Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
Written on July 15, 2016
While renowned for it’s magnificent scenery Glendalough is also full of a rich and varied heritage in terms of history, monuments, archaeology, architecture, landscapes, geology, parks, flora, fauna, wildlife habitats & mining history.
The Glendalough Valley was carved out by glaciers during the Ice Age and the two lakes, from which Glendalough gets its name, were formed when the ice eventually thawed. The Valley is home to one of Ireland’s most impressive monastic sitesfounded by St. Kevin in the 6th Century. Situated in the Wicklow Mountains National Park, the area is a haven for wildlife and their habitats, flora and fauna. The remains of the Glendalough Mines and Glendasan minescan be found both inside and outside the Park.
Glendalough is home to one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. This early Christian monastic settlement was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century and from this developed the ‘Monastic City’.
The ‘City’ consists of a number of monastic remains, and the most impressive being the Round Tower which stands 30m high. The main group of monastic buildings lies downstream near the Round Tower. The grounds were entered through the Gateway, which has two round headed granite arches.
Beyond St. Mary’s Church is the Priest’s House, a 12th Century building in Romanesque style, with an interesting carving of a much earlier date on the lintel of the doorway.
Just beyond the Priest’s House is a large granite cross (sixth or seventh century) and the “Cathedral”, the largest church on the site, with a nave, chancel and sacristy (11th and 12th C), and St Kevin’s Church.
St Kevin’s Church is commonly known as St Kevin’s Kitchen. This is a barrel-vaulted oratory of hard mica schist with a steeply pitched roof and a round tower belfry (12th C). Approx 200m east of the Church of the Rock is a cavity in the cliff which is known as St Kevin’s Bed or Hermitage. At the Glendalough site on the road to Laragh, to the right, stands Trinity Church (11th-12th C). Beyond the river about 1.5km to the east of the Cathedral is St. Saviour’s Priory a church with fine Romanesque carvings on the chancel arch and windows.
The remains of an old stone fort and three stone crosses can be found between the Upper and Lower Lake, and beside the Lower Lake another cross; all four are stations on the pilgrimage route at Glendalough. Near a small bridge by St Kevin’s Bed stands Reefert Church (11th C.) with a nave and chancel.
Wicklow Mountains National Park
The Wicklow mountains National Park was established with the aim of protecting the area’s wildlife, landscape and maintaining and improving the area as a recreational resource for Irish citizens and International visitors alike.
The National Park covers an area of 20,000 hectares and covers much of upland Wicklow. The National Park provides protection for the landscape and wildlife and covers areas such as Lugnaquilla and Liffey Head Bog complexes and Glendalough Wood Nature Reserve.
Mining in Glendalough dates back to the 1790’s where lead, zinc and silver were mined both in the Glendalough Valley and the next adjacent Valley, Glendasan. Mining in this area took place for over 150 years and at the peak of production 2,000 miners were employed. Mining continued up until 1957. Remains of the mining villages can be easily accessed from the National Park. The remains of the mines can only be accessed on foot.
These four valleys share a rich mining heritage that dates from at least the eighteenth century and maybe even earlier. Glens of Lead is undertaking detailed surveying of all extant mining remains in order to build a GIS to understand the inter-relationship between seemingly discrete elements of the relict mining landscape.
Many thousands of people worked at the various mines and dressing floors over the centuries and Glens of Lead is trying to trace who these people were, in order to place them into our database of mineworkers. Many took their considerable skills overseas and helped to build the mining industry worldwide. We are also conducting an oral history project with former mineworkers and their families to ensure that their memories are recorded for posterity and vital social history, not recorded elewhere, can be used as a resource to inform future generations. Glens of Lead seeks to educate and to inspire visitors to County Wicklow, by offering an alternative narrative for the area.