The county of Wicklow is located just south of county Dublin , which is where I live. Known as ” the Garden of Ireland ” the county has fantastic mountains for hiking, lush agricultural land, clean sandy beaches and an array of hidden gems.
Today , let me bring you to the valley of Glendalough and its ancient monastic settlement . So much of our jewelry is inspired by the Celtic Crosses and Knotwork you can still see here today.
Starting out from Dublin nice and early its less than an hour’s drive before we reach the village of Laragh, and a mile beyond it the village of Glendalough. As the crowds have not arrived , and there are no locked gates, we have the place to ourselves !
The name Glendalough or in Irish: Gleann Dá Loch, meaning “Valley of two lakes” is a glacial valley. Early Medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St Kevin. Kevin, a descendant of one of the ruling families in Leinster, studied as a boy under the care of three holy men, Eoghan, Lochan, and Eanna. During this time, he went to Glendalough. He was to return later, with a small group of monks to found a monastery where the ‘two rivers form a confluence’. His fame as a holy man spread and he attracted numerous followers. He died in about 618, traditionally on 3 June. For the next six centuries, Glendalough flourished and the Irish Annals contain references to the deaths of abbots and raids on the settlement.
Let’s start our walk at the entrance gate to the monastic settlement . This was originally the gate house where pilgrims and visitors entered – and just beyond is an ancient carving depicting a cross.
As we wander through the monastery we can see that it’s been used as a cemetery and there are some interesting headstones, some dating back hundreds of years . In one corner there stands a perfectly preserved round tower . These iconic symbols were built as bell towers and also as look out towers as often the monasteries were raided by Viking warriors. Can you see that the door is located some 4 metres above the ground ?? If there was a raid on the monastery the monks would flee to the tower with their treasures and sacred books and climb a ladder to the fortified door, and could hide in safety , out of danger in the tower .
As we wander through the ruined churches and buildings we can imagine how the monastery was in its heyday . Historians have discovered that it 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. These buildings which survive probably date from between the 10th and 12th centuries and in fact The Book of Glendalough was written here about 1131.
Another story that I want to share with you about St Kevin is that when at prayer he would become completely still. A story is told of Kevin holding out his hand with trance-like stillness while a blackbird builds a nest in it, lays eggs, the eggs hatch and the chicks fledge.
You can see the huge granite high cross that has stood here for over 1000 years ? As granite is very hard to carve it’s a simple unadorned design .. and there is a legend that if you can reach your hands around the cross and your fingers can touch, you will have luck for the next year – let’s give it a go !!
There are several more churches nearby, and there are some lovely walking trails that we can take if we have more time. But just across the river I have one more interesting thing to show you .
I am taking a look at a hollowed out stone : its known as the deer stone and also is commonly known as a Bullaun Stone. The true purpose of these stones is still not clear. They can be identified as a stone with one or more circular depressions in it, which would normally fill with water. These tend to date back to the Neolithic period, with many being discovered around early monastic settlements. Sometimes known as ‘Cursing Stones’, or ‘Curing Stones’. Sometimes you would find a number of rounded boulders or pebbles within the Bullaun. It is said that these would be used by turning them whilst praying for or cursing somebody. It is named the deer stone according the following legend : It is said that St Kevin fostered a boy child called Foelán. Fostering began when the boy was still a baby. To feed the baby a doe came down from the mountain each day and waited until she had been milked by one of the monks. The milk was collected in this hollow stone . The child thrived and ultimately inherited his father’s estate.
As I wander back to the car all I can hear are the sounds of the river, birdsong and the wind as it blows through the valley. It’s a privilege that we can follow in the footsteps of the Saint in this total solitude . I hope that you can feel the immense sense of calm that comes from this sacred place and take time out from all that happening around us in these difficult times.
I can see some visitors arriving ,so we are no longer alone and the magical spell is now broken – so let’s head home and have a hearty Irish breakfast on the road back to Dublin !
I have enjoyed bringing you to Glendalough today, I hope you enjoyed it too !
take care and until next time, Stephen