Although Glencree is around 5km from the Wicklow Way, a detour to this quiet corner of County Wicklow will be of particular interest to those with a passion for history.
After the failed Irish Rebellion of 1798, the British Army built a Military Road through the heart of Wicklow to where rebels were taking refuge. The road is still intact today and is used as a popular scenic driving route that passes many of the same landmarks as the Wicklow Way. The Military Road starts in Rathfarnham and goes south as far as Aghavannagh.
Four of the five military barracks built along the road can still be found today, in various states of repair. They are located in Glencree, Laragh, Glenmalure and Aghavannagh. The barracks at Glencree is the only one which is open to the public and has an exhibition detailing the local history in the The Armoury Café.
Glencree Barracks was originally built in 1806 and designed to accommodate one-hundred soldiers. Their job was to keep the road free from the use of the rebel forces but within 10 years that threat was no longer there and the barracks was closed in 1815.
In the 1850s, after the Great Irish Famine, the building was re-opened as "St Kevin's Reformatory'" and it was run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Young boys were sent here instead of prison for petty crimes. It was closed in 1940 when new facilities were opened in Daingean, County Offaly.
The Irish Red Cross Society took over the barracks in 1946, after World War Two. Five-hundred children from Germany and Poland were nursed back to health in what was known as "Operation Shamrock". Many were homeless orphans who were starving and malnurished. Some went on to be placed with Irish foster parents.
During this same period a flight of French Girl Guides who were also taking a break from the gloom of post-war Europe crashed into nearby of Djouce Mountain.
More recently, the "Glencree Centre for Reconciliation" was founded in 1974. After a period of intense violence in Northern Ireland, various individuals and peace groups came together to try and address the main issues through a non-violent approach. Peace-building programmes have been developed for conflicts within Irish communities and on the International stage.
Adjacent to Glencree Visitor Centre is a quarry from which the stone was cut for the construction of the barracks. In front of the rock-face rest the remains of 134 Germans who died during the World Wars. After World War II, efforts were made to create a centralised resting place for all those buried throughout Ireland. The cemetery at Glencree was opened in 1961.