The monastic settlement of the Glendalough Valley in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains is one of the most beautiful and haunting places in Ireland. And, it’s a bit surprising that this isolated area is not far from Dublin, one of Europe’s busiest metropolises. The untouched wilderness of the Glendalough Valley, with its ancient stone buildings, down to earth locals, and circuitous route (there is no direct public transport) gives the impression that you’ve reached some remote and hidden corner of the earth.
For a change of pace, The Glendalough Valley is an excellent destination for a day trip when you’re visiting Dublin city. It is best to take a tour bus heading in that direction due to the difficulty in getting there if you’re taking a train or renting a car. Even when you’ve reached Glendalough, there will be a short walk to reach the monastic settlement. It’s always a good idea to plan ahead when traveling abroad, but my journey to the Wicklow Mountains was a spontaneous decision. I saw a tour bus heading to a mysterious monastic community in the mountains and, for only about twenty Euros, I booked a magnificent day trip, which quickly became the highlight of my Dublin adventures.
A drive through the Wicklow Mountains is necessary to reach Glendalough. On my visit we stopped several times to explore the natural beauty, which includes lakes, woods, bogs, and close to 20,000 hectares of protected space. Weather changes quickly in the Irish countryside. One moment the sun was shining pleasantly and the next a sudden gust of wind off the Irish Sea attempted to sweep me right off a rocky outcropping. The Emerald Isle is of course known for its rain. You can bring an umbrella with you to the Wicklow Mountains, but it’s unlikely to be of any use with the gales that turn even the sturdiest of umbrellas inside out, even in the summer. But, if you’ve signed up for an adventure in the wild Irish mountains, getting a bit wet and muddy will be no problem for you. If you’re inclined to stay in the mountains for more than a brief walk, the Wicklow Mountains National Park runs a wide variety of activities for people of all ages. All activities are free of charge, including field trips, nature walks, and lectures.
A short walk through the woods and over a river brings you to the Glendalough Valley. Glendalough was founded as a Christian monastic settlement by St. Kevin in the 6th century and consists of a variety of monastic remains, including large granite Celtic crosses, the tall Round Tower, a priest’s house, St. Kevin’s Church, and a gateway arch, which protected the entire monastic city. In fact, if you look very closely at the entry stones at the gateway there is an ancient symbol for sanctuary carved into the granite, which provided protection from persecution to all entering the holy community. There is no fee to visit Glendalough or the surrounding areas.
In neighboring Laragh village, you can visit a weaving shop where clothes are still made by hand on old-fashioned looms. The weavers are happy to give a demonstration and a variety of handmade traditional Irish wool products are for sale.
Perhaps it’s the beautiful scenery or the fact that the area was home to people of prayer and simplicity, but Glendalough is one of the most tranquil and serene places in all of Ireland. Sitting next to the river admiring the centuries old stone buildings with the mountains as a backdrop is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon before heading back to busy Dublin city.
Written by and photos by Erin Connelly for EuropeUpClose.com