The people of Dublin are blessed with their proximity to the rugged-yet-accessible rounded peaks of the Dublin Mountains. These hills aren’t the rocky, sharp peaks of the Iveragh Peninsula in Kerry, nor are they as steeped in Celtic and Christian legend as the nearby hills of Wicklow, but this series of hills have its own history, its own charm, its own character, yet they are tragically underused.
Enter the good folks of the Dublin Mountains Partnership. This group of volunteer rangers leads hillwalkers of all skill levels into the well-maintained trails of these hills every week. This week, we joined the rangers to (finally) see the Fairy Castle, a well-known landmark on the top of Two Rock Mountain.
We met in Marlay Park, my favorite park in the city, at the southern entrance onto the Wicklow Way trail. We’d be on this legendary route for the first few kilometers of the walk. The weather was chilly and blustery at ground level, and we were all bundled against the wind that would surely pick up as we reached the exposed hilltops.
Climbing into Kilmashogue Forest, we could see the city of Dublin from the Poolbeg Chimneys in the Docklands to the Wellington Monument and Papal Cross in Phoenix Park. As we ascended further, we watched a heavy bank of clouds rolling in over the city and our pretty little spot on the mountain. Within minutes, we were in a rare Irish snowstorm, the wind whipping the tiny flakes onto out bare cheeks. We don’t often see snow down at sea level, but here on the peaks it was falling and sticking to the fallen leaves.The Dublin Mountains Partnership maintains a series of shelters along the way just for these walks. At the top of Three Rock (near the big TV masts that can be seen from City Centre), we gratefully piled into the shed to get out of the wind and snow to have our lunch—with a much-awaited thermos of hot tea.
The snowstorm had blown over when we continued on the final climb to Fairy Castle. The trail over this hilltop blanket bog was clear and firm—unlike some hiking routes crossing treacherous, unmarked open bogland with hidden holes, gullies, and squelching mudpits underneath the blanket of heather and gorse.At the highest point of the trail (537 meters; 1762 feet), we stopped at the Fairy Castle, a Bronze Age (2000–1500 B.C.E.) burial cairn built by the early tribes in Eastern Ireland. These people chose their burial site well; the commanding views from the top of Two Rock are breathtaking. Looking over the city, to the distant hills of the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland, to the Great Sugarloaf and the Wicklow Hills, I thought I wouldn’t mind being buried here myself.
The tomb, like many ancient structures scattered around Ireland, has been historically associated with the fairies: the catch-all term for the spirits and magical little people, good and evil, of Irish legend. These pre-Christian fairies still have some sway in Ireland today; it is considered terribly bad luck to disturb a fairy fort or a hawthorn tree—the preferred haunts of these magical spirits. Irish children (and grown-up children) still regularly bring gifts and wish requests to holy wells and trees suspected to have fey inhabitants in hopes of good luck and a happy local population of these magical tricksters.At the end of our walk, we visited one such fairy tree in Marlay Park. As always, the tree was covered with gifts and requests for the local fairies: coins, toys, greeting cards, letters, ribbons, strings, and baby pacifiers. It is unknown if the fairies at the Marlay Park tree are the same as those at Fairy Castle on top of the nearby mountain, but if not, I hope that they share some of their gifts with the lonely little people on the blustery peak.