Nestled in the glens of Ireland's Wicklow Mountains are the remains of an ancient monastery. Glendalough is a quiet, picturesque valley carved by Ice Age glaciers, which also left two lakes in its wake.
Glendalough's "Monastic City" is one of the most important in Ireland. Built in the 6th century by St. Kevin, the Early Medieval settlement is surrounded by dewy grass and heather, lush hills, mossy rocks and an impressive variety of flora, fauna and wildlife. The site itself includes the remains of ancient stone churches, a priests' house, a stone fort, and a 100-foot round bell tower.
The cemetery is fascinating - lichen-covered headstones tilted every which way amidst umkempt vegetation. Generations of Irish family histories are contained in this small plot of land which is an integral part of this site. It is a moving experience, a testament to how quickly time passes - births, deaths, and life events eventually cycle down to this quiet, bucolic resting place.
Glendalough is an hour south of Dublin and makes for a worthwhile day tour - sightseeing and hiking, followed by a visit to a cozy local pub. The easiest way to reach the site is by car - try the stunning Sally Gap route if you drive. There are also limited trains and buses. Entry to the park is free.
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A Peaceful Pilgrimage Site in the Wicklow Mountains
We came to Glendalough on a day tour from Dublin, and even though it was cool and rainy, that just added to the atmosphere. St. Kevin came to this valley in the Wicklow Mountains in the 6th century, and as pilgrims followed him, a monastic community grew. Now you can wander the cemetery, see the remains of the 11th-century church, and check out the round tower, a skinny structure about 100 feet tall that served as a watchtower and a place to hide from Viking raiders. Like many of the my favorite places in Ireland, it's really not that hard to imagine what life there was like a thousand years ago. It doesn't feel like much has changed.
Hidden Ireland: Mystical Glendalough & Escaping the Crowds
It's a universal truth that people are generally lazy. So why not go against the grain and in doing so escape the crowds?
When in Glendalough skip the most popular Monastic City and walk straight on to Upper Lake. Venture towards the forest and you'll find the Reefert Church and even St. Kevin's Cell. Few people make the extra effort to come this far so you'll experience Glendalough on a more intimate level.
Explore the hidden trails for a while then after you're done head back to the Monastic City where you'll find it less crowded and easier to manoeuvre.
Glendalough (which means a "glen of two lakes") is a beautiful glacial valley in County Wicklow, Ireland.
Visitors mainly stop by to see the remnants of its 6th century monastic buildings and graveyard (believed to be the oldest in the world), but my favorite part of Glendalough isn't the manmade structures.
There's something of a peace that comes over you as you meander through the woods along the path to the upper and lower lakes. A labyrinth in a field along the way provides a place for prayer and meditation. There's something almost comforting about the circular pattern.
Even the surrounding woods have a Middle Earth-y feel and you can't help but realize that you are most definitely experiencing Ireland at its very best.
Hop on one of the many tour buses out of Dublin and head south through the vibrant hills and towns of County Wicklow to mystical Glendalough (translating from Gaelic to "glen/valley of two lakes"), one of Ireland's most well-preserved monasteries.
Here are the crumbled remains (and still-standing church and tower) of the Christian monastic settlement, founded by St. Kevin during the 6th century.
My tour guide summed the place up: "This place was holy then, and it is holy now."
Head solo on the wind-blown footpaths to one of the valley lakes for reflection and rejuvenation. A place like this, deep, solemn peace is present with every gust of wind.