Andrew McCarthy’s Road Trip in Ireland
Andrew McCarthy explores local lore in search of Ireland’s Magic Road.
I’d heard about it for years. A legend that captured the blarney and the self-aware self-mockery tinged with pride so unique to the Irish. The Magic Road. A road that defies gravity, where a car, set in neutral, will roll uphill of its own accord. It couldn’t be true, could it?
Day One: Dublin to Enniskerry
It went wrong from the start. Someone had told me that the Magic Road was in the Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin. I headed out of town on the N11, but something didn’t feel right. (This kind of a fool’s errand is all about feel.) I got off the motorway at the picturesque village of Enniskerry, and stopped in at Johnnie Fox’s Pub (Glencullen; 353-12/955-647; drinks for two $13), a rustic charmer famous throughout Ireland. Nobody had heard of a magic road anywhere near there. What was close by was Powerscourt, a 12th-century country estate with formal gardens. I asked around without success, but really I was lingering, absorbed in the peace and views of Sugar Loaf Mountain. I decided to cut my losses for the day and check in to the Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt (doubles from $413), on the property. Smart move.
Day Two: Enniskerry to Donore to Carlingford
I’d gotten several hints that the road I was looking for might be in County Meath. I headed north. The day was gloomy and wet, ripe for some Irish magic. I bypassed Dublin and eased onto the M1, then the N51, then onto a narrow, hedge-bound lane that looked the way roads in Ireland used to, before all that EU money. Suddenly I was in front of the ancient monument of Newgrange—the Neolithic Unesco World Heritage site. After a mesmerizing hour I was back on the road. But I was closer, I could feel it. Most people I asked knew what I was after; some had even been there. Past Dundalk I turned onto the coast road. Outside Carlingford I asked again. Yes, I was close, very. A left, another left, and a right, and I was there. It looked like any other road; in fact, I rolled right over it and had to backtrack. I found the swale, shifted the car into neutral, turned off the ignition, released the brake, and...only in Ireland.
The hotel’s main building is a five-minute walk from Powerscourt’s 47 acres of formal gardens and a 40-minute cab ride from central Dublin. The 200 guest rooms feature eiderdown-swathed beds and massive marble-clad bathrooms with heated floors and Bulgari bath products. There’s a restaurant, a pub, an ESPA-run spa with 21 treatment rooms, and access to the Powerscourt Golf Club. The staff is knowledgeable about both hotel amenities and the attractions in the rolling hills of County Wicklow. A bonus: highfliers can get there via helicopter, thanks to an arrival pad that’s visible from the Sugar Loaf Lounge.
Newgrange/Brú na Bóinne
To the north of Dublin, the rural county of Meath and the Boyne Valley comprise an area rich with ancient sites. The best known among these is Newgrange, a 5,000-year-old passage tomb and ancient temple that predates Stonehenge (it’s part of a larger complex called Brú na Bóinne). Every year on December 21—the shortest day of the year—the tomb plays host to a phenomenon straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark: as the sun rises, it pierces a window above the entryway, sending a shaft of light down that illuminates the center of the tomb like a laser beam. Since the site is beyond overrun on the day itself, it’s a better idea to visit some other time and simply watch the video of the event shown at the Visitor Center.