The heather and gorse are ablaze with colour in the autumn sunshine on Howth Head, unlike earlier in the year when the gorse was literally ablaze.
Known in Irish as Beann Éadair, the name Howth is thought to derive from the Norse ‘hofuð’ meaning head. That would add Howth Head to the list of tautological placenames, and make the Ben of Howth (the highest point at 171m) a curious mix of Irish, English and Norse.
The names of nearby Ireland’s Eye and Lambay also derive in part from Norse, with ‘ey’ meaning island. As with Beann Éadair, the Irish names Inis Mac Neasáin and Reachra predate the arrival of Vikings on Lambay in the 8th century, and wallabies in the 20th.
The last of Ireland’s lighthouses to be automated, the Baily Lighthouse on Howth Head lies to the north of Dublin Bay, while Dalkey Island and the Muglins lighthouse are to the south. The double summit of the Little Sugar Loaf and the conical summit of the Great Sugar Loaf are visible beyond.
Whereas most Wicklow summits were rounded by glacial action, the Great Sugar Loaf was a nunatak protruding above the ice, and so escaped erosion. Its conical shape and exposed quartzite summit gave rise to its name. West Wicklow also has a Sugarloaf Mountain, as does Cork, although the more modestly named Sugarloaf Hill on the Tipperary/Waterford border is the tallest of them all. Sweet.