This is a very pleasant walk through one of the nicest woods in South Dublin. The walk is about 11km in length, but can be shortened to 7km if desired by leaving out the Cruagh1 Forest loop. It features quite a strenuous climb as it ascends by about 290m (940 feet) in the first half of the route. It's downhill all the way on the return journey. The walk is entirely on paths so you won't need boots. Stout shoes that can withstand a bit of mud should be enough. The route is rough underfoot and there are stiles in places, so it is not suitable for wheelchairs or child-buggies.
During the 19th Century Massy's Wood was the estate of Baron Massy, who had a big house with ornamental gardens. After the house was abandoned, the Department of Forestry (now known as Coillte) took over the land and in the late 1930s planted it with many unusual trees. It is one of the few deciduous forests in the country - most were cut down centuries ago and forestry replanting concentrates on fast-growing conifers. Massy's Wood also has many specimen trees which were part of the original ornamental garden planting. These include such beauties as a Californian redwood and a Monterey pine. Although the house was demolished long ago, the high walls of the walled gardens still remain, with the occasional arched gateway or set of steps. There's a small river, the Glendoo Brook, running through the middle of the wood, with numerous bridges over it.
The wood extends up the valley of the river as far as Cruagh Road, where the coniferous Cruagh Forest has been planted. The route does a large loop through this forest. At the higher parts there are views out over Dublin. At Cruagh Car Park there are more views over the city. The route then returns to Massy's Wood via the path along the river. There's the option of a short detour to a café for coffee and scones or something more substantial. The final part of the walk through the wood takes in the only remaining original part of the early 19th-Century Military Road.
The Military Road
The mountains to the south of Dublin are known as both the Dublin Mountains and the Wicklow Mountains, straddling the two counties. Up to the end of the 18th Century there were no roads through much of these mountains, so they were a great place for rebels to hang out. After the 1798 insurrection, which was put down by Government forces, it was decided that a road should be built south through the mountains providing quick access for the army to the more out-of-the way places. This road started at Rathfarnham just south of Dublin city and was called the Military Road.
Construction began in 1800 and it was completed in 1809. There were four barracks built along the road – at Glencree, Laragh, Glenmalure and Aughavannagh. The original route from Rathfarnham started at what is now the Yellow House pub, and went south through Edmondstown and Rockbrook, through what is now Massy's Wood and then joined Stocking Lane to continue along the route of the present R115. In later years the route was changed slightly so that it turned right off Edmondstown Road to cross Billy's Bridge, then turned left into Stocking Lane, following that road from its beginning.
The road went across some of the wildest spots in the country. Today you can drive along the Military Road, and it is one of the highest roads in Ireland. The section south of the Sally Gap is still one of the loneliest places around and should not be attempted if there's any chance of snow.
The house in Massy's Wood was called Killakee House2. It was a two-storey mansion with 39 rooms built by the White family in the 19th Century. Matilda White married Hugh Hamon, 4th Baron Massy, of an old Limerick family. She inherited the house and passed it on to her son John Thomas, 6th Baron Massy. He lived there and in two other mansions. Born in 1835, he lived a long and extravagant life, leaving behind enormous debts when he died in 1915 at the age of 80. His family tried to pay off these debts through selling off land and the other two mansions, but eventually were evicted from Killakee House in 1924 when the house and estate were taken by the bank.
The 8th Baron Massy, also called Hugh Hamon (1894-1958), lived the rest of his life with his wife in the three-roomed gate lodge of the estate, known as Beehive Lodge. The bank couldn't find a buyer for the house, so they sold the estate to the Department of Forestry in the 1930s and had the house demolished in about 1940.
Getting to the Start
It is possible, but not practical, to use public transport to get to the starting/ending point of this walk. You must get the Luas green line tram from the centre of Dublin to Dundrum, then get the 161 bus to Rockbrook. Unfortunately, this bus only goes four times a day Monday to Friday and not at all on weekends. Check the Dublin Bus website for timetables and online travel information. From the bus terminus, walk 500m south to reach the starting point of the walk.
It's more practical to use a car. Start at Cruagh Cemetery at the junction of the R116 Edmondstown Road and Cruagh Lane (unnamed on Google Maps). You can park on the road outside the cemetery.
Details of the Route
Before starting the walk, look over the wall into Cruagh Cemetery. Behind the modern cemetery there is an older one, with an impressive stone tower. This was to keep a lookout on the graves, as grave-robbers regularly looted graveyards for fresh bodies to be used by medical students in the days before donating your body to science became legal.
Walk south from the cemetery along Cruagh Lane. Go right at the fork, through the wrought iron gates. You are on the Old Military Road. At the next fork, go right again, into the forest. The Military Road continues but cars are prevented from using this part by a yellow and black barrier gate.
You are now in Massy's Wood.
The road immediately crosses the river, the Glendoo Brook, on a big bridge. Just after the bridge, take the path downwards to the left and follow it up the right bank of the river. You will see many specimen trees along the route with their species names on small blue signs at the base. One of the first of these is the Monterey pine, the tallest tree in the wood. The path eventually comes to a point where there is a wooden fence on the left looking down on the river, and then takes a sharp bend to the left back on its tracks. At this point there is a wonderful Californian redwood. Next the path crosses the river on an old stone bridge. Go straight through the arch in the wall, into the old walled garden. This was designed by Ninian Niven, the curator of the Irish National Botanical Gardens in Glasnevin. It once had glasshouses designed by Richard Turner, whose work included the Curvilinear Range in the Botanical Gardens and also the Palm House in Kew Gardens, London. All you can see now are a few ruined buildings.
You can see ruins on your left and another arch in the far wall straight ahead. Go half way across to this arch, then turn right. There is a path that brings you up the middle of the walled garden. Through another arch you enter the second walled garden which was an orchard, and then the third, much narrower garden which was used for growing vegetables. On the right you'll see a gap in the wall. Go through this and turn left, continuing up the left bank of the river. You'll see a small building between the path and the river with a cylindrical roof - this is an old ice house, which was filled with ice in the winter and was used for storing meat.
When you meet a T junction with a bridge to the right, go left and then right. The path now starts to climb quite steeply, following the left bank of the river for about a kilometre. You'll have to climb over five stiles along the way. You'll notice the wood gets narrower until it is just the valley of the river. Eventually you reach the top of Massy's Wood. There's a small gate here leading onto Cruagh Road which can be quite busy, so be careful.
Cruagh Loop or Just the View
The route now crosses the road and does a 5km loop through the forest, ending at Cruagh Car Park, where there are great views out over Dublin. If you want to skip this section, you can just turn left and walk along the road a few hundred metres to the Car Park and enjoy the view.
Continuing on the Loop
Cross Cruagh Road and go through the gate opposite. After about a hundred metres, cross the high stile on the left and enter the forest. The path is marked out clearly with stones. When you reach a forest road, turn right onto it, following the yellow arrow of the Dublin Mountains Way post. This forest road climbs gradually through the forest, eventually offering good views to the left over Dublin. After about 2.5km, the road swings all the way round to the left. There are good views in front of you out over the valley of Glendoo and the mountain of Tibradden across the valley.
Continue on the forest road, descending until you reach Cruagh Car Park. Go out onto the public road and admire the view.
Back Into Massy's Wood
From Cruagh Car Park turn left onto the road and walk along the road for a few hundred metres to the gate back into Massy's Wood. Go back down the path that you came up, crossing the five stiles.
When you get to the first bridge on the left, cross it and follow the path along the left bank of the river. Eventually the path bends to the left and joins a forest road at a bridge over a small stream. Continue on the forest road through a very pleasant open deciduous forest until you reach a major junction.
Detour for Coffee
At this point you can choose to go on a short detour for coffee. If you decide not to go for coffee, take the right, downward turn at the junction.
If you choose the refreshments, keep straight on and you will soon reach a gate out of the forest onto a public road (the R115 Stocking Lane). Walk along this road for a few hundred metres as far as Timbertrove on the right. Within the Timbertrove building there is a very nice café where they serve delicious scones and good coffee, with views out over the city. They also do some lunches.
After coffee, return along the road, re-enter Massy's Wood at the gate and walk back down the forest road. You soon come to a path down to the left which joins the forest road you would have been on if you hadn't taken the refreshment break. Continue on down through the wood.
You are now back on the old Military Road. This goes all the way to south Wicklow, but most of it has been upgraded, tarmacked and made suitable for car traffic. This next part is as it originally was, with a surface of stones and a wall along the left side to hold back the hill. In places you can still see the original pebble-stone drainage channels on either side.
After a short distance on the Military Road you will join back up with your path from earlier. Cross the big bridge and return by the public road to Cruagh Cemetery.