Nature Notebook


Glena/Shehy Mountains on Sunday, May 19, 2019

Now the whole of the north face of Torc and the lower half of Glena/Shehy mountains a regally rich purple sheen. The wild purple rhododendron blossom is at its peak.

North Face of Torc on Sunday, May 19, 2019

Luxuriate in the profusion of huge flowers along the dirt road, parallel and just above the N71?/Kenmare Road between Torc Waterfall and the back entrance to Dinis.

from the North Face of Torc on Sunday, May 5, 2019
from North Face of Torc (Sunday, May 5, 2019)

Continue from the Kenmare Road along the shore of the Muckross Lake to Dinis. Take a break at the tea rooms and marvel at the different coloured rhododendrons.

Muckross & Dinis, Sunday, May 19, 2019
Muckross Gardens April 27, 2019

Now there is water on both sides of the road. To begin the back channel that runs from the Upper to the Lower Lake and then Lower Lake/Lough Leane on the left and Middle/Muckross/Torc – the lake of three names – on the right.

Muckross Gardens April 27, 2019
Muckross Gardens, Sunday, May 19, 2019

Luxuriate in the abundance of blossom in Muckross Gardens. Red, pink and white cultivated rhododendron. Red, orange and dark blue azaleas.

The rhododendron flower can be as big as a football. No wonder the Victorians brought it from Himalayan and southern European countries.

The wild, purple rhododendron ponticum is now everywhere in Killarney. Here in the important Killarney oakwoods along the eastern shore of the Upper Lake.

The rhododendron thrives in the acid soil and mild, moist climate of Killarney. With up to seven thousand seeds in each blossom little wonder that it is spreading like wildfire. Underneath nothing grows. The oakwoods and ground cover plants will be wiped out unless they are brought under control.

The rhododendron is a beautiful scourge. Over these weeks look and photograph and enjoy this most colourful tree shrub.

  • Frank Lewis

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


In the Ross Castle carpark at 5.15 on April 21 it was dark, still, silent, with Billie, my wire-haired terrier as my only companion.   Sunrise would not be until 6.30.

Along the old Mining Trail the distinctive scent of wild garlic with its white flower shining through the dusk.  I still needed a torch to see my way.  Here the dominant trees are alder and sally.  In the background the dank odour of almost dry swamp woodland.

At 5.40 the first rich song of a blackbird followed closely by a chirping robin.

As the trail rose to dry ground the scent of bluebells.   Now the trees were silver birch, beech and oak.   Woods in Muckross and at Knockreer have extensive bluebell carpets at the moment.   Along the Muckross Peninsula last Sunday bluebells mixed with clumps of primroses.

The soaring song as more and more birds joined in.   

Imagine the heavy loads of copper-bearing rock that was pulled by horses along this raised route.

A light breeze gave a sharp edge to the dark lake waters at the 4,500 year old copper mines.


Here and there the occasional purple rhododendron blossom, each as big as a football.   In Muckross Gardens these days more and more of the soaring rhododendron shrub-tree covered in flowers – pinks, reds, whites as well azaleas in orange, yellow and one purply/blue that looked too good to be true.

Irish Spurge


Now minute by minute bird song built to a great symphony of sound, at its best about 6 – some 30 minutes before sunrise.   A sound of nature that has no equal.

On Governor’s Rock headland the occasional Irish spurge under specimen beech trees.  It can be used to inflame the gills of salmon forcing them to the surface of the water where they are easy prey.

Now at every step the bird song was more intoxicating, making it necessary to stop and listen every other minute.

Through sally and alder swamp woodland the lakewater no longer fronted the demesne road.

The Cherry Drive


On April 20 the cherry blossom drive at Killarney House was at its full, rich best.  Storm Hannah on April 26 cleared most of the blossom for another year.

The track developed for the visit of Queen Victoria in 1861, along the northern shore of Hyde’s Bay, has high views through woodland over lake with a headland and mountain backdrop.

Here in these weeks endless acres of wild garlic fill scent and sight.

By the time I got to Library Point it was 7 o’clock.

On the trek back solo bird recitals.

It would have been good to spend time on the wilderness southeastern corner of Ross Island.   But not this morning.

I was back at the car at 7.30.

The Handkerchief Tree


Irish Larch near foil a chrann on April 14


Blackthorn and Furze at the foot of Mangerton on April 5th

– Frank Lewis

PS The very special time of the day is the  hour before sunrise — which on April 21 was 6.29/  From now until June 21 it will be two minutes earlier every morning.

PPS Check podcast of the Saturday Supplement of 27 April 2019 on – our Island Wood Dawn Chorus Walk.  The ‘sting’ was recorded on Ross Island on April 21.


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


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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



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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