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The Story Behind Glendalough Monastery And The Monastic City 

The Story Behind Glendalough Monastery And The Monastic City 

Glendalough Monastery and the Monastic Site is the historical focal point of Glendalough.

It has been attracting pilgrims and visitors alike for over a thousand years and is the starting point for most visits to the area.

Below, you’ll find info on the history of Glendalough Monastic Site and what to see when you arrive.

 Some quick need-to-knows about Glendalough Monastery

round tower in Glendalough

Photo via Shutterstock

Although a visit to Glendalough Monastic Site is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

Glendalough Monastic City is located in between Laragh and the lakes at Glendalough in County Wicklow. It is a 4 minute drive from both Laragh and the Upper Lake. It is located just off the R757 which takes you into Wicklow Mountains National Park and dead ends at the Upper Lake.  

2. Steeped in history

Glendalough is not a newly popular tourist attraction. Visitors have been making the journey to Glendalough for over a thousand years starting back when the Monastic City was an important pilgrimage site. You aren’t the first visitor to come here and you will not be the last so please treat the area with respect.

3. The perfect start-point

If you are heading to the lakes, you pass by Glendalough Monastic Site so you might as well begin your trip to Glendalough at this incredible early Christian settlement. From there you can follow one of the nearby trails (Derrybawn Woodland Trail, Green Road Walk, or Woodland Road) to the lakes. 

About Glendalough Monastic City

Glendalough Monastic City

Photos via Shutterstock

Glendalough Monastic City was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. St. Kevin came to Glendalough to get away from the world and lived as a hermit for a period of time in a small cave on the Upper Lake known as St. Kevin’s Bed.

Glendalough Monastery grew thanks to St. Kevin’s popularity and became an important monastery and pilgrimage site. The monastery produced manuscripts such as The Book of Glendalough which dates back to the 12th century.

Pilgrims from Ireland and further abroad visited the site as it was considered an incredibly holy place to be buried. The Glendalough Monastery slowly lost its standing in the 13th century when Dublin and Glendalough dioceses were merged.

The Monastic City was destroyed by English forces in 1398 but it still remained an important pilgrimage site and local church. A pattern day was celebrated here each year on the 3rd of June, St Kevin’s Feast Day, up until the mid 19th century. 

Things to see around Glendalough Monastic Site

There’s plenty to see around Glendalough Monastery, but it’s worth knowing the lay-of-the-land before you arrive.

Below, you’ll find info on everything from the cathedral and the round tower to the often missed Deerstone.

1. Glendalough Round Tower

Glendalough Round Tower

Photos via Shutterstock

Glendalough Round Tower is the most famous structure in the Monastic City. The round tower was built around 1000 years ago during the 11th century.

It was constructed from mica schist slate and granite much like the other ruins in the area. The tower stands at 30.48m high and the base has a diameter of 4.87m.

It was most likely used as a bell tower, a beacon to pilgrims, a storehouse and a place of refuge during attacks.

The original roof of the tower was damaged in the 1800s by lightning and replaced in 1878 using stones found inside the tower.

Visiting Wicklow? Check out our guide to the best things to do in Wicklow and our guide to the best hikes in Wicklow

2. Glendalough Cathedral

Glendalough Cathedral

Photos via Shutterstock

The cathedral at Glendalough Monastic Site was built over a period of different construction phases dating from the 10th century all the way up to the 13th.

Today, it is the largest ruin in the Monastic City and its ruins give us a good idea of how grand this structure must have looked when it was still intact.

The cathedral was dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul and would have been one of the most important cathedrals in Leinster up until 1214 when the Glendalough and Dublin dioceses were united.

3. St. Kevin’s Church

Kevin's Church

Photo via Shutterstock

St. Kevin’s Church is often referred to as St. Kevin’s Kitchen though we can assure you, it is in fact a church. It got the nickname because the round bell tower somewhat resembles a chimney for a kitchen.

This beautiful little stone church almost looks out of place in Glendalough Monastic Site because it is one of the few buildings that still has a roof.

This is the original stone roof from when the building was constructed in the 12th century and it is one of only two fully intact mediaeval churches in Ireland.

4. ‘Deerstone’ – Bullaun Stone

Deerstone Bullaun Stone

Photo via Google Maps

Bullaun Stones are found throughout Glendalough Monastic sITE. They are stones with large divots or cup shaped holes that have been either made by hand or through erosion.

There is some debate as to what they were used for but they became associated with pilgrimages and the water that accumulated inside the divot was thought to have healing abilities.

The Deerstone in Glendalough gets its name from a legend about St. Kevin. According to the story, a local man’s wife tragically passed when she was giving birth to twins.

The new father did not know what to do so he went to St. Kevin to ask for help. St. Kevin prayed to God who sent a doe to the Deerstone where each day it shed milk to feed the twins. 

Things to do near Glendalough Monastery

One of the beauties of this place is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best things to do in Glendalough.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Glendalough Monastery!

1. The Upper Lake

Glendalough Upper Lake

Photos via Shutterstock

Asides from the Monastic City, the Upper Lake at Glendalough is one of the biggest attractions in the area. Head to the lake shores to take in the views of this glacial lake or hike up to the Glendalough viewpoint on the Spinc ridge for another incredible view of the lake and valley.

2. The Spinc Loop

Spinc Walk

Photos via Shutterstock

There’s a short Spinc walk (5.5km / 2 hours) and a long Spinc Walk (9.5km / 3.5 hours). Both treat you to magnificent views are they’re arguably two of the most popular hikes in Glendalough.

3. Various short and long hikes

Poulanass Waterfall

Photos via Shutterstock

There are a bunch of different hikes in and around the Monastic Site and the two lakes. Ranging from less than 2km all the way to 12km, there are walks through the surrounding forests, over the Spinc ridge, and along the shores of both lakes (see our Glendalough hikes guide for a full breakdown).

FAQs about Glendalough Monastery and its surrounds

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What is there to see in Glendalough Monastic City?’ to ‘Is it really worth visiting?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

How old is the monastery at Glendalough?

Many of the ruins in Glendalough Monastic City date back over 1,000 years, like the round tower and Glendalough Cathedral.

Who set up Glendalough monastery?

Glendalough Monastic City was set up by St. Kevin during the 6th century. To this day, as you explore the area, you’ll see reference to St. Kevin.

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