As winter gradually relaxes its choke-hold grasp on the country, there are many who will be feeling the advanced stages of cabin fever. For those who are dying to get outdoors and breathe some country air, a trip to Glendalough and the Wicklow Mountains is a must.
Incredible landscapes and wildlife
Situated a mere 18 miles from Dublin, the Wicklow Mountain chain forms the largest continuous upland area in Ireland. The mountain peaks are stark and desolate while between them lie deep glacial valleys; the most notable of which are Glenmacnass and Glendalough. The mountains are at the centre of Wicklow County and form the backdrop of the Wicklow National Park.
Established in 1991 to protect the region’s natural biodiversity, the Wicklow National Park has earned the nickname ‘the garden of Ireland’. It is an incredibly beautiful place, particularly in spring. The park is teaming with wildlife and one can see deer, feral goats, badgers, stoats, otters and squirrels.
From hiking trails to rock climbing, from cycling to bird watching, the Wicklow National Park has so much to offer that it attracts over one million visitors per year.
Saint Kevin founded the monastery at Glendalough in the 6th century. Due to his fame as a holy man, Saint Kevin attracted a large following and Glendalough became an important site for learning and pilgrimage. By the 8th century, Glendalough had grown into a substantial monastic settlement and, due to its wealth, was frequently targeted in raids by the surrounding Celtic tribes.
Monuments and ruins
One of the most important monuments, and one which is unique in Ireland, is the Gateway to the city of Glendalough. This gateway was originally two storied with two fine granite arches that had projecting walls on each end. Inside the gateway is a cross-inscribed stone which denotes a sanctuary or boundary of an area of refuge. The causeway is still preserved but very little remains of the enclosure wall.
Another interesting monument is the round tower. Built of mica-slate interspersed with granite, the tower stands some 30 meters high. Its conical roof was rebuilt in 1876 using the original stones. Round towers, such as the one at Glendalough, were originally constructed as bell towers and acted as landmarks for approaching visitors. On occasion they were used as places of refuge in times of attack.
Glendalough Cathedral is by far the largest and most imposing of the town’s historical buildings. The cathedral has undergone several phases of construction, beginning with the present nave and its antae. The chancel and sacristy date back to the late 1300’s/ early 1400’s while a few yards south of the cathedral is an early cross made from local granite.
Something for everyone
For anyone who wishes to spend a day out exploring old ruins and cloaking themselves in the history of a bygone era, a visit to Glendalough is a must. Aside from some of the oldest structures in Ireland, there are literally dozens of monuments near the upper lake; all of which are well worth investigating.
For bird lovers, the chance to see the rare redstart, the wood warbler or peregrine falcons is always a treat, so bring your field glasses along. Whatever your passion, be it hiking, fishing, cycling or simply enjoying beautiful surroundings, the Wicklow mountains and the monastic city of Glendalough are attractions that should not be missed.
Getting there and enjoying your stay
A bus service leaves Dawson Street just near St. Stephens Green daily at 11:30am, and collects you again from the Glendalough visitor centre at 6:00pm. This service is very convenient, and they typically arrive with two busses to cater for high demand during peak season. Tickets can be paid with cash to the driver.
After walking and exploring Glendalough there is only one thing left for you to do, and that’s enjoy the perfect pint or twelve. You cannot go passed either Lynhams of Laragh just a short scenic walk from the Glendalough visitor centre. The Guinness is grand, the locals offer great craic, the food is little bit on the ‘pub grub’ side, but the hotel rooms are very warm and cosy.
Additionally, just a 2-minute walk from Glendalough Cathedral is the Glendalough Hotel. This old Victorian building offers not just the perfect pint, but also one of the best lamb shank’s in Ireland.
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