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Glendalough

The ancient beauty spot of Glendalough is a popular retreat for Ireland's city dwellers. As soon as you get there, it’s easy to see why.

  • In the heart of county Wicklow, and only about 45km from the stressful capital city, lies this magical green valley.
  • Glendalough's tranquillity derives from two shimmering glacial lakes nestled between lush, sloping mountains and fairytale waterfalls.
  • Indeed, the name derives from the Irish (Gaelic) Gleann Dá Locha, meaning valley of the two lakes.
  • The transcendent, fertile beauty of the landscape here makes it easy to understand why Wicklow is often referred to as the Garden of Ireland.

History

Like so many Irish havens, Glendalough is rich in heritage, having been founded as a monastic settlement by St. Kevin, around 700AD. The community went on to become a European monastic capital in the Middle Ages, when Ireland was known as the Land of Saints and Scholars. Many buildings dating from this era add beauty and magic to the site. Famous among these is a 34-metre high round tower, probably built in the 11th century. The tower’s girth is also impressive, and it has been exceptionally well preserved, in contrast with similar structures throughout the country.

The remains of a cashel (small castle), a cathedral, several stone churches, and many celtic crosses and other embellished grave markings can also be seen. The area’s geographical isolation, amid the sparsely-populated Wicklow mountains, perhaps explains why the round tower was never sacked during the waves of invasions and wars suffered by the Irish from the Middle Ages onwards. Indeed, this isolation is also why St. Kevin founded his hermitage here, as he reputedly came from the more prosperous farmlands of Kildare, but desired a home of prayerful solitude.

Glendalough Today

The sense of getting away from it all is retained in Glendalough today. The area is popular with pilgrims and walkers, and there are many well-marked walking routes of varying lengths around the upper and lower lakes. While Glendalough attracts around half a million visitors a year, it rarely feels crowded or touristy. As with most Irish heritage sites, the local authorities have built an attractive Visitor Centre in the area, but the best way to experience Glendalough is to walk around and take in the air. Be sure to look out for the cave where St. Kevin himself is said to have lived, overlooking the upper lake, and known today as “St. Kevin’s Bed.”

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Glendalough Co. Wicklow by Matt Rudge

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