Many people will recognise Art’s Cross pictured on the cover of our map, Wicklow Mountains West. The cross itself was erected in 1932 to commemorate the escape of Art O’Neill, his brother Henry and Red Hugh O’Donnell from Dublin Castle in January 1592. What we know of the event comes from an account in the Annals of the Four Masters, a kind of potted history of Ireland from c 3000 BC up to 1616. These Annals were compiled in the 1630s, so relatively close to events in 1592.
The story says that the exhausted men ‘stopped to rest under the shelter of a high rocky precipice which lay before them’. Tradition has it that this was at the foot of the Flags of Glanree, seen in the next photo. Furthermore it is often suggested that the party took the wrong turn for Glenmalure and the shelter offered by Fiagh MacHugh O’Byrne. That is to say, they should have followed up the Glanreebeg valley and gone via the Asbawn to get to Glenmalure, as detailed last week. Instead the reasoning goes that they veered left and went up into Glanreemore, whence they hit upon the Flags and could go no further.
It must be said though that this steep ground is not a complete barrier – they weren’t trapped by a wall of rocks, they could quite easily have climbed the back of the valley and regained their route. Of course the guide may not have known this and perhaps also the men were too exhausted at this stage to retreat and regain the correct route. In fact, even if they had taken the correct ‘pass to Glenmalure’ via Glanreebeg, they probably wouldn’t have made it. While it’s somewhat easier underfoot, it would still have been a long and steep climb in parts for people suffering from exhaustion exposure aka mountain hypothermia.