The River Vartry rises in the Wicklow Mountains at Sally Gap and flows down to the BroadLough Bird Sanctuary at the Irish Sea in Wicklow town. Even dough it is a beautiful river in one of the most senic areas of Ireland, there are constant threats to the sensitive ecosystem as it flows downstream. 

The rainwater gathers in the Wicklow Mountains and gathers near the Sally Gap from where it flows down to the upper lake of the Vartry River and then proceeds to Roundwood village which is known as “The highest village in Ireland”.  In Roundwood there is an upper and a lower reservoir separated by a road and a small bridge which was build when the reservoir was built.  There is another, older bridge submerged under the water since 1868 but can be seen when the water levels are low during extreme droughts. At the top of the lower reservoir is the Roundwood Treatment Works which was commissioned in 1868.

The Lower Roundwood Reservoir was a monumental change for the people of Dublin who previously drank water from that canals which, in turn, caused sickness and disease. This new Varty water was piped to Dublin and was such a significant feat of engineering that Joyce made several reference to the Vartry in Ulysses.

Today this reservoir and the Vartry Waterworks limit how much water can flow in the Vartry River. The water flows down and across the valley of Moneystown and across the fields of many farms before it cascades down Devil’s Glen. The waterfall there is another attraction of the River Vartry with a forest path and sculptures in nature.  From the waterfall, the river flows under the 1700’s Nun’s Cross Bridge, which is a protected structure. The Bridge has been repaired but still maintains much of its original structures, which include an original arch of mud and slate as well as its buttresses and parapet.

As a EU protected Salmonid River there are Salmon Beds from Devil’s Glen all the way down the stretch of river. This is a sensitive part of the River which is subject to occasional pollution from a sewer treatment works below the falls. There are woodlands here which are home to Badgers, Otters, Heron, Pygmy Shrew, Deer, Pheasant, Irish Dipper, Red Fox, Red Squirrel and many other small creatures. There are of course, Brown Trout, Salmon, and Sea Trout.

The River turns and makes its way across the flood plain above the Ashford Weir and the Ashford Bridge and then enters Mount Usher Gardens. Mount Usher Gardens are a popular tourist attraction in the area created by Edward Walpole, a Dublin businessman who was fond of walking in the Wicklow hills.

Just beyond Mount Usher is another difficult area of the river, where it passes by the Ashford Sewer Treatment works. In the past this old, inferior facility often spilt raw sewerage into the Vartry causing pollution and harm to the river.   The river wanders on to Newrath Bridge and Hunter’s Hotel, a 1700s coach house right on the bank of the river.  From there the river meanders down to BroadLough Bird Sanctuary and enters the lake.

At the end of the journey we reach the sea where St. Patrick is reputed to have landed in Ireland, at the mouth of the river Vartry in Wicklow. “The spot where the river Vartry, once the Dee, reaches the coast, just north of the long ness which runs out into the sea at Wicklow, has a historical interest because this little river mouth, now of no account, was a chief port of the island in ancient times for mariners from south Britain and Gaul, a place where strangers and traders landed, and where the natives could perhaps most often have sight of outlandish ships and foreign faces. It was the port where St. Patrick wold most naturally land coming from south Britain; but in any case he could hardly do otherwise than first seek the region where Palladius had briefly laboured.”

By Joe, Tom, Peter, Cian, Zoe and Tomás