This collection of monastic remains is one of the most important in Ireland. Coach parties ,on tours of Ireland, visit it from Dublin. The visitors have generated a host of souvenir shops, pubs and cafes in the local villages. Move away from this, however,and Ireland Luxury Tours do, the utter peace and beauty of the location are captivating, perhaps more than the ruins themselves.
It is easy to see why St Kevin sought solitude her in the 6th century, but his plans were somewhat thwarted. Beset by acolytes and lovelorn women ( whom he treated brusquely by thrusting into nettles or pushing in the lake), he eventually set up a large religious settlement here, which held great sway until it was attacked by Vikings in later centuries and was at last overrun by English forces in 1398, after which its influence declined.
The ruins stand around two lakes in a beautiful wooded valley sheltered by great spurs of the Wicklow Mountains. The main concentration can be seen near the Lower Lake, by the visitor centre, where traffic converges. This modern building contains an exhibition of religious antiquities and an audio-visual presentation of monastic life in Ireland – giving an intriguing overview of this aspect of Celtic history. From here you can take a guided tour or make your own way around the remains. The famous sites are the well preserved 30m Round Tower and the intact church often called St Kevin’s Kitchen because of its chimney-like bell tower. Against the backdrop of he wooded slopes, this assembly of quaint stone roof-lines and pencil spires is unforgettable. Also visible are the shells of the roofless cathedral and the Priests’ House, and many crosses and gravestones.
Further up the valley ( a pleasant walk or a short drive) near the more spectacular and peaceful Upper Lake are various minor stes – a beehive shell, an early fort and another ruined church. St Kevin’s Bed is a suitably masochistic rocky ledge high on a cliff-face ( safely accessible only by boat) where the saint used to sleep. Keen walkers have an excellent choice of routes in this area – a national park information point is open in summer.