Another famous 19th century individual from the town was Captain Robert Halpin, the man who laid 26,000 miles of underwater cable which linked four continents. There is a monument to William Byrne in the Market Square and an Obelisk to Captain Halpin at Fitzwilliam Square.

This was the era of smugglers, wreckers, highwaymen and footpads

In the late 17th century a stone bridge was built across the Vartry River to the Murrough lands on the seashore and a new Town Hall was erected. During this time the local stocks awaited the local 'neer do wells' as did the confines of Wicklow Gaol. This was the era of the smugglers, wreckers, highwaymen and footpads, who were very active in the district. Peaceful times would see the building of St. Patrick's Church in 1844, horse racing on the Murrough in the 1860s, and the building of the harbour and two piers which followed. The RNLI built a lifeboat house first at the seashore close to the big beach and later at the old pier.

Well worth a vist

The Dominican order opened their convent in 1870 and the Christian Brothers set up their school in the early years of the 20th century. The local Wicklow Regatta, held every August, started in 1878 and continues to this day. Wicklowmen and those from the district were recently remembered in Armistice Day commermorations. They had taken part in many world conflicts including Trafalger, the Spanish- American War, the Boer War, World War 1, the War of Independence, the Civil War, World War 11, Veitnam and the Congo. Wicklow is now a peaceful seaside town with much to entertain and attract the tourist and day tripper. Well worth a visit.

This page was added by Stan O'reilly on 14/11/2011.

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