Blessington is a small town in County Wicklow, with a population in 2016 of 5520. It's west of the Wicklow mountains and this part of the county is low-lying and rural. It's just on the edge of County Kildare and County Dublin - in the Middle Ages it was the boundary of "The Pale", the territory around Dublin under direct rule of the English monarchs. The main visitor attraction is 18th century Russborough House, with a rich art collection.
Dublin's water supply was greatly improved by the River Vartry reservoirs at Roundwood, but by 1930 the burgeoning city was outstripping even this source, and a further reservoir was created by damming the Liffey just south of Blessington. Poulaphouca, as it became, has 166 billion litres capacity and a 44 km shoreline. Its water is raw (ie untreated) so the lake can be used for public recreation. The water is pumped to Ballymore, one of umpteen tiny places of that name meaning "big town" and which if all heaped together would barely add up to one medium-sized village, so this one is specifically "Ballymore Eustace." There the water is purified and piped to Stillorgan in south Dublin to join the city supply.
Get in edit
Dublin Bus 65 runs daily every couple of hours from Dublin College Green (not Busáras) via Templeogue Rd and Tallaght Rd to Blessington, taking 90 min. Some continue south past Russborough House entrance to the village of Ballymore.
Bus 132 from central Dublin picks up at Blessington four times a day on its way to Baltinglass and Tullow, but you can't use it between city centre and Blessington. On Thursday one bus extends to Enniscorthy, Wexford and Rosslare ferry port. It leaves Rosslare around 08:00 to drop off at Blessington at 11:00, and returns picking up at 18:30 to reach Rosslare at 21:30.
Other public transport routes involve doubling back via the city: there are no cross-country buses to Naas, Carlow, or east across the mountains. The nearest railway station is Naas & Sallins, with frequent trains from Dublin Heuston; it's 15 km from Blessington and a taxi might be €25.
Get around edit
Bus 65 will get you to the gardens, and occasionally to Russborough House. You need wheels to reach Punchestown or explore the mountain valleys.
Local taxi firms are Deerpark Cabs (+353 87 647 2726) and Blessington Airport Taxi (+353 87 255 7993).
- St Mary's Church (C of I) on Main Street was built circa 1683. Its six bells of similar date are rung for practice on Saturday nights and for services on Sunday morning.
- Poulaphouca or Blessington Lake was created 1937-47 as a reservoir and hydro-electric power source. The lake captures the River Liffey, flowing west out of Wicklow Mountains, and also floods the valley of King's River which joins at Baltiboys. That valley lake is further divided by a spit of land with Valleymount village. Poulaphouca drowned several nearby settlements, and the river's "Golden Falls" became absorbed by the HEP station. The lake is used for boating and similar activities and is a habitat for wildfowl.
- Poulaphouca Bridge is a mock-castellated single span carrying N81. The gorge is deep but little water normally flows over the falls here. 100 m south the road crosses "Dry Bridge" - this gully is believed to be a former course of the river.
- 1 Russborough House, Blessington W91 W284, ☏ . House W-Su 11:00-17:00, Gardens daily 09:00-18:00. Grand Palladian mansion built 1741-51 to a design by Cassells, who also designed Powerscourt. It was the Leeson family pile for almost 200 years then passed to Sir Alfred Beit, of the de Beers diamond mining company. He inherited his uncle's huge big-name art collection and installed it here, where it suffered from serial robbery: by the IRA in 1974, by a Loyalist gang in 1984, then by other gangs in 2001 and 2002. Remarkably, most of these hauls were recovered. Some of the collection has been donated to the National Gallery, with others loaned in return. House adult €12.
- 2 Rath Turtle Moat is a ringfort from early Norman times, 1.6 km northwest of town. Just a few mounds and ditches to see, and you come for the stroll through Glen Ding Wood. But a fabulous gold lunula was found hereabouts, dated to 2000-2400 BC and now in the British Museum, London.
- 3 June Blake's Garden, Tinode, Kilbride W91 EC90 (along N81), ☏ . Apr-Sept W-Su 11:00-16:00. A riot of colour in gardens surrounding old farmstead buildings. Adult €6.
- 4 Hunting Brook Gardens, Tinode, Lamb Hill (off N81), ☏ . Apr-Sept W-Su 11:00-16:00. Extensive gardens and woodlands, the personal creation of Jimi Blake (brother of June Blake, since you were wondering). Assistance dogs only. Adult €8, child free.
- 5 Hollywood and the surrounding countryside have been used as film and TV locations. The village has thereby become so famous that they've erected a sign on the hill, so visitors don't confuse this Hollywood with its many namesakes.
- Poulaphouca poulaphouca poulaphouca poulaphouca
- - in Joyce's Ulysses the waterfall is the soundtrack to Leopold Bloom's recollection of a school trip here, a blend of lewd and ethereal
- Blessington Greenway is a 6.5 km walk from the village along the lake side to Russborough House.
- St Kevin's Way is a long-distance hiking trail across the mountains to Glendalough. It's supposed to be the route St Kevin took to get there, though next-to-nothing is reliably known of his life. Certainly the trail became a pilgrimage route, and it's accreted various modern pilgrimage rituals. There are two start points: the longer (30 km) from Hollywood village, the shorter from Valleymount on the lake peninsula. Both trend east up the King's River valley to meet at Ballinagee Bridge. The trail continues up the valley to cross the watershed at Wicklow Gap, then descends the Glendasan valley into Glendalough. There's no accommodation along the way so either complete it in a single tiring, muddy day, or use the car parks to stage sections - the route is seldom far from R756.
- Tramway Theatre puts on various shows but is dark in 2021.
- Sally Gap is the scenic R759 through the mountains, popular for driving or cycling. Join it from N81 five km north of Blessington. It climbs the upper valley of the River Liffey, where Kippure Bridge is scenic; Kippure Lodge is used for events but doesn't have hotel facilities. The top is forest plantations and soggy bog. "Sally Gap" specifically means the crest of the ridge at 503 m / 1650 ft, the crossroads with R115 the old military road, with Kippure looming to the north and Gravale and Duff Hill to the south. Staying on R759, you descend past Lough Tay, the usual start point for climbing Luggala. The road crosses the Wicklow Way to end at the junction of R755 two km north of Roundwood.
- Glen of Inmaal is a driving route skirting the south of the mountains. From N81 south of Hollywood, follow the lane through Donard. The glen is an army live-firing range with limited public access to the hills. The lane passes the picturesque Dwyer-McAllister cottage, where the rebels of 1798 were trapped by government troops, and McAllister drew fire on himself so Dwyer could escape. Eventually the lane reaches the crossroads for Aughavannagh, Glenmalure and Glendalough.
- Go to the races at 1 Punchestown, 8 km northwest towards Naas.
- Read Sherlock Holmes: in The Adventure of the Resident Patient (Strand Magazine, 1893), Blessington is in fear of his life, with good reason, and keeps a personal physician on stand-by. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Edinburgh connections are well documented but his links to and influences by Ireland are also important. Out of his own personal 19 favourite Sherlock Holmes stories, this implausible farrago only ranked 18th.
Ninette de ValoisEdrus Stanners (1898-2001) was born at Baltiboys just east of Blessington. Aged 7 she moved to Kent; she started ballet lessons aged 10 and at 13 changed her name to Ninette de Valois. She joined Diaghilev's Ballet Russe and became its prima ballerina, but an old polio injury forced her to retire from full-time dancing. Thereafter she worked as a choreographer and director: she played a leading role in establishing the Old Vic - Sadler's Wells school in London, and the Abbey Theatre ballet school in Dublin. She was showered with honours and continued to perform far into old age.
- Aldi is the main store, open M-F 09:00-22:00, Sa Su 09:00-21:00. There's also a Mace and a Supervalu along the main strip.
- There's an ATM outside the Ulster Bank.
- Circle K filling station is open 24 hours and has a Cashzone ATM within.
- Places on Main Street are Lemon Tree (Chinese, daily), Spice Village (Indian M-Sa), Famous Inn (Chinese, daily) plus a couple of pizza and fish & chips takeaways.
- 1 The Avon, The Burbage, Blessington W91 HFX3, ☏ . Food daily 12:00-20:00. Mid-range lakeside hotel which in 2020 only offers self-catering lodges and glamping yurts. It's better known as an eating place, with Walkers Cafe (M-W 09:00-17:30, Th-Su 09:00-20:00), Big Blue Pizza Bus (daily 12:00-20:00), Texas Barbecue Bus (the red one, Th-Su 12:00-20:00), and bar to 20:00. Dog-friendly.
- 1 Tinnycross House, Truce Road, Ballymore (10 km south of Blessington), ☏ . Farmhouse B&B with three rooms. B&B double €110.
- 2 Tulfarris Hotel, Blessington Lakes, Rathballylong W91 EE95 (off R758), ☏ . Scenic lakeside golf hotel, great comfort, service and food. Often caters for weddings and conferences. B&B double €150.
As of Aug 2020, the town has a good mobile and 4G signal from Eir and Vodafone, but Three is patchy. 5G has not reached this area.
Go next edit
- Take a scenic drive through the Wicklow mountains to the medieval monastic complex of Glendalough.
- Naas in County Kildare has Ireland's only major motor-racing circuit, as well as Punchestown races.
- Dublin is only 90 min away on the bus.