Pictures of Glendalough: An Ancient Monastery in County Wicklow, Ireland

Glendalough: An Introduction

The beautiful ancient ruins of Glendalough (pronounced glen-da-lock) sit in a small glen between two lakes in County Wicklow. St. Kevin founded the monastery around the year 498, and attracted many followers. His fellow monks and scholars were deemed “fighting knights,” though their only “fights” were with the pen and book: the monks of Glendalough fought personal temptation and were introspective scholars. St. Kevin died around the year 618, but the monastery continued to thrive.

Sometime around the year 1131, the magnificent “Book of Glendalough” was written. Manuscripts prior to the Norman invasion are rare, and this book is one of only three major works to have survived the test of time. It currently carries the rather dull title, “Rawlinson B 502,” and there is some dispute whether the second portion of this tome is the Lebar Glinne Dá Locha (Book of Glendalough).

The Upper Lake at Glendalough

The valley at Glendalough was carved out by a glacier, leaving two beautiful lakes in its wake.
The valley at Glendalough was carved out by a glacier, leaving two beautiful lakes in its wake. | Source

Meaning of Glendalough

Glendalough literally means “glen of two lakes,” and a walking path has been placed for tourists to travel the length of the glen. The upper lake is absolutely gorgeous, and has a mirror-like quality on calm days.

St. Kevin's Kitchen at Glendalough

St. Kevin's Kitchen (church) at Glendalough - the round tower on the church stands 46 feet high. This is considered an "engaged" tower, as it is connected to the church building.
St. Kevin's Kitchen (church) at Glendalough - the round tower on the church stands 46 feet high. This is considered an "engaged" tower, as it is connected to the church building. | Source

Buildings at Glendalough

There are many buildings in Glendalough, from the ancient “gateway” stone arches to the magnificent stone tower.

The cathedral at Glendalough has been modified over time – the sacristy and the area around the altar were added in the 12th-13th centuries. Many of the grave stones around the cathedral also date from this era.

Glendalough From Afar

The round tower at Glendalough can be seen from a distance.
The round tower at Glendalough can be seen from a distance. | Source

The Round Tower at Glendalough

Glendalough also has a round tower. Round towers are found primarily in Ireland, though there are three towers in Scotland and one on the Isle of Man. The exact purpose of these medieval towers is not quite clear, but they housed a bell and are nearly always found associated with churches or monasteries. The bell towers could act as lookout points and as a refuge during times of attack. The tower at Glendalough has a door about 1/3 of the way up the tower, and the resident monks could pull up the ladder to prevent invaders from getting into the tower.

A Bell Tower and Sanctuary

This round tower could act as a lookout, bell tower, refuge, and storehouse.
This round tower could act as a lookout, bell tower, refuge, and storehouse. | Source

Round Tower Lookout

Standing 103 feet high, the Glendalough tower gave lookouts a view over the entire valley.
Standing 103 feet high, the Glendalough tower gave lookouts a view over the entire valley. | Source

The round tower at Glendalough is made of mica slate. Standing 103 feet tall (31 meters), the bell in the tower could call pilgrims from afar

The tower at Glendalough was struck by lightning in 1876 and the roof had to be rebuilt. The original stones were used to reconstruct the conical roof, and the structure has been sound since that point in history.

A high door prevented intruders from entering the tower, and several windows are cut into the tower to afford views of the entire valley.

Beautiful Waterfall at Glendalough

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The hiking trails around the upper lake at Glendalough offer gorgeous scenery, waterfalls, and rock climbing opportunities.St. Kevin's Bed was likely used for sleeping or private prayer and meditation. The woodlands surrounding Glendalough are beautiful.The author, on the trail (consulting a guide map, which is available at the visitor's center near the upper lake).
The hiking trails around the upper lake at Glendalough offer gorgeous scenery, waterfalls, and rock climbing opportunities.
The hiking trails around the upper lake at Glendalough offer gorgeous scenery, waterfalls, and rock climbing opportunities. | Source
St. Kevin's Bed was likely used for sleeping or private prayer and meditation.
St. Kevin's Bed was likely used for sleeping or private prayer and meditation. | Source
The woodlands surrounding Glendalough are beautiful.
The woodlands surrounding Glendalough are beautiful. | Source
The author, on the trail (consulting a guide map, which is available at the visitor's center near the upper lake).
The author, on the trail (consulting a guide map, which is available at the visitor's center near the upper lake). | Source

Hiking at Glendalough

The area around the upper lake at Glendalough should not be missed: the area features several trails and a waterfall, in addition to excellent rock climbing activities on the local boulders.

The waterfall located by the upper lake is called the Pollanass waterfall, and the stream winds its way through the Glendalough valley. This waterfall is easy to hike to, as the trail winds gently uphill. The entire trail length (marked as the "Bronze Trail") is only 1.24 miles long. After winding through the woodlands, the trail leads visitors to St. Kevin's Cell and to a scenic viewpoint above the upper lake. Visitors should consider stopping by Reefert Church at the end of their hike, as it is well worth the short side-trip.

St. Kevin's Bed is located on the purple route, and is a slightly longer hike at 3.1 miles. St. Kevin's Bed should not be confused with St. Kevin's Cell - the "bed" is an ancient man-made cave. It is believed that this space was used for sleeping or for private meditation - the approach to the cave is difficult, and hikers should take caution. A short passageway leads to the inner cave, and the passageway is only 3 feet high by 2 1/2 feet wide. The interior of the cave is 3 feet high by 4 feet wide.

Part of the Wicklow Way

For adventurous hikers, the Wicklow Way (an 82 mile long hiking trail) winds through the valley. The Wicklow Way can be started in Rathfarnham (a suburb of Dublin) and ends in Clonegal, County Carlow. For those who prefer shorter walks, the clearly marked trails near the upper lake are an excellent way to see the valley. Travelers to County Wicklow, Ireland should not miss Glendalough -the ancient monastery and beautiful countryside are stunningly beautiful.

Gravestones in Glendalough

Many graves near the cathedral date to the 12th-13th centuries.
Many graves near the cathedral date to the 12th-13th centuries. | Source

Location of Glendalough in County Wicklow, Ireland

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Comments 16 comments

Beth Pipe profile image

Beth Pipe 5 years ago from Cumbria, UK

What fabulous pictures! I really want to spend more time in Ireland, there's some easy routes over there from where we now live and you've inspired me! Thank you.


philipuae profile image

philipuae 5 years ago from Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

good details nicely put. Certainly a place where history sleeps. But when you understand what happens here in the past, standing among these old buildings and trees, is't there a strange feeling that somebody is watching you?


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks, Beth! We used to live in Ireland, and it is gorgeous. If you make it out there, definitely get out on some country roads and explore the area - there is nothing like a valley filled with heather and gorse in August!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

philipuae, there is a certain feeling of quiet awe in these ancient places. In the height of tourist season (the summer months), the place can be packed. Since we lived there, we often visited throughout the fall and winter, which was a much more peaceful and awe-inspiring experience.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

Okay--you've made me want to pack my bags. Thanks much for sharing your photos and info. Interesting to learn more about towers, as well as this beautiful area of the world. One day...


Ghaelach 5 years ago

Hi Leah.

When a hubber as yourself writes about Ireland I've just got to stop everything and read it and just sit staring and the photo's.

Ireland has much history which you tell us a little of.

At the top of the lane from my gran's farm was a gravyard with an ancient cross of St.Bronagh, this is just outside Newry in the parish of Kilbroney.

Anyway terrific hub, loved it.

UP/A/B/I

Take care Leah.

LOL Ghaelach


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

RTalloni, I highly recommend Ireland as a destination - there are some beautiful places. Donegal is gorgeous (in the northwestern part of the country). I miss Ireland greatly, though I have to say that I don't miss the incessant rain in the winter! We were VERY happy to see spring arrive in that part of the world!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

Ghaelach, was your gran's farm in Co. Cork? I loved (LOVED) Cork (and Killarney - the harbors around Killarney and Tralee were absolutely stunning)! We had a friend who lived in Cork, so we stayed there during the May bank holiday weekend. There is so much history in Ireland - more than I could ever write in a single hub!

Take care, Ghaelach!


Ghaelach 5 years ago

Hi Leah.

My parents where born and raised in a tiny village on the edge of Carlingford Lough where (as the song says)"Where the Mountains of Mourne Sweep Down to the Sea". Rostrevor sits at the south end of the Mournes. As Ireland is now i could open my bedroom window and look across the Lough and see the south of Ireland. Pop over to my page and you'll find a lot of stories i've written of this corner of Ireland. Wonderful beautiful memories.

Take Care Leah.

LOL Ghaelach


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

So it wasn't Kilbroney, Cork, but on the border! What a gorgeous area. We never made it north of Co. Meath, and I regret it. I wish we had gone to Northern Ireland while we were there - Carlingford Lough looks beautiful!


Ghaelach 5 years ago

MY Grandad was a park warden in Kilbroney Forest Park around 1935 before they bought the old mill which they turned into a dairy farm.

My father worked up in Rostrevor forest with his five (5) Jack Russels. They killed the rabbits that where eating the small trees.

As you say it is a beautiful corner of Ireland and i try to get a trip over every three or four years.

LOL Ghaelach


cardelean profile image

cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan

What fantastic history you have shared with us along with gorgeous photos. Thanks for givng me this virtual trip.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

What an amazing job, Ghaelach! He must have loved his work, and having 5 dogs on the job would have been great fun. We haven't been back since early 2004 (I was there on a business trip), but we do want to take our kids to show them our old house and some of the history of that beautiful country.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks, Cardelean! It was an amazing experience - the country is absolutely gorgeous. Especially in the summer!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

I so enjoyed reading this hub and viewing the fabulous photos. Thank you so much for sharing this part of the world with us. To have actually lived in Ireland for a while would have given you a greater understanding of its beauty and lore because you had more time to absorb all of the nuances. All the up votes except funny!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

Peggy, it is truly a gorgeous country. We had an amazing time visiting the various sites, and there is nothing like living in a country to really experience it. We were able to see all of the seasons and experience life there first-hand (using a flymo, paying our bills at the post office, and using a dial-up modem,lol)!

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