Nature Notebook 5 January 2016

“The path to Gearhameen is flooded”, Gene Tangney told me when I phoned him Stephen’s morning. “But I have a boat down and I can collect you.”

The route from Derricunnihy, around the southern shore of the Upper Lake, by Lord Brandon’s Cottage, the Black Valley, through the whole length of the Gap of Dunloe ending in the salubrious Kate Kearney’s Cottage has been a favourite St Stephen’s Day walk for many years. Normally there are many others walking but this year it looked as if I might be the only one.

distant falls P1010282 water torrent P1010281

Siubhan dropped me and my wire-haired terrier Billie to Derricunnihy. After a little while from where Queen’s Cottage used to be the view of the great cascade was mesmerising, although it was three hundred meters away. The crashing waters of the Galway’s River are even more riveting as they crash over the too perfect falls beside the cottage site.

Now on through the oakwoods, with their extensive underlay of holly and ground covered by rich carpets of mosses. I must not delay. At a footbridge across a stream Gene was waiting.

Gene boatman P1010285Photo shows Boatman Gene Tangney with McCarthy’s, Eagle and Ronan’s Islands in the background

As we walked towards the boat he pointed to the horizontal streams of cloud laying high up on the mountains. “These are a sure sign that there is a lot more rain to come.” That’s reassuring.

In a light mist we crossed the calm lake. Apart from the thick clump of lighter green rhododendron the scene is probably largely unchanged since Jonathan Fisher painted it from high over the southern end of the lake almost 250 years ago.

Halfway across Gene pointed out a white-tailed sea eagle flying over Duck Island to the south of us. We passed by the island that bears the name of mathematician Philip Ronayne who lived here with a black servant 225 years ago.

On the mountain shore on the western side of the lake Gene pointed at a ruin. “That was a shebeen where young girls sold a mixture of poitin and goat’s milk to visitors. They stopped towards the end of the 19th century after a number of drownings.”

Near the Toll Gate to Lord Brandon’s Cottage we met Gene’s wife Mary who told me that she managed to get three fine turkeys from a woman in Beaufort after her own were all killed by a pine marten earlier in December. They were given the stamp of approval by the fifteen members of the immediate family at the christmas dinner the day before and they would feed twenty to thirty members of the extended clan on New Year’s Day.

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Panorama of the Black Valley from the Upper Lake on the left (east) to Lough Reagh


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Looking North from the Gap of Dunloe

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On a walk on January 3, Colm O’Sullivan and Billie at the top of the Gap

Now it was calm and dry. At the top of the Gap of Dunloe the browns, purples, blues and green were at their most vivid. Torrents of water were streaming from every side as I walked down through the Gap.

I had been on the road for most of four hours when I reached Kate Kearney’s in the gathering dusk. A pint and some food with Siubhan … what better way to end a perfect day.

Frank Lewis

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