Nature Notebook

Ross Island in Autumn

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Mining Road from the boat dock at Ross
Continuing on the Mining Trail
Three Crosses (left to right) Mining Trail, Copper Mines, Library Point
Maple Leaves
Maple Leaves
Maple Leaves
Spindle Tree in full fruit
View over Hydes Bay with background mountains (left to right) Beannaunmore, Eskduff, Stoompa, Mangerton and Torc

the number of initials carved on beech trees on the trail developed for Queen Victoria’s visit in 1861 show this was a very popular route

autumn reeds on the edge of Hydes Bay with Torc Mountain in the background
I was in Muckross Gardens on Monday (October 22, 2018) and had to add the Pampas Grass that is particularly magnificent at the moment.


Lakes, Mountains & Rich Blossom

June 6, 2018 – Daisies at Gallan Eile open in sunlight and close with the dark
June 8, 2018 at the foot of Mangerton – Mountain Ash/Rowan in full bloom at the moment
June 8, 2018 – Looking into the early morning light at the foot of Mangerton
June 9, 2018 – Swimming at Dundag on Muckross Lake
June 10, 2018 – Gearhameen River on a Walk from Derrycunnihy to Kate Kearneys
June 10, 2018 – now the mountains are fully green. Looking towards Gleann na gCuach/Glen of the Cuckoo on the Reeks
June 10, 2018 – Visitors from Germany Dagmar and Stefan at the head of the Gap of Dunloe


June 10, 2018 – Rhododendron high up on the Gap of Dunloe
June 10, 2018 – Rich Fuschia Blossom at Auger Lake in the Gap of Dunloe
June 10, 2018 – Bog Cotton in the Gap of Dunloe


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


The Little Stream of the Dead

Glaisin na Marbh/the little stream of the dead uniquely encapsulates a period in our history.  It is remote and inaccessible under the southern shadow of Shehy/Glena Mountain to the west and high over Killarney’s Middle and Lower Lakes.

A first visit here is best done with somebody who knows the route.  It is very easy to get lost in the entanglement of rhododendron and oak over boggy, uneven ground.  Looking back over the ever expanding view of the lakes, the Long Range River – that joins the Upper Lake to the other two – in the background the bulk of Torc and Mangerton, the Muckross woodlands and pastures and the town of Killarney.

Photo shows oak with holly, its natural under-storey

Rising above the rhododendron, crossing boggy open area, walking through groves of oak the ever increasing re-occurrences of individual rhododendron plants remind that the area could again be infested with the ‘pernicious weed’ if it is not kept in train.

This is an area world famous for its bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and ferns). In the first half of the 19th century Dr Thomas Taylor is credited with identifying up to a hundred new mosses in this area.

Now getting close to Glaisin na Marbh there is more holly than oak. Gene Tangney of Gearhameen says that each of the hollies marks a grave. The coffins of those who died in this high region were carried across the mountain to be buried in Muckross Abbey. Maybe those lifting rested their load here and that was how Glaisin was named.

Is this ‘the little stream’ in the name of the place?

With a circumference of eighteen feet is this the largest alder in Ireland?  It is an indicator that spectacular growth is possible here tucked in under the mountain.

Even up here the hawthorn blossom is particularly rich this year

The mountains are green already – which doesn’t normally happen until early July.

The swarm of ticks that rose up around us here appeared to be quickly discouraged by our midge repellent.

The rockslide, which is much larger since our last visit, shows Glaisin is also a place that can be dangerous.

The wide, shallow lazy beds of the pre-famine period are particularly clear here.  With the advent of the potato it was possible to survive in places like Glaisin na Marbh.  Potatoes could be grown successfully on high, barren sites like this, and it is possible to survive on a daily diet of three meals of potatoes and a little buttermilk.  In July, between the potato crops, the people ate cabbage. The population doubled between 1740 and 1840. Life expectancy at that time was 34!.

Further evidence of habitation at Glaisin

The walk home is a particular pleasure – provided you have no doubt about the route. Now the rising is over. Though sometimes the way down can be more difficult to find and the slippery surface is more difficult to negotiate on falling ground.

The walk to Glaisín satisfies all of the senses …

Frank Lewis

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

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



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

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.

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

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

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