The unfiltered beauty and heavenly tranquillity of Glendalough in County Wicklow is what attracts almost three-quarters of a million visitors each year. It’s also what brought St Kevin here in the 6th century, to spend 7 years in isolation before founding the monastery.
He chose to live in a metre-high cave by the shore of the upper lake. St Kevin’s Bed, as it is known, can still be seen from the north shore. It’s said he wore only animal skins, and that he threw them off in winter to immerse himself for hours in the freezing lake and, to achieve a similar effect in summer, to plunge himself into forests of nettles.
St Kevin had a deep love for nature and respect for all its creations. According to one legend, while praying in his cell with his arm outstretched, a blackbird nested in his hand. Kevin was forced to hold his hand there with trance-like stillness until all the eggs had hatched and the chicks had fledged and flown away.
His hospitality extended to his fellow man too. Despite spending 7 years in solitude, he became known as a holy man and teacher. Others came to Glendalough to follow his way of life and soon a monastic settlement was established, which would become one of the great spiritual centres of Christianity in Ireland.
Kevin and his monks generously provided free education and board to noblemen and commoners alike. Unlike many other monasteries, they were also happy to receive those who did not intend to become monks, but who simply wanted to learn. They created quite a stir among the more conventional churchmen by bringing in ‘dubious’ pagan works in Greek or Latin to put in their libraries.
Kevin’s story is often referred to as a journey from seclusion to community and much of it can still be traced at Glendalough. Despite being one of the tourism jewels in the crown of Ireland’s Ancient East, if not Ireland as a whole, you won’t have to wander too far to find the spirituality and peacefulness that drew monks to Glendalough all those centuries ago.
Talking of saints, possibly the strongest connection between Ireland and Wales is St Patrick. While it’s universally accepted that St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland – with many more countries joining in on 17 March celebrations – what’s less well-known is that he wasn’t born in Ireland. In fact, evidence suggests that he was born in a part of Western Britain that is now modern-day South Wales and spoke the language from which Welsh originated. So, does this make St Patrick Welsh? Not strictly, no. Wales, as we know it, didn’t actually exist in his lifetime. And ultimately, he would go on to identify with Ireland and become the embodiment of everything Irish.