Nature Notebook




To Autumn by John Keats
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
        To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
        For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.


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– as a result of careful research & good detective work


In the Killarney House Gardens, on the edge of the town, the great expanse of formal lawns, the Cherry Tree Walk, the Long Terrace Walk and the mixed border draw the line-of-sight to Lough Leane and the McGillicuddy Reeks. 


The dominant features of the main entrance area are the trees – established and newly planted, the refurbished building – that was the stable block in the 18th century French chateau style house here – with its new sunken, paved forecourt, and new very modern building.  In Spring tens of thousands of newly planted daffodils will bloom here. 


The 300 metre Cherry Drive has been entirely newly planted.  In May the impact of the flowering cherries leading to the original front door will be apparent. 


The 270 metre ( six metre wide) Mixed Border, with 7,500 plants, and a backing of yew, is the longest herbaceous border in Ireland. 


Imagine Queen Victoria and her ladies-in-waiting being guided along the Long Terrace Walk by Lord and Lady Castlerosse when they stayed here on Monday, August 26, 1861, on their formal state visit.  The wide, paved terrace allowed the ladies to view the estate while preserving their finery and wide skirts.

Careful research and good detective work were used to re-create the overall garden design – including paths, flowers beds, trees, hedges and wilderness area – as they were for the Queen’s visit.


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The circular bed in the centre of the lawns is at present full of a varied selection of flowers in rich magnificant bloom.


Thousands of newly planted fifteen foot high trees cover much of the area west and south of the formal gardens. These include Spanish chestnut, oak, beech and alder planted in straight lines in the style of an 18th century Wilderness Area. 


The southern edge of the formal lawns is fringed by a line of lime trees, replicating the limes that line nearby Ross Road.

The southern side of the gardens has a series of tree-hedge surrounded grassed areas including a Patte d’Oie or goose foot shaped area formed by paths and hedging. 

The cherub classical garden sculpture was part of the formal garden 200 years ago. Other original sculpture pieces will be re-introduced in the coming months. Around the cherub there is a lot of tree planting and a short herbaceous border.


Killarney House Gardens are open everyday from 9am to 6pm.  The house will open in 2017.  It will have interpretative exhibitions on the flora and fauna of Kerry and the broader Kerry area as well as displays on the people who lived here.  It will also have temporary exhibition areas and space for cultural events.

– Frank Lewis

On September 24 hear something of the legend, nature, history and folklore in our walk around Killarney House Gardens on Saturday Supplement on Radio Kerry from 9am to 11am – 97fm or – live or on podcast.

Killarney House Gardens are within a ten-minute drive of Gallan Eile, our self-catering rental accommodation – for more information or to book a stay Gallan Eile …

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– Cian walks to Faill a’ Crann after five hour half iron man

In the endless hours of sunshine last Friday blackberries should have been picked. Now the hope is the persistent rain over Friday night/Saturday morning didn’t take them all. At the very least the full flavour will not have been helped. The next hours of sunshine won’t be diverted by the recurring need to strim and weed.

Hopefully this week there will be a window to pick blackberries for a mouth watering pie – I can taste it already – and we might make a few pots of the king of jams – blackberry and apple.


These are the last days of the rich 2016 crop of red/orange rowan berries. The last chance get enough to fulfill a special dream. Make just one pot of rowan jelly. The word is that it enhances cold meats.


A big red stag thrashed a young silver birch a week ago last Saturday as I watched from the kitchen window. This pre-rut activity is to strip off the soft tissue covering their antlers. I got a photograph but it isn’t great.


Then later in the day I found our ginkgo or maidenhair tree had been decimated by a red stag. The tree to mark the launch of Alice Taylor’s book Country Life. Only one very sad looking branch survived. The bark of the young tree had been stripped to the ground. Our only tree of special significance.

Ginkgo in August 2015 (from a different angle)

Kathleen told me several weeks ago that she had already heard the very distinctive triple, extended whistle-like, rut roar of the sika stag.


Mangerton’s purple cloak was highlighted by the red hue of the pre sunrise light a few days ago. Sunrise is at 7 this week in Killarney and sunset is at 8.10.


The purple bell and ling heathers are at their best these days on the forest road through conifer woods just short of Faill a’ Crann on Mangerton.

After completing the Kenmare half iron man (1.9km swim; 83 km cycle, 21km run) in four hours & forty minutes Siubhan’s 19 year old nephew Cian came with us on the two hour trek to the viewing point at Faill a’ Crann. There are very definite advantages in being young!

Now in September there are so many signs of Autumn. Though the leaves from my window are still all green. The pinks and purples of Autumn flowers are vigorous. The grass in the lawn is still growing too quickly.

It is good to be alive.

– Frank Lewis


– gets kids to walk and mouths water

“There are lots of hurts up here that you can pick and eat.”  I had made the huge mistake of saying we were going for a walk in the woods.  I should have said “we are going to pick berries in the woods”.

Now I was desperately trying to back track.  The growled response indicated I wasn’t having much success.

The first bushes had no berries.  Things were bad.  Luckily I hadn’t said what I was looking for.  They didn’t know what I was searching for.

Three and a half year old Sarah is the essential greedy magpie.  Maybe that should be industrious squirrel.  She is a throw back to an earlier time when everything had a use.

She had Scots pine cones in one hand, bits of branches in the other.  Everything was interesting. The promise of food was a bonus – a very important bonus.



But for her 8 year old cousin Ronan, for whom the sun rises and sets on lego and computer games, going outdoors with adults was suspect from the beginning.

To be fair he does like the outdoors – on his own, or with other youngsters of his own age, in his own time he goes out regularly.  And runs and jumps while he thinks and talks lego and computer.

On his bicycle or with some other diversion was fine.  But his bike was at home in Reno in Nevada.  So not having berries immediately was an extra challenge.

Field grasses now have full seed heads.  Pulling one of these through gaps in teeth leaving a mouth full of grass seed behind was a great diversion … especially if that was an adult mouth.

Fourteen year old Nessa, the third of the triumverate of grandchildren, in a world between children and adults, a world that might be ‘boring’ or wander from one side of the fence to the other.


Looking at the colourful rain jackets of my four fellow walkers I wondered if the disposition of all four could only be as colourful.  It will happen.  In time. Hopefully.


At last a clump of hurt bushes with a rich crop of berries.  The two youngest members picked and ate and picked and ate and picked and ate.  They had to be dragged away.

These days the brambles are showing more and more fully ripe blackberries.  The king of the wild fruits.  Eaten straight from the bush.  To remind you of the ecstasy I have included the photo of Sarah taken a year ago.


Fresh blackerries mashed up with cream or ice cream – an ideal refreshment while watching Kerry play Dublin on Sunday.  Blackberry and apple tart, pie, jam.  If you haven’t eaten don’t deny yourself any longer.

As well in these coming weeks … crab apples and rowan berries, hazel and Spanish chestnuts, mushrooms.  More about all of those in the weeks ahead.

Frank Lewis

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– in a land formed by ice from Derricunnihy to Kate Kearney’s

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Even with moderate water the Derricunnihy Cascade is a special sight.  Walking up close its width and its many channels are even more impressive.  If you come back during or immediately after extended heavy rain its ferocity would take your breath away.

Not surprisingly Queen Victoria was impressed when she visited here 155 years ago … almost to the day.  And unlike her visit, a week ago last Monday we had no problem with midges.

Then on through hundreds of acres of oak woods, with their understory of holly and thick ground cover carpets of mosses.


The abrupt end of the woods makes more impressive the first high view looking down over the Upper Lake, with the full Reeks Ridge in the background. Over two million years the movement of glaciers gouged out the basin that is now filled by the lake.


Then out on open, rough, wet land.


From a high outcrop looking down on Duck, Ronayne’s and Eagle Islands with the huge, bald, purpley-blue dome of Purple mountain imminently in the background.

In the 18th century Philip Ronayne, with his black servant, came to live here, an ideal place of quiet and seclusion to write his two algebra books and indulge his passion to fish.

Coming across one other fishing on the lake he judged his peace and seclusion violated. Coming home he instructed his black servant “Pack. We are leaving. This place is getting too bloody crowded.”


Then skirting the southern shore of the Upper lake. Views recorded by Jonathan Fisher 246 years ago.

There were two swans on the lake near the mouth of the Gearhameen River that flows down through the Black Valley.

Visitors relaxed in the sunshine at Lord Brandon’s Cottage on their way to or from the unique boat trip through the three lakes.


Walking in to the Black Valley.  By a rock outcrop with ‘MH 1853’ carved on it. Did Mary Herbert paint from here 153 years ago?

Now the Reeks are immediately overhead. The great bulk with four or more of our highest mountains.

Mary Tagney said the pine marten killing her few remaining hens in recent weeks was the last straw. No more fowl.

The whole length of the Black Valley from the Upper Lake to Lough Reagh at the Valley's western end
The whole length of the Black Valley from the Upper Lake to Lough Reagh at the Valley’s western end

Then along the whole six miles of twists and turns of the Gap of Dunloe. My ruler tells me it is only three and a half miles/five and a half kilometers, but with all of the twists and turns it must be close to double that.


This deep rift valley was cut through the mountains by prolonged movement of ice and snow. Sheer mountain walls are close on both sides, passing five glacial lakes, and tiny arctic and apline flora.

Looking South over Black Lake
Looking South over Black Lake

The two swans on the lake near the mouth of the Gearhameen river, Gene Tagney told us, might be an ominous weather indicator.

As we watched swallows on their flowing criss-crossing of the sky overhead Gene said the first swallows had not arrived in the Black Valley this year until July 7.  2016 had been a record year for cuckoos.

“Last year the first swallows arrived on April 23 and the first cuckoo came the following day.”

Jon Twynham at the top of the Gap
Jon Twynham at the top of the Gap

Up to the top of the Gap it had been a warm, calm summer’s day. The strong fresh breeze at the top was unexpected and continued for much of the rest of the journey.

When we got to Kate Kearneys we had been walking for nearly six hours. But then there had been a break at Lord Brandon’s and along the way we took photographs and stopped and chatted.

Derricunnihy to Kate Kearney’s is a walk with everything. But you need somebody to drop you off and pick you up.

Frank Lewis

PS   Derricunnihy is a 15 minute drive from Gallan Eile .. and Kate Kearney’s is about 30 minutes

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– trace O’Donoghue’s remains frozen in rock

The suggestion that we row across the lake to Innisfallen Island was enthusiastically received by 14 year old grand-daughter Nessa and her 15 year old friend Lauren. 

The forecast for last Saturday afternoon promised that the second half of the day would be much better than the first. So we set off from the 14th century Ross Castle.


The castle was originally a Norman-style tower house, the home of the O’Donoghue chieftains.

It is said that the lake we were rowing across was the result of a flooding caused when the chieftain in a drunken state insisted that the cover be left off a local well.

The tale is also told of another O’Donoghue who, not wishing to grow old, agreed to an ancient magic that required his being carved up into little pieces and returning as a baby. Unfortunately his wife arrived in the middle of the exercise and her shrieks broke the magic and as a result parts of O’Donoghue and his household furniture are to be found frozen in rock form in various parts of the lake.

In 1652 a combined force of native Irish and royalist ascendancy defended the castle against the Cromwellian army. It is said when the castle was blockaded from the lake the garrison surrendered without firing a shot.

Ross Bay was flat calm as we started our trip over the lake. Just as well. I had not done any rowing for several years.

We rowed between O’Donoghue’s Prison – where it is said one of the chieftains was chained to the rock for a time – and Mouse Island – said to be named after Mickey Mouse to mark a trip on the lake by Walt Disney.

It is said that the first monastic community on Innisfallen tended a leper colony in the sixth century. Then for many hundreds of years it was a great centre of learning with students coming here from all over Europe.

As well the Annals of Innisfallen were partly written here. This is the oldest contemporary record of the history of Munster. The original is now in the Bodlian Library in Oxford.


Presumably the early buildings on the island were made of wood. To-day’s extensive stone remains date from the 12th century.



The walk around the perimeter of the island was a favourite 19th century recreation. The girls were delighted that we left the picnic basket in a secluded part of the monastery.


And so through groves of fine beech trees, large oak, holly and ash with endlessly varying views of mountain and lake. Along the way we passed Leaba Diarmada where it is said that mythical Diarmuid and Grainne rested when they were being pursued by an aging Finn Mac Cumhaill irked that his promised young bride had run off with another.


After a quick picnic on the northern shore the lake was a little choppier. On the way back Nessa tried her hand at rowing. We inspected an extensive growth of yellow lily.

(The three hour hire of the row boat cost €40)

Frank Lewis

Gallan Eile is only five miles from Ross. As well as our boat trip … which can be much more extensive taking in the fabled O’Sullivans Cascade … and even a trip to the two other main lakes … as well Ross Island (joined by bridge to the main land) offers extensive nature, landscape, history and legend.

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– populated by dinosaurs, crocodiles & giant ants

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The panorama from the N70 beyond the Mountain Stage on the Ring of Kerry route – extends from the east at Loch na dTrí gCaol/the Lake of the Three Narrows – the promontory spits of sandy beach of Inch, Rossbeigh and Cromane – the whole expanse of Dingle Bay, with the backdrop mountain spine that runs the length of the Dingle Peninsula to the Blasket Islands off the peninsula’s western tip.

The landscape is bare, rugged, almost harsh. Until you get to the semi-tropical micro climate at Kells Bay Gardens, made possible by the shelter provided by Cnoc a’ dTobar (Knockadobar/the mountain of the well).

We had arranged to arrive just at high tide at 12.38 on Thursday afternoon last. A quick dip from the sandy Kells cove was my first sea swim of 2016. It was refreshing!


Driving through the garden gate, a waterfall on the right, surrounded by lush rain forest-like vegetation. The car park is dominated by a 7.5 meter high Chilean Palm Tree, the tallest in Ireland. It weighed 11 tons when it was imported in 2007.

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Hundreds of tons of local rock was used to replace the native peaty soil that covered this outcrop with the Chilean Palm to allow the introduction of a collection of rare plants – including many palm trees – from rugged landscapes.

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Wandering around the green and red looped walks – with white spur routes – has the feel of being in a much larger area than the 17 hectare/40 acre Kells Bay Gardens.

The seamless integration of native flora with groves of a variety of southern hemisphere tree ferns is the unique hallmark. Tree ferns from Australia and New Zealand as well as South America.

 You need to be prepared to spend a couple of hours to get full value for the €6.50 admission charge (€5 for children under 17, 20 for a family of two adults and two children under 17).

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The tree ferns go back to the primeval forests. Sculptor Pieter Koning has carved an intriguing series of huge animals of that find of forest .. dinosaurs – of land and air – crocodiles, giant ants. These are all carved from trees blown down in the great storm of February 2011. The trees were carved where they fell, in one or more cases the carved trunks are the bottom half of a tree left standing.
Frank Lewis

Kells is about an hour and a half drive from Gallan Eile, our self-catering rental accommodation – for more information or to book a stay at Gallan Eile …

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Nature Notebook



– fuchsia, montbretia & ‘An Ode to a Cow Dung’

Have you ever seen anything like the fuchsia this year? Hedgerows on Knockanore Hill are laden down with the red and purple flower.


The house and flower-filled garden of the Hannon family in Laherrough is surrounded by a carefully tended fuchsia hedge. “We need to trim it every three weeks during the growing season”, Ann Hannon said the hedge had been planted by her father in the 1930s when fuchsia was first introduced to Knockanore by their neighbour David Kissane.

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Which of its folk names most effectively expresses the flower? Dancing Lady aptly suggesting the colouful, happy exuberance of a young ballet dancer. Or the Irish name of Deora Dé (the tears of God) perhaps bringing to mind a rich waterfall of grief.

Fuchsia was first introduced to this part of the world from Chile less that 200 years ago. It is said that it was brought to Ireland by Cornish copper miners when they came to work in Allihies on the tip of the Beara Peninsula.

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The Hannon farm is at the end of a cul de sac. It is also well worth visiting to see the Tobar mo Chroi/the Well of my Heart holy well, whose water is said to be good for treating sore eyes. The centre piece of a statue of Our Lady in a glass cabinet and the clear water of the well is surrounded by a fuchsia hedge.  While the Saturdays before May 1st and June 24 (St John’s Day) are the well’s special days Ann Hannon assures “we welcome visitors to the well at any time.”


On long lengths on the sides of many ditches in Knockanore the orange coloured montbretia is at present bursting into blossom. This is a cross between two South African garden plants. It has acclimatised well since it was introduced here in the 1870s.

But be warned! In case you are tempted to dig out a clump of montbretia it can very quickly take over your garden and it is almost impossible to get rid off.


The site of the home of the original Quiet Man is on Barra Road on Knockanore and if you are lucky – as we were last Sunday – you might bump into his son Tom Bawn Enright or his daughter Noreen. You might visit the first indoor dancehall in north Kerry, the home of Robert Leslie Boland whose verses included such earthy themes as ‘Ode to a Cow Dung’.



We started our six hour trek of Knockanore at the Lisselton graveyard to search out a story of the great generosity in famine times of Mary Collins Foley … visit the Cilin outside the walls where unbaptised children were buried. The church would not allow them to be buried in consecrated ground.

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We finished on top of Knockanore with its unparaelled view of the Shannon Estuary, all of the coast and plain of north Kerry with it’s backdrop of mountains from the Cork/Kerry border to Brandon at the end of the Dingle Peninsula, as well looking north to the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands.

Frank Lewis

PS Hear the full story of our drive and walk on Knockanore on Radio Kerry this Saturday morning (July 30) from 9 to 11 or from next Tuesday or Wednesday on podcast (

PPS Knockanore is about an hour’s drive from Gallan Eile, our self-catering rental accommodation – for more information or to book a stay Gallan Eile …

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The Blue Pool/Cloghereen Woods Nature Trails



The red stag stared at me from the bottom of our garden. He didn’t move until I inched a little closer. Then he stepped over our four foot high pre-famine ditch, as if it wasn’t there, and ambled away through the fern-covered field in front. A familiar sight for anybody living more than three miles from Killarney town. That was last Saturday evening.


The wild and wet did not look inviting last Sunday. I had done very little walking during the week and needed to get out. Sarah wanted to be with cousin Nessa. But my eternally willing companions – our dog Billie and Colm’s Comeoutcha and Pooka – walked with me down the road and into the Blue Pool/Cloghereen Woods nature trails.

I was sheltered from wind and rain by the trees. In the wild it is always worth exploring a track worn by others. Through ferns and under high conifers. When I got back to the marked route I went down on to the banks of the Blue Pool. The water is a greeny blue probably coloured by copper deposits.


It wasn’t hard to imagine that the route was through rain forest. I have never walked in rain forest but the television pictures suggest it is just like this. The rich, moist growth is even more emphatic in last Sunday’s photos.

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The more central Blue Pool is on level, surfaced park road. This was developed some years ago by the Killarney Soroptomists Club as the first nature trail in Ireland for the visually impaired. Walkers are guided by the rope that runs by the side of the trail. The emphasis is on the partially sighted experiencing scents and touch.


By the side of the Blue Pool there is a huge network of tunnels made by badgers. The sett has been dormant for a number of years. It has either been interfered with or has new residents. I must check at dusk some evening soon. Badgers are nocturnal so during daylight hours they are sleeping.


A little further on a seat marks the spot where Sean Eviston passed away. He came here regularly with his dogs.


The Blue Pool water is crystal clear. I presume it is completely clean, but the rich growth of weed might suggest otherwise – but perhaps that is my lack of botanical knowledge.


Wherever necessary the trails have simple bridges made of planks covered by wire, so walkers won’t slip.


DSC00717heather and briars

Early this morning (Tuesday July 12) a walk to the foot of the mountain emphasised that I must get back to getting out every morning. There is no better start to the day. Along the way purple bell heather and sparkling spiders web with the host sitting at the entrance to his safe-haven tunnel ready to pounce. Now, at 2.30, it is raining heavily. Another good reason to have walked in the early morning!


Frank Lewis

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Mountain Panorama & Munster Football Finals


– and skipping to ‘Courting in the kitchen

On Sunday it was possible to pick out every detail of the huge mountain panorama from the Paps, across Crohane, Mangerton, Torc and the Purple mountain ridge to three of our highest mountains Carrantuohill, Beenkeragh and Caher. In the warm sunshine the mountains were a bright blue.


The expectation was that the weather would just about stay fine. If we were lucky there would be little or no rain. I brought the rain gear, just in case. We were not prepared for the intense heat and brightness all afternoon. My forehead burned.

All of that and minor and senior Munster Championship gaelic football finals. We were standing on the terraces in Killarney’s Fitzgerald Stadium. It says something of the indifference of the Tipperaray supporters and the confidence of their Kerry opponents that there were only 22,000 in the 33,000 capacity stadium. We were able to sit down during the breaks. Standing for all of the four hours would have been hard.

Having Kerry dominate both games was the jam. There were flashes of excitement – especially when goals were scored – but a little more skill, especially in Kerry back lines, would have been welcome and wear and tear on some Kerry veterans did not bode well for the rest of the All Ireland Championship.

When there was a lapse in the football looking out on the mountains it was possible to imagine … The graphic shape of the Paps and the goddess of fertility after whom they are named. The turbulence of the Killarney volcanic region centred on Crohane. To see why Mangerton was named the deceiver. How many wild pigs there must have been to name a mountain and an area after them. The lake encircled Purple ridge. The precipitous spine between Carrantuohill and Beenkeragh.


On Saturday Sarah took me for a walk. Up the road with the dogs. Over an extensive growth of bog cotton across the Mangerton commonage. Through conifer woods, along the way picnicing on the bank of a hidden pond surrounded by blooming foxgloves.



All the way singing songs. On the last stretch skipping to the rhythmic air of ‘Come listen belle and beau/and to me pay attention‘ or some such.
After three hours three and a half year old legs showed no sign of tiredness but those of a few years more were happy to rest.



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