The History of Ireland's Oldest Hotel - Woodenbridge Hotel & Lodge
For generations the land surrounding Woodenbridge was March land. At Poolahoney Brooke only 2 miles downriver from
Woodenbridge, a famous encounter took place in 1399 between the Leinster King Art MacMurrough Kavanagh and the English Duke of Gloucester. Only when general peace came to Wicklow with the establishment of county status in 1606 did trade and commerce improve to the extent that wayside inns could survive. Inns and places of refreshment were essential as travel was no faster than the speed of a plodding horse or human walking pace. Woodenbridge was one of the first stops on the main route inland from the coast and thus ideally placed for custom.
First licensed in 1608 as a Coaching Inn on the old Dublin-Wexford highway, the premises became a very popular staging post for merchants engaged in commerce between Dublin and the South-East.
Probably the earliest person of consequence to patronise Woodenbridge was the ill-fated Earl of Strafford. He was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the King's representative in the 1630s. His frequent visits to his estate usually began at Arklow Castle and he then went to his lodge via the Woodenbridge route. In his letter to King Charles I, Strafford wrote glowing accounts of the scenery of County Wicklow.
For centuries the land of Woodenbridge and all its surroundings were owned by the Earls of Ormond. They reserved it for recreation and hunting and much of the splendid wood and plantation owes its origin to the careful management of the landscape for fur and feather. One of the exotic creatures hunted during the 17th century was the Cappercaille, a huge species of grouse. Sadly the last native Cappercaille was reported shot in Ballyarthur wood almost in sight of the inn in the late 1800's. It was here too that members of the early Royal Dublin Society experimented in developing new sources of commercial timber.
In 1691 a strong timber bridge was erected by the engineers of King William's army and it was this structure that became "the Woodenbridge" - the actual townland on which the inn is located is called Garnagowlan). With the construction of a new coach road system converging on the bridge, a new importance was given to the inn business. Woodenbridge now under the Bowland family operated for several generations as the Putland Arms Hotel.
Woodenbridge Inn was central to the great Wicklow Gold Rush of 1796. Although the gold was discovered on Croghan Mountain a few miles from the inn, the premises became the focal point for the event. Everyone from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to Sir Walter Scott called to the premises en route to visit the gold works.
For centuries the area has been steeped in the evolving history of the Irish Nation. At the Meeting of the Waters in Avoca, we find the poetically inspirational paradise of Thomas Moore (1779-1852), who composed some of his greatest works beside the confluence of the two rivers. At Avondale we find the ancestral home of Charles Stewart Parnell, leader of the 19th century Irish Parliamentary Party, who was popularly known as ‘the uncrowned King of Ireland’, having become the most influential politician of his age in the British House of Commons.
Across the road from the hotel we find the location of John Redmond’s address to the monster meeting of the Wicklow Volunteers, on Sunday September 20th 1914, at the outbreak of the Great War. Redmond, who was the legitimate political successor to Parnell, exhorted all Irishmen to fight the war in defence of ‘morality, freedom and religion.’
The man who was to have the greatest influence on the independent Irish State, Eamon De Valera, actually spent his honeymoon at the Woodenbridge Hotel. The room in which Eamon and Sinéad De Valera stayed on their honeymoon is now named in their honour, and is an impressive and popular feature of the hotel.
Michael Collins the revolutionary hero of the War of Independence also stayed at the hotel while engaging in secret meetings with senior British Army officers in February 1922.
The hotel was purchased by the O'Brien family in 1993, and over the next number of years, while conscious of their responsibility to maintain the original charm of the hotel, an extensive refurbishment was undertaken to bring the hotel up to the standards required of a modern hotel.In 1996 this family run hotel added 12 more rooms, nine of which have their own balconies overlooking Woodenbridge Golf Club, and some of the country’s most spectacular scenery.
In 2004 the newer section of the hotel, Woodenbridge Lodge, was opened comprising of 40 en-suite bedrooms, 20 of which have their own balconies overlooking the Aughrim River. The Lodge itself is surrounded by well-kept gardens, and has it very own river walk.
In 2008, the hotel celebrated its 400th birthday and received much publicity as a result. Further works were completed in 2016 and the result is a perfect blend of old and new.
Over four centuries since its first recorded hostelry Woodenbridge Hotel remains unspoilt by the passage of time. Although customs & standards have changed many times over its long history, one feature has remained constant; Woodenbridge Hotel is still as the discerning Victorian traveller described it
“The First House for Hospitality”
1608 - 2016