Below we have put some historical information together which maybe of interest to you. Please read on if it is. If you can add anything to this please email, or send us a CD with the information and pictures if you have some. The site is managed by the Wicklow Web Centre. Any comments are welcome, and we encourage links to any interesting information.. Thank you and enjoy your stay
Introduction To Glendalough Legends of St Kevin
St Kevin's Cell St Kevin's Bed
Gateway to Glendalough


A Brief History
Glendalough, or the Glen of two Lakes, is one of the most important sites of maonastic ruins in Ireland. It is also known as the city of the seven Churches. Fourteen centuries have passed since the death of its founder, St. Kevin, when the valley was part of Ireland's Golden Age.
The two lakes, which gave the valley its name, came into existence thousands of years ago, after the Ice Age, when great deposits of earth and stone were strewn across the valley in the area where the Round Tower now exists. The mountain streams eventually formed a large lake. The Pollanass river spread alluvial deposits across the centre of the lake and created a divide to form the Upper and Lower Lakes. The Glenealo river flows in from the West into the Upper lake which is the larger and deepest of the two lakes.
Before the arrival of St. Kevin this valley (glen) would have been desolate and remote. It must have been ideal for St Kevin as a retreat and area to be 'away from it all'. Kevin died in 617 A.D. at the age of 120 years and his name and life's work is forever entwine with the ruins and the Glendalough Valley.
The recorded history of the wooded valley dates from the 6th century - the dawn of Christianity in Ireland. For 500 years it was one of Irelands great ecclesiastical foundations and schools of learning. The establishment was attacked, burned and plundered by the Danes, who were based in the stronghold of Dublin, a shortish distance away, and making it an easy target..
Glendalough, despite extensive fire damage in 1163 A.D. prospered until the early 13th century. In 1163, Laurence O'Toole, Abbot of Glendalough, who later became Irelands first canonised saint, was appointed Archbishop of Dublin.
The arrival of the Normans in Ireland sealed the fate of Glendalough, as in 1214 the monastery was destroyed by the invaders and the Diocese of Glendalough was united with the Sea of Dublin. After that, Glendalough declined as a monastic establishment and gradually it became deserted.
The buildings fell into decay and more than 6 hundred years elapsed before a reconstruction program was started in 1878. Further work was carried out in the 20th century Today the valley of Glendalough is extensively wooded and a comprehensive network of walk ways have been completed and continually improved, which provides good access for the visitor and researcher to wonder the valley.
WWC gratefully acknowledges the help, information and research which has gone into putting this page together.
To pass comments, or if you wish to add a further similar article, please reference this page
Link to Fr Aquinas T. Duffy Site on Monastic Information


Legends associated with St. Kevin and the years he spent in the desolate valley of Glendalough are numerous. They have survived in some form through the centuries, and have probably lost some of their origins along the way.
Acta Sanctorum – which is based on an ancient manuscript contains a number of legends. The author of a commentary on this manuscript, Fr. Francis Baert, S.J., explains, “that although many of the legends given to this work are of doubtful veracity; it was decided to let them stand in favour of the antiquity of the document which is placed as having being written during or before the 12th century”.
St Kevin’s birth and early years figure prominently in traditional legends. An angel is said to have appeared as Kevin was about to be baptised and told his parents that the child should be called Kevin. The priest named Cronan who performed the ceremony said, “This was surely an angel of the Lord and as he named the child so shall he be called”. So Kevin received the name which in Latin means pulcher-genitus or the fair-begotten.
When an infant a mysterious white cow came to his parents house every morning and evening and supplied the milk for the baby. When Kevin was old enough he was put tending sheep. One day some men came to him and begged him to give them some sheep. He was touched by their poverty and gave them four sheep. When evening came, however, and Kevin’s sheep were counted the correct number were still there.
Another time one autumn day Kevin was in the kitchen. Meals were being prepared for harvesters who were busy gathering crops in the fields when a number of pilgrims called and asked for food. Kevin, filled with compassion, gave them the harvesters dinner.
He was rebuked by his superiors for his action. He then told the attendants to fill all the ale jars with water and gather together all the bare meat bones. Then he prayed alone and, it is said, the water turned to ale and the bones were covered with meat again.
A cure is reported to have occurred when Kevin was at Luggala (on the road to Sallygap). A workman was injured when a chip of stone struck him in one eye and caused his to lose the sight of the eye. Kevin came to the injured man, blessed the eye and the man recovered his sight immediately.
Perhaps the most famous legend is the one about Kathleen of the “eyes of most unholy blue”. She is said to have pursued the handsome Kevin in a bid to captivate him, ignoring the fact that he was bound by holy vows. He became annoyed and repulsed her by beating her with a bunch of nettles. She later sought his forgiveness and is said to have become a very holy woman, noted for her grate sanctity.
Gerald Griffin and Thomas Moore have dramatised this legend in poems.. But the two poems, colourful though they are, appear to be totally imaginative and to have little bearing on the incident. A person of Kevin’s kind nature would hardly be likely to “Hurl the maiden from the rock into the black lake shrieking” as Griffin’s poem suggests. It is equally improbable that Kevin “Hurled her from the beetling rock” into the lake, as indicated in Moore’s verse.
It is said that the lark never sings above the dark waters of Glendaloch. Folklorists say that when the cathedral was being built the labourers and masons agreed to work as long a day as possible and to “rise with the lark and lie with the lamb”.
These long hours soon had the men exhausted and when Kevin investigated he found that the local larks started their day extremely early. He prayed for an answer to the problem and from that day, according to tradition, the skylark ceased singing in Glendaloch.
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St. Kevin’s Bed can best be described as a man made cave cut in the rock face a short distance east of the Church of the Rock. It is very close to the edge of the mountain and it overlooks the upper lake from a height of about 30 odd feet (10 metres). It should not be confused with St. Kevin’s Cell which occupies a site further east.
The approach to the cave is very difficult, with access to it is through a rectangular space and a short passageway 3 ft. (1 metre) high and 2½ ft. wide. The inner or main part of the cave is just 4 ft. wide (1.5 metres) and less than 3 ft.(1 metre) high.
It is reasonable to assume that the cave could only have been used as a sleeping place, and would have been impossible for an adult to stand upright in it, so it is quite likely that St Kevin only used it as his bed, or a place for pious prayer or meditation
A century ago one historian wrote about the bed: “Here he reposed by night on this stony bed when not engaged in pious vigil and meditation. A ledge of level rock is formed at its entrance. Even yet, adventurous pilgrims dare climb into it from Teampul na Skellig while they ascend by a steep and dangerous pathway. Stations were formerly made there by the devout peasantry and especially of the Patron’s festival day.
Dr. Leask expresses the opinion that this cave was constructed long before Kevin’s time and it was probably the first and oldest piece of work to be undertaken by man in the glen.
There is also a legend which claims that St Laurence O’Toole used the “bed” as he frequently made penitential visits to Glendaloch, especially during the season of Lent.
Michael Dwyer, the famous Wicklow rebel is reputed to have taken shelter in the “bed” while he was on the run from British soldiers. The story goes that he escaped capture one morning by diving into the lake and swimming to the opposite side.
Today, it is highly dangerous to try to approach the “bed” from the side of Lugduff mountain. Visitors, in the interests of their own safety, should be content with a distant view of it from one of the boats which operate during the tourist season.

St Kevin's Cell

St Kevin’s Cell was situated amid trees on a spur of rocks overlooking the upper lake near a small mountain stream.
The cell appears to have been a circular hut made of stones and measuring about 12 ft. (3.5 Metres) in diameter. The walls are just 3 ft.(1 metre) thick and it was beehive in shape. It was where St. Kevin went for seclusion and peace so that he could fulfil his wish to live as a hermit.
St. Kevin’s cell was probably roofed with stone just like the beehive huts which can be seen on the Dingle Peninsula and at Skellig Michael off the Kerry coast. A small crude cross can be seen in the centre of the roofless cell. Kevin prayed and spent four years of severe austerity there.
He had a number of followers before he adjourned to his cell to begin his term of solitude. It appears he had established a number of monastic cells throughout Leinster and he assigned these to his followers so that they could perform their spiritual duties according to the Rule of Life he had given them.
St Kevin was to be uninterrupted. He ordered that no food be sent to him and nobody was to come near him, unless on a matter of great importance.
It is noted that during this period he remained barefoot and wore only the roughest garments for protection from the weather. He must have lived on roots, berries, herbs and fruit, which grew on the nearby trees and bushes. He never disclosed his secret way of life to anyone.
Kevin left his place of solitude only at the persuasion of his followers who felt he was living too austere a life on his own. Kevin would have been content to live as a hermit until called to his heavenly home.
In the end he yielded to the wishes of his monks but he vowed he would “with the permission of God, finish my mortal course in this valley whether my life be praised by an angel or a demon”. He can hardly have foreseen then that more than sixty years were to elapse before his death.