Day 20, Sunday, 30 September 2012
Today we were going to make up for getting a little lost on the way to Clonmacnoise, so we picked up Gerry at ten o’clock with a plan to drive down into the Wicklow Mountains to see another world-famous monastic settlement: Glendalough. (Pronounce this GLEN-da-lock.)
It wasn’t easy to find either. That is, the signs to get us off the highway were perfectly clear. But then we got out on those little two-lane roads, and it became a little … less clear.
The Wicklow Mountains are beautiful and old, though. Gorgeous country. You’ll recall we could see them in the distance from the Portmarnock Hotel north of Dublin. Remember the Great Sugar Loaf? We drove right around the base of it. Fantastic stuff. It’s good to get out and drive around in the country like this. I always imagine myself living in … that house. Or maybe … that one.
I may get lost easily, but I do have a pretty good memory for what things looked like the last time I was here (partly because I take a lot of photos). And the approach to Glendalough (once we’d found our way there) was completely changed. I mean, changed like the Cliffs of Moher was changed: it was Disneyland Glendalough.
There was a huge hotel, for God’s sake, that apparently has been there all along (though it has recently been enlarged) but which is now a main feature, since the entrance has been changed. You cannot miss it; the parking lot is huge.
Surely St. Kevin is rolling over in his grave.
So I was discombobulated. What I thought of as the “front” of the site (you know, like where the sanctuary gate—the entrance—is) is not the front anymore. And what I thought of as the back of the site—back where St. Kevin’s Kitchen is—is now what you see first. Have you been to Glendalough before this change? Does the fact that they removed that gorgeous old squeaky kissing gate distress you as much as it distresses me?
As you might have guessed by now, I was cranky when I got out of the car. Also: it had begun to rain. And not a light rain through which you might cheerfully press on. Although we did. 🙂
I don’t know why they call it Kevin’s Kitchen, honestly, and I can’t seem to track it down. There’s no evidence it was used as one. Perhaps it’s because the little squat bell tower looks like a chimney.
Glendalough was founded by Kevin, who was born in 498, a descendant of the royal house of Leinster, the province in which Glendalough is located. Kevin rejected his life of privilege, choosing instead to live as a hermit in a cave here; later he founded a monastery on the site in the sixth century. The settlement was sacked repeatedly by the Vikings, yet it flourished for more than six hundred years. The age of the buildings still extant is uncertain, but most date from the eighth to twelfth centuries.
The round tower at Glendalough is one of the finest of its kind in the country. Landmarks for approaching visitors, round towers were, of course, bell-towers, but they were also places of refuge during an attack: the door was always on the second story, entered by a rope ladder which could be pulled up after the last monk was safely inside. The round tower at Glendalough is still all in one piece (the conical roof was rebuilt in 1876 using the original stones) at 110 feet high.
Unfortunately, by this time it was pouring down rain and the wind was gusting, and though we tried, we just had to give it up: none of us wanted to walk around in the rain.
So we began to retrace our steps. We stopped in Roundwood (pop. 833), at the Roundwood Inn, right on the R755, for Sunday dinner. The Lonely Planet says the inn is in a seventeenth-century German house; Google+ says it’s been in business for more than twenty-five years. What I can tell you is they had a nice turf fire burning, and we snuggled up to it with a pot of tea while we looked at the menu.
After we left Roundwood we drove back toward the Avoca Handweavers shop in Bray, just off the N11. It’s quite a place—as the name suggests, they sell beautiful woolen sweaters, scarves, throws, and such—but it’s become quite touristy and pricey. But you can get wool goods there you can get nowhere else. We were glad we stopped, as this is the main location.
Back in Dublin we visited with Bridie for awhile, uploaded our photos, and I finished and emailed those editorial notes I’d been working on. By then it was getting late-ish, so Margaret and I drove back to Clontarf and our B&B. Later we had an evening snack of Cashel Blue (Irish farmhouse cheese: a “subtle creamy blue hand made in Tipperary”) spread on butter crackers, accompanied by fresh pears at the perfect ripeness, followed by a second course of homemade banana bread (brought from the B&B in Lahinch) accompanied by Butler’s dark chocolate with almonds. And it was very, very good.
St Kevin chose Glendalough (“Glen of the Two Lakes) for his hermitage because it was remote and wild and beautiful. It still is. Even in the rain.