If you’re planning a day trip from Dublin then a visit to the Glendalough Monastic Site should be on your list of places to explore. With a rental car and a beautiful drive through the Wicklow Mountains, you’ll be standing in one of the most important historical sites in all of Ireland. This is a travel guide that will highlight a few good stops along the way.
The Glendalough Monastic Site — Where the First Irish Legends Were Written
Before I go into the highlights of this day trip, I want to give you some information on the Glendalough Monastic Site.
Glendalough, meaning “the glen of two lakes,” is probably one of Ireland’s most important locations in relation to legend, myth, and lore. It is there, at the Monastic Settlement of Glendalough, where the earliest known written Irish stories that survive were transcribed.
The Leabhar na h-Uidhre (Book of the Dun Cow) and the Book of Leinster were copied as far back as the 12th century, and are thought to have been created in writing somewhere around the 7th century. Before then, these stories were passed down from generations by word of mouth.
Exploring Co Wicklow
Co Wicklow is known as “the Garden of Ireland” for its rolling mountains, steep valleys, and emerald landscapes. While driving through the winding road that leads to Sally Gap and onward to its village of Glendalough, you can’t help but feel like you are wrapped in a quilt of greens, yellows, and if you’re lucky, blue skies.
On the way to Glendalough, you can stop off at Montpelier Hill, the pedestal of Dublin’s eerie and ominous Hellfire Club where Visions of the Past writer Ed Hannon and I explored on our way to the Glendalough Monastic Site.
The Wicklow Mountains
Before we went too deep into the mountains, we decided to stop for a quick bite in Enniskerry. Enniskerry is a quaint country village with charming homes and shaded, winding roads.
Ed was nice enough to introduce me to Poppies, where I had the best Shepard’s pie ever. It was perfect, I highly recommend you go there if you are taking this journey.
I found the drive to Glendalough to be serene and relaxing. I don’t think I have ever gone that long in a car without seeing anyone. I can see why Saint Kevin chose this glacial valley as his retreat over a thousand years ago.
There we were, wrapped in these mountains and valleys as far as I could see; time made no difference here, and the only company we had were the magpies and the sheep. It was complete solitude. It was nothing short of just what I needed.
We stopped at Glenmacnass Waterfall which lends one of Ireland’s most magnificent views of the Wicklow Mountains. On a clear day, the site is simply stunning.
This is a perfect spot to have a packed lunch and enjoy the clean, fresh air. We took in the purity of the landscape, but eventually, we had to press onward to the Monastic Settlement of Glendalough.
The Glendalough Monastic Site Experience
There is a stillness in time and a quiet in the air that embraces your senses when you arrive at the Monastic Settlement of Glendalough. We were standing on a fortress of time at the Glendalough Monastic Site. Nearly 1,400 years welcomed us into one of the most peaceful and magical glens in all of Ireland.
This sanctuary, founded by Saint Kevin in the early 6th century, was a sanctuary for deep connection with nature and spirituality. Most of what is left standing now is from the 10th through 12th centuries, as much of it was destroyed by English troops in 1398.
Today, the Glendalough Monastic Site stands to be described as one of the most important sites of monastic ruins in all of Ireland. It was here in the quiet and peaceful serenity where Saint Kevin was completely submerged in nature, and where he found peace.
Ed and I were fortunate enough to be among just a few onlookers at the settlement. The air was brisk and twilight was upon us which made the shadows of the ruins begin to take the stage.
Click through the photos for more details about the settlement and St. Kevin
The Glendalough Monastic Site is inspiring and uplifting, so take a day trip from Dublin to visit. Be surrounded by majestic tranquil scenery full of lakes, rivers, mountains, hills, and valleys. Lose yourself to the beauty of this area.