A Brief History of Glendalough and Surrounding Areas (written in 1998)

Kevin and the Blackbird
Public domain image
Round Tower
Courtesy of Failte Ireland
Bookey's Bridge
Courtesy of Pat Reid
Ferry to St. Kevin's Bed
Courtesy of P. Reid
Rowboat to St. Kevin's bed
Courtesy of P. Reid
Crossing the Lake 1950's
Courtesy of P. Reid


St. Kevin founded his monastery in Glendalough in 498, and thus the future fame of this Mid-Eastern County Wicklow valley began. The Round Tower in Glendalough, probably the most famous of all the landmarks in County Wicklow, was built almost 1,000 years ago by the monks of St. Kevin’s monastery. The tower is 110 ft. in height.

In the late 1800s the cone shaped part of the Round Tower was struck by lightning, and had to be replaced, as it was split down the centre. When these repairs were being done a lightning conductor was fitted in the roof to avoid further instances of lightning damage to the tower. It is said of that time when the repairs were being carried out that a local man called Sam Kennedy danced a hornpipe around the rim of the tower.

The Round Tower has remained standing through more recent mishaps also. Approximately 10 or 12 years ago there was a fire inside the tower, which could have destroyed it. The cause of the fire locally is considered to have been the result of hitch-hikers, which were staying inside the tower and may have accidentally ignited a large depth of twigs, branches and other debris, which was accumulated inside the tower by birds nesting there. Fortunately no damage was done to the Tower.

Bookey’s Bridge, which is on the Rathdrum road out of Laragh was built in 1836. It was built by Major Bookey, who was the then resident of Derrybawn House. Major Bookey had the bridge built to divert traffic from the course, which the road had previously taken, in front of his house.

Laragh village has had a colorful history in terms of the people who have lived there, and their involvement in world affairs. For instance Laragh Castle which was restored by a famous Dublin company called Foran’s. The work was carried out for Francis Stewart, who was married to a daughter of Maude Gonne. He was reputed to have German sympathies. A German paratrooper called Stephen Held was captured there by the Gardai during the war. Local information has it that a light was left on in the Castle during the years of the second world war, whether it was to guide the German aircraft or not is open to debate. Stewart lived in the castle until the late 1930’s.

Also during this period the infamous broadcaster Lord Ha Ha referred to Byrne’s pub in Greenane, where he said the hens and chickens were in the pub with the people.

In 1970 the last of the boats, which took tourists across the lake to see St. Kevin’s bed, stopped. For years Paddy Barrett and Ned Bolger gave people guides of the lake. The fare at that time was a shilling to get across the lake, and a shilling to be helped climb the rocks, which lead up to St. Kevin’s Bed.

At that time there was no consideration of insurance but eventually the boats which were rowing boats became leaky and dangerous, and the long-standing tradition came to an end. There were attempts to take people across the lake in motor boats but these were not acceptable because of the disturbance they caused, and later by battery powered boats. However in today’s climate of exorbitant insurance premiums it is inconceivable that boat tours of the lake will ever take place like they once did.

Work began on Turlough Hill in 1968. Contrary to what the name suggests, it does not refer to the name of a surrounding hill. In fact the hydro-electric power station is named after the son of the engineer who designed it. The water rights were owned by the Wynne family at the time when work commenced on the plant and prior to rural electrification the Wynne family was generating electricity for themselves and all the houses they owned in the valley.

The plant opened in 1973 and up until a few years ago there were a good many locals working there, but with cut backs introduced by the ESB and the offer of voluntary redundancies the numbers working there now are few.

In 1961 the Glenmacnass water filtering system was introduced. However since the early 1960s there has been a large increase in the number of tourists visiting the area, especially during the summer months. In recent times, because the quality of the water is so bad, many locals have been forced into travelling to take water from a spring near Annamoe, which is known as the Ministers Well.

Year written: 1998. Images did not appear with original article.                                              Copyright owned by: Wicklow Rural Partnership. To view original article click here. Glendalough Heritage Forum claim no ownership to this article.

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