ONE OF THE MOST SCENIC CORNERS OF IRELAND
Glendalough, or the Glen of two Lakes, is one of the iconic parts of Ireland, where the beauty of the scenery and landscape meets the history and legends of Ireland’s Golden Age. It is also known as the city of the seven Churches, founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century.
The two lakes, which gave the valley its name, came into existence thousands of years ago, after the Ice Age, when great deposits of earth and stone were strewn across the valley in the area where the Round Tower now exists. The mountain streams eventually formed a large lake.
The Pollanass river spread alluvial deposits across the centre of the lake and created a divide to form the Upper and Lower Lakes. The Glenealogh river flows in from the West into the Upper lake which is the larger and deepest of the two lakes.
WALK IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF SAINTS AND SCHOLARS
Before the arrival of St. Kevin this valley (glen) would have been desolate and remote. It must have been ideal for St Kevin as a retreat and area to be ‘away from it all’. Kevin died in 617 A.D. at the age of 120 years and his name and life’s work is forever entwine with the ruins and the Glendalough Valley. The recorded history of the wooded valley dates from the 6th century – the dawn of Christianity in Ireland. For 500 years it was one of Irelands great ecclesiastical foundations and schools of learning. The establishment was attacked, burned and plundered by the Danes, who were based in the stronghold of Dublin, a shortish distance away, and making it an easy target..
Glendalough, despite extensive fire damage in 1163 A.D. prospered until the early 13th century. In 1163, Laurence O’Toole, Abbot of Glendalough, who later became Irelands first canonised saint, was appointed Archbishop of Dublin.
The arrival of the Normans in Ireland sealed the fate of Glendalough, as in 1214 the monastery was destroyed by the invaders and the Diocese of Glendalough was united with the Sea of Dublin. After that, Glendalough declined as a monastic establishment and gradually it became deserted.
The buildings fell into decay and more than 6 hundred years elapsed before a reconstruction program was started in 1878. Further work was carried out in the 20th century Today the valley of Glendalough is extensively wooded and a comprehensive network of walk ways have been completed and continually improved, which provides good access for the visitor and researcher to wonder the valley.
LEGENDS OF ST KEVIN
Legends associated with St. Kevin and the years he spent in the desolate valley of Glendalough are numerous. They have survived in some form through the centuries, and have probably lost some of their origins along the way. Acta Sanctorum – which is based on an ancient manuscript contains a number of legends. The author of a commentary on this manuscript, Fr. Francis Baert, S.J., explains, “that although many of the legends given to this work are of doubtful veracity; it was decided to let them stand in favour of the antiquity of the document which is placed as having being written during or before the 12th century”.
St Kevin’s birth and early years figure prominently in traditional legends. An angel is said to have appeared as Kevin was about to be baptised and told his parents that the child should be called Kevin. The priest named Cronan who performed the ceremony said, “This was surely an angel of the Lord and as he named the child so shall he be called”. So Kevin received the name which in Latin means pulcher-genitus or the fair-begotten.
When an infant a mysterious white cow came to his parents house every morning and evening and supplied the milk for the baby. When Kevin was old enough he was put tending sheep.
One day some men came to him and begged him to give them some sheep. He was touched by their poverty and gave them four sheep. When evening came, however, and Kevin’s sheep were counted the correct number were still there.
Another time one autumn day Kevin was in the kitchen. Meals were being prepared for harvesters who were busy gathering crops in the fields when a number of pilgrims called and asked for food. Kevin, filled with compassion, gave them the harvesters dinner.
He was rebuked by his superiors for his action. He then told the attendants to fill all the ale jars with water and gather together all the bare meat bones. Then he prayed alone and, it is said, the water turned to ale and the bones were covered with meat again.
A cure is reported to have occurred when Kevin was at Luggala (on the road to Sallygap). A workman was injured when a chip of stone struck him in one eye and caused his to lose the sight of the eye. Kevin came to the injured man, blessed the eye and the man recovered his sight immediately.
Perhaps the most famous legend is the one about Kathleen of the “eyes of most unholy blue”. She is said to have pursued the handsome Kevin in a bid to captivate him, ignoring the fact that he was bound by holy vows. He became annoyed and repulsed her by beating her with a bunch of nettles. She later sought his forgiveness and is said to have become a very holy woman, noted for her grate sanctity.
Gerald Griffin and Thomas Moore have dramatised this legend in poems.. But the two poems, colourful though they are, appear to be totally imaginative and to have little bearing on the incident. A person of Kevin’s kind nature would hardly be likely to “Hurl the maiden from the rock into the black lake shrieking” as Griffin’s poem suggests. It is equally improbable that Kevin “Hurled her from the beetling rock” into the lake, as indicated in Moore’s verse.
It is said that the lark never sings above the dark waters of Glendaloch. Folklorists say that when the cathedral was being built the labourers and masons agreed to work as long a day as possible and to “rise with the lark and lie with the lamb”.
These long hours soon had the men exhausted and when Kevin investigated he found that the local larks started their day extremely early. He prayed for an answer to the problem and from that day, according to tradition, the skylark ceased singing in Glendaloch.