After a dramatic first day in Dublin of driving on the “wrong” side of the road and going on one hour of airplane sleep, I decided to get back in the hire car a day later and head for some of Ireland’s narrowest roads. While this may sound like the worst of ideas, driving the Wicklow Mountains just south of Dublin proved challenging, yet good for this traveler’s soul.
The Wicklow Mountains don’t really look like “mountains”, but I didn’t seem to mind. Driving through a number of gaps and valleys, I found myself on a narrow road and completely isolated. Apart from trying to not shut my eyes in fear when a car came in the other direction, I focused on keeping the white line to my right and the Wicklow Mountains around me.
Between the mountains are a number of deep glacial valleys. One of which is perhaps the most famous, Glendalough. St. Kevin established the monastic city of Glendalough, which you can explore free of charge today, as it should be. He began living as a hermit in a remote location around 570 A.D. He would call a cave his home, which would later be deemed St. Kevin’s Bed. Over the years, his hermit-lifestyle drew attention and by the 9th century a full-blown monastic settlement was alive and well.
What remains of that settlement are a number of churches and an eerie graveyard. Residents of the area are still buried here. Wandering around haphazard gravestones that appear to be leaning either too far forward or too far back, you can feel the spirits in the air. Perhaps it is the mist or how they are stacked one on top of the other, but you can’t shake the feeling you are not alone.
One of the churches was said to house St. Kevin’s tomb, St. Mary’s Church. I peak in through a black barred gate as chills run up my back. It’s time to keep moving as I still feel like I am being followed.
I head on to the Upper Lake area of Glendalough, where trees continue that eeriness in their appearance. Moss covered and scraggly, I keep walking towards the Upper lake where St. Kevin originally set up shop. The scenery continues to impress with little rivers and wooden bridges. You can take a number of hikes in this area, depending on how much time you have.
The irony of this space is that tourists have invaded, myself included. St. Kevin was trying to get away from it all, only to have a number of followers hop on board and follow in his footsteps. After a chaotic, dramatic and needless to say, terrible first day of solo travel in Ireland, Glendalough reminds me of connection. Just like St. Kevin, you can try to get away from it all, but there will always be a presence lingering in the air. That presence is ever felt as I cruise through the Wicklow Mountains, sharing landscapes with seemingly just myself. The spirits of Glendalough however aren’t far away.