Glendalough is an ancient monastic site located in County Wicklow. One of Ireland’s most important monastic sites, its origins can be traced back to the 6th Century and a Celtic cross on the site is believed to date back to this era.
Several buildings from the 10th – 12th centuries remain standing today. These include a 30m round tower, granite archways, a 12th-century priest’s house, and an 11th-century “cathedral”. The monastery at Glendalough was destroyed by the Normans in the year 1214. There is a visitor centre located on-site, with an audio-visual presentation giving a detailed account of the location’s history, plus a model showing what the site would have looked like when in use. Visitors are free to explore the site and its surrounding walkways and to enjoy lakeside views.
The “Monastic City” was founded by Saint Kevin. The ghost of a woman in a red dress, known as Kathleen, was spotted on the grounds on a few occasions during the 1970s, and it is said that Saint Kevin himself, was responsible for her death.
One version of this old story tells of how the woman was a temptress who fell in love with St. Kevin. A devout, holy man, he resisted her attempts to seduce him and punished the young woman to get her to change her ways. Having been stung on her body by the nettles thrashed against her skin by the angry preacher, she was soon overcome with remorse and begged him for absolution. Saint Kevin prayed over her and she went on to live “a purer life”.
Another version again portrays her as being infatuated with the handsome holy man and tells of how she followed him to the cave now known as Kevin’s Bed. There she attempted to seduce him. But he was infuriated by her advances and pushed her over the edge and into the lake below where she perished.
Her ghost has been spotted at Glendalough on a few occasions. In November 1970, a couple visited the site and were taking photographs. When the film was developed, one of the photos appeared to show the figure of a woman standing a short distance from the photographer’s partner. There was nobody near him at the time the image was captured.
A few years later, another tourist captured what appeared a woman in a long red gown and shawl, walking quickly towards the tower. Again, there was nobody there when the photo was taken.
In 1975, an American tourist told local media:
My wife had gone to see if the gift shop was open, while I visited the cemetery. I walked from the entrance to the Tower and went around to see if I could read the inscription on the back of the stones. I glanced around to see if my wife was joining me and, as I did so, I saw a red figure moving from the left to the right, towards a fallen-down building. I thought it was another person in the cemetery. I walked towards the ruins, expecting to see a person dressed in red, but there was no one there. Since there was only one entrance the person couldn’t have appeared without passing me… as far as I am concerned, I saw a ghost.
More recently, the ghost of a monk in a black robe has been sighted – and some previous visitors claim that there may be more than one. In the early 2000s, a group of friends set up camp on the ancient site. About an hour into their visit, they were disturbed by the sound of footsteps and witnessed a group of monks standing near them. The group fled the scene, not wanting to know whether they had been pranked or whether they had seen an order of ghostly monks.
One thing is for sure, Glendalough is an incredibly beautiful and naturally haunting location, and one which is even more beautiful in the Autumn. That said, after dark, it takes on a different feel altogether, so keep your wits about you if planning a visit.
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