St Kevin is one of the lesser known Irish saints. His feast day in the Western and Eastern Catholic Church is on the 3rd June. He was born in 498 and then baptised at the Fort of White fountain. One of the great characteristics of St Kevin’s life was that his eyes and ears were always open to sights and sounds around him, and the tales told of his relationship with birds and animals parallels stories told of the life of St Francis of Assisi many years later.
At the age of seven, Kevin was placed under the care and guidance of St Petroc. In 512, he was transferred to the guidance of his uncle St Eugenius. The turning point in St Kevin’s life came when St Eugenius wished to go and preach the Gospel in Northern Ireland and was anxious to appoint St Kevin to succeed him as leader of the monastic school at Kilnamanagh. Fearing this, Kevin fled from his uncle’s monastery to Glendalough and hid himself in the mountain valley. He had by this time, been ordained a priest.
During the following seven years of solitary existence he found a lake enclosed between two mountains. He dwelt in a cave only about four feet square, and not high enough for one to stand upright, but slept in a smaller hollow. As for his food, it is recorded: ‘no man knows on what he lived during these years, for he himself never revealed it to anyone.”
St Kevin’s fame spread when he was discovered by a shepherds who promptly told people about this ascetic and holy man living in the heart of the mountains. The place became too small for the many people and disciples who gathered around St Kevin and eventually he moved to the eastern shore of the smaller lake. The monastery at Glendalough grew and from it many other Churches and monasteries developed.
Apart from the holiness of his life, St Kevin was revered for his great love of nature, his great desire to preserve standards of ecclesiastical learning, his known dedication to have his monasteries not only be places of holiness and virtue, but also dedicated to the preservation of liberal arts.
Until his death in 618 at the extraordinary age of 120, he presided over the monastery at Glendalough living a life of fasting, prayer and teaching. Glendalough, with its seven Churches eventually became one of the major pilgrimage destinations in Ireland.