When I was hiking in Ireland in Glendalough I saw some magical landscapes. Ireland has a beautiful soft light in the summer. The diffused sunlight is speckled with clouds that pass over the vast valleys and mountain-sides. It’s possible to sit there all day and just watch the way the light travels over the trees, it’s as though you’re watching the water shimmer in the bottom of a glass. It’s probably one of the most peaceful places in the world.
Although it is Ireland which means it can turn from serene and gentle to being completely hostile weather in 15 minutes or so. This was Ireland on a particularly flirty and seductive day, with hardly any rain. The kind of place you could easily fall in love with and marry.
There’s a gently trickling fountain that falls down the mountain that provides a shimmering and pure source of fresh water. As you would imagine with Ireland it’s deeply green, It’s known as the emerald isle for a reason. The walking track in Glendalough isn’t too intense it’s about 7 km and a lot of flat walking with a gradual ascent up the side of the mountain and then a long causeway at the top of the mountain with amazing views.
My Irish mates and I were tired and red faced after the hike, but that probably could be attributed to the constant state of either drunkenness or hang over oweing to the fact that were were in Ireland. Life was a party back then and I was the suited and booted queen of the party animals.
As the evening fell we walked into the church yard of the Monastery of St Kevins, an early medieval church that has a very rich and interesting history.
Glendalough: a history
The etymology of the name Glendalough comes from the Irish Gleann Dá Loch, meaning Valley of two lakes . This dramatic landscape comes courtesy of glaciers from the last glacial maximum.
Founder of Glendalough Kevin set up shop in Glendalough in the 7th Century AD and built a monastery at this picturesque spot at the confluence of two rivers. His fame as a holy man grew and he attracted acolytes. The monastery grew into a thriving village community and the Irish Annals mentions the Glendalough settlement as a place of vibrant community.
Circa 1042, timber from the Glendalough region was used to construct a gigantic Viking longboat, 30 metres in length. A replica of this is currently housed in Roskilde, Denmark.
In the 13th Century the dioceses of Glendalough and Dublin were united. This diminished the ecclesiastical and cultural importance of Glendalough as a village.
In 1398 the town was destroyed by English invaders and left as a smoky ruin. However Glendalough was rebuilt again and regained importance as a place of Christian pilgrimage.
Glendalough features on the 1598 map “A Modern Depiction of Ireland, One of the British Isles” by Abraham Ortelius. Visit the full map by clicking on the photo, it’s quite beautiful if you’re a map nerd like me.
The medieval Feast of St Kevin occurred every year on the 3rd of June during the very height of summer. Hijinks and revelry with people drunk on the good weather would have been a common occurrence.
Although now gone to seed, the remains of the Glendalough settlement were once far more impressive and featured workshops, areas for manuscript writing and copying, guest houses, an infirmary, farm buildings and dwellings for monks, farming families and villagers. The buildings on the site today are probably dating to the 10th to 12th centuries.
Spending time among the ruins of Glendalough really made me feel in touch with the mystical and misty passage of time. Glendalough and the mountains standing sentry around it are brimming with a sense of history, you can feel and sense in the air that this is a holy place, a place much older than Christianity and even humans.
Here’s another post about my hiking adventure in Glendalough, unimaginatively entitled Hiking in Ireland