St Kevin of Glendalough

I have always had a soft spot for St Kevin, the 6th Century Irish monk, whose feast day is normally held on June 3rd but as it coincides with the Memorial of The Holy Trinity this Sunday, I thought it would be nice to do a separate post.

I still can remember my first visit to the site where he lived as a monk in Glendalough, an idyllic wooded glacial valley in County Wicklow, Ireland.  It was my first long summer holiday as a lecturer and I had saved up enough money to buy a trailer tent to tour some of the places in Ireland I had heard so many stories about from my parents. I remember six weeks of continuous sunshine, meeting great characters and I still have vivid memories over 20 years later.

Glendalough is a wonderful place, rich in spirituality and scenically beautiful. 
You don't have to be a mystic to recognize a piece of sacred earth touched by a truly holy spirit.


Kevin came from noble stock - his ancestors once ruled the eastern province of Leinster - and he was baptised by the holy man, Crónán. 

He came to Glendalough at an early age from the monastery in Killnamanagh in County Dublin, where he first went to become a monk. 

What Kevin had learnt in Dublin, spurred him further in his search for God, to embrace a simple but very harsh ascetic life in Glendalough.
I was delighted to find that his earliest tutor was St. Petroc who is the Patron Saint of Cornwall. How about that for a connection !

Petroc had come to Leinster about 492, and together they studied the Sacred Scriptures,

Glendalough means  "Valley of the Two Lakes" and Kevin's monastic settlement is set in a spectacular natural setting just an hour south of Dublin. 

Kevin died about 618 AD allegedly at the age of 120 !

Kevin's writings discuss his fighting "knights" at Glendalough; scholars today believe this refers to his process of self-examination and his personal temptations.[1] His fame as a holy man spread and he attracted numerous followers.

St Kevin's Bed  
Looking across the Upper Lake his hermits cave known as Kevin's Bed can be seen in the rock face. Excavated 30 feet above the lake the narrow cave is difficult to reach other than by boat. Here St Kevin passed the earliest days of his solitary life. 


St Kevin's Cell (left) originally a small bee-hive hut, accessed by a steep hike to a rocky spur over the Upper Lake. Only the circle of base stones survive. It was 3.6 metres in diameter with a 0.9-metre thick wall and a doorway on the east side.


For six centuries after his death, Glendalough flourished.
The Book of Glendalough was written there about 1131.

In 1214, the dioceses of Glendalough and Dublin were united. From that time onwards, the cultural and ecclesiastical status of Glendalough diminished. The destruction of the settlement by English forces in 1398 left it a ruin but it continued as a church of local importance and a place of pilgrimage.

The present remains in Glendalough tell only a small part of its story. The monastery in its heyday included workshops, areas for manuscript writing and copying, guest houses, an infirmary, farm buildings and dwellings for both the monks and a large lay population. More Monastic History here

The buildings which survive probably date from between the 10th and 12th centuries.

Great information and photos of the various sites at Glendalough can be found via this trail guide here.
Loads more information and links on St Kevin and Glendalough here.

                                                         Above and below St Kevin's Kitchen

                                                                           Round Tower
This had a high entrance and a ready-to-pull-up rope ladder to escape from those rascally Danes and other marauding invaders. Every home should have one methinks.
Today, as with so many iconic holy sites, the marauders are tourists: hordes drawn by World Heritage Site status but the place still holds its aura of serenity and holiness. It is easy to touch the timeless here.

Film makers incorporated a little bit of Ireland in the Scottish film Braveheart, as some scenes from the movie Braveheart were filmed near Glendalough in a place called Sally's Gap.

Short video of Glendalough

Good quality video of Glendalough

 Longer video with views of Wicklow and Glendalough


 Statue of St Kevin and his blackbird at Knock.

There are numerous stories about the extraordinary affinity Kevin developed with the world of nature during his time alone. Perhaps the most well known one is about the blackbird building her nest in his outstretched hands as he prayed. 

Image Source

There is also one about the otter that rescued his psalter from the lake waters and more tales from here.

Click here for the delightful tale of St Kevin and his blackbird. 

The video shows Seamus Heaney reading his poem of St. Kevin and the Blackbird on Gay Byrne's Late Late Show shortly after he won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. 

                                  St. Kevin And The Blackbird - Seamus Heaney by poetictouch

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