In AD 498 a young monk named Kevin arrived in the valley and decided that it would be a good spot for a bit of silent meditation. He set up house in what had been a Bronze Age tomb on the southern side of the Upper Lake. For the next seven years he slept on stones, wore animal skins, maintained a near-starvation diet and – according to the legend – made friends with the birds and animals. Word eventually spread of Kevin’s natural lifestyle, and he began attracting disciples who were seemingly unaware of the irony that they were flocking to hang out with a hermit who wanted to live as far away from other people as possible.
Kevin’s preferred isolation notwithstanding, a settlement quickly grew and by the 9th century Glendalough rivalled Clonmacnoise as Ireland’s premier monastic city: thousands of students studied and lived in a thriving community that was spread over a considerable area. Inevitably, Glendalough’s success made it a key target of Viking raiders, who sacked the monastery at least four times between 775 and 1071. The final blow came in 1398, when English forces from Dublin almost completely destroyed it. Efforts were made to rebuild and some life lingered on here as late as the 17th century, when, under renewed repression, the monastery finally died.