Hidden amongst the luscious greenery of the Wicklow Mountains National Park is one of the crown jewels of Ireland's Ancient East.
This is Glendalough, the monastery founded by St Kevin in the 6th century that became one of the great centres of learning in early Christian Ireland.
Carved by grinding glaciers during the last Ice Age, the valley of Glendalough is a sweeping expanse that combines unbelievable natural beauty with utter serenity. As you climb upwards into the Wicklow Mountains, clouds pouring over the lip of the valley and the sound of crystal-clear glacial streams bubbling across the rocks, an atmosphere of total tranquillity will take over.
The name Glendalough gives a clue as to what you'll find here – in Irish, it translates to "valley of the two lakes". The Upper and Lower lakes are beloved by visitors and provide ample opportunity to explore, or even a chance to dip your toes in the cool waters. A plethora of walking trails pass through Glendalough, including the Wicklow Way and St Kevin's Way, so getting around couldn't be easier – just pick your path, and get going...
St Laurence O'Toole, Dublin's patron saint, was a former abbot at Glendalough, and returned every Lent for a 40-day retreat in a cave known as St Kevin's Bed.Did you know...
A city in the hills
Surrounded by all this beauty, it's easy to see why St Kevin would choose to establish a monastic settlement here. From its humble origins in the 6th century, Glendalough became a beacon of piety and learning. A veritable city in its time, it had farms, a cathedral and the 30-metre round tower that still stands proud today.
For over 500 years, this area was at peace, as monks and lay people grew and lived and learnt together. Of course, this doesn't mean that Glendalough was without its troubles. It was attacked and plundered by Vikings, ravaged by fire and exposed to the sometimes harsh weather conditions that still beset the Wicklow Mountains today. Ultimately it fell to the Normans in 1398, but thankfully we're left with beautiful reminders of what once was.
According to legend, the workers who built Glendalough's original cathedral vowed to "rise with the lark and lie with the lamb". However, they soon became weary because this bird rose so early. St Kevin prayed for a solution, and from that day forth, the lark ceased to sing in this enchanting valley.Did you know...