Glenmalure Hostel is one of our most hidden hostels in Ireland. It attracts seasoned travellers who like to ramble across the vast solitude of the Wicklow Hills. Weary hikers who roam about the hills of Wicklow are delighted when they reach our back to basics hostel where the conversation keeps going as long as the fire keeps burning in the stove.
The hills around here are not a place to be lost at night so the glowing lights from the hostel are a beacon for many a rambler in the darkness. There is something about the mountains at night that make the dark even darker. The heavy woodland on the hillsides hides everything. Sounds are magnified and echo off valley walls. Fast flowing rivers roar across boulders. The night is alive. You never know what you might see here.
Years ago a group of Irish hikers were staying in the hostel and they went out for a night hike but they arrived back much earlier than expected. They looked shaken. They had a fascinating and spooky tale to tell, which are always the best at this time of the year. They were walking along the trail towards the Glen of Imaal when they all felt a sudden uneasiness. They could not explain it but it was if the solid granite forms of the hillsides silhouetted against the night sky suddenly became darker. They looked more imposing and eerie ahead.
They heard sounds from the trail behind them. People walking. Lots of people. They swore that they could hear someone singing a marching song. Feeling slightly afraid of why a large group of people should be out on the hills at night they moved towards a wooded area which lay ahead. They were hoping to get off the trail.
It was at this stage that they began to hear strange noises coming from the woods. They could make out people whispering but they could not understand the language. It sounded vaguely gaelic but unlike anything they learned in school. Whatever it was, they felt such a sense of impending dread about it that they were rooted to the spot despite the fact that the sound of marchers was fast approaching. The voices in the woods were rising and took on a taunting quality that freaked the bejaysus out of them. The footsteps got louder until eventually a horde of blueish ghostly figures passed right by them along the trail. At this point they ran back to the hostel and proceeded to tell us their tale.
Of course, those of us who knew the history of the area had a fair idea what they had witnessed. Legend has it that before the hostel was a hunting lodge it was also a hideout for forces that resisted British occupation. This part of Ireland, due to its remoteness and inaccessibility was always a stronghold for rebels against the British.
In the 16th century the valleys were a constant problem for the Elizabethan British, especially seeing as it was so close to the capital city. Glenmalure was home to Feach M’Hugh O’ Byrne who was known by the British as the “The Firebrand of the Mountains” because of his habit of leading his clan on daring attacks against their forces.
Lord Grey, the English Deputy of Ireland at the time, despite pleading from his commanders, made the mistake of attacking O’ Byrne on his home ground and he paid the price by leading the worst ever British defeat on Irish soil. Over 800 hundred British officers and enlisted men were slaughtered in the valley and those that escaped were harried the whole way back to Dublin.
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