One of the best places to visit around Dublin is Glendalough, no doubt. I suggest anybody who goes to Ireland to devote half a day to this mysterious spot. You can either go by coach (it takes an hour) or hire a car at Dublin car rental.
Glendalough (Gleann Dá Loch, “Valley of the Two Lakes”) is a suggestive monastic site set within beautiful natural surroundings. The settlement was founded by St. Kevin, a monk who died around 618 AC.
It consists of seven churches, set, in fact, in a valley with two lakes. The visitor is welcomed by an old cemetery spread-out around the main church. Walking deeper inside the valley, it's a tangle of small bridges crossing the river that leads toward the lakes, making the whole scenario a quaint yesteryear village.
The atmosphere is one of austerity, and it couldn't be otherwise, since St. Kevin was a hermit monk, or at least this is how it started. As a boy, he studied in a Catholic circle and decided to start his life as a hermit in Glendalough. After a while, he returned there with a group of followers, and I believe that was the time when the site was built.
Apparently, St. Kevin lived a life of hardships and privations, barely eating and sleeping on stones, no matter what season, and in Ireland does get cold, maybe in the past more than today. However, it seems like he wanted to apply the principles he read in the Bible, of the Christ living in poverty, precepts that maybe the Pope should freshen up between a Mass and a dinner.
In its heyday, Glendalough was a very lively centre: in here, in fact, were not only monastic cells but also workshops, guesthouses, farms and an infirmary. Now, it looks like a fascinating ghost town.
When I think of Catholic rules applied in Ireland, I can't avoid recalling the movie "Magdalene's Sisters" because it frightened me and, what's even worse, I was told that those types of monasteries were closed less than twenty years ago.
After several attacks, the site was constantly rebuilt, and now we can see it in pretty good conditions. I've always been attracted by Celtic traditions, and although this is a pretty Catholic spot, it nevertheless reflects the culture it was built in.
I remember with real pleasure my walk through these ancient ruines, and I would suggest it to anybody planning a trip to Dublin.