An exciting day out in the King’s River Valley

On Saturday I gave a lecture on St Kevin’s road  at  the Hollywood  Co Wicklow . The  audience  was great  and made me feel so welcome.   While having a cup of tea and a chat afterwards   I was told about a number crosses and old roads at the northwest end of the King’s River Valley.  The following  morning I set off to see some of these sites  in the company of  four local people  C.J, Ite, Francis and John,  who kindly gave up their Sunday to  show me around.

So armed with out maps we headed up the Johnstown road  to Valleymount to the townland of Ballintubber.


View of Poulaphouca Reservoir from the Johnstown road

In Ballintubber is one of the most amazing archaeological site I have ever visited. The site is an enormous broken  granite cross.


Broken high cross with Francis who is 5 ft 7″ acting as a scale

This large cross was in the process of being moved onto its side  when it broke and was abandoned. As I looked at this  broken cross  I couldn’t help but wonder what the mason said when it broke, I imaging given the effort involved in get the cross  to its semi completed state there was a lot of cursing. The cross was carved from a single piece of rock  probably a large boulder like those scattered around the field.


Top of the cross

The shaft of the cross is approx. 3m in length and the head is 1.95m. This makes the entire cross approx 5 m tall.  Tool  marks left by the mason  are on the upper face of the cross. The cross really puts into perspective the efforts involved in creating the many high crosses that are found on monastic sites around the county.

For a detailed discussion of this cross see Chris Corlett’s  excellent  article   ‘The abandoned cross at Ballintubber,  Hollywood, Co Wicklow’ (complete reference below).

The next site we visited was a set of stepping-stones on the Kings River in the townland of Walterstown.  These stones could very well be part of an ancient route used by travellers and  pilgrims. They are marked on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey Map of 1840.


Stepping-stones across the King’s River

Directly opposite the stepping-stones  within a modern forest is  a large flat top mound which may possibly  be a small  Anglo-Norman motte . The site is marked as an enclosure on the RMP maps but  it clearly isn’t one and is a flat topped mound.  If this is  an Anglo-Norman motte its  presence could confirm an ancient route in the area.


Possible Anglo-Norman Motte close to the stepping-stones on the King’s River

From  the stepping-stones  we headed on to see a standing stone also in the townland of Walterstown.  This stone  is directly in line with a mountain pass and may also have acted as a route marker for a prehistoric route.


Standing stone in Walterstown

After a fantastic day  I   said goodbye to my companions   and I headed home via Blessington where I  stopped to see  two high crosses.  Geographically these crosses are the closest  to the Ballintubber cross that I  visited earlier.

The  two crosses were formerly located at Burgage More church and graveyard  but moved to there present locations at the graveyard in Blessington when the  Liffey Valley was flooded. The larger cross is known as   St Mark’s cross,  it is very tall and has unusually long arms and a central boss design. It stands 3.95m high.


St Mark’s cross in Blessington

The Ordnance survey letters  (1840) refer to the name of the cross as St Mark’s or  St Baoithin’s cross.

The second cross is broken with one of the arms missing and  is  more squat.


Smaller cross at Blessington

So all in all I had a great weekend and can highly recommend a trip to west Wicklow.


Corlett, C. 2011.  he abandoned cross at Ballintubber,  Hollywood, Co Wicklow’. Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 25,  No. 2, 26-28.

Medieval Pilgrimage at Hollywood Co. Wicklow

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.

Hollywood Co. Wicklow.

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.

View of Motte from St Kevin's Bed

View of Motte from St Kevin’s Bed

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.

The seventeenth century church built on the site of the earlier medieval church at Hollywood.

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).

Medieval Cross Slab at Hollywood

Medieval Cross Slab at Hollywood.

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 Village of Hollywood after google maps

The valley containing the pilgrim stations, is located below the village of Hollywood.

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.

View of St Kevin's Cave and St Kevin's Bed from valley floor

View of St Kevin’s Cave and St Kevin’s Bed from valley floor

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.

St Kevin's Cave

St Kevin’s Cave

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.

Graffiti at back of St Kevin's Cave

Graffiti at back of St Kevin’s Cave (2012)

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.

The entrance to St Kevin’s Bed

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.

The stone known as St Kevin’s Chair.

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.