Thursday, August 4, 2016

Peaceful Glendalough in County Wicklow, Ireland

St. Kevin's Church behind the trees
Up a bumpy road, in a bus with threatening clouds above, my group finally found Glendalough in County Wicklow. We had been told by our leader that this is a pleasant nature place, but I learned through some advance detective work that there are ruins from a medieval monastery and remnants from a defunct mining community. "Photo ops," I thought.

Some members of my group and the general public entering the monastery ruins through the double arch.
I walked around the ruins after checking out the 3D map display in the Visitors' Center. As with many old Irish ruins, the stone walls remained, but any trace of roofs is long gone. They were made of wood and probably straw thatch and didn't stand up to weather as the stones did. Luckily, by the time our group made it outside to the old monastery, the rain clouds had floated away to dump on some other part of Ireland, and we had some sun.

Sheep are everywhere in Ireland, including Glendalough.

Detail of the cathedral at Glendalough
One of the notable buildings from the monastery is the cathedral. This is the biggest building in the monastic cluster and dates from 900-1000 AD. The chancel and sacristy were added later, probably 1100-1200 AD. According to my Glendalough guidebook, the outside of the cathedral (and perhaps other buildings) was plastered over when it was new, and didn't have that rocky look.

Monks' graves were moved to the cathedral at some point
These ferns were popping out of a lot of the stone walls here.
The Round Tower is a prominent feature of this monastery, and our guide told us it is in the best shape of any such tower in Europe. Although the roof fell through in a nineteenth-century storm, it was rebuilt soon after from the same materials gathered from the floor of the tower.

The Round Tower is in better shape than some of the grave markers.
The tower was not used for defense, but as a bell tower. Valuables were also stashed here, hung in pouches from stones inside. A ladder was used to access the outside door, but since each interior level was shorter than this ladder, it could not be stowed inside. This is not the place to shelter-in-place if the monastery was under siege. The Round Tower dates from the early 1100s AD.

I wandered around the ruins shooting photos and reading the grave markers. Some of these markers were very old and unreadable, but many were quite recent, marking the last resting places of prominent Glendalough-area citizens.

St. Kevin is the monk who founded this monastery. I read that he started out as a cloistered monk, reading and worshiping in solitude, but he had so many visitors he decided he would serve God better if he became a more social animal and started this monastery.

St. Kevin's Church has a belfry and a roof.
Most of my group walked beyond the ruins and grave markers to visit either of two lakes, the smaller close one or the further large one. (The Miners' Village was too far to attempt during our visit. Lead, zinc, silver, and maybe iron were mined there.) I stayed behind to wander among the ruins. A big dark cloud moved over the sun creating an ominous atmosphere around the site. I doubled back and photographed the Cathedral, St. Kevin's Church, the Round Tower, and the grave markers in the contrasting light until I started to feel drops of rain. From the bus, I watched as my colleagues got drenched in yet another heavy Irish rain.

The clouds are rolling in.
The raindrops are falling with increasing frequency...time to head back to the bus!