Rewind - St Kevin’s Well

By Sean Heffernan

A few years ago I was heading to meet a friend in his house in Elmcastle Estate in Kilnamanagh, but when I got near I realised I was too early having overestimated the time it would take me to walk to his house from mine.

I decided to take a walk around the immediate area to kill time, and on Elmcastle walk I was stopped in my tracks, as I came across a patch of green space between houses that was closed off by railings.

kevins well

St Kevin's Well, Kilnamangh, in the 1970s

I had a good gawk and noticed there was some sort of structure down the back near the wall that divides it from the back garden of a house on Elmcastle Park.

Imagine my surprise when I was told later that what I had witnessed was in fact the ancient well of St Kevin!

It is all that remains of what once was a monastery known as Cill na Manach na nEscrach, and three Saints, Eanna, Lochan and Eoghan were said to reside there.

It is also where Kilnamangh gets it’s name from, as in Irish it is known as Cill na Manach.

It is said that St Kevin spent a few years there learning his spiritual trade, before setting off on a 60km journey to found one of the most famous religious settlements in the country, at Glendalough.

The well is about 1m deep, and often dries up in the summer if we have had a particularly dry spell.

Many people converge on the well on June 3rd every year, as this is the feast day of St Kevin.

The well itself looks like a bog standard hole in the ground, as there is no stone wall around it, or no signs up denoting it’s significance.

It was a rite of passage for people taking a trek around the area to visit the holy water, where they would wash their hands and feet in a ritual cleansing before making their way back home.

I took a look at the online maps of the area and sadly it is not noted anywhere on them; so unless you knew a local person or someone from further afield who was a regular visitor to the area, you would have a hard time trying to find it.

Very beautiful area

While Glendalough is a very beautiful area to walk around, it is important to remember that the long walk around the area is very steep in large sections, and should only be attempted by the most competent of climbers.

I myself tried walking up it, but two-thirds of the way I had to turn back as my lack of balance and agility manifested itself.  

The founder of the monastic settlement was what someone in the past might have labelled as ‘quare’, due to the fact he loathed company, and much preferred to spend hours, if not days on end alone.

Indeed, there is a story which claims that he once sat so still for so long in meditation, with his hands outstretched that a crow built a nest on one of his hands.

It is also often said that he had on many occasions meditated while up to his waste in the freezing waters of the nearby lake.

There is also the tale of the suitor who simply would not say no for an answer.

This particular girl took quite a shine to the renowned priest, and resorted to every trick she could think of to get him into bed.

At his wits end he fled to a cave in a remote little known and quite inaccessible area, where he thought he would be free of her annoying entreaties.

Thus, you can imagine how startled he was when a few days later the young girl actually showed up at the cave, and essentially began where she had left off.

It is said that this most revered of holy men flew into a rage and hastily sought to banish her from the cave, but the woman slipped and fell from the cliff to her death.

The ruins of the church can still be seen in Glendalough and is commonly known as ‘Kevin’s Kitchen’.

Beside the graveyard is the ruins of the ‘Priests House’.

These dwellings were so called as it was the place where deceased clergy were brought back in the day to be readied for burial, and some in fact were even buried under the floor.

The Round Tower

But by far the most impressive sight in this Monastic area is the Round Tower, which is 33m in height.

It was built by the Monks in an attempt to keep their treasures and other important goods away from invading thieves such as Vikings or other local bandits.

In 1876 the conical roof atop the tower had to be replaced after the original was badly damaged by a lightning strike.

So, the next time you are up in Glendalough having a walk around be sure to remind your fellow visitors, that if it was not for Cil na Manach, there would be no Glendalough, and thus people have more to thank Tallaght for than they think!

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