– 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.

For more information or to book a stay at Gallan Eile …

 Book Here


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