Glendalough, County Wicklow - Irish Pictures (1888)

From Irish Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil (1888) by Richard Lovett

Chapter II: The Garden of Ireland … continued

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Glendalough is a mountain valley, situated, fortunately, in the opinion of the lover of nature, some miles from the nearest railway station. It is shut in on every side, except the east, by mountains, and starting from it several smaller valleys run up into the hills on either side. Two lakes lie embosomed in the valley, and looking towards the upper end from the eastern entrance it appears to be entirely enclosed by abrupt and lofty mountains. To the east of the lakes, situated in the centre of the valley, is a remarkable cluster of ancient buildings—a round tower, early Irish churches, one nearly perfect, others in ruins, the remains of an ancient cathedral, an early cross, and a considerable number of old and modern tombstones. The buildings clustered at this spot, together with others scattered over the valley, make up the far-famed Seven Churches of Glendalough.

But before we enter into fuller detail, it may be well to glance at the various ways of reaching this valley. If Bray is the starting-point, Rathnew is the nearest station, and the pedestrian will find it an agreeable walk to go by way of the Devil's Glen and the Roundwood Reservoir. Those not equal to a ten or fifteen mile stretch can ride to the Glen, walk up that, and regain their car at the top. Approached from the south, Rathdrum is the station, and then the visitor has a walk or drive of about ten miles through most delightful country. We should be disposed to recommend Rathdrum as the starting-point. As there is a capital hotel at Glendalough, and as the country is admirably suited for walking, the visitor with time and strength at his disposal need not choose the. shortest road, but may reach the Seven Churches by way of the Military Road and Glenmalure. This road is a measure of the difficulties that have been experienced in the past in the government of these districts. It was built during the troubles of 1798 to facilitate the movements of troops in this region; it remains as a boon to the adventurous and scenery-loving traveller. Glenmalure is one of the finest of Wicklow valleys, and when at Drumgoff, where the road from Rathdrum joins the Military Road, the traveller can easily, if he wishes, obtain a guide and make the ascent of Lugnaquilla, the highest mountain in Wicklow, 3,039 feet. The view from the summit, over Wexford, Waterford, and Cork, is very extensive.

But the great majority prefer the beaten path; that which runs by the Vale of Clara to Laragh. And much beyond the fact that it is the shorter and more convenient may be said for this route; as a drive it is not easy to find its equal. Rathdrum occupies a lovely situation on the Avonmore River, at the junction of two valleys; through one of these comes the railroad from Wexford, and along the other runs the road to Glendalough. The whole drive to Laragh is a succession of beautiful views, the road following the Vale of Clara, the Avonmore river being almost always in sight, and usually at a great distance below the traveller; the slopes of the hills are richly wooded. At Laragh the road turns abruptly to the west, and very soon traces of the manifold remains of ancient buildings, which abound in this region, begin to appear. The road skirts the northern bank of a little stream, at a considerable elevation above it. On the southern bank, about a mile from Laragh, are the ruins known as the Priory of St. Saviour's, probably the site of an ancient monastery, and, according to some, of the ancient religious town of Glendalough. The remains are scanty, but they exhibit many curious specimens of Irish ornamental carving of the ninth and tenth centuries. A few yards from the road, nearly opposite the Priory, stand the walls of a tiny structure known as Trinity Church. It belongs to a very early period, and exhibits fine examples of a square-headed doorway, a choir arch and chancel windows.

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