Nature Notebook


On Sunday and Monday I wandered around the stunning rose garden in Tralee town park,  had a tour of the park’s worldwide tree collection and swam twice in the refreshing waters through rolling breakers on Banna beach.
By the time you have read this I hope to have had another swim on the safe, sandy shore of Muckross Lake at Dundag.   Torc mountain rising sheer to left/south and the Tomies/Glena/Purple ridge to the west.   Here five minutes drive from Gallan Eile is there a swimming setting like it anywhere?
On Sunday we walked around the Rose Garden in Tralee Town Park.  But I was so impressed by the huge selection of roses, in magnificent full bloom at the moment, that early Monday I went back and spent a further hour savouring the sights and scents.
In these weeks before the International Rose of Tralee Festival attracts young women from all over the world to compete for the 2017 title where ‘it was not her beauty alone that won me’.
The words of the song tell the story
The pale moon was rising above the green mountain,
The sun was declining beneath the blue sea;
When I strayed with my love to the pure crystal fountain,
That stands in the beautiful Vale of Tralee.
She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,
Yet ’twas not her beauty alone that won me;
Oh no, ’twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning,
That made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.
The cool shades of evening their mantle were spreading,
And Mary all smiling was listening to me;
The moon through the valley her pale rays was shedding,
When I won the heart of the Rose of Tralee.
Though lovely and fair as the Rose of the summer,
Yet ’twas not her beauty alone that won me;
Oh no, ’twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning,
That made me love Mary the Rose of Tralee.
In the far fields of India, ‘mid war’s dreadful thunders,
Her voice was a solace and comfort to me,
But the chill hand of death has now rent us asunder,
I’m lonely tonight for the Rose of Tralee.
She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,
Yet ’twas not her beauty alone that won me;
Oh no, ’twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning,
That made me love Mary,The Rose of Tralee [2]
– Frank Lewis
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On Wednesday last (June 7) at lunchtime there were orchids in bloom at every turn of the road on Ross Island, a place that always has some new surprise.

Wild Irish red deer in the garden at Gallan Eile are a mixed blessing. Evidence of a 10,000 year heritage. There on the front lawn at 5.54 on Friday morning. Any advice would be welcome on how to fill and successfully seed the deep holes they left in the banks.

The foxgloves, with Mangerton mountain and a blue sky in the background, looked their most majestic on Saturday morning at 7.30.

Further on up through the woods evidence of the inexorable advance of rhododendron. Magnificent now with their regal, football-size, blossoms but as they advance they threaten all other flora.

Just before 9 the rhododendron purple added to the great panorama over Middle and Lower Lakes.

On the way back the number of dead larch cause pause for thought.

The dozens, maybe hundreds, of orchids in the grassy break in the woods with Torc Mountain in the background.

On Sunday it was overcast but there was no rain as we walked from Gallan Eile through the woods the flow in Torc Waterfall was already easing off. The circuit along lake shore via Muckross House – and lunch – on the original Queen’s drive to Gallan Eile.

– Frank Lewis

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BLOSSOM BONANZA – Spring most rampant

The upland bluebells are still in full vigorous bloom, as here at Gallan Eile between woodland and mountain


Cloud covers the gradually greening Stoompa mountain and Horses Glen … across Mangerton commonage. In the evening late Spring light the green field in the wood glade sparkles

Now nature is at its most active.  Something new is in bloom every day.  And the clarity in the late morning and early evening further highlights this sense of being alive.

The bog cotton first showed its showy white head about a week ago.  In earlier times it was used to stuff pillows and mattresses and was renewed annually.

The Middle Lake, from Dundag to Devil’s Island, with a mountain backdrop of Mangerton, Torc, Crohane and the Paps
Torc mountain falls sheerly into the Middle Lake. It is showing the first of its greening, with the purple blotches of rhododendron blossom
The richness and intensity of the blossoms as big as footballs.  Is it any wonder 19th century plant collectors were so taken by it.  How could they realise how pervasive, even pernicious, it would become?
With its mountain backdrop south and west and wood surround north and east, the safe, gradually deepening, sandy beach at Dundag is the Killarney swimming place. Noah can’t wait to go back and swim there again!

– Frank Lewis

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Nature Notebook 29 May 2017


At the moment 262 foxgloves are in full bloom along the western or lakeside stone boundary at Gallan Eile.  Four years ago Siubhan counted 98

The plant makes a demanding statement. Look at me!

Four and a half year old Sarah also demands attention!

Each stem can have between 20 and 80 flowers.

An avenue of honour or line of protection, or celebration of welcome with individual foxgloves up to two meters tall.

Our boundary is six foot high, with stones gathered from rough land retaining precious soil.

In the 18th century the recently introduced potato flourished in these high mountain paddocks.

Between the mid eighteen and nineteenth centuries Ireland’s population doubled forcing cultivation of these marginal areas.

By the mid nineteenth century eighty percent of the people of Kerry lived in one roomed mud cabins and survived on a diet of three meals of potatoes a day.  For the month of July, between potato crops, they lived on cabbage.

When the potato was wiped out by a fungal disease in the mid 19th century Ireland lost up to a quarter of its population.  Over a million people died of starvation and a similar number emigrated to Britain, the US and Australia.

It is unlikely the foxglove got its name from the belief that its bell-shaped flower made suitable gloves for foxes.

It is suggested the name might come from the Anglo-Saxon gliew – a musical instrument with many small bells – and fox could be a corruption of ‘folks’ meaning the ‘little folk’, or fairies. This might explain why I grew up calling foxgloves ‘fairy bells’?

The foxglove is very poisonous. It can be used to produce the drug Digitalis which in very small doses is used to treat heart complaints.

– Frank Lewis

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Is this the oldest yew in Killarney?  It is said yew can ‘grow for a thousand years, mature for a thousand years and is a thousand years dying’ and then it regenerates from its roots.  Earlier generations were very wise in choosing to plant yew in graveyards as a symbol of life.  In a sense it is everlasting, head gardener from Garnish Island, near Sneem, Seamus Galvin, told us.

It was 5.20 last Sunday morning (April 23), an hour before sunrise, as we stood around this witness of past millennia. We were out to hear that very special feature of nature, the dawn chorus, which is at its height an hour before the sun rises. Within minutes the first birds were beginning to sing, perhaps woken by our torches.

On the track over Hyde’s Bay there are several sets of crumbling steps that might have been developed as part of the landscaping of the two great Killarney estates in preparation for the visit of Queen Victoria in 1861.

Now we were beginning to see the ghostly outline of lake, headland, island and mountain. The bird song got stronger and stronger.

Acres and acres and acres of beech woods carpeted with the white wild garlic flower which now is in full bloom. Leaf, flower and root of this indicator of ancient woodland can be eaten.

All morning the birds sang. Story teller and initiator of the Kerry Camino Mikey O’Donnell told of finding old birds’ eggs collections in attics.

Distinctive ‘JG 1940’ and decorative ‘MTM’ carved into the smooth grey bark of big beech trees, remember a time when most boys – and many men – cut out their initials – particularly at a stage in life when they were linked amorously to another.

Killarney Walks guide Michael O’Connor told of the mining that went on on Ross island from 4,500 years ago and at its most extensive in late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Library point is named for the layered rock underneath, that resembles a collapsed line of books. Killaney boatman Donal ‘Ducks’ O’Donoghue swears boatmen see the leaves of the books move in strong wind.

From Library Point 23-acre Innisfallen Island that has the extensive remains of a monastery that was a famous centre of learning, where the oldest contemporary account of the history of Munster was written. The Annals of Innisfallen are now in the Bodlian Library in Oxford. The cone-shaped O’Donoghue’s Prison where it is said that the chieftain of Ross Castle chained his naked prisoners.

Donal remembered with feeling the 28 miles of rowing of earlier years – to get the punch line you will have to listen to Saturday’s radio programme!!

Wild garlic soup and wild garlic pesto bread prepared by James Coffey, the executive chef at the Park Hotel in Kenmare, revived us on Sunday morning under the two great Monkey Puzzle trees at he Earl of Kenmare’s picnic place on Ross Bay. Imagine Cromwellian stories sailing by here 365 years ago. 13 year old Kerrill Healy from the Killarney School of Music on the Killarney whistle played the plaintive ‘Caoine Ui Dhomhnaill’.

Around the corner from Lord Kenmare’s picnic place the most extensive carpets of wild garlic is in full bloom. This extends from Ross Bay to the western shore of the Library Point headland.

Our final stop last Sunday morning was in swamp woodland. Alder and sally are the ideal woods for sluices and other underwater structures. The yellow wild iris will blossom shortly.

After three hours we finished our walk with Killarney School of Music’s Padraig Buckley and 17 year old Fiona Fell on Killarney Whistle with the chirpy ‘Maxwell’s Bonnet’.

Frank Lewis’s dawn chorus walk in wild garlic woods on the Library Point headland on Ross Island in Killarney National Park will be broadcast on Radio Kerry this Saturday morning – April 29, from 9 to 11 – on 97fm, or live on
It will also be available on podcast  ( from May 2 or 3.

– Frank Lewis


In the bluebell woods in Muckross last Sunday afternoon 4 year old Sarah Ryan

When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts … – Ann Bronte

Ten days ago the first signs of blue in the green carpet under the trees from Mangerton Road to the jaunting car entrance to the National Park.

Within days that whole stretch was a richly luxuriant carpet of bluebells at their best these days – as I found out last Monday (April 17). Ann Bronte captures the mood.

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.
There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.








That day along a sunny road
All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.







But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell. 








O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood’s hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,








Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me

After an hour wandering among bluebells in Muckross I went to the wooded area in front of the Knockreer Gardens, Killarney’s other great centre of bluebells. But these were, at best, at an earlier stage.

In the neglected formal Knockreer Gardens lush rhodendron and in the background the intriguing handkerchief SPELLING tree and close by luxuriant azalea.

The high panorama from Knockreer uniquely shows the essences of Killarney – woodland, mountain and lake.

Coming down from the formal gardens pockets of fully white-flowered wild garlic – a foretaste of our wild garlic/dawn chorus walk on the Hyde’s Bay/Library Point which will be the subject of next week’s nature notebook.

– Frank Lewis


Last Sunday the photo of this huge flowering cherry on the shore of the Upper Lake, inside an unofficial lay-by a short distance on the Kenmare side of the stone tunnel. I was hugely excited because I thought I had come across a record crab apple tree … but on reflection …

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GOUGANE BARRA – Secluded Sanctuary of Story

From that one point there was a story that was hundreds of millions of years old. Another sight told a sixth century tale. Here there are folk memories of great sadnesses. All around there is a living, pulsating sight.

We were walking Slí Sleibhe/the Mountain Path in Gougane Barra in a part of the Forest Park where the trees have been cleared.  Starting from the highest carpark we walked up through conifer woods along a newly surfaced path, over new wooden bridges, by the course of a rushing mountain stream.

At its highest point the path runs between wood and bare mountain that was formed hundreds of millions of years ago.

The tailor Timothy Buckley told stories of secluded places in these hills where Mass was celebrated from the late 17th to the late 18th centuries. He also had tales of fast disappearing outlines of fields that are a ghostly memory of the Great Famine of the 1840s.

These mountains were worn down by several million years of ice, which also gouged out the horseshoe shaped valley.  Now along the floor of the valley and climbing up its sides a rich, living cover of great trees.

After a descent the path levels. Watch carefully for a green track that runs straight ahead from the newly gravelled way.

If you miss the path you miss this spectacular view of Gougane Barra lake. It is said that the wooded peninsula in the middle of the lake was the hermitage of St Finbarr who 1400 years ago built a monastery that in time became the city of Cork.

Might that peninsula originally have been a man-made island joined to the mainland by a curving underwater path that guaranteed the seclusion and perhaps security of Finbarr’s monastery – or, perhaps, earlier inhabitants.

Dragging ourselves away we walked down to the park road, turned left and after a little while left the road on the right to join Sli na Laoi/the River Lee Path.

Now under tall conifers we walked upstream along these earliest stages of the stream that as a great river flows into the sea beyond Cork city.

After two hours we were back at the car. Just outside the forest park we visited Finbarr’s oratory on the lake. After that photo of the church the camera ran out of battery. A future visit will show photos of the stone head of a bishop over the door, of the fine stained glass representations of Finbarr and his contemporaries Saints Ita/Ide, Brendan, Colman, Fachtna, Eltin, Gobnait and of the 17th century re-creation of the hermitage.

We followed the red Slí Sleibhe trail

– Frank Lewis

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Cardiac Hill lives up to its folk name.  

But frequent stops are trebly justified … the ever widening views, wonders of nature like the Douglas Firs that are very significantly higher than anything else, the grove of eucalyptus and the mosses.

Finishing the hill and turning left/north along a level path.  After a little while there are more steps – now wide and more regular, the going is easier. 

A little way along the northern route, across the northern face of Torc mountain, a panorama of the entire perimeter of the Middle and Lower Lakes showing Muckross House east of the Middle Lake and the Tomies/Purple/Glena mountain ridge falling preciptuously on the western edge of both lakes.  

Across the mountain the changing vistas of both lakes and the mountains. Much of this unique viewing was opened up in recent years with the clearing of dense thickets of rhododendron.  

A dry stone beehive hut has a well in front. This was not the home of an early mendicant monk. It was built to shelter workers who opened up this trail about 50 years ago.  

Coming off the mountain the path widens to a dirt road through conifer woodland.   Going left at a T junction. A little way along we chose to go right, shortly crossing the well named Owengarriff (abhann garbh/rough river) with its tumbling cascades.  After crossing the bridge take an immediate left.  

Now along by a deep ravine cut by the passage of ice between two million and 14,000 years ago and the rushing waters of the Owengarriff since then. The way is pleasantly shaded by oak, arbutus and holly.   The path falls, with occasional glimpses of lake and mountain, down steps to Torc waterfall.  

From first light to dusk there is a constant flow of people coming to Torc Waterfall.   It is said that one of the Herbert landlords here unsuccessfully attempted to divert the waterfall to get at the treasure that legend says is hidden in a chamber behind the falls.

The final leg is parallel and above the public road (the N71) with the mountain ridge to the right of straight ahead. The dirt road has been cut through dense rhododendron with regular views of the Middle Lake and the Lower Lake in the background.  

The circular route ends, after two and a half hours, at the car lay bye at the back entrance to Dinis.


Cherry Blossom in bloom in recent days


For several weeks now hedgerows have been bursting with masses of the tiny white flower on the blackthorn, that shines out against the darker wood of the leafless shrub tree.

At the moment the luxuriantly yellow flower on the spring furze is at its abundant best.

Last Sunday morning from the Governor’s Rock Headland on Ross Island before 7 the huge body of Lough Leane water was mirror still.  In those minutes around sunrise the grey blue monotone landscape looked like a scrubbed clean new world.

Less than half an hour later the brightly coloured boats on the water in front of Ross Castle were a distraction from the background emerging green of the foliage and the blue in the sunlight sky.

We were on Ross Island in preparation for a dawn chorus walk that will broadcast on Radio Kerry from 9am to11am on Saturday, April 29.

Flowering Pear, Bay and Heather at Gallan Eile

– Frank Lewis  

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SPANISH ARMADA TO AMOROUS CHASE – along endless cliffs

It was calm, dry and mild, with the sun attempting to break through, as we left Fisherstreet in Doolin at 11.15 last Wednesday (March 29). The weather forecast the evening before said there would be constant heavy rain for the afternoon.

The hope was to follow the 14 km Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk. The route card showed the whole way was between 120 metres/390ft and 214 metres/702 feet above the sea.

The route rises up immediately. Looking down over Doolin Bay the white surf is evidence of the limestone reefs that were the graveyard of the Spanish Armada and so many boats and ships over the centuries.

The flat rock here and right along the cliffs was prized for its ability to break naturally into thin sheets. In the 19th and early 20th centuries up to 500 men were employed quarrying the rock. During World War I the mines closed because the boats carrying the rock to Britain were unable to travel. A number of mines were re-opened on a smaller scale in the Liscannor area in the 1960’s.

The star-like lesser celandine – which was shown in last week’s nature notebook – covers earthen banks for the whole length of the walk – and frequently mingles with primroses, a popular indicator of Spring. As well seaweeds on the shore, lichens on the rocks (particularly at Hag’s Head at the southern end of the route), some mosses and liverworts, scurvy grass, sheeps bit, sea pink and sea campion.

The dynamic power of the sea is clearly shown in the ebb and flow where narrow inlets have been worn into the rock face. Imagine if that energy could be harnessed.

Are these houses deserted since the famine era of the 1840s? Eeking out a living here from a sea of plenty and peril, and fighting wind and salt farming marginal land.

After an hour and a half the route has plateaued at close to 600 ft/183 metres. Looking south the endless views of jagged cliffs, the great power of the sea minimised from this height. The cliffs were formed over 300 million years ago. The spectacularly exposed rock face is an example of a sedimentary rock basin normally only visible under the sea. The cliffs form part of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark which has been awarded membership of the UNESCO supported Global Geoparks Network.

In less than two hours looking back on the clifftops we have walked over. Out west the ghosty ouline of Inisheer, the eastern Aran Island. It is not surprising that mythical islands were seen. Call it Hy Brasil, Atlantis or St Brendan’s Isle. Haze, low cloud, rain as well as the scientifically proven capacity of the elements to transpose images of distant places. Learn more from books, even libraries, written on the phenomenon.

At 1.30 we had our first view of O’Brien’s Tower built in 1835 by local landlord Cornelius O’Brien as a viewing point for the tourists that even then were flocking to the Cliffs. Also the first view of An Branán Mór Sea Stack, home of guillemots and razorbills.

From the platform at O’Brien’s Tower at the highest point of the Cliffs, 214m or 700 feet above sea level, the view along cliff after cliff after cliff … to Hag’s Head at the southern end of the walk.

Now west, north west, behind Inisheer, Inishmaan, the even more ghostly image of the middle Aran Island. Today the haze hides Inishmor, the main island, as well as views north of the Connemara coast and mountains and south to Loop Head and the distant Kerry peaks.

To be seen from here when it is up and running three kms out to the sea the surfing wave ‘Aileen’s’, Aill Na Searrach, where the world’s most skilled surfers come to ride the wave that can be up to 12 m /40 feet high. At Aill na Searrach (Foals’ Leap) it is said seven Celtic gods transformed into seven foals – and leapt into the afterlife, furious at St Patrick for bringing Christianity to Ireland.

After nearly three hours the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre is almost invisible not because of haze but because it is built into the hill. The inside replicates the interior of a cave. A great place to stop for good food and the hugely interesting cliffs interpretative centre.


After an hour, refreshed – and with no indication of rain in spite of the forecast of the evening before – we headed south

An abundance of marine life can be found in the waters directly off the Cliffs. From minute lifeforms, with plankton blooms in April and May, to the second largest fish on the planet, the whale shark, which come to feed on the plankton, which also feed the vast shoals of sand eels which in turn sustain the huge seabird colonies.

While these visitors come and go with the changing seasons there is a vast number of resident fish and crustaceans to be found in the waters year round. These include Conger Eel, Pollock, Ballan Wrasse, Mullet, Lobster, Edible Crab and Spider Crab.

Sea mammals below the cliff includes Whales, Whale Sharks and Seals. With special luck it is possible to see a pod of dolphins if the sea is calm.

After half an hour all of the headlands north with O’Brien’s Tower now a pimple in the distance. The distinctive call of the Kittiwake that cries its name is audible evidence that these cliffs are home to major colonies of sea nesting birds in the breeding season from April to July. Puffin, guillemot, fulmar, chough, peregrine falcon – some twenty species altogether.

A stoney beach is an occasional feature at the foot of the cliffs. Might this be a place where an enterprising fisherman trapped a mermaid into marrying him? There is a green tinge to the waters here. Away south the very vague outline of a tower.

Almost an hour from the visitor centre, how long did it take the unremitting battering of the sea to carve out this arch from the base of the cliff? On this height before Hag’s Head is this rock oucrop the Hag’s tooth?

Legend tells of the great warrior Cuchulain running from the affections of a hag or witch called Mal – after whom Milltown Malbay to the south is said to be named. After a series ofmythic leaps, a final effort into the wind crashed the Hag to her death on the cliffs. It is said her blood reddened the sea from Loop Head to Hag’s Head.

Looking directly down on the sea created a dizzying hypnotic effect.

The tower built to warn of Napoleonic invasion at the highest point on Hag’s Head. A telegraph station also operated from here.

South from Hag’s Head the cliffs are more indented than anywhere else on the walk. Does it look like huge gaps and enormous molars in the Hag’s mouth? It seems to me to be much more my imagined picture of Treasure Island.

If this is one of the Hag’s huge teeth then the stone stack must be a toothpick.

Just under two hours from the visitor centre – and six hours from when we left Doolin – a drystone fence, rich green grass and a rainbow.

Now for the first time a little rain, but not enough to wet.

The shuttle bus took us back to Doolin. From March to October between 9am and 6pm €6 pays for day-long use of the bus.

The best way to walk the Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk is to park at Doolin, take the shuttle to the southern end of the route and walk north, with the prevailing wind at your back and walking on to views of the cliffs, Aran Islands and the Connemara coast and mountains. As well if – taking photographs, visiting the visitor centre or just endlessly being awestruck by the cliffs and the sea – arriving in Doolin after the last bus has left is not a concern.

PS As this huge globe remembering 1916, on the banks of the river Fergus in Ennis, says
It’s a long, long way

From Clare to here.

From Killarney to Doolin is a drive of three hours. The globe has lines from a great selection of Clare songs and poems.

– Frank Lewis

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UNDER GREAT MONTEREY PINES – along by sea – or is it river?

Walking along the Kerry Way east from Blackwater Bridge reveals the most unusual sea walk in Kerry, an experience entirely missed driving along the N70 about 13kms on the Sneem side of Kenmare.

Walking east from Blackwater bridge for a couple of hundred yards on the N70 a fingerpost on the right/south side plunges into woodland. By the side of the path carpets of vivid wood anemones.

A little way along a well defined track leads down to a sandy beach along the estuary of the River Blackwater, which is just short of Kenmare Bay.

Climbing back up the track to re-join the path and then the main forestry road.

A little way along a large area of fine conifer woodland has been clear-felled. The stumps and branches looks like a war zone.

In a few minutes we have dropped to the coast. The staggered line of large Monterey Pine are one of the defining features of the route. Kenmare Bay glistened under the bright sunlight from the clear blue sky. Across the way the entire northern coastline of the Beara Peninsula, with its mountainous backbone, to Dursey Island at its western tip.

An earlier Lord Lansdowne named this area of sea Kenmare River because the law allowed him to net for salmon on a river.

Along the way, on both sides of the track, endless carpets of lesser celandine.

Some way along from a high outcrop picnic tables and benches look west along the bay. Even the brother was in awe at the scene.

At sea level underneath boots and socks were taken off to refresh feet in water that was much warmer than anticipated.

Continuing high over the sea through an area of mixed scrub wood and bushes.

Now up steps. In a little while the path turns inland, along a deep gorge that was first carved out by the passage of ice between two million and 14,000 years ago and has been further shaped in spate times by the river that runs along its base.

At a T junction the route joins the main forest road. The Kerry Way continues right/east to Kenmare. After crossing the large clear-felled ‘war zone’ the route is through dense conifer woodland – the kind of big trees that warm the woodman’s heart.

Look out for a path on the left to a holy well. The large stone marking the diversion is faced in the opposite direction. Most holy well were associated with eye cures. Delay a while to say a quiet prayer.

Now we re-join the outward journey.

Immediately on the eastern side of Blackwater Bridge walk north – on the road signposted Derreendarragh – in less than a hudred hards follow the dirt road down left. A hundred yards down go through the wooden gate on the left/southern side.

On the banks of the Blackwater shows the depth of the gorge and the great engineering feat the bridge is, built on rock outcrops on both banks and a great high pillar of brick in the middle.

What better way to spend a couple of hours?

– Frank Lewis

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