Loss at the Monastic Site of Glendalough

As I stepped into Glendalough via Florian Knorn’s photographs on 360cities, I couldn’t help but notice how green the scenery was. Nearly every square inch of earth seemed to be covered in lush grass, shrubbery, and trees, and the landscape seemed to continue for miles in every direction. The overwhelming spill of life was a sharp contrast to the site itself: a monastic cemetery, a place for the dead.

A view of the cemetery at Glendalough, via Florian Knorn on 360cities.

Even the colorless stone of the monastery was a contrast to the green surrounding it. But it gave a sense of human history to the place–not only in the fact that the cemetery was a resting place for the dead, people who had lived long ago in the past, but in the repetition of tradition. Several of the headstones resembled one another: some were rounded at the top with cornered flares and some were topped by encircled crosses.

Though the details of a place can be laid out in its history or observed in data laid out on maps, there is always some experience or memory lost to future explorers. Eavan Boland captures this in her poem, “That the Science of Cartography Is Limited,” as the speaker and their lover visit Ireland’s famine roads and the latter describes the painful origins of the roads themselves. The roads are suddenly given a different meaning; the speaker can no longer observe them on a map without thinking of “the line which says woodland and cries hunger.” What once had been a minor observational demarcation becomes something that holds a personal, tragic story, something even deeper than dry history and statistics.

Every headstone in the cemetery at Glendalough represents a person who lived through their own story. Though many–if not most–of their stories have now been lost, it was humbling to recognize that, like the famine roads, each piece of stone held its own secret meaning amidst the sprawling landscape.

2 Comments

  1. I also visited Glendalough and had a very similar first impression. The greenery is really striking! I mentioned Boland’s poem too and made the connection between having an initial observation and cultivating a deeper and more meaningful relationship with the landscape. I think it’s super interesting that a place can simultaneously be beautiful and layered with rich history. I really like how you mention that the headstones at the cemetery, a place that embodies this juxtaposition, represent a person with their own unique story. I think that’s a great way to end the analysis.

  2. I love your connection between the famine roads and the headstones! The idea that each stone held a secret meaning in the form of an individual’s story was really interesting. Life and death intermingling at Glendalough was something that I too picked up on when viewing the site. I’m looking forward to reading more of your travel diary posts in the future!

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