the Glendalough Monastery

Glendalough means the valley of two lakes. It is a glacial valley located in Wicklow, south of Dublin, Ireland. An area of natural beauty it was also the site of a monastic city. I come on a day trip from Dublin which will go to Kilkenny before returning to Dublin.

Monastic City

The monastic settlement of Glendalough was founded by St Kevin in the 6th century. It thrived as a monastic city until 1214 when the dioceses of Glendalough and Dublin united. Unification caused Glendalough's decline in importance. In 1398 it was destroyed by English forces. Most of the buildings, which date from the 10th to 12th centuries, are ruins. However there is a few structures that are still intact.


We enter through the gateway. It has two granite arches and in times past it may have had a timber roof.

Gateway to Glendalough monastic city

In the west wall of the gateway is a cross-inscribed stone which marks the boundary of an area of refuge.

Round Tower

Once through the Gateway, the first object to catch my eye is the round tower. Built from mica-slate and granite more than a 1000 years ago it is 30.48 meters high with an entrance 3.5 meters above the ground. When taking refuge the ladder would be pulled inside.

Glendalough 30 meter high Round Tower
Round Tower

Originally having six timber floors connected by ladders, the floors above entrance level were lit by small windows. The top floor has four windows which face in cardinal compass directions. It was used as a bell tower, beacon for pilgrims, look-out tower, grain storage and in times of conflict, a refuge. The conicial roof was built in 1876 to replace the previous roof which had been destroyed by lightning.

St Kevin's Kitchen

St Kevin's Church, dates from the 12th century. It is known as St Kevin's Kitchen because the three story high bell tower, located on the west end, resembles a chimney. However no meals were cooked there. Like the Round Tower it has a conical top and the four top windows face the cardinal directions. Facing in an east-west direction are the two windows below.

Architecturally the church is an example of combining a circular bell tower to a rectangular building.

This church originally only had a nave. The steep roof, made of over-lapping stones, is supported internally by a semi-circular vault. Church entrance is at the west end and there is a small round-headed window in the east gable. A chancel and sacristy were added later. Access to the croft or roof chamber was through a rectangular opening towards the western end of the vault. The church also had a timber first floor.

St Kevin's Church, Glendalough
St Kevin's Church (Kitchen)


In the grounds is a cemetery containing many celtic crosses.

Celtic Crosses in Glendalough cemetary.
Celtic Crosses in Cemetery Grounds

Many of the pre-Christian pagans were sun worshippers. The circle on the celtic cross represents the sun. The idea was to introduce Christianity by combining its beliefs with pre-existing pagan beliefs.

The page header photograph is Glendalough Upper Lake