Saint Kevin (Coemgen) was born in Leinster in the early decades of the sixth century, the age of Saints Columba (June 9), Columbanus of Luxeuil (November 21), Comgall of Bangor (May 10), Finnian of Clonard (December 12), Kieran of Clonmacnoise (September 9), and many other great saints.
This holy ascetic belonged to a noble family which had included several Kings of Leinster. He himself, however, was a model of humility and self-denial. There are several miraculous stories connected with his birth and childhood, but most are unreliable.
The holy youth was baptized by a priest named Cronan and was named Kevin, which means "fair-begotten." There are so many saints named Cronan that it is not clear which one baptized Saint Kevin. When he was seven years old, his parents sent him to be taught by Saint Petroc (June 4), who happened to be visiting Ireland at the time.
As a boy of twelve, Saint Kevin was placed in the charge of three holy Elders: Eogoin of Ardstraw (August 23), Lochan, and Enna. Little is known of these teachers or where their establishment was located. His secular studies were certainly enhanced by spiritual instruction. He learned to read the Holy Scriptures, and to profit from the example of the virtuous men and women of the Old and New Testaments.
Saint Kevin was so handsome that a young girl named Kathleen became inflamed with desire for him, but the holy youth resisted all her allurements. She pestered him so much with her attentions that he fled from her, just as Joseph fled from Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39:12). Kathleen followed him and found him alone in a field, so she approached him and threw her arms around him. Arming himself with the Sign of the Cross, and filled with the Holy Spirit, Saint Kevin broke away from her and ran into the woods. She soon discovered him hiding in a bed of nettles. Grabbing a bunch of nettles, the saint struck her about the face, hands and feet. Wounded by the nettles, the girl's passion quickly cooled. She fell on her knees in repentance, begged forgiveness from God and from Saint Kevin, and promised to become a nun.
After successfully resisting the temptations of the flesh, Saint Kevin continued to devote himself to his studies, and longed to live the monastic life as a hermit. This was a common practice in the Celtic Church, which was influenced by the lives of the Egyptian desert dwellers, and by monks who had come from Gaul. Saint Kevin was anxious to leave the monastery, but his three Elders would not let him go. However, he had acquired a reputation for holiness, and people from the surrounding area came to seek his advice. Desiring to flee from such unwelcome attention, he left the monastery in secret and went into the wilderness.
It is said that an angel led him to Glendalough (the Vale of the Two Lakes) where he lived in the hollow of a tree somewhere by the shores of the Upper Lake. The ascetic remained in this place for several days, living on wild herbs and water. A cow wandered off and came to the tree where the Saint was living, and began to lick his clothing. After some time had passed, the cow showed an unusual increase in its milk, so her owner told his herdsman follow the animal. She led him to Glendalough, and there the herdsman discovered Saint Kevin, weak with hunger, and hiding in the tree.
The herdsman had to remove Saint Kevin on a litter by force, since the holy ascetic did not wish to leave. As he was being carried off, the trees bent down to make way for them. Saint Kevin then bestowed his blessing on the forest.
News of Saint Kevin reached his three Elders, who came to bring him back to their monastery. Recognizing the holiness of his life, they understood that they had nothing more to teach him, so they blessed him to leave the monastery.
A certain Bishop Lugidus ordained Sain Kevin to the priesthood, and sent him and a few other monks to found a new church. He spent a little time converting people at Cluainduach, but later moved back to Glendalough.
Guided by an angel, Saint Kevin crossed the Wicklow Mountains and established a monastery in the lower part of the valley where two rivers flow together. Once the monastery was organized, he appointed one of the monks as abbot, and then he retired to the upper valley a mile away to resume his life of solitude. He built a small dwelling on a narrow place between the mountain and the lake, where there were dense woods and clear rivulets. Some sources say that Saint Kevin lived there for four years, while others say seven years.
During this period of his life, wild animals would come to drink water out of his hands. Once during Lent, Saint Kevin stood praying in his hut with his hand sticking out of the window. Just then a blackbird nested in his hand and laid an egg. So gentle and compassionate was the Saint that he remained in this position until the eggs hatched and the fledglings were able to fly away.
There is a small cave above the Upper Lake known as Saint Kevin's Bed. One year he retired there for Lent, and an angel came and told him he would have to move because a rock was about to fall on that spot. Saint Kevin told the angel he could not interrupt his Lenten struggles or leave that place. On the eve of Pascha the angel returned to take him away. The venerable one protested that he would like to remain there for the rest of his life. He was persuaded to go, however, by the angel's promise that great benefits would follow for all who would come there in the future, both to live in the monastic city and to be buried there. Just as he was leaving with the angel, the rock came tumbling down and landed on the very spot where he had been standing.
Crossing over the lake, they discussed the problem of finding sufficient space for so many people. The angel said that if Saint Kevin wished, God could transform the four mountains surrounding the valley to level fields, fruitful and easy to work. The holy ascetic replied that he would not want God's creatures to perish on his account. All of the animals of those mountains were tame and humble toward him, and they would be saddened by this proposal.
When they arrived at the chosen spot, Saint Kevin saw that the ground was rocky and unsuitable for burial. The angel fixed that by clearing all the stones away. The site is to the east of the smaller (Lower) lake. Saint Kevin told the local chieftain Dimma and his sons to cut away the thorns and thistles, and to make this a beautiful spot. It is not certain just where in the valley Saint Kevin fell asleep in the Lord. It was not at the hermitage, however, because he sent a party of monks there to pray for him. Local tradition says that Saint Kevin is buried in the church of the Mother of God in that vicinity.
Saint Kevin was succeeded as abbot by his nephew Molibba (Jan. 8), who seems to have been the first bishop there. According to the Annals of Ulster, the holy abbot and confessor Kevin departed to Christ on June 3, 618.