I left a part of my soul in Ireland right where I found it.
As a high school graduation gift, my parents told me that they would take me to any place in the world that I wanted to go. I answered without hesitation, “Ireland.” Both sides of my father’s family hail from Ireland, and I’d always been amazed by the history, the accent, and of course the famed landscape of The Emerald Isle. However, I honestly had no idea how much that trip would shape my future and my love for traveling in general.
The trip was wonderful for so many reasons that I am sure I will write about at some future date, but the biggest reason that Ireland has such a pull on my heart and my passport is because of a single place — Glendalough.
Located in County Wicklow, just about an hour south of Dublin, situated in the beautiful Wicklow Mountains is a little town called Glendalough. One of its claims to fame is the churchyard situated beautifully with its iconic round tower, the burial site of Saint Kevin, and celtic crosses galore.
My parents and I had spent a few days in Dublin upon our arrive and visited Powerscourt Gardens and waterfall before driving further south to Glendalough at the suggestion of travel expert Rick Steves. Though I was of course excited to be in Ireland, there was no particular reason for me to be excited about Glendalough.
However, as my parents looked through the graveyard for the family surname on a tombstone, I wandered off to journal — something I do often– and I found a rock perfectly situated next to the lake (or loch), and I began to look at the beauty that surrounded me.
I can only describe Glendalough as being the place where I finally felt like I’d found home. I even wondered if I had been there in another life or my ancestors had been there before. It was the only thing I could think of that could explain the visceral connection I felt while sitting on that rock looking over the loch. I was so disheartened when we had to leave to move on to the next place, but somehow I knew I would be back.
It took me 19 years to get back, but I did make it. On my “take-back trip” to Ireland, I made my way back to Glendalough on a bus trip from Dublin. I visited on Thanksgiving Day. In Ireland they just call it Thursday, but it was still a day of celebration for me. Not celebrating with turkey, dressing, and family – but instead I celebrated with solitude and a return to a place that I had missed since the moment I left it.
It was just as beautiful and as powerful as I remembered it being. From the ruins of a church built by Catholics and burned by Anglicans where they now perform joint services on Easter Sunday (pictured below), to the moss that seems to cover everything in a cushion of incredible green (pictured at the bottom of this post) – Glendalough is a glorious place.
While everyone else on the bus had lunch at the local pub, I decided to wander off alone and found an adorable little grocery/coffee shop/deli. The woman apologized for not having turkey for my sandwich (how is it that obvious that I’m American? Couldn’t I be Canadian or something?), but I enjoyed my ham and cheese sandwich outside while I wrote in my journal and stared at the beautiful Wicklow Mountains.
Shortly after I’d finished my sandwich an older man came outside and introduced himself. Apparently the proprietor told him there was a fellow American, so he came out to wish me a happy Thanksgiving. We sat and talked for a bit while he waited on the rest of his family to finish eating. They were from Texas and exploring their ancestry and traveling around the country. It was a lovely encounter, and added to the experience of the day.
The grounds of Glendalough are vast. There are several trails through the mountains, a beautiful round tower, Saint Kevin’s cross, a frigid stream, and an incredibly picturesque lake surrounded by the mountains. In my mind there are few places that are more beautiful.
Perhaps it is because of that overwhelming beauty that I find it difficult to fully express my connection to this place. Honestly, I cannot think of another place on Earth that I’d rather be than Glendalough, Ireland. There are many other places in the world that I love, that I want to see, and that are probably more breathtaking than Glendalough. However, this loch, these mountains… they hold on to me. Even as I write this, I find myself becoming “homesick” for it.
As I left Glendalough in 1997 I knew I would be back, and when I left again in 2016 I knew that eventually I would find my way back there. Though I did not make it on my most recent trip to Ireland (I did not set the itinerary, obviously), I am sure that my feet will find their way back to a rock on the shore of the loch, to the trails in the mountains, and the paths through the graveyard because I left a part of my soul in Ireland right where I found it.