Nature Notebook


– on a race against Hurricane Ophelia to see Autumn colour

Beech leaves make a splash of Autumn colour over the 18th century mining road on Ross Island in Killarney

This road was developed to take out large quantities of copper ore in the late 18th and early 19th century for smelting in Wales. The ore was quarried in the nearby oldest copper mines in north western Europe dating back over 4,500 years.

Sunday October 15th was the day before the much heralded arrival of Hurricane Ophelia. Would all of our Autumn colour be blown away? Might flooded paths prevent access? To see autumn colour we headed for Ross Island.

Arbutus in flower and fruit on Governor’s Rock, from where there is a huge, high panorama over most of Lough Leane

Arbutus Unedo, the Killarney strawberry tree, outside of pockets in a very few places in the south west of Ireland is not found growing in the wild further north than the north coast of Spain. It has a two year cycle. This year’s flowers produce next year’s fruit.

When and how this headland came to be known as Governor’s Rock I am not clear. Was it called after a member of the landlord Lord Kenmare family or some eminent visitor? I would appreciate any information.

Hyde’s Bay, Governor’s Rock and Tomies mountain

This scene over Hyde’s Bay was the clearest evidence of the approach of Autumn. Brown reeds, the evolution of the tree leaves from green to brown, the stillness suggested by the slight ripple of the water and the cloud resting on the mountain.

Perhaps the bay is named for the Rev Arthur Hyde who was Church of Ireland Minister in Killarney in the first half of the 18th century. Or perhaps it is in memory of his great grandson the first President of Ireland Douglas Hyde.

Demesne road to Library Point through swamp woodland

Swamp woodland of short lived sally and alder is one of the three internationally important areas of woodland in Killarney. The other two are yew on the Muckross Peninsula and the oak woods in Derricunnihy. The swamp woodlands are extensive in the environs of Ross Castle.

On our October 15 walk on the day before Hurricane Ophelia, the photo shows the lake water levels already flooded the route but it was possible to get past. If Ophelia was accompanied by prolonged heavy rain this area might be cut off for weeks or even months – as in the winter of 2015/16.

We walked to Library Point along the rough woodland track running high along the northern shore of Hyde’s bay with constant glimpses of Autumn colour and continuous panoramas of lake, woodland and mountain.

While the sheltered leaves on this beech tree are green, the higher and more exposed areas were already yellow and brown. In the upper foreground the leaves of a horse chestnut, one of the first trees to show seasonal change

For more than 40 years our children – and latterly grandchildren – hid in the hollow trunk of this great beech tree. lts interior had rotted away many years before. Might the storm of the following day finally bring it crashing down?

Boat docked in one of the many lake inlets in the off-road south eastern part of Ross Island

The real enjoyment of Ross Island is to wander off the Park road. Follow every track and be endlessly fascinated.

Where had this boat gone on its most recent lake trip? Perhaps to Innisfallen’s ancient abbey. Or to O’Sullivan’s Cascade on the mountain shore. Or maybe a last day’s fishing before the season closed.


From Lovers’ Walk on October 23 .. looking out through yew tree branches on Lough Leane with a mountain backdrop of Purple, Glena and Tomies

On Sunday October 22 – six days after Ophelia – the low routes beside the three main Killarney lakes were all flooded. There had been torrential rain on the Friday and Saturday.

But Ophelia had not been as severe as forecast. The great beech on Ross Island is still standing.

On Monday the 23rd we spent three hours on the Muckross Lake Boat Tours hugely enjoyable boat trip around the Muckross Lake – that also took in the back channel that flows directly from the Upper Lake to Lough Leane. We also delayed in front of the ruined Glena cottage on Lough Leane. We were recording a programme that was broadcast on Radio Kerry on Saturday October 28. You can hear it on podcast on the Radio Kerry web site.

After three hours on a boat to stretch our legs we walked in a figure of eight formation for an hour from Torc via Muckross to the south eastern corner of Lough Leane and then back along the shore of the lake, on Lovers’ Walk and then along the fringe of Torc woods high over the Middle Lake.

– Frank Lewis

for more information or to book a stay at our self-catering holiday accommodation, Gallan Eile …


– oakwoods, Upper Lake & autumn colour

The southern end of Killarney’s Upper Lake and the cloud-capped McGillicuddy Reeks – photographed from the edge of Derricunnihy oakwoods

Last Sunday the light was what impressed the French family who were visiting Ireland for the first time.

Over these past weeks deciduous woodland have been showing ever more colourful shades from luminous yellow to the deepest reds, oranges and browns.  After the Muckross and Dinis circular walk and Ross Island we were now in Derricunnihy, the most extensive natural oak woodland in Ireland.

Green, through yellow to brown .. the rich canopy of oak leaf colour

Half an hour or more under tall oaks there were flashes of colour, added to by the understudy of holly’s heavy crop of rich red berries. Along the way we passed the tumbling waters of the Derricunnihy Cascade.

McCarthy’s, Ronayne’s & Eagle Islands on the Upper Lake with the sun kissed, cloud-capped Purple mountain & the McGilllicuddy Reeks – the Eagles’ Nest hill to the right

This wide panorama of lake and mountain is well worth the scramble to the top of the first rough outcrop immediately after leaving the oakwoods.

Imagine the author of a book on algebra fishing from the headland of his idyllic island retreat in the 18th century.  An etching in an 18th century guide shows Philip Ronayne’s black servant blowing his bugle as the boats on the Killarney day trip passed. There are more questions than answers.

The sun brings up the autumn browns of grasses, heather and on the island trees along the southern shore of the Upper Lake & looming in the background the Eagle’s nest (left/west) and Torc Mountain

This view is now seldom featured.  Some 230 years ago a higher version of the same view was painted from the hill immediately south.  The artist was Jonathan Fisher whose paintings and prints played a major part in establishing Killarney as a holiday resort.

Perhaps it was these pictures that made the Upper Lake one of the three most popular places to visit in Killarney in the late 18th and 19th centuries.  The other two were Innisfallen Island and O’Sullivan’s Cascade.

The pathway developed through this marsh ground has made it accessible and has opened up one of the finest and most varied day walks in Killarney.

The impressionist reflection of Autumn colour in a pool on the Gearhameen River

Pleasantly basking in warm Autumnal sunshine while we enjoyed refreshments at Lord Brandon’s Cottage it is hard to imagine this was a place of detention for an errant wife of wealthy stock!

After crossing the fine stone bridge over the Gearhameen River we followed the water up stream.

Great beech trees and oaks surround a small meadow

This area along the low-lying last stages before the Gearhameen enters the Upper Lake has a micro climate that allows great oak and beech to thrive here.

In the coming weeks and months new-born lambs will run and jump in these sheltered meadows.

The rich regal colouring of oak and silver birch … here the Gearhameen waters begin to cascade … and the bare mountain in the background

It is hard to imagine that a few hundred yards beyond this lush woodland scene the countryside is bare, rocky, harsh.

Normally from here we walk on through the Black Valley and the sheer-walled, multi-laked Gap of Dunloe but today because of a shortage of daylight – and transport at the far end – we retrace our steps.

– Frank Lewis

for more information or to book a stay at our self-catering holiday accommodation, Gallan Eile …


The straight and slanted line on these rocks, in the grounds of Colaiste Ide west of Dingle, are examples of the earliest form of writing in Ireland. It was introduced, via Roman Briton in the 4th century and remained in use until the late 7th century.

Of the 360 of these in Ireland over 60 are on the Dingle Peninsula”, Micheal O Coileain told us on his west Kerry archaeological tour. These stones were gathered from around the peninsula in the 19th century by Lord Ventry whose nearby mansion is now the only all Irish, girls boarding school in the country.

“The writing is carved up along one of the rock’s edges to the top and sometimes continues down the far side,” O Coileain explained. Ogham gets its name from the celtic Goddess of fine speech, Oghma.

Micheal then took us west in his 14 seat bus to Fahan perched high over Dingle Bay on the southern side of Mount Eagle. “In this general area there are up to a hundred beehive-shaped stone huts that people lived in from the Iron Age (5,000BC) to the 19th century.” Because the stones taper out and down the huts are completely dry inside in spite of exposure to wind and rain over all the years

Might the first settlers in Ireland have come ashore here – though archaeological evidence to date would suggest they landed first in the north east of the country. Then the seas were the highways and the prevailing currents are from the more southerly homes of the earliest people to come here.

Now on by Slea Head, the most westerly land point in Europe, with a huge panorama of sea and the Blasket Islands famous for the oral folk literature recorded here between the 1870’s and 1940s.

Micheal now travelled north with high views over Clogher Beach and its dramatic headland with interesting geology and beyond to Ferriters cove where a shell midden dump site has been dated to 6000 BC. This is also the location where the earliest cow bone in Ireland was found in excavation dating to 5500BC

“The monastic site here at Riasc was uncovered by excavation in the 1970s.” O Coileain pointed out the cross slab which is the best known monument here. Is the skilled artistic carving on the unworked stone an indication that perhaps it had a religious significance in pre-christian times and the new order was attempting to absorb what went before?

Our last stop on the three hour tour was at Gallerus Oratory, perhaps the best known pre-historic monument on the Dingle Peninsula. It is also the only entirely preserved up-turned-boat-shaped oratory in Western Europe.

It was believed that this was a small community church but now the thinking is that it was used exclusively by one of the many small monastic communities in this area” O Coileain suggested.

I know of no other archaeological tour like Micheal O Coilean’s. It begins every morning at 10.30 from the head of the pier in Dingle. On different days it will cover different sites. Cost of tour and bus is 25 euro. Booking is essential. T + 353 (0) 6666 915 1606 E

– Frank Lewis

for more information or to book a stay at our self-catering holiday accommodation, Gallan Eile …



& Triple whistle-like roar of sika bucks


Two, maybe three, red stags roaring were clearly to be heard when I was at the foot of Mangerton at 7.30 yesterday morning (Tuesday September 19). After a week away this was definitely home. Where else could it be?

This was the first time this year I heard the angry, bull-like bellowing of the red stags.  From now until early November every red deer will try to hold as many females as possible.

Stags will shape-up to one another.  Generally one backs off. But not infrequently horns clash and very occasionally these fights go on for some time,

This is nature’s way of ensuring the best progeny.  The blood is up.  During these weeks do not get too close.  If you are foolish enough to get between a stag and one of his females you are asking for trouble.

The high-pitched triple whistle-like roar of the sika buck normally starts about mid August and goes on well into November.  I have yet to hear the sika roar this year but a neighbour told me he heard it within the past week.

A Red Stag catches the evening light,near Fertha,The Killarney National Park,as the stags near the end of The Rutting Season in Killarney.Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan

The red deer is tan coloured.  It is bigger than the sika which is dark brown and has a flared white rump.

While the sika were only introduced to Killarney in the middle of the 19th century the red is the native Irish deer and has been in these hills since some time after the ice age which ended here some 12,000 years ago.

Go and at a safe distance listen to this ritual that has been uniquely captured by poet Paddy Bush in his poem … which he kindly dedicated to me.

Listening to the Roaring of the Stags
for Frank Lewis

The sun is making love to winter in the glen
And a calling can be heard as it echoes here and there,
An imperious ululation that rolls from ben to ben.

Between us and the light, sharp as a blade’s edge,
See the seven-horned stag, etched deep into the air.
The sun is making love to the winter in the glen.

The elemental bodhrán grows more and more intense
As the piping of the birds becomes antiphonal prayer,
And an imperious ululation rolls from ben to ben.

The spear-wail of the Fianna lives on in branch and stem
With leaf and nut and berry in rampant display,
While the sun is making love to the winter in the glen.

The music of what happens is music without end
And a universal note now permeates the air,
An imperious ululation that rolls from ben to ben.

This voice has called through ages in story and in verse
And if we lose its echo, the loss will cost us dear.
The sun is making love to winter in the glen
And an imperious ululation rolls from ben to ben.

                                Killarney, October 2003


Forecast Rain & Strong Wind

Reality Sun & Luscious Red Berries

Last Sunday (Sept 10) the news was full of Hurricane Irma leaving a trail of destruction in the Caribbean and approaching Florida. Our weather forecast warned of status yellow winds in Kerry and a lot of rain.

But Dermot had not been walking for months. The first thought was Faill a’ Crann (on the western side of Mangerton). The high route would be dry and relatively sheltered, we would be back in two hours, and the view is spectacular. But in all of that wind and rain would there be any views.

Muckross and Dinis would be a better bet. Constant shelter, close up – and endlessly varied – views through deciduous trees, of lake and mountain. And if the worst came to the worst there was the possibility of a stop off and some refreshments in Dinis Cottage or Muckross House and, if it was a disaster, we could be picked up.

As we set off the sun was shining and it was dry. The stiff wind gave the feel of a fresh Autumn day. Along the track on the southern shore of Lough Leane, by Muckross Abbey. Then on the Arthur Young trail through the largest yew wood in Europe. Later under great oaks,

While there was some passing rain the sun turning the waters of the Muckross Lake silver (photo above) was more typical


Along the narrow spit of land between the western shore of the Muckross Lake and the back channel (that runs from the Meeting of the Waters directly to Glena Bay on Lough Leane) half a dozen or more guelder rose bushes are now heavy with luscious red berries that look as if they have been dipped in water.

The Guelder rose was formerly better named the water or swamp elder because it likes to grow in damp places like this stretch between Brickeen Bridge and Dinis and has similar berries to the elder. The shrubs are close to one another. Because its cluster of white flowers (in Spring) are sterile it can only propagate by bending its branches to the ground and letting them layer themselves there.

The red berries are foul smelling and are mildly toxic if eaten raw but they can be cooked to make a jam or jelly and are rich in vitamin C.

Past a busy Dinis Cottage and Meeting of the Waters of the three lakes, crossing the main road (N71) and following the track that runs above and parallel to the main road, with high views over Muckross Lake. In spite of the occasional shower most of the time the water sparkled in the sunshine.

We crossed back over the N71 and followed the park road towards Muckross. At Dundag, on the eastern shore, the waters of Muckross Lake showed the power of the wind.

Colourful clothing complimented the colour of the flowers in the sunken garden by Muckross House.

We picked horse chestnuts near Muckross Abbey and then returned to our starting point along the old funeral road.

“Three and a half hours, in ideal walking weather, was a good first walk,” Dermot agreed. It was a perfect Autumn outing and proved yet again that there are walks in Killarney to suit any weather and at any time of the year.

Frank Lewis

for more information or to book a stay at our self-catering holiday accommodation, Gallan Eile …




The tall rowan at Gallan EIle is heavy with red berries at the moment. It’s Irish name caorthann comes from caor which means both a berry and a blazing flame.

Connected with witchcraft from ancient times the name rowan is said to derive from the norse word runa meaning a charm. The tree was often planted ouside houses and in churchyards to ward off witches.

It’s alternative name of mountain ash is probably because it grows higher up mountain-sides than any other native tree, not infrequently clinging to a rock face after sprouting in a crevice from seed dropped by a bird.

The red rowan berries are made into a jelly that is eaten with game. Rich in vitamin C they were once made into a drink to prevent scurvy. Bird-catchers once used the berries as bait to traps to catch thrushes, red-wings and field fares.

The rowan’s strong, flexible, yellow-grey wood was once widely used for making tool handles and small carved objects, and was sometimes used instead of yew for making long-bows.

At the moment our uplands are at their most colourful with whole strertches of mountain-side cloaked in the royal purple of ling heather in full bloom, as shown here on Mangerton mountain.

The heather is named from the Anglo-Saxon meaning ‘fire’, and remembers the importance of heather as a fuel in earlier times.

The origin of its botanical name Calluna comes from a Greek word meaning ‘to brush’. Stems of heather were tied together to make brushes and brooms. Stems were also woven into baskets, and heather was used for thatching and as a bedding material.

Heather is evergreen and provides food for many wildlife. The tender young shoots are the main food of red grouse. Birds eat their ripe seed, and the flowers provide nectar from which bees much sought after honey.

These days when the ling heather flower is strongest the bell heather blossom is fading. But the bell catches the eye first because of its deeper shade of purple.

Frank Lewis

for more information or to book a stay at our self-catering holiday accommodation, Gallan Eile …


In the day of all the sunshine a week ago it was great to jump into Muckross lake at Dundag. There are those who say fresh water is never as good as salt. But Dundag is closer, there are no jelly fish, no danger of being dragged out by currents, here it is sandy underfoot and the water is warm … and where else could you get a setting like that – the mountain amphitheatre, the weather sculpted limestone caves and the rich cloak of woodland.

After following in the footsteps of Pat Moore in Asdee (Nature Notebook 18 7 ‘17) I had promised we would swim on Littor Beach but we went on to Ballybunion. Spectacularly colourful cliffs and great expanses of silver beach. But it was at low tide and the prominent red flags really did mean it was dangerous, the drag of the tide was frightening. Swim in Ballybunion – but not at low tide. And luxuriate in the soothing mineral rich experience of a seawood bath.

In Muckross last Saturday with four and three quarter year old grandaughter Sarah and American nephew Brian of more advanced years. The richness of the blossoms in the rock and water gardens is now at its most luxuriant.

The boat trip from the Dundag boathouse is a special experience. Across one of our deepest lakes under the shadow of Torc mountain. Refreshing soup and sandwich in Dinis and home by the endlessly varied limestone shore that would delight and depress any sculptor. A fuller notebook on all of this in the coming weeks.

Three or four swims at high tide on Banna in recent weeks the exhiliration of being pounded by great waves is always more enjoyable, and safer, if you are well within your own depth.

– Frank Lewis

for more information or to book a stay at our self-catering holiday accommodation, Gallan Eile …

In the Footsteps of Pat Moore in Asdee


Last Sunday we spent most of six hours in the footsteps of a special priest, Pat Moore, in his native Asdee on the banks of the Shannon Estuary.   You can  hear the whole story on Radio Kerry – live on next Saturday week (July 29) from 9 to 11am and on podcast ( from the following Tuesday or Wednesday.

We began in a farmyard where the Irish Dail of the modern era had their first meeting.  Then, in the centre of the Jack Walsh Memorial Park, we heard of Asdee’s sporting heroes – in gaelic football, soccer, handball.
How St Eoin’s Well moved because of a horse, St Senan banned all women from Scattery Island and how an Asdee radio set turned up in Birmingham 50 years later.

The grandfather of the famous outlaw Jesse James emigrated from Asdee.  We heard how cursing saved a young Asdee curser and local musicians played Irish airs.  At the Community Centre  we heard of efforts to revitalise Asdee and the Drama Group dramatised a hilarious tale involving the Pension Officer.
At the fairy fort on Pat Moore’s family farm we heard of the Asdee Italian district and the strange goings on of Moloney at the Wake.
On the 6 mile Beale/Littor beach  where in famine time there was food but those with land on the beach were crippled by rates and a poem about the attractions of Caislean Easa Dui/The Castle by the Black Waterfall – that gave Asdee its name.
The huge panorama of the Shannon estuary fron Cnoc an Fhomhair, where Pat Moore celebrated Easter Sunday Dawn masses there was a German arms dump in 1914 and the song says
We know you’ll like the way we live 
In the village of Asdee
– Frank Lewis
Photos by Kerry Lewis
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Nature Notebook 4 July 2017/American Independence Day

– & another for amorous ladies!
The Devil was so furious at the success of the Devil’s bit scabious in curing all sorts of ailments that he bit away part of the root, hoping to put an end to its good works. The legend says this left the plant with the abruptly shortened root it has today.
But the Devil’s bit scabious continued to cure. Nicholas Culpeper, the 17th century herbalist, prescribed a concoction made from the boiled root for snake-bite, swollen throats, wounds and the plague.
In Ireland it was believed that cows that ate a lot of the Devil’s bit scabious produced very creamy milk. It was also believed that it was an important ingredient in a potion to cure the ‘evil eye’ and could be used to cure afflictions caused by magic. A woman was cured of a crooked lip caused by enchantment. The cure involved taking an infusion of nine plants boiled in urine!
Legend tells of the flat white flower-heads of the yarrow flower being used to cure wounds made by iron weapons. In this country it was also used to drive away evil and sickness; to increase physical attractiveness; and protect people from being hurt by the opposite sex.
In an old Irish chant a woman says: ‘I will pick the green yarrow that my figure may be fuller … that my voice will be sweeter … that my lips will be like the juice of the strawberry … I shall wound every man, but no man shall harm me.’
The three main rooms in Killarney House were officially opened yesterday. The formal gardens are at their best now. The endless herbaceous border – the longest in Ireland – the red and blue of the formal beds leading to the great variety of flowers in the round centerpiece. The gardens have matured impressively in twelve months.
In the constant turnover of new growth, in this special year of blossom, the last of the foxgloves, bog cotton and heath orchids can still be seen.
Fitzgerald’s Stadium with Tomies, Shehy and Purple Mountains
Kerry won the Munster gaelic football championship again in a game that lacked edge – but Killarney’s Fitzgerald Stadium’s mountain backdrop compensated. On this American Independence day the 7am ‘Dawn Chorus’ Shire Male Choir singing of the Star–Spangled Banner slipped my mind but there is the great parade around town at 8 and spectacular fireworks after 11.
– Frank Lewis


and the wonders of bog asphodel & honeysuckle

If a father-to-be ate the orchid’s large tuber the child would be a boy. If the mother ate the small tuber it would be a girl. According to Greek and Donegal mythology.

I have never seen so many orchids in bloom on the Mangerton commonage. In one area after getting to two hundred I decided counting was hopeless.

The shape of the orchid – a single erect stem over two round tubers – explains the Irish name Magairlin/male testicles. In Kerry and Cork the tuberous roots were considered a very effective love charm. Young girls made a powder from the roots and gave it to the young man of their fancy so he would marry them.

But please do not pick the orchids. The earliest unprecedented group that I saw this year on top of a ditch disappeared over night. Perhaps picked by little fingers as animals do not appear to eat them. Then the pleasure of these unique flowers was denied to so many others passing up Mangerton Road.

In ‘Hamlet’ Shakespeare included orchids among the ‘fantastic garlands’ draped on the drowned body of Ophelia. Orchids were also said to grow beside the Cross. The spots on its leaves have been explained as drops of blood which fell from Christ when he was crucified.

Record numbers of the star-like, brilliant orangey yellow flowers of the bog asphodel shine out on the boggy commonage at the moment.

In earlier centuries women used the asphodel to dye their hair.

The second part of the plant’s botanical name ‘ossifragum’ means ‘bone-breaking’. It was believed bog asphodel caused brittleness of the bones in sheep that ate it. This has been shown to be untrue. It is probable that the bone weakness is caused by the absence of mineral salts in the soil where the plant grows.

At dusk these evenings at the foot of Mangerton the scent of honeysuckle/woodbine perfumes the air. Samuel Pepys, the 17th century diarist, called it ‘the trumpet flower’ whose bugles ‘blow scent instead of sound’.

Herbalists used its flowers in potions for headaches, lung diseases and asthma.

There is an old superstition that if honeysuckle is brought into the house, a wedding will follow, and that its flowers placed in a girl’s bedroom will bring her dreams of love.

In the coming days I will tell you about the wonders of the Devil’s Bit Scabious, the miracles of Yarrow, black medick that is not black and has nothing to do with medicine and of the last of the record blooming of foxgloves!

– Frank Lewis
for more information or to book a stay at our self-catering holiday accommodation, Gallan Eile …