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Glendalough House


Adjacent to our PURE Mile is the Glendalough House. Glendalough House is a 1,500-acre estate of mountainside, woodlands, pastures, rolling parklands and historic buildings located in the heart of County Wicklow, the Garden of Ireland.

We visited the Glendalough Estate as a PURE Mile event. Watch a short video of the event below. 

Glendalough Estate 18-08-18

Glendalough Estate 18-08-18

Video afspelen

Glendalough House is one of Ireland’s most important historical sites. Once the seat of former Irish President, Erskine Hamilton Childers, it was also home to the Barton and Childers family (a Barton brother and sister married a Childers brother and sister) and thus hosted and sheltered many famous Irishmen including Eamon De Valera, Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Collins. The House is also the location at which Robert Erskine Childers (double first cousin and close friend of soldier and statesman, Robert Childers Barton) wrote the 1903 classic “The Riddle of the Sands”. Now regarded as the first ever 'spy thriller' in which Childers', warning of a contrived conflict that precipitates a World War, seems eerily to foretell the impending First World War.


As with earlier owners, involvement in politics, national interests and innovative agrarian reforms meant that many leaders of their day met at Glendalough House, including prior, during and after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December in 1921 (Childers' lack of acceptance of which led to his arrest at Glendalough House prior to summary execution by firing squad in November 1922).


More happily, Erskine Hamilton Childers, aged 17, overcame the trauma of his father's execution to become the 4th President of Ireland in 1973, after having spent 35 years serving as a TD in the Dáil (Irish Parliament). Later, his son, Erskine Barton Childers, too had a distinguished career as a writer, broadcaster and United Nations senior civil servant. It appears that it was always the wish to bring people together for the greater good that motivated a remarkable historic family who relied on their haven at Glendalough House to maintain their equilibrium through its beauty, tranquility and gracious welcome.


The House

The present form of Glendalough House began to take shape in 1838, when the tenant, Thomas Johnston Barton, purchased the property from the Roman Catholic Church (being part of the Monastic City of Glendalough) and then,  by roofing over two rows of much earlier dwellings and farm buildings that ran either side of a narrow east west carriageway, made a single house. The carriageway became two long corridors (upstairs & downstairs), which resulted in incredibly thick inner walls (thirty inches) being that they used to be the outer walls of the respective houses. A Gothic East Wing, complete with castellations and portico was later added (circa Victorian era). The House was famed for being the first in Wicklow to install central heating and a flushable lavatory - what a relief!


A Brief History: Until 1981, home to the Barton-Childers family


The Barton family came to Ireland with the Elizabethan Army of the Earl of Essex, settled near the border and started as ship builders. In 1838, Robert Barton's great-grandfather and Protestant Englishman, Thomas Johnston Barton bought Glendalough House from Thomas Hugo, a powerful British landlord who incurred the wrath of many Irish Catholics for shooting on sight any person he felt had Irish leanings (Of particular interest within the Dining Room at Glendalough House is an extraordinarily high window sill overlooking the Main Lawn. Hugo reconstructed this to avoid those wronged by his draconian actions taking shots at him whilst he was dining!).


The Childers family were entirely English until 1876, when siblings, Robert Caesar and Agnes Childers married Anna and Charles William Barton respectively. Robert Erskine Childers was born to Robert Caesar Childers  and Anna Barton in 1870. Between 1890 and 1910, a total of 23 people (ten double first cousins) lived at Glendalough House with staff. To accommodate all, the House was enlarged to 52 rooms by joining its West Wing to estate buildings, forming a right angle overlooking the then ornamental Main Lawn (pictured above).


Robert Erskine Childers Glendalough HouseRobert Erskine Childers was born in England, the son of a (British) Colonial Service official and Oriental scholar. His mother, Anna Barton, grew up in Glendalough House, where Erskine ended up spending much of his youth, in the company of his first cousins, the Bartons. After Graduating from Cambridge (Trinity College), he worked as a Committee Clerk in the House Of Commons, an experience which served him well when he later became a member of the First Dáil and assisted with the drafting of rules, which still apply in the modern day Dáil Éireann.


In 1903, Erskine won fame as the author of what is  The Riddle Of The Sandstoday heralded as the first ever spy thriller, "The Riddle of the Sands". In the book, Childers warns Britain of the pending German invasion and foretells the start of WW1. Already a remarkable man with much varied experience and a desired guest at many a table whose insight and opinion was often sought on military and naval matters, the novel brought him popular acclaim, catapulting him into international celebrity!


The message of Germany's intentions aside, much of the novel's story was written for pure enjoyment and of the author's zest for sailing, for which Childers was also known as being a worthy seaman of considerable skill.


Erskine was also was an outstanding athlete. As a long distance runner, he regularly trained by running from Bray railway station to Glendalough House (a distance of 26.1km and an elevation of 212m, most of which is a climb up the side of the Sugar Loaf midway between the two). Erskine was also one of the early developers of aerial photography and reconnaissance... Just imagine how thrilled he would be to learn of Google Earth and the positive effects that same has had on recon & sorties!


Following the 1910 General Election when home rule once more became a live issue, Erskine published "The Framework Of Home Rule" (1911), a book that offers a clear assessment of then contemporary Irish trends and provides an outline of Home Rule Constitution in Ireland with analogies drawn from Australia, Canada and South Africa. The book marks the point at which Childers, emerging from his family's Liberal tradition of English politics, becomes an Irish nationalist (of the moderate home rule variety, at least!). By 1911, Childers had gone no further than advocating a home rule for Ireland, linked closely with Britain and the British Commonwealth in which the King is recognized as the chief executive authority in Ireland - his commitment to Irish nationalism was still only evolving.


Robert Erskine Childers at sea with his wife, Molly (Glendalough House)In 1914, Childers and his American wife, Mary Alden Osgood were involved in the Howth Gun Running incident. The two aboard the Asgard, a yacht that was a wedding present from his father-in-law in 1904, brought in a consignment of rifles and ammunition from Germany for Sinn Féin to arm the Irish Volunteers. Mary Alden, affectionately known as "Molly", recalled later how when they were off Howth in weather too bad to be met by a motorboat, "He turned to me and said "I'm going to risk it!"" At the time and having just completed the trip, she was in a state of exaltation, "So happy and triumphant, so proud of ourselves that we swear we are comfortable". For the entire voyage, they had literally sat on, crawled over, ate on and slept on guns!


Despite the above, Childers remained a British patriot. He fought in the second Boer War (W.I.A) and was in uniform within hours upon the outbreak of World War 1, first as a Naval Lieutenant and then as an airplane observer. He served in the RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service) in 1916 and was decorated for his heroism. As a Lieutenant Commander, he was awarded a DSO (Distinguished Service Order) for his brilliance and daring.


Robert Erskine Childers (Glendalough House)During the last three years of his life, R. Erskine Childers showed no compromise. He became one of the leading rebels, using his pen in the cause for an independent Ireland. His articles on "Military Rule in Ireland" detailed descriptions of the brutality officially endorsed and caused more than a stir when they appeared in the Liberal Daily News. He was named Chief Secretary to the Irish delegation that travelled to Britain to discuss the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty and returned with a draft which was eventually signed by all delegates, including Robert Barton, then Secretary of State for Economic Affairs. The Treaty created the Irish Free State, but not the wholly independent Ireland that Childers envisaged and left the problem of Ulster unresolved.


On November 1, 1922, Robert Erskine Childers was arrested at Glendalough House by Free State troops for being in possession of a Spanish automatic pistol given to him two years earlier by Michael Collins as a mark of friendship (rumour has it that Childers and Collins were secretly meeting in the Turret Room at the House, when troops stormed the building. As a decoy, Childers presented himself to the troops, then on the Main Landing, thereby allowing Collins to escape via a priest-hole and through a tunnel into the Water Gardens). In 1922, the carrying of a sidearm was an offense punishable by death under firing squad, to which Childers was sentenced on November 17. He was executed ten days later pending an appeal to the High Court, marking the first of a series of such Republican executions.


On the night before his execution, Childers was permitted to see his son, Erskine Jr.. Then only sixteen years of age, Erskine Jr. was asked by his father to speak neither of the Civil War nor of his (father's) execution. Erskine Sr. requested that his son never do anything that might create bitterness and to seek out and shake the hands of those who had authorized the execution (signed the death warrant). The following morning, Erskine Sr. himself shook hands with the firing squad, wished them well, refused a blindfold and invited them to step closer so as to make for an easier shot, "Take a step or two forward, lads. It will be easier that way" being his last words.


Robert Childers Barton spent much of his early years growing up at Robert Childers Barton (Glendalough House)Glendalough House. In fact, never being too far away for too long, he maintained continual ties with "Glan", as the House was more affectionately known, and ran the property for over 70 years. Up to the age of 34, Bob Barton's life was that of the average ascendancy Protestant. He was educated at Rugby Public School in the UK and later attended Oxford, where he studied the Classics. Sometime after the Great War he joined the Dublin Fusiliers and was directly involved with the guarding of the 1916 Easter Rising prisoners. Soon after the executions, Barton resigned his commission and, a few months later, offered his services to the Republic for which he was immediately given Shadow Cabinet ranking. Robert Barton campaigned in the 1917 General Election in which Sinn Féin won three quarters of the seats and was elected on the Party ticket for Wicklow.


In February 1919, Barton was arrested for sedition and incarcerated in Mountjoy Prison from which he escaped on St. Patrick's Day leaving a note to the governor explaining that, owing to the discomfort of his cell, he "felt compelled to leave" and requested that the governor keep his belongings until such time that he sent for them. He was recaptured in January 1920 and sentenced to three years' imprisonment, but was released under the general amnesty of July 1921.


In May of that year and prior to his release, Barton was elected as a Sinn Féin member for Kildare–Wicklow in the 1921 Irish election to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. Again all Sinn Féin members boycotted the parliament and Barton sat instead in the "Second Dáil" of Dáil Éireann. He was appointed Minister for Agriculture of the Irish Republic, then Minister of State for Economic Affairs. Barton was one of the Irish delegates, along with his cousin, Robert Erskine Childers, who travelled to Britain for the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. He reluctantly signed the Treaty on 6 December 1921, defending it as "the lesser of two outrages forced upon me and between which I had to choose." He nevertheless was firmly committed to the Irish Republic and despite signing the Treaty, rejected it.


He won re-election to Dáil Éireann in June 1922 (the "3rd Dáil") as the only signatory of the Anglo-Irish Treaty to stand for the Sinn Féin (Anti-Treaty) party, but did not take his seat. After being defeated at the 1923 general election, Robert Childers Barton retired from politics. However, never a man to keep time waiting,  between 1934–1954 he chaired the Agricultural Credit Corporation.


Robert Childers Barton died at home at Glendalough House on August 10, 1975. At the age of 94, he was the last surviving signatory of the Anglo-Irish Treaty.


Erskine Hamilton Childers (Glendalough House)Erskine Hamilton Childers was born in the UK and moved to Ireland after the First World War to live at Glendalough House with his father, Robert Erskine Childers. Erskine Jr. was educated at Gresham's School, Holt, and at Trinity College, Cambridge (like his father). After finishing college Childers worked in a tourism board in Paris, until Éamon de Valera invited him back to Ireland to work for the Irish Press. He became a naturalized Irish citizen in 1938.


Cultured and articulate on many subjects, he was appointed Parliament Secretary to the Minister for Local Government (1944 - 1948) and joined Fianna Fáil when they returned to power in 1951. Between '51 and '69, he held a number of ministerial posts (Posts and Telegraphs; Lands, Forestry and Fisheries; Transport and Power; Health) in the cabinets of Éamon de Valera, Seán Lemass and Jack Lynch, becoming Tánaiste Deputy head of the government in 1969. Erskine's period as a minister was controversial. One commentator described his ministerial career as "spectacularly unsuccessful", but others praised his willingness to take tough decisions.


During the 1970 Arms Crisis, when Charles Haughey, then Minister of Finance and Neil Blaney (Local Government) were charged and later found not guilty of importing arms into Ireland for the IRA, Erskine Childers was outspoken in his comments. During a parliamentary meeting, the late Brian Lenihan asked permission to visit Haughey at his home. The Chief Whip incurred the wrath of Childers when he acceded to the request, Childers' cryptic comment at the time being: "Why did you accede to Lenihan's request? In any other country, Haughey would have been charged with treason!"


Erskine Hamilton Childers succeeded Éamon de Valera to be elected the fourth President of Ireland on 30 May, 1973, defeating Tom O'Higgins by 635,867 votes to 578,771. He was extremely hard working and brought refreshing candor to the Office, speaking out on many topics.


In November 1974, Erskine Childers, aged only 67, died suddenly of a heart attack while making a public speech to the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin. A state funeral was held in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin and was attended by world leaders including Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller of the United States, Queen Elizabeth II representative Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Prime Minister Harold Wilson of the United Kingdom, as well as other presidents and crowned heads of state from Europe and beyond. Erskine was buried in the grounds of Derralossary church, located between Glendalough House and the village of Roundwood.


At first it was expected that President Childers' widow, Rita would be offered the office of president to continue his work, but instead the position went to former Chief Justice, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh.


Nessa Childers, daughter of Erskine Childers and his second wife, RitaNessa Childers (Glendalough House) is an Irish Labour Party politician and MEP (Member of the European Parliament) for the Ireland East constituency. Previously Nessa was a councillor for the Blackrock area of South Dublin 2004–2008.


A member of the European Parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, Nessa is also a member of the delegation for relations with Japan and a substitute member of the Committee on Culture and Education. She too visits Glendalough House, on occasion.



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