Following in the Steps of Saints and Scholars: Glendalough, County Wicklow

Saints scholars round tower Glendalough

Try to scale that, marauding tourists… I mean vikings! The Round Tower in Glendalough. No one really knows how the holy brothers got in or out.

As I’ve said before, 2013 has officially been dubbed The Year of The Gathering, for the duration of which Ireland will play host to the whole diaspora of its sons and daughters come back to see the homeland, to reunite with family they didn’t even know they had, to disabuse themselves of illusions to do with leprechauns and to generally appreciate all about the land that disproportionately produces world-class poets such as Patrick Kavanagh, Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, Michael Longley, Louis Macneice, Paul Durcan, Paul Muldoon, Derek Mahon, Seamus Heaney (insert name of your favo(u)rite here) and many others besides.

But let’s face it. In order to see the best that Ireland has to offer, you need to rent a car. I don’t think I’ll be saying anything controversial or intensely debatable when I assert that Ireland’s public transport system is neither cheap nor efficient. Its urban rail system, the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) is one of mechanized transportation’s great misnomers and I’ve taken train journeys down to Kerry that involved long and tedious connecting coaches from Mallow in Cork (I don’t know so don’t ask). But that is Ireland’s pace and part of its peculiar and particular charm.

But thanks to the Celtic tiger of the 90’s and noughties, Ireland’s road system has undergone some massive modernization, especially around the cities, and is a general pleasure to drive around, basking in the rural fields of green flanking either side of some fairly efficient, if a tad congested thoroughfares (I know those who have experienced them will take this as irony and I’ve been in the traffic jams too, but they’re not that bad).

And what rewards to be reaped from driving 10-15 minutes in any direction outside the capital, from Brittas Bay on the Wicklow coast to the passage graves of the Boyne Valley, from Bray Head south of Dublin to Howth Head to the North.

Such as this gem just 40 minutes south of Dublin as you whip round the quiet country roads, Glendalough (literally, “Glen of Two Lakes”). Glendalough is where the famed sixth century Irish ascetic, St. Kevin, sought refuge from his followers and is said to have slept in a bronze age cave at the edge of the mountain. Who can blame him for wanting to stay in this place? On a fair day, such as the one we visited on, views anywhere in Glendalough are stunning.

Glendalough Saints and Scholars

Arrival in Glendalough, Golden rays warming us from the heavens.

The gently rolling brooks and streams make for peaceful passing of a lovely day.

Glendalough Saints and Scholars

Wandering, “as lonely as a cloud.”

The rural splendor can only possibly elevate and inspire the soul.

stream glendalough saints and scholars

“And for all this, nature is never spent” — Gerard Manley Hopkins

And at the same time it is a place steeped in the spiritual heritage of this island, featuring several different stone churches near the hiking trail on the site, dating back as early as the 10th century. Oddly enough, there were marauding American tourists that were over for the Notre Dame vs. Navy  taking place at the Aviva Stadium. My compatriots were a tad loud, brash and somewhat badly dressed, but generally pleasant. Just as I was feeling on the verge of an epiphany amidst the graves and medieval stone structures, I heard a voice, as if it ‘buzzeth in mine air’ from a rotund lady in sunglasses just to my left saying, ‘WHAT’S THAT, CHER? THAT’S RIGHT. MEET YOU BY THE CHURCH.’ Ah the high dulcet tones of the North Atlantic twang.  That, as I have said many times before, is our charm. We don’t mind how much like sore thumbs we stick out; we will blunder confidently on in hopes of a miracle… or a little guidance.

Glendalough saints and scholars

These old buildings — the first thing to go is always the roof.

Notwithstanding being surrounded by my countrymen, there is a blanket-like tranquility in the air, a permeating peace and beauty, that leaves no wonder as to why the Irish landscape has inspired such mysticism in its poets.

Well worth the day if you’re going to be in Ireland or could make a very good reason to make the trip.

For car rental, Enterprise’s Dun Laoghaire office just south of Dublin cuts right through all the minutia and hassle of holding insurance on cards and all that palaver. There are a couple nice pubs and restaurants in Glendalough, but you’d be better off following the signs north again towards Avoca in Kilmacanogue for a lovely plate of food and a soothing stroll along the grounds.

Go. Be inspired! Feel the rhythm of your feet along the ground informing your consciousness in verse. Come back and tell me about it!

Round Tower Glendalough

Now THAT’S Irish design and engineering. Sure it’s GRAND!

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4 responses

  1. I can hardly wait to visit! Love the photos. – Mike

    1. Much appreciated! You’ll love it.

  2. Nice blog and lovely pics of Glendalough. Glad you had a good visit.
    Martin Swords
    glendaloughguidedwalks.com

    1. Thanks! Would have hiked up to the lake, but a bit difficult with the WHOLE family and we were hell-bent on lunch at Avoca, which is always lovely.

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