Deep in the Wicklow Mountains and about 5kms off the infamous Wicklow Way trail lays the valley of Glencree. The River Dargle flows right down the valley and rises to a height of about 400 metres. Set on the edge of Wicklow’s National Park, the area is very popular for walks and hikes and people who come to Glencree seek out the beauty of its wooded hillsides and nature.
The popular picturesque village of Enniskerry sits at the foot of the valley and is a great place to relax after a day of walking through the trails of Glencree. Such is the beauty of the area that it has been featured in several motion pictures. Glencree has provided a scenic backdrop in popular movies such as “Where’s Jack?” “Casino Royale”, “Zardoz” and “The First Great Train Robbery”. The attractions that Glencree offers doesn’t just stop at mountain walks and stunning scenery as the area is steeped in history and is home to some great historical tourist attractions.
The top of Glencree Valley emerges onto a military road which was constructed by the British Army in the early 19th century to provide them with a route to target United Irishmen guerrillas who were hiding out in the Wicklow Mountains after the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The British built a barracks at Glencree in 1806, but vacated the building soon after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815.
This same barracks was used by the British to hold World War 1 German prisoners from 1914-1918. Ironically, during the Second World War, the barracks at Glencree was also used to house fallen German air pilots who had crashed in Ireland and German soldiers who were believed to be colluding with the IRA. The Irish Red Cross Society took over Glencree barracks in 1946; right after World War 2 had ended. Hundreds of injured children of war from Germany and Poland were then tended there under “Operation Shamrock”.
The German War Cemetery in Glencree features 134 graves of German soldiers from the Second World War. Most are air force or navy soldiers and many of the graves are unidentified. However, one of the most famous German spies during this era, Dr. Hermann Gortz, is buried there. The German cemetery is located on the bank of the Glencree River and is a very poignant ode to the importance of the site during the period of World War 2.
The Area Today
Since 1974, the former barracks has housed the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. Originally set up to try to foster peace between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, the centre runs a broad range of programmes today that are aimed at bringing actors from global conflict zones such as Haiti, Sri Lanka and the Middle East to Glencree. The centre provides mediation and conflict resolution programmes and hosts a summer school each year on Irish conflict and society. The centre doubles up as a hostel when rooms are available too.
Before you depart from Glencree, another key attraction to observe is the grotto dedicated to our Lady of Reconciliation, which is blessed with a beautiful location where the Glencree River (it’s more of a stream really!) flows through the valley.
Steeped in World War history and with some stunning walking trails and views on offer, it’s no wonder Glencree is a popular stop on the journey of many visitors to Ireland.