Saturday we had a scorcher of a day and I managed to get up early and hit the road. And just for a change I travelled down to Wicklow to visit the Monastic City of Glendalough. Founded back in the 6th century by St. Kevin. I guess that you could say that I have a connection here, as my hometown of Kilnamanagh or ‘Cill na Manach’ which means ‘Church of the Monks’ was the precursor of St. Kevin before Glendalough. Sadly during the development of housing back in the mid 1970’s all traces of Kevin’s settlement and A Castle were destroyed by builders. All that survived is St. Kevin’s Well which is now covered up and surrounded by a small garden, with access controlled by the local church.
Anyway back to our story, after traveling across the mountains and driving on some rather frightening roads, many of which had I sheer drop, I finally arrived at my destination. Glendalough or “Gleann da locha”, in Gaelic which means ‘Glen of two Lakes’ was an early Christian settlement near the lower lake established in the sixth century by the afore mentioned Kevin. Said to be a hermit, he certainly attracted quite a following. I guess that is why he left Kilnamanagh for the quiet and solitude of Glendalough. This however would not have lasted for long as the valley in which he settled soon became a thriving Monastic center. Kevin was a descendant of one of the ruling clans in Leinster. He is said to have died around 618AD. But for six centuries afterwards, Glendalough flourished and the Irish Annals contain many references to the deaths of abbots and raids on the settlement.
In 1042AD the largest Viking Longship ever recorded was built using Oak from Glendalough, said to be about 30 meters in length, a replica of which was reconstructed and can now be seen in Roskile, Denmark. In 1111AD at the Synod of Rath Breasail, Glendalough was created as one of the two dioceses of Leinster. The book of Glendalough also known as the book of Leinster was written here between 1100 & 1131AD, written on vellum it contains genealogies from older manuscripts and oral traditions. The Book of Glendalough can now be seen at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Laurence O’Toole was a well-known Abbot of Glendalough, praised for his sanctity and hospitality. Even after his appointment as Archbishop of Dublin in 1162, he returned occasionally to Glendalough.
In 1214, the dioceses of Glendalough and Dublin were merged. This may well have been the turning point for the demise of Glendalough. The destruction of the settlement by English forces in 1398 left it a ruin but it continued as a church of local importance and a place of pilgrimage. In its heyday the monastery would have included workshops, areas for manuscript writing and copying, guest houses, an infirmary, farm buildings and dwellings for both the monks and a large lay population. Most of the current surviving structures would appear to date from the 10th to 12th centuries but are fantastic to see nonetheless. It is quite hard to imagine how these monks managed to build this massive complex in the middle of a glacial valley. Even in its current ruinous state, it is still a sight to behold. Entry to the complex is free of charge, and I got straight to business, by the time I was finished exploring, I had three full memory cards, my first case of sunburn for the year and very sore feet. So it was a productive day in my mind.
There is a visitor center near the car park, for which there is an enterance fee. I normally find these to be rather boring and overpriced and so never bothered to have a look as I had visited all the sites that I was aware of, however this may have been a big mistake. Whilst researching over the weekend I found out that not only does the visitor center contain some interesting artefacts, but I may have missed out n a couple of sites that I was not aware of. So a return visit may be in order to take care of these loose ends. It might even be another field trip for some of my junior Ruinhunters. Please bear with me over the next few posts I hope to tell more of this story, giving each site within this city its own post. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I did. Glendalough is one of those heritage sites that I normally tend to stay away from due to the crazy amount of tourists that it attracts, which can make my explorations rather difficult. But I am really glad that I spent some time here. A word of caution though, if you do plan on visiting please get there as early as possible as it fills up rather quickly and once the car parks are full you wont be able to get in.“
You can check out the other sites within this magnificent city by clicking on the following links:
Gateway to the City