GLENDALOUGH

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

GLENDALOUGH, a manor, in the parish of DERRALOSSORY, barony of BALLYNACOR, county of WICKLOW, and province of LEINSTER, 6 miles (N. W.) from Rathdrum; containing 1819 inhabitants. This place, originally called Gleande, or "the town of the glen," and also Glandelagh and the Seven Churches, derives its present appellation, Glendalough, or "the glen of the two lakes," from the name of the valley in which it is situated. This valley, which abounds with the most picturesque and romantic scenery, was part of the district of Imayle which, extending widely towards the south and west, formed the ancient territory of the powerful sept of the Otothils or O'Tooles, who maintamed possession of it with uncontrolled authority till the 17th century. From the numerous remains of its ancient religious foundations, from which probably it derived the name of the Seven Churches, and from the existence of one of those ancient round towers so frequently found in similar situations, it appears to have been a place of religious retreat prior to the introduction of Christianity; and from its early importance and secluded situation, it has long been regarded with feelings of veneration, as one of the most celebrated seats of ancient ecclesiastical institutions.

The first Christian church established here was founded by St. Kevin, who was born of a noble family about the year 498, but choosing a monastic life retired to these solitudes, and founded an abbey in the lower part of the vale. So great was the reputation of St. Kevin, that St. Mochuorog, a Briton, also fixed his residence here; and a school was soon established, which concentrated a great portion of the learning of the times and produced some of the most eminent men of that period. A city soon arose around this monastery, which became the seat of a diocese, including the present see of Dublin, and of which St. Kevin, who also held the abbacy of Glendalough, was the first bishop. Having presided over the see till 612, he resigned the care of the bishop-rick, attending solely to the duties of the abbacy, and died on the 3rd of June, 618, in the 120th year of his age. The see of Glendalough, after the resignation of St. Kevin, continued under a regular succession of bishops to flourish for 600 years, when, on the death of William Piro, in 1214, it was united to the see of Dublin, at the suggestion of Cardinal Paparo, who had delivered one of the palls to the metropolitan bishop, and this union was confirmed by Pope Honorius in 1216. The sept of the O'Tooles, however, could never be induced to acknowledge the authority of the English Archbishops of Dublin, but was still governed by Irish bishops of Glendalough for many years, till 1497, when Friar Dennis White, the last bishop, formally surrendered possession of the see of Glendalough, and the authority of the Archbishops of Dublin was fully acknowledged. It appears from the records of the see, that Glendalough, which was the depository of the wealth of the neighbouring septs, was frequently plundered by the Danes, and also by the English, after whose invasion the city was never able to preserve the importance it had previously maintained.

In 1309, Piers Gavestone defeated the sept of the O'Byrnes at this place, and having rebuilt the castle of Kevin and opened the pass between it and Glendalough, presented an offering at the shrine of St. Kevin. In 1398, the English forces burnt the city, which never afterwards recovered its prosperity. In 1580, one of the Fitzgeralds, uniting with Lord Baltinglass and a chieftain of the O'Byrnes, occupied this valley in open hostility to the government, and the Lord-Deputy Grey, who had just arrived from England and was totally unacquainted with the country, gave orders for their immediate dislodgement. The officers, who had assembled to congratulate him on his arrival, accordingly led their troops to the valley; but as they began to explore its recesses, perplexed with bogs and overhung by rocks, a volley was poured in among them from an unseen enemy, and repeated with dreadful execution. Audley, Moore, Crosby, and Sir Peter Carew, all distinguished officers, fell in this rash adventure; and Lord Grey, who had awaited the result on an eminence in the vicinity, returned with the remainder of his troops to Dublin. On the suppression of the disturbances of 1798, Dwyer and his followers took refuge among the fastnesses of Glendalough, and remained in perfect security in the mountains till they procured an amnesty from the government.

The ancient city is now only a heap of scattered ruins, imparting a venerable and solitary grandeur to that part of the valley in which they are situated. The vale is about two miles in length, and about three-quarters of a mile in breadth, enclosed on the north by the mountains of Brockagh and Comaderry, and on the south by those of Derrybawn and Lugduff; it is entirely inaccessible from the west, but opens towards the east, where its waters are discharged by a powerful stream into the river Avonmore. About halfway up the valley, and at the farthest extremity to which cultivation has been extended, are the principal remains of the city, occupying a gentle eminence projecting from the base of the mountain of Comaderry, beyond which the two lakes, overshadowed by the vast precipices of the mountains of Derrybawn and Lugduff, present a scene of sombre magnificence, rendered still more impressive by the opposite heights of Comaderry, whose summit is 1567 feet above their surface. In the mountain of Derrybawn, which is composed of mica slate, is a break in the strata, where one part has sunk many feet below the other, and which is called the "Giants' Cut;" and a little farther between it and Lugduff the Glaneola brook, falling into the upper lake over some richly wooded rocks, forms several picturesque cascades. On the same side of the glen, under the gloomy brow of Lugduff, and in a precipice rising perpendicularly to the height of 30 feet from the surface of the lake, is the remarkable excavation called St. Kevin's bed, said to have been the retreat of that saint; it is large enough only for one person in a recumbent position, and is surrounded by a zone of rocky mountains encircling the lake, of which the waters, though perfectly limpid, have an appearance of sombre darkness. In storms the lake is violently agitated and sometimes overflows the meadows which separate it from the lower lake; and in calm weather an echo of surprising distinctness is formed between the rocks near the Giants' Cut and the opposite side of the valley.

Amidst these scenes, to which the genius of Moore has given a high degree of celebrity, are to be found numerous vestiges of antiquity, and many objects which are intimately associated with the most pleasing and interesting periods of Irish history. These venerable remains form a group of diversified appearance, and above them rises in isolated grandeur one of those ancient round towers, the origin of which has so much excited the researches of the antiquary. The approach to these interesting relics is across the mountain torrent of Glendhasane, which descends from the back of Comaderry, on the near side of which are the traces of a paved road, leading out by Wicklow Gap, in the direction of Hollywood, and called St. Kevin's Road; also of a small paved area, said to have been the marketplace of the ancient city. On the other side of the road is a gateway, the arches of which are still entire. The most conspicuous of these ruins is the ancient cathedral, of which the nave and choir were connected by a circular arch, which has fallen down; three narrow windows in the south wall of the nave, and the east window of the chancel, enriched with mouldings and allegorical sculpture on the inside, are still remaining; as is also the western doorway, which is formed of blocks of granite. Nearly adjacent are vestiges of a small building, probably the sacristy, around which are numerous crosses, mostly mutilated; one is formed of a single block of granite, 11 feet high and very neatly worked, which it is said stood on a base of masonry now visible in the marketplace. There are foundations of various extensive buildings, the arrangement and design of which it is now impossible to ascertain; and beyond these is a church, with a stone roof, of very remote antiquity, called St. Kevin's Kitchen, and by far the most perfect of all the churches of which there are any remains. The interior is 22 feet 9 inches long and 15 feet wide; the vaulting of the ceiling is circular, and the roof rises to a very high pitch in horizontal courses of mica slate; in the ceiling is an opening to a circular turret at the west end, with a conical roof, built in exact resemblance of the ancient round towers; the church is lighted by one narrow window only, and at the west end is a small chapel of more recent date, similarly lighted and having a roof of lower pitch; this building was used as a R. C. chapel within the last ten years.

To the west of these remains, and on the same side of the vale, are the ruins now called the Church of our Lady, the architecture of which was evidently of more ornamental character; it is very small and thickly mantled with ivy, from which it is sometimes called the Ivy Church. On the south side of the valley, near the influx of the Glaneola brook into the upper lake, are the interesting remains of Rhefeart church, or "the sepulchre of kings," so called from its being the mausoleum of the O'Tooles; and on the south side of it is a monumental stone to one of those ancient kings, who was interred here in 1010; these remains are covered with ivy and deeply embosomed in groves of hazel and other trees, and within the cemetery are some fragments of ancient crosses. On a spot of ground projecting from the base of Lugduff into the upper lake, are the ruins of the church of Teampulnaskellig, "the temple of the desert or the rock," also called the priory of the rock and St. Kevin's cell. Lower in the valley are two other churches, both enclosed in grounds that have been greatly improved; the one on the north side is called Trinity Church, and that on the south side, the Abbey or Monastery Church, but by Archdall and Ledwich, the priory of St. Saviour. Trinity Church consists of a nave and chancel, separated by a fine arch, similar in design to that which forms the entrance to the city, and has some remains of a round tower. The abbey originally consisted of two parallel ranges of building, of a style far exceeding in elegance of design and in architectural embellishment any of the other buildings of this interesting valley; there are still some portions of a very fine arch, and numerous stones richly sculptured with allegorical devices, that have formed part of the eastern window, and other ornamental portions of the building.

On the summit of the gentle eminence on which the cathedral stood, and within the limits of its cemetery, is an ancient round tower, 110 feet high, with a band round its summit, from which rose a roof of conical form; it is built of the mica slate with which this place abounds, and also of granite. The cemetery of the cathedral continued for many ages to be a favourite place of interment, and monumental stones are consequently very numerous; the tomb of St. Kevin is said to have been found in a small crypt, or oratory, near the Abbey or Monastery Church, some few years since; and various relics of antiquity are scattered throughout the valley. A range of stone crosses appears to have extended along a road across the valley, and there are numerous blocks of granite with circular basins formed in them, concerning which are various traditionary legends.

The inhabitants of the valley live chiefly in cottages dispersed along the southern side; and near Derrybawn bridge the streams from the lakes of Glendalough meet the Annamoe river, which thence takes the name of Avonmore. At the base of the mountain of that name is Derrybawn, the seat of W. Bookey, Esq., pleasantly situated in the midst of natural woods and thriving plantations. From this point the road to Rathdrum runs parallel with the Avonmore, through the richly wooded and picturesque vale of Clara; the military road from Dublin crosses the mountains into Glenrnalur. Near its junction with the road to Roundwood, and at the foot of Laragh hill, are the Laragh barracks, at present occupied only by a party of police, though constituting an important and formidable military station in case of need. A new road has been made leading up Glendhasane to Hollywood; and near it, at the back of Comaderry mountain, are the lead mines of Glendhasane, held under the Archbishop of Dublin by the Mining Company of Ireland.

The vein of ore completely intersects the mountain, from the summit of which the view towards the east is peculiarly fine; the ore, when dressed, is conveyed to the smelting-houses of Ballycorus, in the county of Dublin, and the works employ on an average about 100 men. Lead ore is also supposed to exist in other parts, and in 1835 a search was made for it at the head of the lake in Glendalough. In the vicinity is a quarry of fine talc slate of excellent quality for making mantel-pieces. Between Comaderry and the mountain of Tonelagee, towards the north-east, and at the base of an impending precipice, is Lough Nahanaghan, about half a mile long and a quarter of a mile broad, abounding with excellent trout. In the vale of Glenmacanass, through which the military road passes, is an enormous basin formed by a curvature in the mountain's slope, down the perpendicular side of which descends a considerable stream, forming a cascade. The contiguous rocks present various interesting mineralogical specimens: and about half a mile farther is a small circular lake, called Lough Outer, overshadowed by the towering precipices of the mountain of Tonelagee, which rises to the height of 2696 feet above the level of the sea, and near which is a Danish rath. Near the village is a small rivulet, called St. Kevin's Keeve, the water of which is supposed to have peculiar efficacy in promoting the health of weakly children, who are immersed in the stream for that purpose; and on the lands of Derrybawn, on the opposite side of the river, and near St. Kevin's Kitchen, is St. Kevin's Well, which is much resorted to by the peasantry of the surrounding neighbourhood. St. Kevin's national school was built in 1832, at an expense of £140.

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