When visiting Glendalough, which means “Valley of the Two Lakes,” for the first time, you might be spellbound by the shear timelessness of the place. Indeed, you will be surrounded by grave stones that are so worn by time, they are impossible to read. Perhaps not surprising considering some of them date back over a thousand years. St. Kevin founded this ancient monastery settlement back in the 6th Century, and for many years, it was a bustling monastic city which boasted not only church buildings and monastic living quarters, but workshops, farms and houses. Now, with just a handful of ruins remaining, and of course the cemetery, it has a serenity that somehow survives, despite being a tourist attraction.
My first memory of this incredibly beautiful place was as a rambunctious 9 year old, on a school field trip, playing tag with my friends among the ruins and burial sites. But I would always stop in my tracks at the sight of the round tower. That edifice fascinated me…and it still does. Our eyes would grow wide at the tales of our headmaster, who informed us that when the Vikings invaded, the monks would seek refuge inside the tower, using a ladder to climb up through what I can only describe as a slit of a window, and then hastily pulling the ladder up after them. The tower itself is almost 100 feet tall, and there are no doors. The walls are exceptionally thick – I’ve never measured them, but they have to be at least 2 feet deep.
There is no cost to visit Glendalough. You can wander around the site and enjoy the beautiful lake trails for free. You also have the option to go to the adjacent Visitors Center and view a film on Glendalough, and for this there is a small charge. Either way, if you plan to spend any time in Co. Wicklow, I would definitely include Glendalough on your itinerary.