Our Kilkenny, Wicklow Gap and Glendalough Tour

We took a day tour with Wild Rover Tours south of Dublin to Kilkenny, the medieval capital of Ireland. From Kilkenny we passed through the Wicklow Gap where the movies Brave Heart and P.S. I Love You were filmed and ended the day at Glendalough – pronounce Glen-da-lock and translated means “glen of two lakes”.

It was a great tour but as with most “jammed pack” days, I felt as though we didn’t have enough time at each stop!  We had a great tour guide who knew the history of the area very well.



The Celts were the first foreign people to set foot on Ireland during the Iron Age.  It wasn’t until centuries later that the Vikings invaded Ireland in 795 AD.  Throughout the years there was a struggle between the Irish and the Vikings for the rule of Ireland.  There were times that the Vikings were in control and the Irish would drive them out.  In 902, for example, such an event took place.  The Irish attacked the Vikings in Dublin and drove them out to Wales.  However, in 914, large Viking fleets arrived in Waterford and they established settlements in Limerick and Wexford.

The final end of the Viking – Irish struggle came in 1014 AD.  Brian Boru who was the High King was challenged by Máel Mórda mac Murchada, a Viking, at the Battle of Clontarf. The battle lasted from sunrise until sunset and between 7,000 and 10,000 men were killed. Mórda, Brian and Brian’s son and grandson were all killed.

With no immediate heir to lead the Irish, Ireland was thrown into a period of unrest for 150 years.  This is when the Normans, from northern France, came to Ireland.    It was May, 1169 that they invaded Ireland with the backing of King Henry II of England.

Over time, the Normans built towns.  Each town was surrounded by a wall and had a castle, justice system, merchants and craftsmen.  This is where the Normans lived and worked.  Outside of the wall village, the Irish lived.  The Irish were not allowed to own anything.  They worked land that the Normans owned and were paid with food.  There was a clear divide between the Irish and the Normans.

In the village of Kilkenny, there is St Canice ‘s Cathedral.  This site has had some form of Christian worship since the 6th century.  When the Normans arrived, they built their walled city.  Kilkenny was the first Norman village to be established in 1195.  It was near the church of St Canice that the Irish lived, outside of the walls.

The Normans tried to wipe out Irish culture.  They made the Irish adopt their way of life, banned their language, music and anything that related to the Irish.  This wasn’t successful because of the huge divide between the two sets of people.

Kilkenny was strategically located on the River Nore and became one of the most important cities in Ireland because everything that passed through, on the river, was taxed.

The Norman empire existed from 1172 until 1349 when the plague struck.  It turns out, the walled cities that the Norman’s built added to their demise.  The “black death” spread much quicker among the inhabitants who lived in the close quarters compared to the Irish, who lived in more rural surroundings.  The plague didn’t spread as easily in the country.  It wiped out most of the Normans and as the plague passed, Gaelic Irish began to dominate the country of Ireland again.


This is the Cathedral of St Canice.  It is the second longest medieval cathedral in Ireland.  The longest is St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.  The round tower is 100 ft tall and is one of two in Ireland that is still open to the public today.  Round towers are unique to the Irish landscape.  They were mostly built from 800 AD to 1100 AD.  They were status symbols among the occupants of the village and were used for protection of people and valuables, when being invaded.  They could be used as lookouts and also, bell towers.

I climbed this one for a great view of Kilkenny.  Oh, by the way, Kil means church in Gaelic.  There are many places in Ireland with the name of “Kil”…..Kildare, Killeen, Killarney.  Here is a photo of the city of Kilkenny…..


This photo was taken from the top of the St Canice’s Round Tower.  Notice Kilkenny Castle in the background

This is a photo of part of the original wall that used to surround Kilkenny.


St Canice’s Cathedral is located outside of this boundary.


Such a beautiful church….looking from the back to the front.


The stain glass window behind the alter.


Looking from the alter to the back of the church.


The stain glass window at the back of the church.

Our tour guide offered a walking tour of Kilkenny for anyone interested.  She had some interesting stories to share about the various buildings in the city.


Tholsel Town Hall

This is the Tholsel Town Hall.  The word Tholsel comes from two old English words….”toll” means tax and “sale” means hall.  This building was built in 1761 and was used as a custom house, guildhall and courthouse.  Today, it is used for local government offices and tax collection.  The open porch area is a favorite for musicians to perform for the great acoustics and for artist to exhibit their creations.


Butter Slip Walkway

This passageway is referred to as Butter Slip.  Throughout Kilkenny, there are narrow medieval walkways connecting various streets.  Butter Slip connects Kilkenny’s High Street with St Kieran’s St (which was previously known as “Low Lane”).  It was constructed in 1616 and was an excellent spot for butter vendors to sell their product because it was naturally cool given the stones and shade of the passageway.


Kyteler’s Inn

Built in the 13th century, this inn is one of Ireland’s oldest inns.  It has a very interesting history.  It was established by Dame Alice Kyteler who was the daughter of a Norman banker.  Ms Kyteler had four husbands, all who died mysteriously.  With the death of each husband, her fortune grew.  She was eventually accused of witchcraft in the first known witch trail of Europe and was to be burned at the stake.  Through her connections, Dame Kyteler escaped to England.


Kilkenny Castle

There has been a castle on this spot since the 1173.  Most likely, the first one was constructed with wood.  The first stone castle was completed in 1239.  Three of the four towers are the original ones.  Richard de Clare, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke, also known as Strongbow, was the first ruler of this area and inhabitant of the castle.

In 1391, James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormond, bought the castle in 1391 and established himself as the ruler of the area.  The Butler family would continue to rule for 600 years.

The surround park is open to the public and daily tours of the castle are available for anyone interested in purchasing a ticket.

David and I ate lunch across from the castle is the former stables building that has been converted into a craft gallery.  In the upstairs, there is a nice cafeteria style restaurant.

Kilkenny is a lovely town.  I certainly don’t feel that we had enough time to really explore.  I know that one day, I will return!

Wicklow Mountains

We passed through the Wicklow Mountain range on our way to Glendalough where we visited the ruins of one of the Europe’s oldest monasteries.  This mountain range is one of the oldest in Europe and at one time it was 12,139 ft tall (3,700 meters).  Over the years, erosion has worn them down.

Wicklow Mountain National Park is one of Ireland’s six national parks and the largest.  It is the only one found in the east of the country.  There are hiking trails through out the park.  There is a long-distance, self-guiding hiking trail, Wicklow Way, that starts in Rathfarnham located in southern Dublin and goes south/south west through the Wicklow Range for 79 miles (127 kilometers) and ends in the small village of Clonegal in County Carlow.

We stopped at the Wicklow Gap, the highest part of our tour at 1,542 ft (470 meters).  It was beautiful spot with the heather blooming all around and off in the distance, a lake.  As the bus was leaving, we saw two beautiful deer on the side of the road. IMG_2542

Glendalough (pronounced Glen-da-lock)

I absolutely fell in love with monastery ruins found in Glendalough!  This monastery was established by St Kevin, a hermit.  St Kevin had an interesting life.  He was born into a noble family in 498.  His life is surrounded by legends.  When he was first born, a white cow came every morning and evening to provide milk for him while he was a baby.  As a young shepherd, he was asked by a poor man for sheep.  Kevin, feeling sorry for the man, gave him four sheep.  At the end of the day, however, when counting his sheep, he had the correct amount.

At the age of 7, Kevin was taught by St Petroc of Cornwall and continued his studies with the monks until he was 12 years old. He was a devoted student of the sacred scriptures.   After he left the monastery, Kevin continued his studies under his uncle, St Eugenics. Later, Kevin was taught by Bishop of Ardstraw who had studied in the famous British monastery of Rosnat.  While teaching Kevin, Bishop of Ardstraw lived in the village Kilnamanagh in Wicklow.

Kevin chose to live the life of a hermit for 7 years in the Wicklow Mountains.  He had a gift of communicating with the animals and birds, his only companions.  He wore clothes of animal skins, went barefoot, prayed continuously, slept on rocks and ate very little.  According to folklore, a farmer had a cow who would go daily to Kevin and lick his feet and hands while he prayed.  At night, when he returned to the barn for milking, the cow would produce great amounts of milk.  Curious, the farmer, Dima, followed the cow to see why he was producing so much milk.  When he saw Kevin, he fell to the ground in repentance.  Kevin taught Dima about Christ and the gospel.  Dima begged Kevin to come out of isolation and teach his family about God.  After praying, Kevin felt it was God’s will that he teach and started with Dima’s family.  Eventually, word spread of his teachings and people began to come to hear him.  It was then, that the monastery was established.

Kevin made a pilgrimage to Rome to acquire holy relics for the monastery.  In his elderly years, Kevin wished to make another trip to Rome and asked the advice of his dear friend, Bishop Kiernan of Clonmacnoise.  The Bishop persuaded Kevin to stay and continue his teaching and advising to all who came to the monastery.

There was another stage in his life that he returned to the hermit life for another 4 years.  Was this after the pilgrimage to Rome?  I cannot report for certain.  However, her eventually returned to the monastery at the encouragement of the monks.  There he continued his pious life until he died in June of 618.

The Monastery at Glendalough prospered as a spiritual center and a place for learning and for 500 years.  It was attacked by the Danes who attacked, burned and plundered the monastery.  Despite this, the monastery flourished until the Norman invasion in 1214 when it was destroyed by the attackers.

Over time, it became deserted.  The buildings fell into a state of disrepair.  In 1878, a program was begun to reconstruct the buildings and area that has continued into the 20th century.  Today, there are paths throughout the area, trails that lead to the two lakes where St Kevin lived as a hermit.  In the 18th century, a graveyard was established as the land was blessed.

It truly is a special place.   Here are some of the photos that I took while I was there….

This is the entrance to the monastery.  Above the gate, would be a small apartment where the gatekeeper lived.  It was the gatekeeper who determined who could come and go in the monastery.  At the time of the monastery, there were two laws of the land….civil and canon.  When a person walked through the gates of the monastery, the person would follow the religious laws.



Sanctuary Stone

As you walk through the entry gate on the right-hand side, is the Sanctuary Stone, with the cross carved into it.  Upon entering, people touched it for protection.


The Round Tower

According to our guide, there are 65 round towers that were built in Ireland.  This one is 100 ft tall (appx 30 meters) and has windows around it so people can see in all directions.  The door is 8 ft (2.5 meters) from the bottom.  To enter the round tower, people would climb a ladder one at a time.  When the last person had entered the tower, the ladder would be pulled inside.  Round towers had several purposes.  This one was to show travelers where the monastery actually was.  It would have been difficult for a person traveling by foot to see the monastery nestled in the valley.  It was also used as a safe place for the local population if their village came under attack.  Other purposes for the towers were use as bell towers and to store and protect valuable church relics.


Church of St Peter and St Paul

This is the largest church of the seven that were built in the monastery.  It was built between the 10th century and the 13th century.The walls were thick and the windows were small because the church was the place that people would go if they came under attack.


The side alter in the church

The alter was off to the side.  By having it off to the side, the priest was able to retain an air of mystery as the congregation couldn’t actually see the rituals he was performing.


A Bullaun Stone

Goodness, I had a difficult time finding the correct word/spelling for this stone in the photo.  Our tour guide commented on this stone calling it a bullaun stone.  I had it in my notes as “Bullon” and also, “Bowlon”.  It took several google searches to find the correct word, which originates from the Gaelic word, bullán and means bowl.

In folklore, magical and religious significance was attached to these stones.  No one knows how this one got in the wall of the church.  Was it placed as a cornerstone when it was being built?  Our guide suggested that water eroded the rock away to form this bowl but I find that strange.  How could water run or drip on this stone, sideways to create a bowl.  I tend to think that it might have been placed there with the belief that it was a special stone and would somehow, bring blessings to the church.  Anyway, it was interesting.


Unmarked graves due to the famine.

On the grounds of the monastery are graves that would not have been there when the monks were living there.  It was after the monastery closed that people were buried here on what is considered blessed ground.  Shortly after you enter the grounds, there are these unmarked graves that were to honor those who died during the Irish famine or Great Famine that happened between 1845 to 1852 when the potato crop failed.  During this time over 1 million people died and another million emigrated from Ireland.  It is definitely a tragic period in Irish history.


St Kevin’s Cross

This cross is made out of a single piece of granite and stands 13 ft high (4 meters).  The “arms” of the cross are over 3 ft in length (1 meter).  It was St Patrick who brought the Christian religion to Ireland in 432.  He combined pagan ideas with those of Christianity.  An example of this is the circle around the Irish Cross.  The pagans worshipped the sun.  They believed the sun represented life and death.  The sun helped the crops grow and produce a good harvest and at the end of the season, there was a time for the land to rest.  In the spring, the sun would help the new growth flourish.

It is believed that by St Patrick combining the pagan sun symbol with the cross, the pagans could understand and better accept the importance of the cross in the Christian religion.

Folklore says that anyone who can wrap their arms around the entire width of the base of the cross and have their fingers touch, will have their wish granted.  I didn’t even try as I knew that my short arms would not reach!

St Kevin’s Church

Is also called St Kevin’s Kitchen because they believed that the round tower, attached to the church was a chimney.  However, no food was ever prepared in this building.  The stone roof has no wooden rafters supporting it but stones that jut out to support the stones above it. This is called corbelled stones.


Looking back at the monastery, you see St Kevin’s Kitchen, the Round Tower, the ruins of St Peter and St Paul’s church and the graveyard.

Across the bridge, our tour ended at this bullaun stone also known as the “Deer Stone.”IMG_2544

There are a couple of stories of a baby being brought to St Kevin…either the baby’s mother had died in childbirth or the other story is that all of the sons of a chieftain had died and this new son was brought to the monastery with the hopes that St Kevin would protect the baby.  Either way, there was no milk for this baby so St Kevin prayed asking for guidance.  The legend says that each morning a doe came to the monastery and left milk in the bullaun stone thus giving it the name of “Deer Stone.”

No one really knows the origin of bullaun stones.  Were they carved out and used to grind grains?  Did water erode the stone to form the bowl?  It was believed that the stones held mystical and healing powers.  Women would wash their face in the water that gathered in the stones to stay young looking.  Others believed that warts would heal if held in the water.

From the Deer Stone, there is a path that takes you to the two lakes where St Kevin lived as a hermit.  The walk takes you past the smaller lake and continuing on, you will eventually come to the larger lake.


The smaller lake

As you can see, it was a beautiful day for a walk.  It was actually hot! The scenery was inviting.  There were several hiking trails throughout the landscape but for me, time was a factor.  I am just grateful that I was able to make it to the larger lake and click a couple of pictures before having to race back to get to the bus before it left!


The larger lake at Glendalough

This looks so peaceful, doesn’t it?  What you can’t see are the throngs of people on either side of the lake wading and splashing in the water.  I walked along the path…granted with several other people but as I got closer to the larger lake, I noticed people walking around with ice cream cones….hmmmmm????  It turns out, you can drive to this lake, park the car and get an ice cream cone at a concession stand…really???  It reminded me of the time that David and I did a 4 hour hike up the side of a mountain in Yosemite National Park in California.  As we got closer to the top, we saw people heading down the path towards us….some of the women were in sandals with heels.  Surely, they didn’t climb the same trail I just climbed in those heels?  What we discovered at the end of our trail was a huge parking lot.  It was like Disney World at the top of the mountain with buses of people walking all over the place.  Not quite what we had imagined after spending hours to get to the top!

Arriving at the lake, where tons of people had driven to was as much of a disappointment as the Yosemite hike was….only, I hadn’t walked up the side of a mountain for four hours…it only took me about 20 minutes to get to the larger lake!

I really loved the ruins of the monastery at Glendalough!  I will end this post with two of my favorite photos from my day there….


I imagine how welcoming the round tower must have been to the pilgrims who had hiked for days to visit St Kevin and his monastery.


When someone mentions Ireland to me, this is the image that comes to mind….beautiful ruins, stone walls and sheep grazing.

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