About Glendalough

History Of Glendalough

Glendalough, or the Glen of two Lakes, is one of the most important sites of maonastic ruins in Ireland. . It is also known as the city of the seven Churches. It was originally two-storeyed with two fine, granite arches. The antae or projecting walls at each end suggest that it had a timber roof. Inside the gateway, in the west wall, is a cross-inscribed stone. This denoted sanctuary, the boundary of the area of refuge. The paving of the causeway in the monastic city is still preserved in part but very little remains of the enclosure wall.

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.

St Kevin Fourteen centuries have passed since the death of its founder, St. Kevin, when the valley was part of Ireland's Golden Age. 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. Kevin is said to have first arrived as a hermit, living on the shores of the upper lake in a small cave like place, now known as Kevin’s Bed, which was probably a bronze age tomb, though he later built a circular stone hut of which only a few stones remain – St. Kevin’s Cell.

The Buildings

In the mid-6th century the monastery was founded, by which time St Kevin was already revered and had a significant following. Little is known about the original monastery, which was probably in the area of the upper lake, but it quickly became a place of pilgrimage to which people flocked in numbers. This is probably why the settlement gradually moved to its current location at the lower lake, which is much more accessible.

The Round Tower This fine tower, built of mica-slate interspersed with granite is about 30 metres high or 110ft,which was built about 1000 years ago, with an entrance 3.5 metres from the base. The conical roof was rebuilt in 1876 using the original stones. The tower originally had six timber floors, connected by ladders. The four storeys above entrance level are each lit by a small window; while the top storey has four windows facing the cardinal compass points. Round towers, landmarks for approaching visitors, were built as bell towers, but also served on occasion as store-houses and as places of refuge in times of attack.

Glendalough, Ireland - November 14, 2008: The Round Tower, part of early medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century.

The Cathedral The largest and most imposing of the buildings at Glendalough, the cathedral had several phases of construction, the earliest, consisting of the present nave with its antae. The large mica-schist stones which can be seen up to the height of the square-headed west doorway were re-used from an earlier smaller church. The chancel and sacristy date from the late 12th and early 13th centuries. The chancel arch and east window were finely decorated, though many of the stones are now missing. The north doorway to the nave also dates from this period. Under the southern window of the chancel is an ambry or wall cupboard and a piscina, a basin used for washing the sacred vessels. A few metres south of the cathedral an early cross of local granite, with an unpierced ring, is commonly known as St. Kevin's Cross.

The Priest’s house, one of the most complete of the other buildings, is in the middle of the oldest part of the graveyard and was the area where priests and monks were traditionally buried.

From almost the beginning Glendalough’s powerful position in the Irish Christian world made it the target of attacks by those who feared its power, at first probably local chieftains, later the Norman English. It was attacked many times and its churches and houses were burned or broken, but each time it was rebuilt. During the late 14th century Gaelic leaders in Wicklow had achieved considerable power and were perceived as a threat by the English ruler in Dublin. In 1398 the English attacked Glendalough and comprehensively destroyed it – bringing monastic life there to an end. There is a model in the visitor centre of what the settlement probably looked like at its zenith. It was known at one time as ‘the seven churches of Glendalough’, so was undoubtedly a very much larger place than it appears to-day.

To-day some pilgrims still walk St Kevin’s way, an 18 mile way-marked route starting in the village of Hollywood and crossing the beautiful Wicklow Way before dropping down into the valley of Glendalough. It’s a tough enough walk, but a very beautiful route and you are more likely to meet hikers than pilgrims on it nowadays.