It’s been through some tough times, has Kilmacanogue, right from the moment a major part of its 1834 population of 2,797 was wiped out by the famine, leaving just 1,678 in 1891.
This little village is a survivor though. Hence the rapid rallying of the troops in recent weeks to save their post office.
Just thirty years after the devastation of the famine, and the huge surge in emigration that came with it, and Kilmacanogue had become the place where all the beautiful people hung out. The gentry were drawn by the village’s rather fortunate geographical position, nestled between the Great Sugarloaf and the Little Sugarloaf, and the perfect starting point for exploring the deep Wicklow countryside, and famous landmarks such as Powerscourt and Glendalough.
Not that you had to travel too far when it came to oogling grand old houses. Glencormac House once stood where the rather popular Avoca Handweavers are today, having been completed in 1860 by the Jameson whiskey family. Turned into a Grade A hotel in the 1950s – Grade A being old-speak for 5-star – the building sadly met its in end in 1967 when a fire razed it to the ground.
It’s cool to think that amongst the Jameson estate’s 80 acres were the courtyard and stables – known as Jameson’s Corner – which stored grain and supplied fresh horses for the original family distillery in Dublin. And when Glencormac became a top hotel, the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, George Peppard and James Mason were among its many famous guests.
When Avoca acquired the property in 1987, 20 years after its fiery demise, many of the spectacular trees planted in the 1880s at the original Glencormac Gardens still present included eucalyptus, giant redwoods and yew trees that are over 800 years old. Pride of place goes to the weeping Monterey cypress, which dates from 1881, and is one of only two mature specimens of the tree in Europe.
It’s worth mentioning too the two small streams that join in Kilmacanogue before heading to the Dargle River, down at Silver Bridge. Meeting just behind the old post office, these streams once boasted a healthy population of trout.
Commissioned in 1864, that old post office [pictured left] was situated on the Little Sugar Loaf side of the main road, with John Doyle acting as postmaster. From there, the post office moved across the road in 1940, to a house beside the old forge, before road-widening in 1985 saw that building demolished and the post office settling in its current, if highly-threatened, location. Something of a family affair, the Arnold and Keenan/Donnelly family have run the Kilmacanogue post office since 1881.
As for where the village got its name, Kilmacanogue comes from the Irish Cill Mocheanóg – meaning Church of Mocheanóg. We touched upon Saint Patrick’s old pal before – said to have baptised the Children of Lir before they bid this life farewell – when covering the old Catholic graveyard in Delgany with loco historian Shay Clear.
Just two years before the village got its Mount Rushmore church built up on the hill, The Kilmacanogue Hotel was being licensed to one John Pluck. Later known as The Ale House, then, when John Talty transferred the property to Edward Connolly in 1928, The Sugarloaf Hotel, the arrival of new owner Patrick Sweeney in the late 1940s saw the name above the door changing to Sweeney’s Roadhouse. In 1964, it became The Glencormac Inn – even if the locals still called it Sweeney’s Pub – before its current moniker of Pluck’s, referring all the way back to that original owner.
And did we mention the time that Kilmacanogue was nearly relocated to the top of the Sugarloaf? It was January 1st, 1942, and that huggable Hans and his Luftwaffe louts dropped two magnetic mines on the village – but they failed to explode.
Yep, neither the famine nor the nazis could stop the little village that could. An Post don’t know what they’re letting themselves in for.
When we stopped by recently to talk to David Devine about rallying the troops in order to save their post office, it struck us that, given that ever-humming N11 motorway that cuts right through the village today, Kilmacanogue is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gem. Just ask the thousand-plus lucky souls who live there.
In truth, those who know their Wicklow history will always have time to look around this site rich in heritage, and beauty – from the original church and cemetery to the recent 1916 Garden Of Remembrance next door, from Saint Patrick’s old mucker to the early days of Jameson…
There’s so much more to Kilmacanogue than meets the eye…