Darkness & light: the Rise & Fall of Glendalough

The ruins of Glendalough date from the 6th century, when a monk named Coemgen chose this secluded setting to build a great church. He is generally thought to be have been born in 498, to parents named Coemlog and Coemell, at a place called “the Fort of the White Fountain” in Leinster. However, given that many sources cite the date of his death as 618—which adds up to a highly improbable lifespan of 120 years—none of this is certain. “Coemgen” was later anglicized to Kevin, the name by which he was eventually canonized in 1903.

It is thought that Kevin chose this site because of its isolation, although there’s also a Bronze Age tomb here, suggesting that the place already had some religious significance when Kevin arrived.

Over the next 4 centuries, Kevin’s church became a center of religious learning, attracting thousands of students from all over Europe. Unfortunately, Glendalough’s success was its downfall. The monastery soon came to the attention of the Vikings, who pillaged it repeatedly between a.d. 775 and 1071. On one such raid they stole timbers that were used to construct the biggest Viking ship ever known to have been built.

Despite suffering centuries of attack, the monastery at Glendalough always somehow managed to rebuild and bounce back. The crushing blow, however, came in 1398, when it was virtually destroyed by invading English troops. Even then, attempts were made to resuscitate it once more, and the monastery limped on—just a shadow of all it had been—until the 17th century, when it was finally abandoned forever.

The Curse of Powerscourt House

This grand house in Enniskerry has a history of misfortune. It was designed in the 18th century by Richard Cassels, who also designed Russborough House and Dublin's Parliament building. The same family lived in the building for 350 years until the 1950s, but their fortunes gradually declined. By the time they moved out and donated the once-magnificent house to the state, it was in terrible condition, and the country had little money to restore it. Plagued with financial problems, the renovation limped along, eventually taking two decades to complete.

Finally, in 1974, the work was done, and a grand reopening was planned. The day before the event was due to take place, however, a fire broke out, completely gutting the building. (The beauty of the original interiors can be seen in the Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon, which finished filming here just months before the devastating conflagration). So the slow process of reconstruction began again—and this time the renovation lasted more than 30 years.

At last, though, the house has a new lease on life as one of the region’s biggest tourist attractions. Even though only a small part of the restored interior may currently be seen (and only for a few hours a week), the estate is still worth a visit for its gorgeous exterior architecture and exquisite gardens.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.