Hollywood, Co Wicklow could not be further from its glitzy namesake in Los Angeles. This quiet rural village is a really interesting place and has its own unique charm. There is much about the history of pilgrimage at Hollywood that we do not know, but I firmly believe that this little village played a very important role in the early and later medieval pilgrimage landscape of the King’s River Valley and was a stop for pilgrims en-route to the shrine of St Kevin at Glendalough.
Located at one of the main entry points into the King’s River Valley, the village is traditionally held to be the starting point of St Kevin’s road, a well known medieval pilgrim route . The route of St Kevin’s road cuts through the Wicklow Mountains via the King’s River and the Glendassan Valleys. The road linked Hollywood to the ecclesiastical site of Glendalough. Over the centuries countless pilgrims would have passed through Hollywood when travelling to Glendalough.
Unfortunately there are few historical sources relating to Hollywood. The first mention of the area is in a charter granting land and the right to build a castle here, to the de Marisco family in 1192 (Price 1983, 207-08). All that remains of the castle is a large Medieval Motte located at the edge of the modern village.
The charter and subsequent documents refer to Hollywood as Bosco Sancto or ‘holy wood’ interestingly a later sixteenth century source refers to the area as Cillín Chaoimhín or the little church of St Kevin. This late reference confirms links with St Kevin the founder of Glendalough and alludes to the existence of a church and cult associated with the saint. I believe that this association has a much earlier history. Folklore suggests that St Kevin spent time here in retreat before he headed across the Wicklow mountains and founded the ecclesiastical site of Glendalough. It is possible that a small church or hermitage may have existed at Hollywood in the early medieval period. The earliest mention to a church at Hollywood is found in a thirteenth century charter but no physical traces of the medieval church survive. Its location is likely to be the site of the seventeenth century Church of Ireland.
Five medieval cross slabs dating to the thirteenth-early fourteenth century are to be found in its surrounding graveyard and they represent the only visible evidence of medieval ecclesiastical activity (Price 1983, 208; 216; Corlett 2003, 99-100; 105).
All traces of past pilgrimage are located a short distance from this church in an E-W running valley at the edge of the village.
The aforementioned Norman Motte (site of the de Marisco castle) is found at the entrance to the valley. The Motte overlook a mini pilgrim landscape of two natural caves and a boulder all linked to St Kevin. Although the earliest records of pilgrimage date to the nineteenth century the strong folklore tradition linking the area to St Kevin and its location on the route of St Kevin’s road suggests that this place would have held significance for passing pilgrims during the early and later medieval period.
The two natural caves known as St Kevin’s Cave and St Kevin’s Bed are sited on a steep east-facing cliff face. I have visited the caves on a number of occasions, winter is definitely the easiest time to approach them as vegetation is low. The climb is steep and challenging.
St Kevin’s Cave is the larger of the two caves.
I found some graffiti at the back of the cave in 2006 ‘Help me Lord to find my home’ a simple Latin cross was painted over this inscription, when I visited again this summer the inscription had faded and the cross had disappeared.
Close by is St Kevin’s Bed, a narrow vertical shaft that leads through the rock above . St Kevin spent time in both caves and supposedly used to sleep here.
St Kevin’s chair is located on the floor the valley, directly opposite the caves . The boulder is hard to see despite its size, I always seem to walk past it. According to the Ordnance Survey Name Books (1840’s) St Kevin, in a fit of rage, threw the rock/chair from St Kevin’s Cave at a woman who annoyed him. Irish saints were not known for their patience. Sitting on the “chair” was supposed to cure backache.
It should be noted that the pilgrim rituals at Glendalough included visiting a cave known as St Kevin’s Bed and a piece of natural rock called St Kevin’s chair . I am hoping to dig a little deeper into the history and folklore of the area in the coming months and I would be delighted to hear from anyone who has any other information on the area and past pilgrimages here.
Corlett, C. 2003. ‘The Hollywood Slabs- some late medieval grave slabs from West Wicklow and neighbouring Counties’, JRSAI vol. 133, 86-110.
Nugent, L. 2009. Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland, AD 600-1600. Unpublished PhD Thesis.
Price, L. 1940. ‘Glendalough: St. Kevin’s Road’, In Ryan, J. (ed.) FéilSgríbhinn
Éoin Mhic Néil. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 244-71.
Price, L. 1983(reprint 1953). The Place-names of Co. Wicklow. Vol. IV-The Barony
of Talbotstown Lower. Dublin: Dublin Institute For Advanced Studies.