Glendalough - an awareness of ancient wisdom

By Willard Roth
March 17, 2010

The fourth in a series of 2010 Lent blogs from Willard Roth focusing on places of particular spiritual intensity and interest across Britain and Ireland.


You can have in Ireland all the colour of the Mediterranean coast without its hard brilliance and absence of mystery and distance, and all the veiling atmosphere and fairy sunset of the land of mountains and flood without its darkness and harshness. So wrote George Bernard Shaw of the land of his birth. Shaw’s word picture moves me straight to ancient Glendalough.

Glendalough has magnetised me ever since my maiden visit to the Emerald Isle in 1978. Late in the sixth century, my favorite Irish saint Kevin established a monastery here. High in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains southwest of Ireland’s capital, this “glen of the two lakes” continues to attract pilgrims even though Kevin’s monks abandoned their home in the sixteenth century. (One Pope decreed that for indulgence value, seven visits to Glendalough equaled one visit to Rome.)

Elizabeth, one of a group from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary wrote in the 2006 AMBS Celtic pilgrimage journal: “A sacred place, Glendalough is an environment that welcomes us to ask questions, invites us on a journey into solitude—a journey into self which then leads to a journey into God. This journey is dictated by the landscape we encountered (from open space to enclosed space, from solitude to community) and by Father Michael’s quotations of poetry and scripture, his gentle intelligence, his respect for all, his awareness of himself, including his own self-deprecating humor. A marvelous walk, beginning with a silent journey through the labyrinth and Father Michael’s repeating of a Celtic saying:

What is the sweetest sound of all? The wind on the trees, the water on the rocks?
Or—in the imagination of a warrior, the sound of battle? No, it is the music of what happens now—our being in the here and now

Father Michael is a living, breathing model of one who has explored the inner life so he can truly be welcoming, inclusive and gracious to all. His words truly rained down blessing as our feet walked the journey from the inner to the outer world and our hearts and minds tried to keep up.”

In my own journal I noted, “Beginning with a journey to the center of the labyrinth, we followed Father Michael over hill and vale, across the valley in rain and sunshine, shaking midges and thanking breezes, moving into our dark centers and out again.” During scheduled quiet time, inspired by Psalm 84 amid the valley of Kevin’s lakes, these lines emerged:

How awesome is your dwelling place O loving creator of Glendalough
My soul longs, indeed yearns, for the simple stone church of the holy one
All within my inner being sings joyously to the living God.
Even as the blackbird nested on Kevin’s head
You invite us to dwell within your holy being.
Blessed are they whose hearts are filled with love
We sing Taize tunes to you with grateful hearts.
Blessed are they whose strength is in you
In whose heart are the asphalt paths winding along upper Wicklow Way.
As they go through the valley of Glendalough, they make it a place of pools.
The daily drizzle maintains the emerald carpet. They go from strength to strength
As they live in dynamic awareness of ancient wisdom.


The first article in this series is 'Iona remembered' (; the second is 'Celtic Christianity revisited' (, and the third, 'Crossing many paths in Ireland' (

(c) Willard E. Roth is a retired pastor in Mennonite Church USA, having held many posts for the Mennonite church nationally and world wide. He has also been involved with the Academy of Parish Clergy (ACP), and has a specialist interest in journalism and communications.

** Willard Roth is co-leading, with Marlene Kropf, a Celtic Pilgrimage on behalf of the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkart, Indiana. It will take place from 11-28 June 2010. For details, visit The Pilgrimage, which will move across Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England, is now fully booked.

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