Early Tourists to Powerscourt Waterfall

260 years ago, Bishop Pococke wrote about his visit to Powerscourt in 1752 which was part of his travels around Ireland:

Powers Court, belonging to Lord Powerscourt… In the Park two miles from the House, is the famous fall of Water, which is a cascade that falls in one spout without breaks… the high ground on each side covered with wood in the way to it is very fine.

Tourism in the modern sense began around 1750, so Pococke was one of the earliest to write about a visit to Powerscourt. As the century progressed, many more came after him. Travel in Britain and Ireland by the aristocracy rose significantly as the Grand Tour of Europe became impossible during the Napoleonic Wars. Travel narratives and guidebooks recommended sites to see, and even in those guides restricted to Dublin, tourists were recommended to visit Powerscourt House and the Waterfall.

The Waterfall was particularly popular. The latter half of the eighteenth century coincided with the Romantic movement and the search for the sublime—places and views that would evoke emotions of awe and terror, of the dominance of nature. Powerscourt Waterfall fit the bill nicely, and visitors seeking sublime wrote about it effusively. Edward Lloyd wrote in his “Month’s Tour” in 1781 that:

When we approached the waterfall we were struck with amazement. The astonishing accounts we had heard of this phenomenon conveyed no idea of it to our minds. It descends from a steep rock of the stupendous height of 350 feet. In its fall, its appearance resembles the drifting of snow, and the spectators are bedewed with the spray at a considerable distance. 

Powerscourt Waterfall by George Barret, ca. 1760. Writing in 1781, Edward Lloyd wrote “In its fall, its appearance resembles the drifting of snow”

In 1821, Richard Wingfield, 5th Viscount Powerscourt dammed up the river above the Waterfall in preparation for a visit of George IV, with the intention of bursting the dam to produce an admirable flow for the royal view. Luckily for the King, he didn’t go, as the viewing platform on which he was to view the spectacle was washed away.

Successive Lord Powerscourts improved the grounds at the Waterfall, building a viewing bridge, a picnic area and seating, and a banqueting room. The Waterfall’s place on the tourist map was confirmed when it appeared in the hugely popular book ”A guide to the county of Wicklow”, published in 1822, which would be the standard reference for tourists to the county for the next 50 years.

Entering the deer park an extent of 500 acres the road crossing the river lies through a great forest of oak which clothes the sides of two lofty mountains up to their very summits. The glen called the deer park is in the form of a semi-circle the mountains on each side as you enter the vale, meeting at the end.  After a drive of nearly one mile in a direct line towards the mountain blocking up the end of the glen the waterfall is perceived issuing from the top of the overhanging cliff which is a completely perpendicular rock and falling from a height of three hundred feet into a natural reservoir below behind a group of lofty rocks…

An early photograph of Powerscourt Waterfall, by Lewis Wingfield, youngest brother of 7th Viscount Powerscourt, ca. 1860

This post was originally written for  The Powerscourt Blog.

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