December is fast approaching. Are you thinking about Ireland, but you’re not sure where to go or what it might be like? Let me help with some options. The first … December Gardens in County Wicklow.
I am heading back to Ireland in December. I am going to base in County Wicklow for a significant amount of time. This is primarily due to the number of gardens still available to wander. I was not prepared last year; so I want to slow it down, return to a few places and explore some new ones.
Gardens can still be in bloom.
Well … sort of. Ireland experiences seasons and December is firmly entrenched in winter. Many plants, such as ferns and delicate annuals will have lost their autumn battle with mother nature. From past experience, I knew that I would find green grass, moss and some ivy growing. But it was the hardy annuals and perennials still in bloom that caught me unaware. Gardens are not overflowing, but finding the odd rose in bloom was like a treasure hunt.
Let me guess, you have been doing some research and you are finding that many are closed over winter. Again, I discovered something interesting last year. Some of the houses that are associated with gardens are open in December; more than what I expected. Many of these sites now host Christmas activities. While tours may not be available, the grounds and gardens are open.
To begin with, the tourist numbers are low and I can get great photographs clear of red jackets and orange shirts. I am not rushed. But the best part, the grounds have families attending these holiday activities. Yes … families. I love finding a seat off to the side and just watching. It can be pure enjoyment as children, young and old, are laughing, chatting and full of awe as they get ready to meet Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
Many of these gardens are have beautiful backdrops. December brings a very unique sky; a rich blue that blends into a white on the horizon since the sun doesn’t climb very high. I also found that sun bounced off of clouds differently and brought out new dimensions. What I really found myself enjoying is that the landscape is open. As the leaves had fallen, I now had a good view of mountains and valleys, including the iconic ones..
Let’s be real.
It is still December. If you are wanting the ‘forty shades of green’ … well, you are probably only going to get about twenty. It will be balanced with some new tones of copper and gold. If you check out my Flickr site, I do have two Travel journals from December 2012 and 2014 to give you a better idea of scenery during this time. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcgiveron/albums).
And full disclosure, winter is one of my favorite seasons. I have learned to look past the bleak and see the richness that winter can bring. Winter in Ireland is one of my favorite times to visit.
Thinking about traveling to Ireland in December? Wondering what it is really like? While I am not an expert, I can share what I have found from my two trips in south County Tipperary (2012) and County Wicklow (2014).
The Weather. The published average temperature is 48F. I have found that it is relatively accurate. But don’t be surprised if you see the upper-fifties or even freezing temperatures. Rain is a given, but the sun will also shine … sometime in tandem. Simply plan on dressing in layers. Oh, and wool socks are a must!
Twenty Shades of Green. The countryside goes from forty shades to about twenty. The areas that I have traveled in December (south-central to southeast) still have green grass. There are plenty of pine trees and moss begins to cover everything. There are deep browns and the yellows can light up like fire under sunlight. They blend together giving the colors a deep, earthy tone.
Driving. There are less people on the roads … Yeah! Irish drivers still zip around those sharp bends. There are two things I noticed this trip. First, the sun stays lower on the horizon. Therefore, when you are driving south, the sun can be blinding. Even more so if the roads are wet and creating a glare. It is easy to fix … sunglasses. The second, if the temperature does go below zero, frost may form in the road. It creates black ice. I found listening to the radio for road warnings helped.
Attractions. This can be a bit of an obstacle. Many places close in October. The large attractions can be open. I did experience a new trend in 2014. Many places that would normally be closed were actually open for Christmas activities. While tours may not be available, the grounds are open for wandering. I suggest using the Internet to confirm which places are open; tour books may be inaccurate.
Attractions II. The one thing I love about December is that it there are plenty of ruins that are open twenty-four hours. Take advantage of them. They are part of Ireland’s history. And it is real fun to traipse across a field or two.
The Coastline. I discovered the southeast coastline. It can be a bit breezy, but the colors are fantastic. There are often trails to follow and I found myself mesmerized by the fishing boats.
Less Tourists. It can get a bit claustrophobic in the summer with all the tourists. Trying to take that iconic picture? It can be difficult with the twenty people trying to do the same thing. In December, you can show up and the place is yours. I had Glendalough to myself for an hour. When people did arrive, it was a small fraction of the summer months.
Christmas Decorations. Do not expect to see every town decked out. You will find wreaths on doors and some towns hang lights. The larger cities have Christmas markets and they can be a great way to taste a variety of foods and find local artisian wares. The larger attractions do decorate a bit more for the tourists, but in December, I believe the country decorates for the locals.
Ireland in December is definitely more than ‘doable’. I will admit that I was a bit unprepared in 2012. It took a few days to adjust. I packed the wrong clothes and I expected more activities in the rural areas. I adjusted and it turned into a great vacation. This 2014 vacation has been wonderful. I bit of rest along the way, many great landscapes, a few fields and ruins … and I am already thinking ahead to my next winter trip.
As I traveled through County Wicklow a couple of days ago, I thought – now I understand why everyone talks about the weather in Ireland … constantly. I was driving in high winds and horizontal rain. However, it was also necessary to wear sunglasses due to the glare on the road. I also found myself lowering the sun visor since I was driving directly into sun. It was crazy, yet, normal. Okay, maybe not horizontal rain.
If you subscribe to social media news feeds then you have read more than one joke or comment about the weather in Ireland. They generally are based on fact. I have experienced gale force winds whipping off the southern coast to two weeks of summer sun to frosted roads that meant black ice and road warnings.
But, it is Ireland. You can check the forecast in the evening, but don’t be surprised if you wake up in the morning to find it has changed. Then if you wait another fifteen minutes, it can change again. Weather radars are best relied upon to gauge the current weather status.
You will experience sun. Yet, the best suggestion that I can give is to count on rain in some form every day. Be prepared and carry rain gear at all times. By all means, carry forward with your plans; never cancel them due to the weather. Ireland is available rain or shine.
(Featured image: Standing in sun with rain behind me and showers in the distance. Glenmalure, County Wicklow)
The big question that most people had before I left … What will the weather be like in December? I had done my research and new that the average temperature was 47 degrees (Fahrenheit), along with rain and fog probable. The chance of snow … Very minor; although 2010 provided a white Christmas for most of the country.
To now answer that question in one word … damp. The temperature has been fluctuating from the mid-40’s to the mid-50’s. As I write this, the temperature is 53 degrees. It is one of the more milder days that I have had. And while the temperature does have an effect on the weather, I must say that the humidity has been providing the response: ‘It feels like ….’
The first day here, I was greeted with rain as I loaded my luggage in the car. Today, it is still raining. In fact, we have not had a day where it hasn’t rained within a 24 hour period. There has been a strong set of fronts that have been pulling moisture from the Atlantic to the southwest/south part of the county; then upward across the entire island. As I have monitored the weather sites, most days are showing 90% humidity or greater and that is without the rain. With the low temperature … it can be the type of cold that ‘bites to the bone.’
But all is not lost. There have been days, like yesterday, that we have had sun. It was a beautiful day; very few clouds. Until, that is, sundown arrived and the rain moved in. By 8pm … raining. On average, there had been sunshine at least 60% of the time.
I have found it interesting that most places have a saying that if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes and it will change. Well in Ireland, it is true. After a week, I gave up on the weather forecast. I can check the forecast at this moment and it will say … Rain for the next 5 hours. In 30 minutes, I will see rain for an hour and then sunny skies for two. Check back again … Sunny for three; rain for two.
My two favorite forecasts … Checked one night before heading to bed and it was calling for dense fog until 11am. So, I adjusted my plans for the next day. As the sun was coming up … Yes, I said sun, I was greeted with a beautiful sunrise over the Knockmealdown Mountains. Readjusted and headed out the door. The other one was Christmas Eve … The forecast called for torrential rain all day. By noon, the sun was shining and stayed with us all afternoon.
The lesson learned … With a flexible schedule, I can change my plans with the weather to maximize the sunny periods. To keep an umbrella with me at all times has also been a good habit.
In the future, if I return this time of year … Or for anyone considering traveling to Ireland during December, here is my advice.Wool Sweater
While in Waterford the first week, I was talking to someone and the indicated that it would take a week to get use to the weather. They were right. The to-the-bone chill and dampness is still present, but I have managed to adapt. It might also have a lot to do my new wool sweater and socks, too!
I wouldn’t let the weather deter anyone … Just be prepared!
While my trip to Jerpoint Park was to visit the tomb of St Nicholas, I was introduced to another gem. The Church of St Nicholas was, at one point, on the edge of a medieval village called Newtown Jerpoint. It was a wealthy and vibrant town that was nestled on the edge of two rivers. What has been discovered in the past couple of years is a footprint of the town still intact.
As we left the church area, we continued toward the river. Throughout the ‘center’ of the town was a path of greener grass that was a clear road, still visible hundreds of years later. Around us were piles of foundation stones, as well as a partial ruin of a house or manor. As we reached the river, we could see where two of the three mills that once existed. At the River Nore, the water rippled over the ruins of the town’s bridge.
I am including a couple of links for you to explore. The first one provides a good overview of the town and its history. Even more phenomenal is the LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) graphic that clearly shows the imprint of the town. From there, an artist’s rendition of what the town would have looked like.
Truly remarkable and worth the trip.