Ashford is derived from ‘Áth na Fuinseoige’, meaning the ford of the ash tree in Gaelic. Archaeological excavations in the immediate vicinity of Ashford, have unearthed samples from the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Medieval periods.

On the Inchanappa Estate, close to the centre of the village, a large quern stone used during the Neolithic period to grind wheat into flour, has been identified. Large Bronze Age ring ditches and evidence of possible cremation activities have been excavated on the flood plains of the River Vartry close to Mount Usher Gardens. Of the same era, a number of ‘Fulactha Fiadh’, which were likely used to cook food, wash clothes and dyeing cloth, have been located on various sites.

Enclosures and ecclesiastical sites including a church, graveyard and font in Inchanappa South, represent settlements from the Early Christian period. A possible Anglo-Norman moated site where pottery pieces have been discovered, lies on the grounds of the Rosannagh Estate to the south of the village.

Much of Ashford’s landscape is dominated by Country Houses and Demesnes constructed by Anglo-Irish families in the 18th and 19th centuries, leading to many fine examples of architecture, mature gardens and woodlands. Divided by the River Vartry, the construction of a bridge led to Ashford becoming an important coaching stop and a meeting point for several converging routes.

The area boasts some of County Wicklow’s best-known tourist attractions, with the Devil’s Glen and Mount Usher Gardens proving to still be a popular choice after welcoming generations of visitors.

Points of Interest in Ashford

Mount Usher is renowned as one of the finest examples of an authentic ‘Robinsonian’ style gardens in the world and is one of Ireland’s top-rated garden attractions.

First established in 1868 by Edward Walpole senior, the gardens remained in the ownership of the Walpole family for 112 years. Throughout their tenure, rare shrubs from far-flung locations including Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and western China were planted on the grounds.

Designed using the principles of brilliant gardener William Robinson, the gardens follow a free-flowing informality and natural design and feature a collection of over 5,000 plant species and trees. Water is an essential part of the gardens, with cascades and suspension bridges visible from many sections. Winding paths lead visitors on a journey through groves and glades leading to the riverbank.

A collection of Eucalyptus trees and a hidden fern walk are just some of the features that continue to delight visitors of all ages.

Shaped dramatically at the end of the Ice Age, the landscape found at Devil’s Glen offers visitors an escape through mature woodland, meandering trails and a stop at the famous waterfall of the River Vartry. The woods, which are managed by Coillte, host a mixture of broadleaf and conifer forest with fine stands of beech, Spanish chestnut and ash.

Prior to the construction of the Vartry Reservoir in the 1860’s, the roar from the waterfall was much greater than it is today. Its echo through the gorge sounded as a “Satanic power announcing some great doom” and gave the glen its famous name.

There are two looped walks to enjoy and explore the area, The Seamus Heaney Walk (4kms) named in honour of the poet and Nobel Prize winner and The Waterfall Walk (5kms). The woods are also home to the ‘Sculpture in Woodland’ project which exhibits a collection of contemporary wooden sculpture by Irish and international artists.

Glanmore House was built in the mid-1700’s by Hugh Eccles and then carefully re-designed in castellation form by Francis Synge in 1804. The castle sits on the grounds of the Devil’s Glen Equestrian Village and once extended to cover the popular woodlands and waterfall.

Glanmore was the family home of John Millington Synge, one of Ireland’s most famous playwrights and the private estate has been immortalized by the ‘Glanmore Sonnets’ of Seamus Heaney.

Heaney, a poet and Nobel Prize winner, was so enamoured and inspired by Glanmore’s beauty that he stated it “saved his creative life … Glanmore is where imaginative existence feels guaranteed. I work more confidently and more productively there than anywhere else”.

Situated to the north of the village, on the grounds of the 17th century Ballyhenry Estate, is Ashford Studios, one of Ireland’s leading film and television studio facilities. A proposed expansion to include additional studio space and a state-of-the-art visitor’s centre, is currently in development.

The brainchild of entrepreneur and local resident, Joe O’Connell, the studios were instrumental in delivering international success to the ‘Vikings’ television series.

With its origins dating back to the mid 17th century, Hunter’s Hotel is one of Ireland’s oldest coaching inns. Located on the original Dublin-Wexford road, it is set on 2 acres of picturesque gardens on the banks of the Vartry and has been operated by the Hunter/Gelletlie family since 1825.

Attracting celebrities, dignitaries and generations of visitors to the nearby Mount Usher Gardens, much of its old-world charm, ambiance and traditions have been retained and afternoon tea remains a firm favourite.

Set in a natural wooded glen with the Killiskey River meandering through it, the park offers a host of activities with trails, a playground, fitness area and spaces to unwind and relax in.

A trail specifically designed to link culture with nature, featuring a collection of Standing Stones, Biodiversity Pillars and illustrated Jumping Blocks over the river, were created by local artists Paula Kearney and Anna Doherty and sculptor Séighean Ó Draoi.

‘Chesters’ dominates the centre of the village. From the early 1800’s it operated as ‘The Yellow House’, a hardware and grocery store, including an Apothecary’s shop. In 1854, it became a popular coaching inn named The Ashford Tavern and later The Glen Hotel. Its stable buildings date from the 1600’s and now house the Martsworth shop located across the street.

The name Chester Beatty Inn is a tribute to Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, former owner of the local Clonmannon House. He was a world-renowned collector of ancient manuscripts which he generously gifted to the Irish nation. The collection can be viewed at a purpose-built museum on the grounds of Dublin Castle.

The Ashford Community and Heritage Centre opened in 2014 to serve as a community-based facility available for events and community gatherings. The centre hosts cultural events such as exhibitions, performances and recitals, often highlighting the world-renowned past residents of Ashford including poet and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney and playwright John Millington Synge.

Seamus Heaney’s connection with Ashford dates back to the 1970’s, with his time spent on the Glanmore Estate greatly influencing his writing and poetry. Works such as the ‘Glanmore Sonnets’ and ‘Glanmore Revisited’ will forever link Heaney to the area and his kind donation of early transcripts of these pieces contributed greatly to the fundraising efforts to develop this centre.

To the west of Ashford village is Nun’s Cross Church, which serves the local Church of Ireland community. The inscription over the door reads ‘Nun’s Cross Church, built for the Parish of Killiskey, Francis Synge, Esqr AD dom 1817’.

The square tower is typical of the ‘First Fruits’ architecture favoured at the time. It is noted for its stained glass and fine collection of artistic works in wood, stone and marble related to the great Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In 1877, using funds bequeathed by Marcia Anastasia Crofton, a stone parish schoolhouse was constructed on nearby lands donated by Charles George Tottenham of Ballycurry Estate. A new, larger primary school located adjacent to the church was officially opened in 1992.

Hugh Eccles, a relative of Captain Eccles of the Rossanagh estate, constructed the original Cronroe House and Demesne in 1750, where he resided with his wife Grace, the daughter of Isaac Ambrose, Clerk of the House of Commons.

The house was completely destroyed by an accidental fire in the late 1880’s before a new building was built on the same location in 1890 by Julius Casement, the first cousin to the Irish patriot Sir Roger Casement, who spent a lot of his childhood there.

The house began to operate as a guesthouse in the 1930’s before its name was changed to the Bel-Air Hotel in 1934. Still a working farm, it has become a notable equestrian centre that has been providing riding, training and the hosting of equestrian events for almost 100 years.

Built in 1917, the Roman Catholic church, replaced an earlier church building constructed in 1803 that had fallen into disrepair and was considered too small for Ashford’s growing population. The Church is widely admired for its beautifully proportioned simplicity and the rich colours of its Cullen memorial window created by the artist Richard King.

Born in Castlebar in 1907, King became the chief designer in the world-famous Harry Clarke stained glass studios following Clarke’s death in 1931. He also designed a total of twelve postage stamps for the state between 1933 and 1949.

Situated on lands once belonging to Inchanappa House, a barracks was constructed c.1840 to enable the Royal Irish Constabulary to have a presence in the vicinity. In Ireland’s turbulent times of 1920, the building suffered damage from two separate arson attacks with one described as an explosion.

On the 24th of February 1924, the newly-formed An Garda Síochána (the police service of the Republic of Ireland) reopened its doors with the arrival of Sergeant Motherway and three gardaí, all of whom were issued bikes to cover an area of approximately 25,000 acres. The building is currently unoccupied.

Cartographer Jacob Neville’s map of County Wicklow, dated 1760, identified this crossing of the River Vartry and according to folklore, it served as an important route to the monastic site of Glendalough. The picturesque narrow bridge was refurbished in the 1840’s by John ‘of Glanmore’ Hatch Synge using Glanmore Slate and Wicklow Granite. It features four ‘refuges’ built into the parapets to allow pedestrians step out of the way of horse-drawn vehicles and passing livestock.

The headwaters of the River Vartry rise on the east facing slopes of the Wicklow Mountains between the mountains of Djouce and White Hill. They are joined by a further tributary which rises in Calary Bog under the Great Sugar Loaf Mountain.

The Vartry catchment has long been recognised as having good water quality. To provide Dublin with its first clean water supply, a reservoir was constructed close to the upland village of Roundwood in the1860’s, with a second embankment added in 1923.

From the reservoir lakes, it flows east towards Ashford through the Devil’s Glen, Nun’s Cross and on through the centre of Ashford, before entering the sea at Wicklow Harbour.

From an ecological perspective, it is one of the better rivers in Wicklow. Resident and migratory Trout, Atlantic Salmon, Eels and Lamprey have all been recorded along with Otters, Badgers, Mink and Bats. The star of the abundant birdlife is the omnipresent Heron, which is regularly seen upriver from the Ashford Bridge.