Roundwood is a small village in the hills of County Wicklow in Ireland, with a population in 2016 of 948. Its Irish name is An Tóchar, "the causeway" which probably refers to the approaches to the nearby monastic centre of Glendalough; but the main reason to be here is to hike its trails. Roundwood's key role in Irish life is to supply Dublin with water.
" . . and on his expressed desire for some beverage to drink Mr Bloom in view of the hour it was and there being no pump of Vartry water available for their ablutions let alone drinking purposes . . . " (James Joyce, Ulysses, III Eumeus).
In the 19th century Dublin outgrew its water supply and sewage system, and became filthy, so a scheme was established to bring water from the Wicklow mountains. A first reservoir was completed at Roundwood in 1863, damming the River Vartry, and a second higher-level reservoir was completed in 1923. Their combined capacity is 18 billion litres: water is piped "raw" to Stillorgan in the south of the city, where it's treated and put into supply. The river retains plenty of water and flows to the sea at Wicklow Town.
James Joyce took a great interest in the works and the political shenanigans involved. (One opposition faction was the backers of the Grand and Royal canals, who'd ruined themselves to build transport routes that could never compete with the railways, but that undeniably brought water into Dublin. Canal water.) In one of several references in Ulysses (set on 16 June 1904) Stephen Dedalus casually asks if there is a decent flow from the tap - Vartry water having a better head of pressure - and in reply he's given a voluminous description of the scheme. In the passage quoted above, Leopold Bloom prefers pure Vartry water to less reputable sources, but since there's none to be had, he and Stephen venture out (none too steadily) in search of other drink, deep into a Dublin dark night of the soul.
Joyce didn't spend much time here and soon emigrated to Trieste, but two Presidents of Ireland had links to Roundwood. Seán Thomas O'Kelly (1882-1966) was second President 1945-1959. He had a country residence in Roundwood, but it burnt down in 1957. Erskine Hamilton Childers (1905-1974) was fourth President from 1973 but died in office after a year, and is buried in the nearby C of I churchyard at Derralossary. His father Robert Erskine Childers, author of The Riddle of the Sands, was executed by firing squad in 1922 for illegal possession of a pistol.
St Kevin's Bus runs daily from St Stephen's Green in Dublin at 11:30 via Cabinteely, Bray (for DART trains), Kilmacanogue, Roundwood (around 12:30) and Annamoe to Glendalough, and sets off back around 17:00. There are two runs in summer, and July-Aug a third between Bray station and Glendalough. Although it's designed for day trips (with four hours to explore Glendalough), you can take it as a point-to-point bus. Adult single €13, return €20.
Bus 183 runs M-F four or five times, Sa Su thrice, from Wicklow Town via Ashford, Rathnew, Roundwood and Annamoe to Laragh and Glendalough. At Wicklow the bus is held for trains from Dublin Connolly.
By bike, the Dublin suburbs are ratty so take the train as far as Bray. There are two steep hills early on, after that it's level yet scenic.
By car from Dublin follow M11 / N11 past Bray and exit at Kilmacanogue onto R755. Follow signs for Glendalough, which will take you through Roundwood.
See below for getting here on foot along the Wicklow Way.
- Walk or bike.
- You come here for the great scenery of the mountains, there's not much to see in the village itself. But spare a glance for the Bullaun, the stone mounted at the junction of R755 and R765. A bullaun is a stone with a basin worn in it, sometimes naturally, or by use as a mortar for grinding. It collects rainwater which is supposed to have holy or healing powers. Such stones are often within church precincts, and the Roundwood bullaun may have come from a church that has now disappeared, but its present setting is misguided - it's been mounted on a pedestal, so it looks like an artsy but modern bird-table.
- 1 Victor's Way, Sallygap Rd, Roundwood. May-Sept daily 12:00-18:00. Indian sculpture garden, also describes itself as a "pantheist monastery", enjoyable as much for its flapdoodle as its Ganeshes and stupas. It's a contemplative space for adults, okay? Not a fun park for families, no sir! Wear stout shoes, the site gets soggy, and definitely no drones. Adult €10.
- 2 Sally Gap is the scenic R759 through the mountains into west Wicklow, a popular motoring or cycling route. It branches off R755 two km north of Roundwood to ascend past the corrie lake of Lough Tay, the usual start point for climbing Luggala. Strictly speaking "Sally Gap" means the crest of the ridge at 503 m / 1650 ft, the crossroads with the old military road R115, with Kippure looming to the north and Gravale and Duff Hill to the south. R759 then descends west into the valley of the River Liffey, and the landscape becomes pastoral towards Blessington and the reservoir lake of Poulaphouca.
- Lots of walking close to the village around the reservoirs and woods. Sli ná Sláinte trails are short walks promoted by the Irish Heart Foundation, signposted from village centre. However you can't walk around Lough Dan 3 km west, as this land is private property.
- Djouce at 725 m (2379 ft) can be climbed by a firm boardwalk along the Wicklow Way. Start from either Ballinastoe Wood or JB Malone car park off R759 (you can also ascend from Enniskerry to the north). A gravel path branches off the boardwalk to the summit.
- The Wicklow Way is a long-distance trail passing 1 km west of Roundwood. Heading south, Day Two is from Knockree to Roundwood, you can divert into the village but there is accommodation on the trail itself. Day Three is an easy stage from Roundwood to Glendalough, where you'll want to take a full day out to visit the antiquities before trudging on.
- 1 Wicklow Equestrian Centre, Tomdarragh A98 KN25 (5 km south of village), ☏ +353 1 201 9878, email@example.com. Tu-Su 09:00-17:50. Lessons, treks, Saddle Club to learn practical horse management, suitable for all ages and standards.
- The only ATM is within Centra and may charge for withdrawals.
- Centra is the main convenience store in the village and stocks food, newspapers, wine, beer etc. It's open M-F 07:00-20:30, Sa Su 08:00-20:30.
- Keely's Hardware Store has practical bits and bats such as BBQ supplies. It's open M-Sa 09:00-17:00.
- Roundwood Inn, Main St, Roundwood (next to Coach House), ☏ +353 1 281 8107. Th-Tu 13:00-21:00. 17th century inn serves Irish, seafood and continental dishes.
- The Coach House restaurant has rooms, see Sleep.
- Byrne & Woods, Roundwood (village centre), ☏ +353 1 281 7078. Daily 12:30-21:00. Woods is the restaurant, Byrne's is the bar. Food, service and ambiance get great reviews.
- Kavanagh's Vartry House, Roundwood (opposite Byrne & Woods), ☏ +353 1 281 8105. Daily 12:00-23:30. Pub and restaurant with live music Sunday nights.
- See other listings for Byrne's Bar, Coach House, Roundwood Inn and Tochar House.
- And of course there's always the water.
- 1 Roundwood Caravan & Camping Park, Togher Beg, Roundwood, ☏ +353 1 281 8163. Well-run site in a great location, open May-Aug. Tent or caravan €30.
- 2 The Coach House, Main St, Roundwood, ☏ +353 1 281 8157. Pub restaurant serves meals daily 09:00-21:00, has four double rooms, clean and comfy. B&B double €120.
- 3 Tochar House, Main St, Roundwood, ☏ +353 1 281 8247. Pub with rooms in village centre, bar can be noisy.
- 4 Wicklow Way Lodge, Oldbridge, Roundwood A98 K702 (4 km from Roundwood), ☏ +353 1 281 8489. Friendly well-run B&B right on the Wicklow Way, open April-Sept. No dogs. B&B double €125.
As of Aug 2020 there's a mobile signal in Roundwood from all Irish carriers but 4G is scratchy. 5G has not reached this area.
- Glendalough 6 km south is a scenic valley with a large medieval monastic complex.
- Wicklow Town has fine gardens at Kilmacurragh and at Mount Usher. The good beaches start 15 km south of town.