Tucked away in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland lies a peaceful place that is so serene and tranquil it seems to have remained untouched for all of these many years. I say “seems” because, in reality it has been called home by many different groups of people including: Vikings, Monks, Bishops, scholars, farmers, and even a Saint.
Glendalough (Gleann Dá Loch), which means the valley of the two lakes in Irish, is a beautiful glacial valley that consists of an upper and lower lake. The monastic city that remains by the lower lake was founded by Saint Kevin in the 6th century.
Not knowing what to expect road wise, traffic wise or otherwise, we left Dublin bright and early and began our journey south. We encountered light traffic as we left Dublin, but then it was smooth sailing the rest of the trip. We arrived at the Glendalough Visitor’s Centre well before they were open to the public, but fortunately the area is not gated, locked or roped off. It seems they encourage people to get outside and explore this beautiful wooded area as there are plenty of trails to walk, run, or bike around the lakes.
The most prominent attraction at Glendalough is the round tower. It looms large over everything else that can be found within the monastic city. The lofty stone tower stands at 30 meters tall (just under 100 feet for us Americans), while the main entry, or front door, sits 3.5 meters (12 feet) above the ground, which was designed for defensive purposes. The tower would have had a wooden ladder that could have been pulled up inside the tower if enemies where getting too close. Although I could not find a date that the tower was built, the main arch over the doorway, dates back over one thousand years. The roof was rebuilt in 1876 using the original stones found inside the tower.
Other attractions in the ruined monastic city are: The Gateway, Saint Kevin’s Church or Kitchen, The Cathedral, The Priests’ House, Saint Ciarán’s (Kieran’s) Church, Saint Mary’s Church, Trinity Church, Saint Saviour’s Church, and the hundreds of graves, headstones, and markers for the buried dead in the lower valley.
After spending time examining the ruins, we found ourselves following the signs for a walk which looped around the lower lake. The walking path was well-marked and the engineers made it impossible to get lost in the beginning by having a meandering boardwalk to follow for most of the trail.
Along the walk you have amazing views of the lake, the woods, the mountains and, of course, the round tower can be spotted most of the way.
Some of the signs we found in Ireland were worded so nicely it made it very difficult to take them serious at times.
Besides the woods, the stream, the wild flowers, and the lake, we were fortunate to see some deer walking along the grass fields, enjoying the beautiful day, just like we were.
Once we finished our self-guided walking tour, the visitor’s center was open for business and the car park was beginning to fill with busses and cars full of tourists. We flashed our Heritage Ireland card and gained entrance to the center faster than you could say, “Céad Míle Fáilte (one thousand welcomes).”
The visitor center was full of audio and visual displays giving you a feel for the importance of Glendalough, the role it played in Irish history, and the people who have inhabited the area over the course of time.
Glendalough is situated just over an hour south, via car, of the center of the Irish universe, which is Dublin. The drive is easy, and the site should be on the top of the list for any tour of Ireland and all the beauty it has to offer visitors. Speaking as an American tourist, the monastic site of Glendalough is not to be missed on any trip to Ireland (although I would recommend the warmer months to do so).