Glendalough (pronounced Glendalock) is just over an hour drive from Dublin through the Wicklow Mountains National Park. We took the back mountain roads to get there. The rolling hills, mountains and the rural country roads between Dublin and Glendalough are in the top 10 most beautiful places I have ever seen. The green mountains slope down into valleys with brooks and rivers that run through them. Sheep graze on the hills and there is hardly a car, person or house in site for most of the drive. I think we stopped 10 times in during our drive there to take pictures and soak in the scenery.
The weather was cloudy (as usual) but we didn’t have much rain, which made for a pleasant drive. Our road trip through Ireland is the first time I have driven on the left side of the road. Which is a little nerve racking at times considering that the backcountry roads are so small that two cars barely pass within inches of each other. But it doesn’t take too long to get used to shifting with the left hand and driving (mostly) on the left side.
Now, on to Glendalough. Glendalough is situated between two lakes and in between massive rolling hills. It is now mostly ruins of monastic communities that used to live a self-sustainable lifestyle as far away from society as they could get. Glendalough was founded in the 6th century by a monk named St. Kevin. Legend has it that an angel appeared to him and showed him the way through the mountains to the place where the ruin now stand. He left to seek solitude, however, when people heard about this pious man they soon followed him.
Shortly, a town formed around the monastic community composed mostly of farmers and their families who helped keep the monastery flourishing by providing food and services. The monks that lived in this particular community worked different trades. Working a trade was one of the requirements of living at the monastery.
A tower still stands in the ruins and is the biggest landmark of the area. It has stood there for almost 1000 years and survived seven raids. Viking used to raid Irish villages quite frequently. One of the churches has an attic that they think was used to store relics during raids on the village.
The arched gate leading into Glendalough was built in the 11th century and is made of granite. The granite has been cut into wedges that fit into one another and have been held in place without mortar since the arch was built. That is pretty impressive!
The area has been used as a graveyard for several hundred years now. There are graves all over the property. The last people to have rights to be buried there are still alive, but after they are buried no one else can lay at rest in the beautiful valley.
After visiting Glendalough it is easy to see why monks, who loved nature, would choose this area to live. It is very serene. The beauty of this area is hard to surpass. If you are headed from Dublin to Waterford, it is absolutely worth going a little out of the way to see this mediaeval monastic location. Make sure to take the back roads through the Wicklow Mountains. I promise, you will not be disappointed.