The Gateway to the Monastic City of Glendalough
Close to the narrow bridge across the Glendassan river stands the remains of the ancient gateway to the Episcopal City of Glendalough. This was the principal entrance and it has the distinction of being the only surviving entrance to an early ecclesiastical settlement.
It is thought that the gateway is of a later origin than the buildings in the central group. It was a gatekeeper’s residence and comprised mainly of a double arched entrance area surmounted by keeper’s quarters over which rose a small tower. The presence of such a structure was noted as recently as 1795.
The remains today are the two semi-circular arched sections some 16 ft. (5 metres) apart, which formed the front and back portions, supported by granite piers. The inner arch rises higher than the outer one in order to compensate for the upward slope of the flagged causeway.
Although the walls were sturdy and able to support the keeper’s quarters and tower they were rather crude in style. While the gable ends appeared to be quite strong some experts wonder how the side walls were able to support the weight involved.
The entrance to the keeper’s accommodation was apparently through a doorway high up in one of the side walls, but nothing remains to prove this.
Just beyond the inner arch in the west wall is a rectangular slab 5 ft. (1.5metres) high and about 7½ ft. (2.5 metres) long. It is carved with a cross of unusual design. The cross has a curiously widespread shaft but despite its shape it is believed to have been the sanctuary mark which ensured protection to anyone seeking refuge within the monastic confines.
This form of protection was quite common at several other monastic sites throughout the Irish countryside. Perhaps it was abused from time to time as it seems to have been used widely by criminals in order to escape the full punishment of the law which in those days showed little mercy.