Just South of Dublin, in the misty Wicklow Mountains is a site called Glendalough. It is considered a “thin place” in Celtic Christianity and home to St. Kevin’s Monastery. Today, we’ll explore this “must see” pilgrimage location in the Republic of Ireland and learn about why it has been a holy site since the early 6th century.
When you visit Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland, you will have plenty to see and do within the city itself. You could spend days exploring Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, or visiting Trinity College to view the Book of Kells, or the Long Library. If you have the time to travel outside the city, I have a suggestion that may be unknown you you and is well worth consideration. You would truly enjoy a visit to Glendalough and St. Kevin’s Monastery!
The Wicklow Mountains are a 30 minute drive south of Dublin. The first time I was there I could hardly believe the scenery. It is stunningly beautiful, with exposed dark grey, almost black, stone, small waterfalls, and streams, windblown tall grass, and wild flowers. There are also many, MANY sheep! The one thing that caught my eye, even as I drive through the rich natural beauty of the mountains was a series trail markers with the image of a wee little man holding a shepherd’s crook.
There are many opportunities to stop and immerse oneself in this beautiful countryside. You can even walk along the marked pathway. It’s very walkable, though a little slippery after a good rain. I found out later in the day, the marked path is known as St. Kevin’s Way; it is what leads hikers and pilgrims to Glendalough and St. Kevin’s Monastery. St. Kevin’s Way was been used for Centuries! I would highly recommend that any group traveling to Glendalough have your motorcoach stop at one of the scenic overlooks and let those who are willing and able to walk part of the path do so, and then meet the coach a bit down the road.
Glendalough is named for how it is located in proximity to the two lakes of the region. It is literally a glen with two loughs (lochs in Scottish Gaelic or lakes in English). The lakes are named, quite appropriately, the Upper Lough and the Lower Lough. The glen that sits between them is this very “thin place.” A “thin place” is one that is so beautiful, peaceful, and holy that the distance between heaven and earth is very close. It is a place where the veil between this world and the eternal world is barely even discernable. Glendalough is this holy place.
The site was founded by St. Kevin. While not much is known about him historically, we do know he was of noble birth, took orders as a monk, and traveled to the Wicklow Mountains to live as a hermit. Most of us have experienced that our plans for us and God’s plans for us are most often not the same. Kevin was so renown as a teacher and holy man that people started coming to his cell (his small devotional space) and eventually a community was established on the site.
Today, Glendalough and St. Kevin’s monastery continue as popular sites for hikers and tourists, many of whom know almost nothing about the spiritual aspects of the place they’ve chosen for a picnic lunch. If you know the history of the site and walk among the ruined churches, chapels, towers, and Celtic crosses, you may find yourself experiencing that very thin place and feeling closer to God.