Nature Notebook

When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts … – Ann Bronte

Ten days ago the first signs of blue in the green carpet under the trees from Mangerton Road to the jaunting car entrance to the National Park.

Within days that whole stretch was a richly luxuriant carpet of bluebells at their best these days – as I found out last Monday (April 17). Ann Bronte captures the mood.

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.
There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.








That day along a sunny road
All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.







But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell. 








O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood’s hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,








Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me

After an hour wandering among bluebells in Muckross I went to the wooded area in front of the Knockreer Gardens, Killarney’s other great centre of bluebells. But these were, at best, at an earlier stage.

In the neglected formal Knockreer Gardens lush rhodendron and in the background the intriguing handkerchief SPELLING tree and close by luxuriant azalea.

The high panorama from Knockreer uniquely shows the essences of Killarney – woodland, mountain and lake.

Coming down from the formal gardens pockets of fully white-flowered wild garlic – a foretaste of our wild garlic/dawn chorus walk on the Hyde’s Bay/Library Point which will be the subject of next week’s nature notebook.

– Frank Lewis


Last Sunday the photo of this huge flowering cherry on the shore of the Upper Lake, inside an unofficial lay-by a short distance on the Kenmare side of the stone tunnel. I was hugely excited because I thought I had come across a record crab apple tree … but on reflection …

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GOUGANE BARRA – Secluded Sanctuary of Story

From that one point there was a story that was hundreds of millions of years old. Another sight told a sixth century tale. Here there are folk memories of great sadnesses. All around there is a living, pulsating sight.

We were walking Slí Sleibhe/the Mountain Path in Gougane Barra in a part of the Forest Park where the trees have been cleared.  Starting from the highest carpark we walked up through conifer woods along a newly surfaced path, over new wooden bridges, by the course of a rushing mountain stream.

At its highest point the path runs between wood and bare mountain that was formed hundreds of millions of years ago.

The tailor Timothy Buckley told stories of secluded places in these hills where Mass was celebrated from the late 17th to the late 18th centuries. He also had tales of fast disappearing outlines of fields that are a ghostly memory of the Great Famine of the 1840s.

These mountains were worn down by several million years of ice, which also gouged out the horseshoe shaped valley.  Now along the floor of the valley and climbing up its sides a rich, living cover of great trees.

After a descent the path levels. Watch carefully for a green track that runs straight ahead from the newly gravelled way.

If you miss the path you miss this spectacular view of Gougane Barra lake. It is said that the wooded peninsula in the middle of the lake was the hermitage of St Finbarr who 1400 years ago built a monastery that in time became the city of Cork.

Might that peninsula originally have been a man-made island joined to the mainland by a curving underwater path that guaranteed the seclusion and perhaps security of Finbarr’s monastery – or, perhaps, earlier inhabitants.

Dragging ourselves away we walked down to the park road, turned left and after a little while left the road on the right to join Sli na Laoi/the River Lee Path.

Now under tall conifers we walked upstream along these earliest stages of the stream that as a great river flows into the sea beyond Cork city.

After two hours we were back at the car. Just outside the forest park we visited Finbarr’s oratory on the lake. After that photo of the church the camera ran out of battery. A future visit will show photos of the stone head of a bishop over the door, of the fine stained glass representations of Finbarr and his contemporaries Saints Ita/Ide, Brendan, Colman, Fachtna, Eltin, Gobnait and of the 17th century re-creation of the hermitage.

We followed the red Slí Sleibhe trail

– Frank Lewis

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Cardiac Hill lives up to its folk name.  

But frequent stops are trebly justified … the ever widening views, wonders of nature like the Douglas Firs that are very significantly higher than anything else, the grove of eucalyptus and the mosses.

Finishing the hill and turning left/north along a level path.  After a little while there are more steps – now wide and more regular, the going is easier. 

A little way along the northern route, across the northern face of Torc mountain, a panorama of the entire perimeter of the Middle and Lower Lakes showing Muckross House east of the Middle Lake and the Tomies/Purple/Glena mountain ridge falling preciptuously on the western edge of both lakes.  

Across the mountain the changing vistas of both lakes and the mountains. Much of this unique viewing was opened up in recent years with the clearing of dense thickets of rhododendron.  

A dry stone beehive hut has a well in front. This was not the home of an early mendicant monk. It was built to shelter workers who opened up this trail about 50 years ago.  

Coming off the mountain the path widens to a dirt road through conifer woodland.   Going left at a T junction. A little way along we chose to go right, shortly crossing the well named Owengarriff (abhann garbh/rough river) with its tumbling cascades.  After crossing the bridge take an immediate left.  

Now along by a deep ravine cut by the passage of ice between two million and 14,000 years ago and the rushing waters of the Owengarriff since then. The way is pleasantly shaded by oak, arbutus and holly.   The path falls, with occasional glimpses of lake and mountain, down steps to Torc waterfall.  

From first light to dusk there is a constant flow of people coming to Torc Waterfall.   It is said that one of the Herbert landlords here unsuccessfully attempted to divert the waterfall to get at the treasure that legend says is hidden in a chamber behind the falls.

The final leg is parallel and above the public road (the N71) with the mountain ridge to the right of straight ahead. The dirt road has been cut through dense rhododendron with regular views of the Middle Lake and the Lower Lake in the background.  

The circular route ends, after two and a half hours, at the car lay bye at the back entrance to Dinis.


Cherry Blossom in bloom in recent days


For several weeks now hedgerows have been bursting with masses of the tiny white flower on the blackthorn, that shines out against the darker wood of the leafless shrub tree.

At the moment the luxuriantly yellow flower on the spring furze is at its abundant best.

Last Sunday morning from the Governor’s Rock Headland on Ross Island before 7 the huge body of Lough Leane water was mirror still.  In those minutes around sunrise the grey blue monotone landscape looked like a scrubbed clean new world.

Less than half an hour later the brightly coloured boats on the water in front of Ross Castle were a distraction from the background emerging green of the foliage and the blue in the sunlight sky.

We were on Ross Island in preparation for a dawn chorus walk that will broadcast on Radio Kerry from 9am to11am on Saturday, April 29.

Flowering Pear, Bay and Heather at Gallan Eile

– Frank Lewis  

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SPANISH ARMADA TO AMOROUS CHASE – along endless cliffs

It was calm, dry and mild, with the sun attempting to break through, as we left Fisherstreet in Doolin at 11.15 last Wednesday (March 29). The weather forecast the evening before said there would be constant heavy rain for the afternoon.

The hope was to follow the 14 km Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk. The route card showed the whole way was between 120 metres/390ft and 214 metres/702 feet above the sea.

The route rises up immediately. Looking down over Doolin Bay the white surf is evidence of the limestone reefs that were the graveyard of the Spanish Armada and so many boats and ships over the centuries.

The flat rock here and right along the cliffs was prized for its ability to break naturally into thin sheets. In the 19th and early 20th centuries up to 500 men were employed quarrying the rock. During World War I the mines closed because the boats carrying the rock to Britain were unable to travel. A number of mines were re-opened on a smaller scale in the Liscannor area in the 1960’s.

The star-like lesser celandine – which was shown in last week’s nature notebook – covers earthen banks for the whole length of the walk – and frequently mingles with primroses, a popular indicator of Spring. As well seaweeds on the shore, lichens on the rocks (particularly at Hag’s Head at the southern end of the route), some mosses and liverworts, scurvy grass, sheeps bit, sea pink and sea campion.

The dynamic power of the sea is clearly shown in the ebb and flow where narrow inlets have been worn into the rock face. Imagine if that energy could be harnessed.

Are these houses deserted since the famine era of the 1840s? Eeking out a living here from a sea of plenty and peril, and fighting wind and salt farming marginal land.

After an hour and a half the route has plateaued at close to 600 ft/183 metres. Looking south the endless views of jagged cliffs, the great power of the sea minimised from this height. The cliffs were formed over 300 million years ago. The spectacularly exposed rock face is an example of a sedimentary rock basin normally only visible under the sea. The cliffs form part of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark which has been awarded membership of the UNESCO supported Global Geoparks Network.

In less than two hours looking back on the clifftops we have walked over. Out west the ghosty ouline of Inisheer, the eastern Aran Island. It is not surprising that mythical islands were seen. Call it Hy Brasil, Atlantis or St Brendan’s Isle. Haze, low cloud, rain as well as the scientifically proven capacity of the elements to transpose images of distant places. Learn more from books, even libraries, written on the phenomenon.

At 1.30 we had our first view of O’Brien’s Tower built in 1835 by local landlord Cornelius O’Brien as a viewing point for the tourists that even then were flocking to the Cliffs. Also the first view of An Branán Mór Sea Stack, home of guillemots and razorbills.

From the platform at O’Brien’s Tower at the highest point of the Cliffs, 214m or 700 feet above sea level, the view along cliff after cliff after cliff … to Hag’s Head at the southern end of the walk.

Now west, north west, behind Inisheer, Inishmaan, the even more ghostly image of the middle Aran Island. Today the haze hides Inishmor, the main island, as well as views north of the Connemara coast and mountains and south to Loop Head and the distant Kerry peaks.

To be seen from here when it is up and running three kms out to the sea the surfing wave ‘Aileen’s’, Aill Na Searrach, where the world’s most skilled surfers come to ride the wave that can be up to 12 m /40 feet high. At Aill na Searrach (Foals’ Leap) it is said seven Celtic gods transformed into seven foals – and leapt into the afterlife, furious at St Patrick for bringing Christianity to Ireland.

After nearly three hours the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre is almost invisible not because of haze but because it is built into the hill. The inside replicates the interior of a cave. A great place to stop for good food and the hugely interesting cliffs interpretative centre.


After an hour, refreshed – and with no indication of rain in spite of the forecast of the evening before – we headed south

An abundance of marine life can be found in the waters directly off the Cliffs. From minute lifeforms, with plankton blooms in April and May, to the second largest fish on the planet, the whale shark, which come to feed on the plankton, which also feed the vast shoals of sand eels which in turn sustain the huge seabird colonies.

While these visitors come and go with the changing seasons there is a vast number of resident fish and crustaceans to be found in the waters year round. These include Conger Eel, Pollock, Ballan Wrasse, Mullet, Lobster, Edible Crab and Spider Crab.

Sea mammals below the cliff includes Whales, Whale Sharks and Seals. With special luck it is possible to see a pod of dolphins if the sea is calm.

After half an hour all of the headlands north with O’Brien’s Tower now a pimple in the distance. The distinctive call of the Kittiwake that cries its name is audible evidence that these cliffs are home to major colonies of sea nesting birds in the breeding season from April to July. Puffin, guillemot, fulmar, chough, peregrine falcon – some twenty species altogether.

A stoney beach is an occasional feature at the foot of the cliffs. Might this be a place where an enterprising fisherman trapped a mermaid into marrying him? There is a green tinge to the waters here. Away south the very vague outline of a tower.

Almost an hour from the visitor centre, how long did it take the unremitting battering of the sea to carve out this arch from the base of the cliff? On this height before Hag’s Head is this rock oucrop the Hag’s tooth?

Legend tells of the great warrior Cuchulain running from the affections of a hag or witch called Mal – after whom Milltown Malbay to the south is said to be named. After a series ofmythic leaps, a final effort into the wind crashed the Hag to her death on the cliffs. It is said her blood reddened the sea from Loop Head to Hag’s Head.

Looking directly down on the sea created a dizzying hypnotic effect.

The tower built to warn of Napoleonic invasion at the highest point on Hag’s Head. A telegraph station also operated from here.

South from Hag’s Head the cliffs are more indented than anywhere else on the walk. Does it look like huge gaps and enormous molars in the Hag’s mouth? It seems to me to be much more my imagined picture of Treasure Island.

If this is one of the Hag’s huge teeth then the stone stack must be a toothpick.

Just under two hours from the visitor centre – and six hours from when we left Doolin – a drystone fence, rich green grass and a rainbow.

Now for the first time a little rain, but not enough to wet.

The shuttle bus took us back to Doolin. From March to October between 9am and 6pm €6 pays for day-long use of the bus.

The best way to walk the Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk is to park at Doolin, take the shuttle to the southern end of the route and walk north, with the prevailing wind at your back and walking on to views of the cliffs, Aran Islands and the Connemara coast and mountains. As well if – taking photographs, visiting the visitor centre or just endlessly being awestruck by the cliffs and the sea – arriving in Doolin after the last bus has left is not a concern.

PS As this huge globe remembering 1916, on the banks of the river Fergus in Ennis, says
It’s a long, long way

From Clare to here.

From Killarney to Doolin is a drive of three hours. The globe has lines from a great selection of Clare songs and poems.

– Frank Lewis

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UNDER GREAT MONTEREY PINES – along by sea – or is it river?

Walking along the Kerry Way east from Blackwater Bridge reveals the most unusual sea walk in Kerry, an experience entirely missed driving along the N70 about 13kms on the Sneem side of Kenmare.

Walking east from Blackwater bridge for a couple of hundred yards on the N70 a fingerpost on the right/south side plunges into woodland. By the side of the path carpets of vivid wood anemones.

A little way along a well defined track leads down to a sandy beach along the estuary of the River Blackwater, which is just short of Kenmare Bay.

Climbing back up the track to re-join the path and then the main forestry road.

A little way along a large area of fine conifer woodland has been clear-felled. The stumps and branches looks like a war zone.

In a few minutes we have dropped to the coast. The staggered line of large Monterey Pine are one of the defining features of the route. Kenmare Bay glistened under the bright sunlight from the clear blue sky. Across the way the entire northern coastline of the Beara Peninsula, with its mountainous backbone, to Dursey Island at its western tip.

An earlier Lord Lansdowne named this area of sea Kenmare River because the law allowed him to net for salmon on a river.

Along the way, on both sides of the track, endless carpets of lesser celandine.

Some way along from a high outcrop picnic tables and benches look west along the bay. Even the brother was in awe at the scene.

At sea level underneath boots and socks were taken off to refresh feet in water that was much warmer than anticipated.

Continuing high over the sea through an area of mixed scrub wood and bushes.

Now up steps. In a little while the path turns inland, along a deep gorge that was first carved out by the passage of ice between two million and 14,000 years ago and has been further shaped in spate times by the river that runs along its base.

At a T junction the route joins the main forest road. The Kerry Way continues right/east to Kenmare. After crossing the large clear-felled ‘war zone’ the route is through dense conifer woodland – the kind of big trees that warm the woodman’s heart.

Look out for a path on the left to a holy well. The large stone marking the diversion is faced in the opposite direction. Most holy well were associated with eye cures. Delay a while to say a quiet prayer.

Now we re-join the outward journey.

Immediately on the eastern side of Blackwater Bridge walk north – on the road signposted Derreendarragh – in less than a hudred hards follow the dirt road down left. A hundred yards down go through the wooden gate on the left/southern side.

On the banks of the Blackwater shows the depth of the gorge and the great engineering feat the bridge is, built on rock outcrops on both banks and a great high pillar of brick in the middle.

What better way to spend a couple of hours?

– Frank Lewis

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SPRING SURPRISES – in plant and animal worlds


This is the time of the year when nature surprises.   But I hadn’t expected brother Kerry to become part of the picture.   Another curiosity?  

We were at the edge of the swamp woodland on the Library Point headland on Ross Island in Killarney National Park.

Is this a branch that has grown down and rejoined the trunk as a root?   Or is it a succor that has sprouted from the tree’s root and fused with the main trunk?

I have special memories of this sycamore tree.  As a young boy over 60 years ago I sheltered here with my father and he used his penknife to carve the letter F on the trunk.  Now  all that is to be seen is a blemish on the trunk.   In the back of my mind I have a vague thought that this might not be that tree of special memory.  Did that earlier sycamore fall?  Was this a descendant?

For months now the striking contrast between the washed-out wild grasses and the purpely-blue of Mangerton mountain.

Irish spurge on Governor’s Rock headland on Ross Island a week ago (March 15).   The common name of the spurge comes from the French ‘espurge’ meaning to purge, as the sap can have this effect if taken internally.   Spurge has been used by poachers to inflame the gills of salmon forcing them to the surface of the water where they are easily netted.   I would welcome an explanation of its Irish name ‘Bainne Caoin’.

While there were great carpets of the wood anemone and the occasional primrose, as well as an early green hue on willows in the swamp woodland, the huge, ancient beech showed no signs of spring.   The centre of the great beech is now hollow.   Every time I go to Ross Island, especially after a storm, I expect to find it has fallen.

In Muckross Gardens on Saturday (March 18) several cultivated rhododendron bushes were covered in huge blossoms.These are the reds and pinks and whites that are native of the Himalayas.  Although these don’t spread like the purple flowered rhododendron ponticum individual plants do expand hugely and need to be regularly cut back.

If you want to see Spring growing before your eyes bring along a flask of soup and a sandwich and a seat and sit down for a couple of hours by the grove of gunnera in Muckross Gardens.   In a matter of weeks it sprouts from the decayed remains of last year to have stalks and leaves of six feet or more.   If not carefully controlled gunnera spreads very actively.

The bright, light green of the heart-shaped leaves of the Katsura tree which can grow as high as 45meters/145 feet in the wild in its native Japan.   It is one of the largest hardwoods in Asia.

– Frank Lewis

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“There must have been a huge amount of turf cutting here during World War 11,” Colm commented as we walked through thousands of acres of bog on Knockatagglemore hill in Kilcummin last Sunday.
The hundreds, maybe thousands of turf banks, are now overgrown.
‘From this those unable or unwilling to walk can enjoy a prospect as good as any earned by the hardiest mountain climber’ is the description of the view from Knockatagglemore by Tom Barrington in his encycloepedic ‘Discovering Kerry’.
From across the top of the hill you felt if you stretched out south-south-east, you could almost touch the extraordinary breast-shaped Paps. Then panning west by Crohane, Bennaunmore, Mangerton, Torc, the Eagle’s Nest, Purple, Glena and Tomies.
Continuing along the whole range of the Reeks. If the day had been clearer the view would have gone on to Drung Hill near Kells and Knockadobar east of Caherciveen.
Moving north, in our line of sight directly west the haze or low cloud hid Loch na dTri gCaol and Dingle Bay all the way to the Blaskets. Now north west the whole range of the Slieve Mish Mountains. Last Sunday’s weather only allowed us see as far as Caherconree. In better conditions the view extends to Brandon at the western end of the Dingle Peninsula.
While the mountains are the most striking aspect of the huge panorama perhaps the most unique is the view of six lakes. I don’t know of any other single spot where one can see the three main Killarney lakes (Lower, Middle and Upper), a glimpse of Lough Guitane, as well as the much smaller Lacca and Kilbrean lakes
On the drive home we called to Kilcummin Old Graveyard which also has a great high view of Killarney mountains and lakes. We re-visited some of the scenes we talked about in our radio walk here at the end of January. A podcast of the programme can be heard on – scroll down through The Saturday Supplement/Frank Lewis to January 28. 
The 12th century church of the remarkable St Cummian after whom Kilcummin is named. The thatched roof
 was set ablaze in 1652 by Cromwellian cannon fired from Finnegan’s Cross away down below.
‘Erected sacred to the memory of Rev Timothy Sheahan, the beloved PP of Kilcummin for 46 years, died 8th July 1850 in his 86th year.’ He is particularly remembered for his effective food distribution during famine years. Sheahan was criticised by neighbouring parish priests for refusing help to vagrant destitute people from outside Kilcummin.
This headstone records ‘In memory of Mary Shahan aged 18 years. Died on the eve of the family’s departure to America in 1850. This tablet is lovingly erected by her brother Maurice on his first visit to his native home 1882.’
This is known as ‘the famine grave’. It records the awful tragedy of a family devastated by famine, recently bereaved and Mary’s brother prospering in America.
The beautifully engraved headstone with the Riasc cross marks the grave of John and May Teahon. He served as principal of the nearby Coolick National School for many years. As well there are graves of famous Kerry footballers Dee O’Connor and Eugene Moriarty. And so much more.  There is a book, even a library, in every graveyard.
A week ago last Sunday the deep green of the early wild garlic leaves were already richly carpeting large areas on Ross Island.  Now is the time of year to pick the leaves for salads or as a herb flavouring.
Siubhan and I had gone to walk along the northern shore of Hyde’s Bay but the access path was flooded. Ross Island is my special dawn chorus place from an hour before sunrise from now until well into June.
The photo is of a raised area east-north-east of the estate road to the Library Point between the road to the copper mines and the road to Governor’s Rock.
The real secrets of Ross Island are off the road. There are many tracks to be followed and they are full of surprises. Sometimes the going can be demanding, but there are many places to rest aching legs.
The Magnolias are one of the great early celebrations of nature. The huge pink-white blossoms cover every inch of these large shrub-trees. They are at their very best these days, but go to see them now, before a storm, heavy rain or frost take the flowers away for another year.
The poet Wordsworth’s favourite flower the lesser celandine is invasive and can take over – like it is threatening to do in what is left of the lawn at Gallan Eile after the ravages of great red deer stags. When it opens in sunlight the star-like rich orange-yellow flower reminds me of the wide-eyed attention of a little girl.  To continue the parallel the flower closes in dark or rain.
But the lesser celandine is one of the first flowering heralds of spring.  It is particularly striking in large groves or thickets in woodland.
The daisy is everybody’s delight but the dedicated gardener does not like it in the lawn. The lawn at Gallan is lucky not to be pulled and tugged by a dedicated gardener. And the geese have plenty to eat. It is not difficult to feed sculpted birds.
And lesser celandine, daisy, flowering winter heathers and the occasional stag make the garden at Gallan Eile an even more interesting place from which to see cloud rising off Glena mountain.
Frank Lewis

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– a natural place of endless wonder

In Rinnadinna I felt I was in a great natural cathedral … all 0.25 square kilometres (62 acres) … that is the largest yew wood in Europe, sited on the eastern half of the Muckross Peninsula, between the Middle and Lower Lakes.

The quiet and subdued light created by the evergreen cover, the occasional shaft of sunshine coming through a break in the trees …the kind of light effect sometimes created by early morning sun shining through stained glass.Catriona O’Connor’s painting of the yew woods shows the rich colours of the trees in a way that could never be captured in a photograph.

The thick carpets of mosses – at their most luxuriant at the moment – complete the cathedral-intention that only the best is good enough for God.  The carefully crafted, extensive stone walls are a mystery.

Here there are many spaces, self-contained, alone, quite cut off. Side altars.

A very occasional huge tree with a chest-height circumference of up to fourteen feet (4.25 metres) and a diameter of four feet (1.2 metres).

It is estimated that these woods first established 3,000 to 5,000 years ago.

This is not to suggest that any of the trees here are of that age. The great yew in nearby Muckross Abbey could be up to 550 years old and is clearly in the prime of life.

It is said of yew that ‘it grows for a thousand years, matures for a thousand years and is a thousand years dying’. After that it regenerates from its roots so in a sense it is everlasting. It was this that prompted the planting of yew in graveyards.

As well, perhaps, because it is poisonous, so the graveyard was less likely to be disturbed by straying animals.

There are several extensive badger’s dens in the yew woods.

Another side altar. The only fallen dead trees I found in Rinnadinna were deciduous. Had they reached a natural end or had they been poisoned by the yew – as Guido Mino de Sospiro suggests in his book ‘The Story of Yew’ which tells of a great battle between oak and yew woods here in Muckross.

Occasionally throughout the woods there are huge boulders that were dropped here at the end of the last ice age some 14,000 years ago or earlier.

The northern edge of Rinnadinna is a high shoreline on the Lower Lake looking down on a great expanse of water, islands, and the backdrop north west of the Tomies/Purple/Glena mountain ridge. Immediately underneath limestone rock worn into wonderfully sculpted shapes.

These woods are growing on creviced limestone pavement. Every step has to be watched and tested.  Roll back the thick carpets of mosses. Underneath there is bare rock. Trace the torturous path of exposed roots, desperately eeking out any scarce sustenance. These trees are really giant bonsai.

Two hours of criss-crossing Rinnadinna is only a beginning. Its secrets will not be revealed without many more hours over numbers of visits … and a great deal of study.

– Frank Lewis

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– and the poet might have been inspired!

From the Muckross Arboretum car park, along the southern shore of Dundag Bay, we followed the leafy path to the headland looking down from a height on the whole expanse of Muckross Lake.

Directly west Devil’s Island stands out. It is said His Satanic Majesty on top of Mangerton Mountain (south south east) and the great Chieftain O’Donoghue over in Ross Castle were firing huge rocks at one another. One of the devil’s rocks landed here and is now Devil’s Island in Muckross Lake. He must have been getting tired – look at your map – it is a long way short of Ross!

The devil tore his rocks out of the top of Mangerton mountain, where the rock is red sandstone. But Devil’s island is limestone. Further proof of his great power!!

The hole the Devil left is now filled with a lake – called the Devil’s Punchbowl – which is said to be bottomless. We are told a man once went swimming there – and a fornight later came out in Australia.

By juniper bush, under yew, arbutus and oak we walked by the sandy Dundag shore where we swim in summer time. Along the way nine year old grandson Noah climbed the great cypress at the head of the trail.

Then to Muckross Gardens.

Already occasional rhododendron bushes are covered in white and pink blossoms.

As dramatic as the experience of the poet
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Groups of these first clarions of Spring. Brash in their yellows with enhancing oranges and whites … by the banks of the stream, around the base of trees, through the rockery.

The pink, white and red camelia flowers are beginning to come out in the covered garden – south east of the main Muckross Gardens.

Each blossom is so perfect they look as if they were made of wax.

Here, under the canopy of great oaks and Scots pine, the early flowers are proteced from the burning effect of bright sunshine after frosty nights.

Seeing the photograph of himself peering from a white rhododendron bush Noah was quick to point out “he made me go in!”

Finally through the third garden at Muckross – the extensive arboretum with trees from every continent on earth. “We planted here because we believed that the shelter, humidity and relative mildness would facilitate the growing of trees that would not normally survive out in the open in Ireland,” the father of the arboretum Cormac Foley explained. “We were able to grow trees here that would have died in the National Arboretum in New Ross.”

The endless variety make this an idea place to walk with children. Peppered with the occasional story it is even better.

– Frank Lewis

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NATURE CELEBRATES ST VALENTINE – with flowers & colour

Today Siubhan is surrounded by flowers here at Gallan. Very appropriate for St Valentine’s Day. Great banks of the pink and white winter flowering heathers are at their best. The shining yellow furze. How could roses from a shop match those?

Nature never stands still. Wet or dry, wild or calm, hot or cold – each of these changes everything all year. During the next months, weeks, days … new blossom, birds singing louder and louder and building nests .. stags shedding their antlers – that immediately start to grow again.

The white gold of the wild grasses on the commonage up the road – contrasting with the deep blues of the mountains in the background.

Standing in front of Gallan in the crystal-bright sunshine. Beyond the foreground of the colourful winter heathers, the green of the lawn – though it has suffered from marauding horses and deer.

Then the orange/brown of the withered ferns, bordered by soaring cypress conifer evergreens. Then the hilly meadow that cloaks glacial moraine. Thick woodland is the final sequence of vegetation – still winter brown larch and oak and in the background the occasional evergreen Sequoia and Douglas Fir tower above everything else.

And in the background the great bulk of blue mountain with foothills cloaked in oak now being suffocated by evergreen rhododendron.

Twice in the past ten days I have walked to Faill a’ Crann – the cliff over the trees. The hour to hour and a half hour trek from Gallan is through rising woodland – so the route never floods – though it can be wet – and is sheltered.

The low sunlight through the trees at the moment creates a special effect.

The lichen covered larch create an eerie-warm atmosphere.

From Faill a Crann the spectacular, three-dimensional panorama of the whole of Muckross lake and Lough Leane. Mangerton behind, Torc towering to the left, the imminent peaks of the Tomies, Purple, Glena ridge … the Slieve Mish faintly in the background.

All of that and you want shop flowers as well!

– Frank Lewis

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