It didn’t make Ireland’s top 10 most visited free attractions or its top 10 paid-for attractions in 2013, as published this week by Fáilte Ireland this week. It falls under both categories and is one of Ireland’s outdoor treasures. On one of these hot July days you could do worse than to visit Glendalough in the Garden of Ireland.
About forty-five minutes from Dublin city by car, or less than two hours away by either of the two bus services available, Glendalough offers two inspiring lakes in a glaciated valley full of undulation, biodiversity and beauty. The 20,000 year old valley forms part of Wicklow Mountains National Park and provides a selection of excellent walking routes with plenty of natural splendour to see and hear, including the surrounding oak woodland. Staff at the visitor centre and the information office, along one of the walking trails, are most helpful in advising about different routes and options.
Glendalough, of course, is most famous for its monastic settlement, founded by St Kevin in the sixth century. The ecclesiastical city survived until the fourteen century, but many remains – including the iconic 30 metre mica slate and granite round tower, the cathedral with sections dating from the 12th century, and the contemporaneous Reefert Church – have survived. Walking amidst these ruins or the slopey, centuries-old graveyard (still in use), with the hills looming over you, one feels a tremendous sense of peace, place and the past. The visitor centre at the entrance, beside the car park, offers an impressive audio-visual show and detailed exhibition about the valley’s history and geography. Admission is €3 for adults, but OPW Heritage Card holders and our friends from across the pond with National Trust or English Heritage cards can visit for free. Guided tours are available in English, French, Italian and Spanish.
If time is on your side, Glendalough is worth an overnight stay. There is plenty of nearby accommodation, including a youth hostel and self-catering options. Nearby pubs offer hearty meals, drink, and craic, and there are a range of activities for a second day: rock climbing, hiking, scenic drives or views of the remains of Glendalough Mines, which at one time employed about 2,000 people. You don’t have to venture far into the Garden of Ireland to reconnect with our antecedent saints and scholars, and the beautiful surrounds into which they withdrew.