On holiday in Ireland in 1998 (a few weeks before I would visit Durham), I made a day trip from Dublin to Glenalough — the valley of two lakes — amid the mountains of County Wicklow. In the beautiful setting rests the remains of a monastery started in the 6th century by Saint Kevin (498-618). Glendalough is a fantastic place both for the extensive ruins and the natural beauty. In fact on a second visit to Ireland in 2002, it was one of the few places I visited a second time and even spent the night.
For a saint of the early medieval period who lived a 120 years, little is known of St. Kevin. Here’s a mix of fact and fancy in Kevin lore:
- He was the first person named Kevin which means “fair begotten.”
- Kevin studied in monasteries at an early age.
- He founded the monastery at Glendalough as well as other Irish monasteries and was instrumental at Clonmacnoise.
- Despite founding monastic communities, he spent much of his time as a hermit. Even at Glendalough he spent much of his time praying in a tiny cell on a rocky precipice overlooking the Upper Lake.
- Once while praying with arms outstretched a blackbird built a nest in his hand and laid eggs in the nest. Kevin kept himself still in that position until the birds hatched.
- Glendalough grew to be a bustling village and pilgrimage site, worth half the indulgences of a pilgrimage to Rome.
- The monastery at Glendalough was destroyed by the English in 1398.
- St. Kevin’s feast day was commemorated with riotous celebration in Ireland until banned by the British in 1890.
- Long acknowledged and venerated as a holy person, Kevin’s saint was confirmed by canonization in 1903.
The structure nicknamed “St. Kevin’s Kitchen” is actual a church. The tower is a steeple rather than a chimney. The stone structure dates to the 12th century.
The view of the Upper Lake is close to what St. Kevin would see each day from his cell high upon the rocky wall. I was not brave enough to climb out to the actual location. Visiting this place certainly made the live of a monastic hermit appealing to me, although I doubt I’d ever be still enough to hold a bird’s nest until the eggs hatched.
More resources on Saint Kevin of Glendalough: