Nature Notebook

Ancient Oak Woodlands

Last Sunday (May 20, 2018) two hours in the exclosure in the ancient oak woodlands in Derrycunnihy.  Here the intention was to keep the deer out to allow the woodlands to regenerate.

This is the south eastern edge of the most extensive Oak Woodland in Ireland.  The 1,500 acres extends to the north west corner of Loch Lein.

Rotten Oak – I was able to stick my finger right into the oak trunk. Had the interior rotted from damp, had it been eaten or was it infected?
A huge ancient oak
Mosses, ferns, shrubs and even young trees growing on the branches of the oak
Another huge oak
The greening of the oak woodland was late this year
New leaf
Spurge – the milky sap is used for removing warts. It was also considered an effective purgative. As well it was put to use as a quick way to catch fish – it inflames their gills, so they come gasping to the surface and are easily caught.
Broken exclosure fence meant to keep the deer out
Ancient hawthorn covered in lichen
Why is this oak dancing?
There is a lot of evidence of deer in the exclosure. Here a whole grove of young hollies have been eaten by the deer
Irish Spurge
The area has a huge covering of mosses but most are best seen in the wintertime when they are at their richest. Here the moss is faded and burnt out
Some of the first Rhododendron Ponticum that will turn Killarney purple in the coming weeks



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Early May 2018 Nature Photo Album

Cherry Drive, Killarney House Gardens – May 5, 2018
Killarney House and Cherry Drive – May 5, 2018
Killarney House Gardens, May 5, 2018
Cherry Blossom, Killarney House Gardens – May 5, 2018
Bluebells, western side of road north of Muckross Park Hotel – May 12, 2018
Wild Garlic on Mining Trail, Ross Island – May 12, 2018
Bluebells & Wild Garlic on Ross Island Mining Trail – May 12, 2018

Reed Bed at Hydes Bay on Loch Lein with Mangerton (left) and Torc (right) mountains in the background – May 12, 2018
Leafy Canopy of huge Beech Tree – May 12, 2018
Hydes Bay on Loch Lein – May 12, 2018

East Window, Muckross Abbey
Azaleas, Muckross Gardens, Killarney – May 12, 2018
Gap of Dunloe from above the N72 at Beaufort Bridge – May 14, 2018



– a ruined relic of a royal visit

Imagine the great flotilla of boats on the lake in front of Glena Bay on that day in August 1861 when Queen Victoria and her entourage visited Lord Castlerosse’s cottage ornee in the south west corner of Lough Leane in Killarney.

Glena was built in the 1820s. It has two very extensive piers – one for the Kenmares and their guests and, presumably, the other for servants and supplies.

By any standards this was a very grand cottage, perhaps the very finest visitor structure of its kind in the country.

In 1834 a bungalow-style structure – variously called ‘the ballroom’ and ‘the banqueting hall’ was built nearby to look after visitors with two or three of its own piers. By then Lady Castlerosse wanted Glena Cottage for her personal use. Nearby is the ruined gamekeepers cottage and various outhouses.

The royal party landed on the well-appointed pier and came up on the well-manicured lawn in front of the cottage.

The grounds had been extensively landscaped for the royal visit.  It was said lunch was in danger of being spoiled Castlerosse spent so much time showing the Queen what he had done. The extensive stone stairways, paths and viewing points are now engulfed in rhododendon.

Was lunch steaks of salmon freshly caught in the lake and skewered on arbutus and roasted around an open fire – a favourite Killarney dish.

During the lunch there was consternation. The great stag to be shot by the queen had escaped. It had been corralled nearby for weeks. Later when it was re-captured Her Majesty decreed it be set free.

Do the daffodils here date from that time?


Now the ruins are a sad relic of what used to be.


In 1922 Glena Cottage was burned down. The jambs over several of the doors show the burning.

Glena is a very special building in a spectacular location on the shore of Lough Leane, under the shadow of Glena mountain.  Now in an advanced state of ruin with its grounds suffocated by rhododendron.

The cottage, the grounds. the ‘banqueting hall’, piers, gamekeepers cottage and outhouses are crying out to be restored as a unique record in a very special place.

– Frank Lewis

PS Going to Glena by boat is very straightforward going overland from Dinis via the Old Weir Bridge needs a guide … particularly now as the tunnel through the rhododendron was partly collapsed by the snow this March.

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February 2018 – Nature Photo Album

The magnificence of the pre-famine landscape on the Old Kenmare Road – Torc mountain (right) and Cromaglan (left) – 4 February 2018
A ghost figure records the relics of human habitation on the landscape of man at Cores Cascade – 4 February 2018
Cores Cascade – 4 February 2018
Through Derricunnihy or Ullauns oak woodlands – 4 February 2018
Old stone bridge over Galway’s River, Derrycunnihy – 4 February 2018
Stagnant mountain puddle heaving with frog/s pumping out spawn on the dirt road to Faill a’ Crann – 10 February 2018
After spawning – or to start again – frog moves to clear water – 10 February 2018
Hazel catkins along the edge of the western meadow on the Muckross Peninsula on the Mucxkross & Dinis route – 18 February 2018
The hard black outline of the Colleen Bawn Rock – 18 February 2018

January 2018 – Nature Photo Album

Reflections of bare branches on still pool on Arthur Young trail – 7 January 2018
The Paps against a clear blue sky – 11 January 2018
A blinding light shows the way .. over commonage …. mountain panorama (from left) The Paps, Crohane, Bennaunmore (behind trees), Eskduff, Stoompa, Horses’ Glen, Mangerton .. the searing mid day sun says ‘this is the way’ – 11 January 2018
Through lichen covered branches of tall larch near Faill a’ Crann (on the western flank of Mangerton) looking down on Middle and Lower lakes – 14 January 2018
Middle & Lower Lakes and tiny Doolough in between … from Faill a’ Crann … even under leaden skies the panoarama take the breath away – 14 January 2018
No movement in the larch winter woodland – 14 January 2018
The grey green old man’s beard lichen stands out against the bulk of Torc Mountain – 14 January 2018
Torc in white water spate stands out agains the late evening black rock and vegetation – 21 January 2018



Sheep silhouetted against first light on Mangerton Road

My daily – sometimes twice daily – trek from Ard na gCoistí to the foot of Mangerton mountain is best in the hour of the magically emerging new day between first light and sunrise.

The timeless sheep could have been in that stable. It was a particularly appropriate image on Christmas Eve and on December 29 and, as you can see, the sheep were not disturbed by my three canine companions.


Primroses on the Muckross Peninsula on New Year’s Day

“What is that?” I asked pointing at the hazy yellow clumb some distance inside the electric fence along the side of the Western Meadow on the Muckross Peninsula in the Killarney National Park.

“Is it primroses?” Colm wondered. But my flowerbook says ‘… the first primroses start to bloom in March’ … and we were walking the Muckross and Dinis route on New Year’s Day.

I rolled under the electric fence to get close enough to take the photograph. The ragged flowers had been preyed on by a slug or other insect. It did not look much like ‘the first rose’ the translation of its botanical name primula.

In medieval times a potion made from primroses was used to cure gout and rheumatism, and an infusion was taken for nervous headaches. The flowers were used in the preparation of love potions.

The most visible new growths this Christmas season were the hazel catkins along the south western edge of the western meadow.

Swamp woodland on Dinis Island on the Muckross Peninsula

After oak and yew, swamp woodland is the third significant area of Killarney’s arboreal wealth. In European designation it is the most important. The alder gathers nitrogen from the air, is believed to harbour evil and was used to make clogs.

I have walked Muckross and Dinis every Christmas Day since childhood, except on the odd occasion when flooding blocked the way. Endless variation of woodland, lake and mountain. Something new around every bend.


The 18th century rock embankment at Gallan Eile in the snow on St Stephen’s Day

The hours of heavy snow in the afternoon on St Stephen’s Day made the garden steps at Gallan Eile slippery so I did not get down to photograph the house and the full extent of the wall. I will show you the full six foot high, two to three foot wide wall in next week’s notebook.

Snow scene of National Park woodland from Gallan Eile

Strong woodland colour shines through the heavy snow.

Geese with a snow cover

The ferro-concrete geese by Katie Goodhue have an entirely natural pose – looking at one another, pecking for food.

Constant heavy rain in the morning and snow in the afteroon made this the first Stephen’s Day for years that I have not gone walking


The Upper Lake, Ronayne’s Island with Torc Mountain in the background

From Derrycunnihy to Kate Kearney’s is a walk that has everything – oak woodland, waterfall, lake side, our highest mountains, the Gap of Dunloe rift valley. It is a walk for any weather – unless high water in the lake floods the southern end of the route which runs through marsh.

As Fionan and I walked on the Wednesday after Christmas I wondered what this season was like on their island home for 18th century mathematician Philip Ronayne and his black servant. Or the unfaithful wife of Lord Brandon detained in the nearby tower.

The Upper Lake from the Gap Road with Mangerton in the background
The snow-covered peak of Purple Mountain
The Gap of Dunloe looking north from the top of the Gap
The Gap of Dunloe looking south over Cuasan Lake


Fionan and I were on Ross Island on Thursday (December 28) and on Saturday Colm and I walked from the Cathedral along the river walk to Ross Castle and then on to Governor’s Rock. On both days the flooding through the swamp woodland on the way to Library Point was too high for our boots.

Apart from a night of Storm Dylan and an evening of Hurricane Eleanor this festive season my rain gear was not drenched any evening arriving home. It was not very cold. Bracing might be more descriptive, definitely not bikini weather.

The whole expanse of Lough Leane from Governor’s Rock

Imagine Niamh rising out of this great body of water, from eternal Spring in her home at Tir na nOg/the land where nobody grows old. Or Fionn Mac Cumhaill turning the waters of O’Sullivan’s Cascade across the way into whiskey punch – until the arrival of the first sassanach (Englishman) undid his magic.

This is a magical place enhanced hugely by its wealth of story. A land to spend Christmas – or any other time.

Frank Lewis

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– memories from eight Kerry sites

Ireland is now half way through a decade of marking a centenary of revolutionary activity that started with the lock-out of 1913 and from there .. the 1916 rising.. the War of Independence and finally the awful Civil War.

Recently we recorded a radio programme (Radio Kerry Saturday December 30 – 9 to 11am) visiting eight Kerry sites with memories of those times.

In Listowel 13 Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officers mutinied when they were given ‘shoot to kill’ instructions on 17 June 1921. This started a flood of over 2,700 resignations from the RIC force of 7,000 – many of them to join the fight for Irish freedom.

Roger Casement landed here on Banna Strand on Good Friday April 21 1916

Roger Casement was knighted for his humanitarian work in Africa and South America. His hope to help the cause of Irish freedom failed because of bad weather, poor communications and incompetence. And a good policeman’s career was maliciously destroyed.

The theme of the Ballyseedy monument is ‘the fight must go on’

Here at Ballyseedy in March1923 eight anti-treaty supporters were blown to bits on a barricade land-mined by Nation army/pro treaty supporters. This was the worst civil war atrocity in Kerry. Stephen Fuller was blown clear of the explosion and survived to become a member of the Dail/the Irish Parliament.

The names inscribed on the monument remember the dead from both sides. Might the theme of the monument suggest a non violent fight .. to fight to make Ireland a better place for all?

The Thomas Ashe memorial in his native Kinard in Lispole

Thomas Ashe was the first republican prisoner to die on hunger strike. He died, at the age of 32, on September the 25th 1917, after only five days without food, because the inexperienced doctor whose force feeding went into his lungs.

Ashe is credited with leading the only outright military success during the 1916 rising. His funeral, attended by 150,000, is said to have been the largest ever in Ireland. Michael Collins gave the oration at the grave. Following the execution of the rising leaders the death of Thomas Ashe galvanised the nation to the War of Independence.

An anti-treaty force of some 500 attacked Killorglin on 27th September 1922. The town was defended by a national army pro-treaty force of sixty. After 24 hours of attack and counter attack, explosion and tunneling through buildings, the Republicans/anti-treaty forces retreated when Free State troops arrived from Tralee.

At several dozen the reports of those killed in Killorglin were wildly exaggerated. The real figure was probably between three and six.

Most of those involved in 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War were very young. It made sense to focus on recruits who were physically fit. Many members of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) were also involved in the military activity. This was very important in rocketing the number of volunteer recruits – rising from 25,00 in April 1914 to 180,000 that June.

Dick Fitzgerald won All Ireland Football medals with Kerry in 1913 and 1914. He organised football competitions in the Frongoch Prisoner of War Camp in Wales where he was in prison for his military activities. He later wrote ‘How to Play Gaelic Football’ the first GAA instruction manual.

The Headford Memorial remembers Kerry’s biggest engagement with British troops in the War of Independence

At least fourteen people died when the Irish Volunteers attacked a train with British soldiers at Headford Junction on March 21 1921 – nine British soldiers, two IRA volunteers and three civilians.

In early June 1921 10,000 British troops, under Major Bernard Law Montgomery and Major A E Percival, swept the nearby Clydagh Valley in search of IRA strongholds and arms dumps. This was one of the biggest manhunts in the history of the British Army. It was the last major operation by the British in the War of Independence. It was also the first time the British used air support in Ireland. Another first was the large scale civilian involvement in a conflict – as a result the operation had limited success. None of the key IRA commanders were captured.

In the early hours of September 9 1922 members of the National army 20 year old Brigadier Tom O’Connor Scarteen and his 25 year old brother Captain John O’Connor Scarteen were gunned down in their home at 5 Main Street Kenmare by former comrades when an anti Treaty column of over eighty men attacked the town.

The Irish Civil War was the most awful event in our history, with few if any redeeming features. Brother/neighbour/friend fighting one another. It was the late 20th century before the deep scars started to heal.

The challenge for the commemoration of the centenary of the Civil War in 2022/23 is to confront the issues and remember all and, in learning from the past, going forward together to make the best society for all.

– Frank Lewis
19 December 2017


– by tower, lighthouse, beach & cliff

First light over Dingle Harbour

To begin I could only see the harbour and town lights. In that very special hour before sunrise the outline of Dingle Harbour gradually emerged. Along the low water edge several herons focussed alertly on breakfast. Seabirds foraged busily between muddy and stoney shore and water.

Hussey’s Folly guards the northern entrance to Dingle Harbour

In the twenty minutes it took to get to Hussey’s Folly the new day was fully born. Here there is a commanding view of all of the harbour. The tower told sailors to let down their sails to round the mouth of the harbour safely.

Built in 1845 during the famine to win converts to the established church. Or was it a true ‘folly’ … suggesting unattainable grandeur. A sister, Eask Tower, was built in 1847 on the southern entrance to the harbour.

Dingle Lighthouse warns sailors in bay and harbour

The cottage lighthouse was completed in 1885 at a cost of £580. It’s automated red light talks to sailors between harbour and bay.

From this point a unique panorama. The huge expanse of Dingle Bay west to Valentia Island and the Skellig Rocks and the mountain backdrop of the Luanasa peaks of Drung and Knockadobar and the distant MacGillicuddy Reeks. As well the whole of Dingle Harbour and town.

Beenbane beach at low tide

Walking along the clifftop over Dingle Bay I couldn’t believe by eyes. At 9 on the morning of Friday December 1 two women were preparing to swim. Walking by the head of the beach the car registration indicated the swimmrs were from Galway. Given more clement conditions this is the quiet place where Dingle people swim

Cliffs east of Beenbane Head

Low lying cloud-like rivers flowing into the sea give the view a sense of mystery, of magic. A very special story backdrop. Here the view south, east and west is a huge panorama of Dingle Bay.

I would have liked to walk on to Doonsheane with its beach and deep sea inlet. But between walking and taking photographs I had now been gone for more than an hour.

West from Beenbane Head – cliff, harbour and town

Now retracing my steps the sheer cliff and view of the wide harbour highlight the special location of Dingle. The distant lighthouse cottage and tower and even the town sprawl indicates our small mark on this place.

Reenbeg Point and Eask Tower

Looking west the headland on the southern entrance to Dingle Harbour looks like a rich green Treasure Island guarded from the hilltop.

Now returning by beach, lighthouse, tower and finally at water level by the harbour in two hours I was back on the edge of Dingle town. A very special trek.

– Frank Lewis

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The N71 from the entrance to the Old Kenmare Road to Torc Waterfall

During October and November every opportunity is spent in deciduous woodland to marvel at the great range of colours in our second annual colour season. The evergreen holly extends the range of contrast.

Greens, through yellows to browns … a visual symphony.

While there are no cars in these shots this is a busy road with cars whizzing in both directions all of the time. Which is not to boast that I risked life to record the glory but to advise strongly against standing in the middle of the road!

The bulk of Torc Mountain in the background strengthens the range of colours.

Sometimes the best view is from the edge of the road but parking can also be a challenge. Best to park in the designated areas at either end of this beech woodland.

Cores cascade – left in the middle of the photo – Cores & Mangerton mountains from the northern end of Esknamucky Glen.

The splendour of the variation in the single colour on the mountains last Sunday, a special delight for the discerning eye.

Looking south from the south western side of Cromaglan mountain.

The well-maintained board walk made it possible to walk in comfort across the waterlogged plateau that crosses from the valley between Torc and Mangerton to Derrycunnihy. The low November afternoon sun dramatically highlighted the layers of mountain.

Looking east across the collapsed, corrugated iron roof of an old sheep-shearing shed.

This green field, with little use and maintenance, is now a place where ferns grow.
Directly below us now the Ullauns or Derrycunnihy oak woodlands and south, south west the southern end of the Upper Lake, Lord Brandon’s Cottage with a background of the whole McGillicuddy Reeks … but the photograph, in the weakening evening sunlight, was too soft to show!

Looking north east, along the Old Kenmare Road/Kerry Way, the valley between Torc & Mangerton.

In the softer evening sunlight the single colour autumn mountain cloak is even richer, and in enhancing the experience does not change from year to year to fill greedy pockets

Holly, on the banks of the Crinnagh River, Cores & Mangerton mountains in the background.

A huge crop of berries on the holly bush in aslightly more protected dip in the mountains.

Looking west to Purple, Tomies & Glena Mountains
Looking east to Mangerton.

Both of the photographs above show remains of pre-famine settlements that had simple stone houses and small fields surrounded by stone ditches.

The population of Ireland doubled between 1740 and 1840. This was made possible because of the arrival of the potato. People survived on a diet of potatoes and it was possible to grow potatoes up here in the mountains.

North along the Old Kenmare Road in the Fertha Valley between Torc & Mangerton.

At the end of a satisfying three hour week in the fading evening light. In the distance the edge of the oak and conifer woodland that we will enter shortly and fifteen minutes later to the carpark that spilled over on to the road when we left it.

– Frank Lewis

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