The Grand and Glorious Glendalough Monastic site: Step into history

Nestled in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains is the iconic Glendalough Monastic site which is steeped in ancient history and dramatic beauty that you will remember for a lifetime. The Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough Monastic site is the first stop on our impressive Emerald all Ireland 15 day walking tour. After leaving Dublin, you will travel through the Dublin/Wicklow Mountains to our first stop at Glendalough ancient monastic site about 1hr fron Dublin. Glendalough and its surrounding mountains is a magic place and perfect for our first walk which will be about three hours around the valley, you will come back to relax at our comfortable guest house. This blog will give you an insight into al the history behind this Majestic famous Irish site, along with some information about the surrounding mountain and towns.

Glendalough lake

Glendalough, or the Glen of two Lakes, is one of the most important sites of monastic ruins in Ireland. It is also known as the city of the seven Churches. Fourteen centuries have passed since the death of its founder, St. Kevin, when the valley was part of Ireland’s Golden Age. The ‘City’ consists of a number of monastic remains, and the most impressive being the Round Tower which stands 30m high. The main group of monastic buildings lies downstream near the Round Tower. The grounds were entered through the Gateway, which has two round headed granite arches.Beyond St. Mary’s Church is the Priest’s House, a 12th Century building in Romanesque style, with an interesting carving of a much earlier date on the lintel of the doorway.Just beyond the Priest’s House is a large granite cross (sixth or seventh century) and the “Cathedral”, the largest church on the site, with a nave, chancel and sacristy, and St Kevin’s Church. St Kevin’s Church is commonly known as St Kevin’s Kitchen. This is a barrel-vaulted oratory of hard mica schist with a steeply pitched roof and a round tower belfry (12th C).Approx 200m east of the Church of the Rock is a cavity in the cliff which is known as St Kevin’s Bed or Hermitage. At the Glendalough site on the road to Laragh, to the right, stands Trinity Church (11th-12th C). Beyond the river about 1.5km to the east of the Cathedral is St. Saviour’s Priory a church with fine Romanesque carvings on the chancel arch and windows.

Glendalough monastery

The remains of an old stone fort and three stone crosses can be found between the Upper and Lower Lake, and beside the Lower Lake another cross; all four are stations on the pilgrimage route at Glendalough. Near a small bridge by St Kevin’s Bed stands Reefert Church.

The two lakes, which gave the valley its name, came into existence thousands of years ago, after the Ice Age, when great deposits of earth and stone were strewn across the valley in the area where the Round Tower now exists. The mountain streams eventually formed a large lake. The Pollanass River spread alluvial deposits across the centre of the lake and created a divide to form the Upper and Lower Lakes. The Glenealo River flows in from the West into the Upper Lake which is the larger and deepest of the two lakes. Before the arrival of St. Kevin this valley (glen) would have been desolate and remote. It must have been ideal for St Kevin as a retreat and area to be ‘away from it all’. Kevin died in 617 A.D. at the age of 120 years and his name and life’s work is forever entwine with the ruins and the Glendalough Valley.

glendalough

The most famous person associated with this site is St. Kevin. There are many legends surrounding him and his legacy. The monastery was set up in the 6th century by St. Kevin. Kevin was born in 498 into a noble family living in what is now West Wicklow. He studied for the priesthood in Cill na Manach and after being ordained set out to find his calling. Kevin came to Glendalough to follow his dream which was to find God in solitude and prayer. Kevin wanted full solitude to be closer to god and his prayers so he found a cave away from all civilisations. St. Kevin’s Bed can best be described as a man-made cave cut in the rock face a short distance east of the Church of the Rock. It is very close to the edge of the mountain and it overlooks the upper lake from a height of about 30 odd feet (10 metres). It should not be confused with St. Kevin’s Cell which occupies a site further east. The approach to the cave is very difficult, with access to it is through a rectangular space and a short passageway 3 ft. (1 metre) high and 2½ ft. wide. The inner or main part of the cave is just 4 ft. wide (1.5 metres) and less than 3 ft.(1 metre) high. It is reasonable to assume that the cave could only have been used as a sleeping place, and would have been impossible for an adult to stand upright in it, so it is quite likely that St Kevin only used it as his bed, or a place for pious prayer or meditation. It is not accessible in modern times, as there is barely any path and one would have to scale the mountain above the dark waters of the upper lake to get to it.

Glendalough cross

Along with being a holy site, Glendalough National park offers a mix of natural, historical, archaeological and spiritual riches. The valley is situated in Wicklow Mountains National Park which is home to forests, mountains, rivers, lakes and waterfalls. Magnificent scenery abounds. Many and varied walking trails can be found to suit all levels of agility. Wherever one looks, beautiful views meet the eye, evoking a sense of peace, tranquillity and wonder. The valley is also a haven for wildlife and their habitats, flora and fauna. Nature conservation and ecological protection are provided by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The geological heritage of Glendalough is highlighted by the remains of two mines found in the Glendalough valley and in the adjacent valley of Glendeasan. Lead, zinc and silver are among the materials mined over a period stretching from the 1790s to 1957. There are many roads and walking trails that wind around the national park from the upper lake, to the lower lake and up to the Spinke, there is a walk for all. Each of the lakes offers spectacular views. Its dark brown waters reflect the dramatic mountains that enclose this valley. Visit the relics, high crosses, ancient churches and high tower that Glendalough is known for. Have a wander around the grounds and take in some the most beautifully natural sites in Ireland.

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Surrounding this Monastic site is the remote and desolate landscape of the rolling Wicklow Mountains. The mountains surround you as you look upon this land. Complete with colourful heather on the hills. The highest peak in the range, Lugnaquilla (924m), is really more of a very large hill, but that hardly matters here. This vast granite intrusion, an upwelling of molten rock that solidified some 400 million years ago, was shaped during the ice ages into the schist-capped mountains visible today. The peaks are marvellously desolate and as raw as only nature can be. Between the mountains are a number of deep glacial valleys – most notably Glenmacnass, Glenmalure and Glendalough – while corrie lakes such as Lough Bray Upper and Lower, and Lough Tay, gouged by ice at the head of the glaciers, complete the wild topography.

lakes of Glendalough

The closest town to this site is the small community of Laragh. Here is where you will be staying over the first night and eating out. This little town has a small array of pubs and restaurants, along with a convenience shop. All you need for a small town in Wicklow. If nature and history is for you then Glendalough is the perfect setting for a walk and an explore! Book your all Ireland Emerald tour  with extreme Ireland to explore many important sites in Ireland that will really impress! From historical sites, to the rugged Irish coast, this tour is waiting for you! Join the adventure today.

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