A CHRISTMAS WALKING DIARY
ARD NA gCOISTÍ TO THE FOOT OF MANGERTON
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.
MUCKROSS & DINIS
“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.
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.
SNOW AT GALLAN EILE
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.
Strong woodland colour shines through the heavy snow.
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
DERRICUNNIHY TO KATE KEARNEY’S
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.
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.
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.
THE CENTENARY OF THE IRISH REVOLUTION 2013 TO 2023
– memories from eight Kerry sites
Ireland is now half way through a decade of marking a centenary of revolutionary activity that started with the lock-out of 1913 and from there .. the 1916 rising.. the War of Independence and finally the awful Civil War.
Recently we recorded a radio programme (Radio Kerry Saturday December 30 – 9 to 11am) visiting eight Kerry sites with memories of those times.
In Listowel 13 Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officers mutinied when they were given ‘shoot to kill’ instructions on 17 June 1921. This started a flood of over 2,700 resignations from the RIC force of 7,000 – many of them to join the fight for Irish freedom.
Roger Casement was knighted for his humanitarian work in Africa and South America. His hope to help the cause of Irish freedom failed because of bad weather, poor communications and incompetence. And a good policeman’s career was maliciously destroyed.
Here at Ballyseedy in March1923 eight anti-treaty supporters were blown to bits on a barricade land-mined by Nation army/pro treaty supporters. This was the worst civil war atrocity in Kerry. Stephen Fuller was blown clear of the explosion and survived to become a member of the Dail/the Irish Parliament.
The names inscribed on the monument remember the dead from both sides. Might the theme of the monument suggest a non violent fight .. to fight to make Ireland a better place for all?
Thomas Ashe was the first republican prisoner to die on hunger strike. He died, at the age of 32, on September the 25th 1917, after only five days without food, because the inexperienced doctor whose force feeding went into his lungs.
Ashe is credited with leading the only outright military success during the 1916 rising. His funeral, attended by 150,000, is said to have been the largest ever in Ireland. Michael Collins gave the oration at the grave. Following the execution of the rising leaders the death of Thomas Ashe galvanised the nation to the War of Independence.
An anti-treaty force of some 500 attacked Killorglin on 27th September 1922. The town was defended by a national army pro-treaty force of sixty. After 24 hours of attack and counter attack, explosion and tunneling through buildings, the Republicans/anti-treaty forces retreated when Free State troops arrived from Tralee.
At several dozen the reports of those killed in Killorglin were wildly exaggerated. The real figure was probably between three and six.
Most of those involved in 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War were very young. It made sense to focus on recruits who were physically fit. Many members of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) were also involved in the military activity. This was very important in rocketing the number of volunteer recruits – rising from 25,00 in April 1914 to 180,000 that June.
Dick Fitzgerald won All Ireland Football medals with Kerry in 1913 and 1914. He organised football competitions in the Frongoch Prisoner of War Camp in Wales where he was in prison for his military activities. He later wrote ‘How to Play Gaelic Football’ the first GAA instruction manual.
At least fourteen people died when the Irish Volunteers attacked a train with British soldiers at Headford Junction on March 21 1921 – nine British soldiers, two IRA volunteers and three civilians.
In early June 1921 10,000 British troops, under Major Bernard Law Montgomery and Major A E Percival, swept the nearby Clydagh Valley in search of IRA strongholds and arms dumps. This was one of the biggest manhunts in the history of the British Army. It was the last major operation by the British in the War of Independence. It was also the first time the British used air support in Ireland. Another first was the large scale civilian involvement in a conflict – as a result the operation had limited success. None of the key IRA commanders were captured.
In the early hours of September 9 1922 members of the National army 20 year old Brigadier Tom O’Connor Scarteen and his 25 year old brother Captain John O’Connor Scarteen were gunned down in their home at 5 Main Street Kenmare by former comrades when an anti Treaty column of over eighty men attacked the town.
The Irish Civil War was the most awful event in our history, with few if any redeeming features. Brother/neighbour/friend fighting one another. It was the late 20th century before the deep scars started to heal.
The challenge for the commemoration of the centenary of the Civil War in 2022/23 is to confront the issues and remember all and, in learning from the past, going forward together to make the best society for all.
FROM FIRST LIGHT TO FAIRY CLOUD
– by tower, lighthouse, beach & cliff
To begin I could only see the harbour and town lights. In that very special hour before sunrise the outline of Dingle Harbour gradually emerged. Along the low water edge several herons focussed alertly on breakfast. Seabirds foraged busily between muddy and stoney shore and water.
In the twenty minutes it took to get to Hussey’s Folly the new day was fully born. Here there is a commanding view of all of the harbour. The tower told sailors to let down their sails to round the mouth of the harbour safely.
Built in 1845 during the famine to win converts to the established church. Or was it a true ‘folly’ … suggesting unattainable grandeur. A sister, Eask Tower, was built in 1847 on the southern entrance to the harbour.
The cottage lighthouse was completed in 1885 at a cost of £580. It’s automated red light talks to sailors between harbour and bay.
From this point a unique panorama. The huge expanse of Dingle Bay west to Valentia Island and the Skellig Rocks and the mountain backdrop of the Luanasa peaks of Drung and Knockadobar and the distant MacGillicuddy Reeks. As well the whole of Dingle Harbour and town.
Walking along the clifftop over Dingle Bay I couldn’t believe by eyes. At 9 on the morning of Friday December 1 two women were preparing to swim. Walking by the head of the beach the car registration indicated the swimmrs were from Galway. Given more clement conditions this is the quiet place where Dingle people swim
Low lying cloud-like rivers flowing into the sea give the view a sense of mystery, of magic. A very special story backdrop. Here the view south, east and west is a huge panorama of Dingle Bay.
I would have liked to walk on to Doonsheane with its beach and deep sea inlet. But between walking and taking photographs I had now been gone for more than an hour.
Now retracing my steps the sheer cliff and view of the wide harbour highlight the special location of Dingle. The distant lighthouse cottage and tower and even the town sprawl indicates our small mark on this place.
Looking west the headland on the southern entrance to Dingle Harbour looks like a rich green Treasure Island guarded from the hilltop.
Now returning by beach, lighthouse, tower and finally at water level by the harbour in two hours I was back on the edge of Dingle town. A very special trek.
– Frank Lewis
BEECH COLOUR SATURATION ….
TO SPLENDOUR OF PRE-FAMINE MOUNTAIN
During October and November every opportunity is spent in deciduous woodland to marvel at the great range of colours in our second annual colour season. The evergreen holly extends the range of contrast.
While there are no cars in these shots this is a busy road with cars whizzing in both directions all of the time. Which is not to boast that I risked life to record the glory but to advise strongly against standing in the middle of the road!
Sometimes the best view is from the edge of the road but parking can also be a challenge. Best to park in the designated areas at either end of this beech woodland.
The splendour of the variation in the single colour on the mountains last Sunday, a special delight for the discerning eye.
The well-maintained board walk made it possible to walk in comfort across the waterlogged plateau that crosses from the valley between Torc and Mangerton to Derrycunnihy. The low November afternoon sun dramatically highlighted the layers of mountain.
This green field, with little use and maintenance, is now a place where ferns grow.
Directly below us now the Ullauns or Derrycunnihy oak woodlands and south, south west the southern end of the Upper Lake, Lord Brandon’s Cottage with a background of the whole McGillicuddy Reeks … but the photograph, in the weakening evening sunlight, was too soft to show!
In the softer evening sunlight the single colour autumn mountain cloak is even richer, and in enhancing the experience does not change from year to year to fill greedy pockets
A huge crop of berries on the holly bush in aslightly more protected dip in the mountains.
Both of the photographs above show remains of pre-famine settlements that had simple stone houses and small fields surrounded by stone ditches.
The population of Ireland doubled between 1740 and 1840. This was made possible because of the arrival of the potato. People survived on a diet of potatoes and it was possible to grow potatoes up here in the mountains.
At the end of a satisfying three hour week in the fading evening light. In the distance the edge of the oak and conifer woodland that we will enter shortly and fifteen minutes later to the carpark that spilled over on to the road when we left it.
– Frank Lewis
WHO WAS THE GOVERNOR? THE CONNECTION WITH THE FIRST IRISH PRESIDENT
– on a race against Hurricane Ophelia to see Autumn colour
This road was developed to take out large quantities of copper ore in the late 18th and early 19th century for smelting in Wales. The ore was quarried in the nearby oldest copper mines in north western Europe dating back over 4,500 years.
Sunday October 15th was the day before the much heralded arrival of Hurricane Ophelia. Would all of our Autumn colour be blown away? Might flooded paths prevent access? To see autumn colour we headed for Ross Island.
Arbutus Unedo, the Killarney strawberry tree, outside of pockets in a very few places in the south west of Ireland is not found growing in the wild further north than the north coast of Spain. It has a two year cycle. This year’s flowers produce next year’s fruit.
When and how this headland came to be known as Governor’s Rock I am not clear. Was it called after a member of the landlord Lord Kenmare family or some eminent visitor? I would appreciate any information.
This scene over Hyde’s Bay was the clearest evidence of the approach of Autumn. Brown reeds, the evolution of the tree leaves from green to brown, the stillness suggested by the slight ripple of the water and the cloud resting on the mountain.
Perhaps the bay is named for the Rev Arthur Hyde who was Church of Ireland Minister in Killarney in the first half of the 18th century. Or perhaps it is in memory of his great grandson the first President of Ireland Douglas Hyde.
Swamp woodland of short lived sally and alder is one of the three internationally important areas of woodland in Killarney. The other two are yew on the Muckross Peninsula and the oak woods in Derricunnihy. The swamp woodlands are extensive in the environs of Ross Castle.
On our October 15 walk on the day before Hurricane Ophelia, the photo shows the lake water levels already flooded the route but it was possible to get past. If Ophelia was accompanied by prolonged heavy rain this area might be cut off for weeks or even months – as in the winter of 2015/16.
We walked to Library Point along the rough woodland track running high along the northern shore of Hyde’s bay with constant glimpses of Autumn colour and continuous panoramas of lake, woodland and mountain.
For more than 40 years our children – and latterly grandchildren – hid in the hollow trunk of this great beech tree. lts interior had rotted away many years before. Might the storm of the following day finally bring it crashing down?
The real enjoyment of Ross Island is to wander off the Park road. Follow every track and be endlessly fascinated.
Where had this boat gone on its most recent lake trip? Perhaps to Innisfallen’s ancient abbey. Or to O’Sullivan’s Cascade on the mountain shore. Or maybe a last day’s fishing before the season closed.
On Sunday October 22 – six days after Ophelia – the low routes beside the three main Killarney lakes were all flooded. There had been torrential rain on the Friday and Saturday.
But Ophelia had not been as severe as forecast. The great beech on Ross Island is still standing.
On Monday the 23rd we spent three hours on the Muckross Lake Boat Tours hugely enjoyable boat trip around the Muckross Lake – that also took in the back channel that flows directly from the Upper Lake to Lough Leane. We also delayed in front of the ruined Glena cottage on Lough Leane. We were recording a programme that was broadcast on Radio Kerry on Saturday October 28. You can hear it on podcast on the Radio Kerry web site.
After three hours on a boat to stretch our legs we walked in a figure of eight formation for an hour from Torc via Muckross to the south eastern corner of Lough Leane and then back along the shore of the lake, on Lovers’ Walk and then along the fringe of Torc woods high over the Middle Lake.
– Frank Lewis
AN 18th CENTURY ARTIST & AN ERRANT WIFE
– oakwoods, Upper Lake & autumn colour
Last Sunday the light was what impressed the French family who were visiting Ireland for the first time.
Over these past weeks deciduous woodland have been showing ever more colourful shades from luminous yellow to the deepest reds, oranges and browns. After the Muckross and Dinis circular walk and Ross Island we were now in Derricunnihy, the most extensive natural oak woodland in Ireland.
Half an hour or more under tall oaks there were flashes of colour, added to by the understudy of holly’s heavy crop of rich red berries. Along the way we passed the tumbling waters of the Derricunnihy Cascade.
McCarthy’s, Ronayne’s & Eagle Islands on the Upper Lake with the sun kissed, cloud-capped Purple mountain & the McGilllicuddy Reeks – the Eagles’ Nest hill to the right
This wide panorama of lake and mountain is well worth the scramble to the top of the first rough outcrop immediately after leaving the oakwoods.
Imagine the author of a book on algebra fishing from the headland of his idyllic island retreat in the 18th century. An etching in an 18th century guide shows Philip Ronayne’s black servant blowing his bugle as the boats on the Killarney day trip passed. There are more questions than answers.
This view is now seldom featured. Some 230 years ago a higher version of the same view was painted from the hill immediately south. The artist was Jonathan Fisher whose paintings and prints played a major part in establishing Killarney as a holiday resort.
Perhaps it was these pictures that made the Upper Lake one of the three most popular places to visit in Killarney in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The other two were Innisfallen Island and O’Sullivan’s Cascade.
The pathway developed through this marsh ground has made it accessible and has opened up one of the finest and most varied day walks in Killarney.
Pleasantly basking in warm Autumnal sunshine while we enjoyed refreshments at Lord Brandon’s Cottage it is hard to imagine this was a place of detention for an errant wife of wealthy stock!
After crossing the fine stone bridge over the Gearhameen River we followed the water up stream.
This area along the low-lying last stages before the Gearhameen enters the Upper Lake has a micro climate that allows great oak and beech to thrive here.
In the coming weeks and months new-born lambs will run and jump in these sheltered meadows.
It is hard to imagine that a few hundred yards beyond this lush woodland scene the countryside is bare, rocky, harsh.
Normally from here we walk on through the Black Valley and the sheer-walled, multi-laked Gap of Dunloe but today because of a shortage of daylight – and transport at the far end – we retrace our steps.
– Frank Lewis
WONDERS OF A LOST CIVILISATION
The straight and slanted line on these rocks, in the grounds of Colaiste Ide west of Dingle, are examples of the earliest form of writing in Ireland. It was introduced, via Roman Briton in the 4th century and remained in use until the late 7th century.
“Of the 360 of these in Ireland over 60 are on the Dingle Peninsula”, Micheal O Coileain told us on his west Kerry archaeological tour. These stones were gathered from around the peninsula in the 19th century by Lord Ventry whose nearby mansion is now the only all Irish, girls boarding school in the country.
“The writing is carved up along one of the rock’s edges to the top and sometimes continues down the far side,” O Coileain explained. Ogham gets its name from the celtic Goddess of fine speech, Oghma.
Micheal then took us west in his 14 seat bus to Fahan perched high over Dingle Bay on the southern side of Mount Eagle. “In this general area there are up to a hundred beehive-shaped stone huts that people lived in from the Iron Age (5,000BC) to the 19th century.” Because the stones taper out and down the huts are completely dry inside in spite of exposure to wind and rain over all the years
Might the first settlers in Ireland have come ashore here – though archaeological evidence to date would suggest they landed first in the north east of the country. Then the seas were the highways and the prevailing currents are from the more southerly homes of the earliest people to come here.
Now on by Slea Head, the most westerly land point in Europe, with a huge panorama of sea and the Blasket Islands famous for the oral folk literature recorded here between the 1870’s and 1940s.
Micheal now travelled north with high views over Clogher Beach and its dramatic headland with interesting geology and beyond to Ferriters cove where a shell midden dump site has been dated to 6000 BC. This is also the location where the earliest cow bone in Ireland was found in excavation dating to 5500BC
“The monastic site here at Riasc was uncovered by excavation in the 1970s.” O Coileain pointed out the cross slab which is the best known monument here. Is the skilled artistic carving on the unworked stone an indication that perhaps it had a religious significance in pre-christian times and the new order was attempting to absorb what went before?
Our last stop on the three hour tour was at Gallerus Oratory, perhaps the best known pre-historic monument on the Dingle Peninsula. It is also the only entirely preserved up-turned-boat-shaped oratory in Western Europe.
“It was believed that this was a small community church but now the thinking is that it was used exclusively by one of the many small monastic communities in this area” O Coileain suggested.
I know of no other archaeological tour like Micheal O Coilean’s. It begins every morning at 10.30 from the head of the pier in Dingle. On different days it will cover different sites. Cost of tour and bus is 25 euro. Booking is essential. T + 353 (0) 6666 915 1606 E firstname.lastname@example.org
– Frank Lewis
THE BULL-LIKE BELLOWING OF RED STAGS
& Triple whistle-like roar of sika bucks
Two, maybe three, red stags roaring were clearly to be heard when I was at the foot of Mangerton at 7.30 yesterday morning (Tuesday September 19). After a week away this was definitely home. Where else could it be?
This was the first time this year I heard the angry, bull-like bellowing of the red stags. From now until early November every red deer will try to hold as many females as possible.
Stags will shape-up to one another. Generally one backs off. But not infrequently horns clash and very occasionally these fights go on for some time,
This is nature’s way of ensuring the best progeny. The blood is up. During these weeks do not get too close. If you are foolish enough to get between a stag and one of his females you are asking for trouble.
The high-pitched triple whistle-like roar of the sika buck normally starts about mid August and goes on well into November. I have yet to hear the sika roar this year but a neighbour told me he heard it within the past week.
The red deer is tan coloured. It is bigger than the sika which is dark brown and has a flared white rump.
While the sika were only introduced to Killarney in the middle of the 19th century the red is the native Irish deer and has been in these hills since some time after the ice age which ended here some 12,000 years ago.
Go and at a safe distance listen to this ritual that has been uniquely captured by poet Paddy Bush in his poem … which he kindly dedicated to me.
Listening to the Roaring of the Stags
for Frank Lewis
The sun is making love to winter in the glen
And a calling can be heard as it echoes here and there,
An imperious ululation that rolls from ben to ben.
Between us and the light, sharp as a blade’s edge,
See the seven-horned stag, etched deep into the air.
The sun is making love to the winter in the glen.
The elemental bodhrán grows more and more intense
As the piping of the birds becomes antiphonal prayer,
And an imperious ululation rolls from ben to ben.
The spear-wail of the Fianna lives on in branch and stem
With leaf and nut and berry in rampant display,
While the sun is making love to the winter in the glen.
The music of what happens is music without end
And a universal note now permeates the air,
An imperious ululation that rolls from ben to ben.
This voice has called through ages in story and in verse
And if we lose its echo, the loss will cost us dear.
The sun is making love to winter in the glen
And an imperious ululation rolls from ben to ben.
Killarney, October 2003
Forecast Rain & Strong Wind
Reality Sun & Luscious Red Berries
Last Sunday (Sept 10) the news was full of Hurricane Irma leaving a trail of destruction in the Caribbean and approaching Florida. Our weather forecast warned of status yellow winds in Kerry and a lot of rain.
But Dermot had not been walking for months. The first thought was Faill a’ Crann (on the western side of Mangerton). The high route would be dry and relatively sheltered, we would be back in two hours, and the view is spectacular. But in all of that wind and rain would there be any views.
Muckross and Dinis would be a better bet. Constant shelter, close up – and endlessly varied – views through deciduous trees, of lake and mountain. And if the worst came to the worst there was the possibility of a stop off and some refreshments in Dinis Cottage or Muckross House and, if it was a disaster, we could be picked up.
As we set off the sun was shining and it was dry. The stiff wind gave the feel of a fresh Autumn day. Along the track on the southern shore of Lough Leane, by Muckross Abbey. Then on the Arthur Young trail through the largest yew wood in Europe. Later under great oaks,
While there was some passing rain the sun turning the waters of the Muckross Lake silver (photo above) was more typical
Along the narrow spit of land between the western shore of the Muckross Lake and the back channel (that runs from the Meeting of the Waters directly to Glena Bay on Lough Leane) half a dozen or more guelder rose bushes are now heavy with luscious red berries that look as if they have been dipped in water.
The Guelder rose was formerly better named the water or swamp elder because it likes to grow in damp places like this stretch between Brickeen Bridge and Dinis and has similar berries to the elder. The shrubs are close to one another. Because its cluster of white flowers (in Spring) are sterile it can only propagate by bending its branches to the ground and letting them layer themselves there.
The red berries are foul smelling and are mildly toxic if eaten raw but they can be cooked to make a jam or jelly and are rich in vitamin C.
Past a busy Dinis Cottage and Meeting of the Waters of the three lakes, crossing the main road (N71) and following the track that runs above and parallel to the main road, with high views over Muckross Lake. In spite of the occasional shower most of the time the water sparkled in the sunshine.
We crossed back over the N71 and followed the park road towards Muckross. At Dundag, on the eastern shore, the waters of Muckross Lake showed the power of the wind.
Colourful clothing complimented the colour of the flowers in the sunken garden by Muckross House.
We picked horse chestnuts near Muckross Abbey and then returned to our starting point along the old funeral road.
“Three and a half hours, in ideal walking weather, was a good first walk,” Dermot agreed. It was a perfect Autumn outing and proved yet again that there are walks in Killarney to suit any weather and at any time of the year.