Nature Notebook

Keel Loop Walk

BEAUTY & BATTLE

on the Keel Look Walk

The wonders in this county of ours are endless.

I have driven the road between Castlemaine and Dingle (R561) countless times.  I have looked down on this whole coastline from the top of the Sliabh Mish mountain range.  But I never imagined the variety and richness of the Keel Loop Walk until last Sunday week.  The weather was at best broken and from time-to-time there was a downpour and stiff wind.  These past months the ravages of sea, gale and record breaking torrential rain have taken their toll.

Then we walked the route again last Sunday in idyllic weather, perfect for photographs.

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From Boolteens, after a little way on tarred road, the route walks by the ditches of several green fields. Then through marshy ground, along the top of a floodbank that looks like a natural part of the landscape, by the river Groin. Great banks of golden reeds. In the background the purpely-blue mass of the entire McGillicuddy Reeks mountain ridge.

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Then the Groin joins the estuary of the river Maine. Along the way a variety of flood protection defences. The earthen ditch the route follows. Parts of the estuary are slabbed. Some points are protected by cement. Great boulders are used. All are evidence of the never ending battle that has gone on as long as people have lived here.

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At low tide, from Autumn to Spring, the exposed mud-flats here feed great numbers of migrating water birds. As I walked snipe and oyster catcher sang, a shag cannoned just over the water and there were several other birds I could not identify.

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A break for refreshments adds something special to a walk, especially if you are three years old.

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At one point there were clumps of daffodils on the trail and in the field below. Were they planted here or or were they washed down by the river?

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The flood bank track ends at Laghtacallow Pier at the mouth of the Maine estuary. Here in earlier times cattle for Puck Fair were transported by ferry to Callinafersy Pier at the far side.

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Now along a quiet country lane. Already a rich profusion of primroses and lesser celandine – the poet Wordsworth’s favourite flower.  As well catkins are trailing from alder branches, the first tiny white flower is showing on blackthorn.

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At the top of the long lane the ruined remains of Kilgarrylander church are in the centre of Reilig na Cille/Old Keel Graveyard.

Now the route crosses the main road and rises up between tall banks where hedgerows will show ever richer growth in the weeks and months ahead.

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Our way continued to rise to the lower reaches of the Sliabh Mish mountain range, along an unsurfaced boithirin and on to open mountain.  About half way across the bare hillside a seat is the ideal place to sit and marvel at the huge panorama spread out below.

The river Maine, Loch na dTri gCaol, Dingle Bay with a backdrop of mountains from the Paps (on the Cork/Kerry border), over the Killarney mountains, along the entire Reeks Ridge and the Iveragh Mountains to the tip of the Ring of Kerry

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The walk continues across open mountain. Finally by country lane back where I saw my first lambs this year.

Back in Boolteens after a hugely rewarding three and a half hours. It could be walked more quickly. Last Sunday, greater temptation to stop, look and photograph.

– Frank Lewis

March 8, 2016

BABE IN THE WOODS
‘I’m not a baby. I’m a girl.’

A week last Sunday was all about a babe in the woods … “I’m a girl, not a baby” I was warned by my three year old companion.  One of the incentives was that we were going to gather tory tops/the large cones of the Monterey and other pines.

We had barely started when I was asked ‘Dado. lift me.’ The request was diverted by song.

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We walked by Muckross Abbey and then along Lover’s Walk in the northern or lakeside part of the Monk’s Wood.  A little way along out on Lough Leane it is said the monks hid their special pieces in the lake here near Friar’s Island when the nearby Abbey was sacked by Cromwelian forces in 1652.  Local tradition tells that the community’s bell is also in the lake here.

Then we went off the path and criss-crossed the woods over rough fissured or crevaced limestone, as well there were briars. How would my companion manage? “I’m fine, Dado, I’m alright.” I was told.

We walked through a hidden valley, one of a number that are a feature of these woods. Did the monks plant vegetables, fruit and medicinal plants here? Or were they places for quiet meditation?

Then we were out on the main Muckross and Dinis estate road.  Sarah pointed out the clump of young bamboo at the edge of the road … “But there are no Pandas” she told me.

In order to maintain the interest of my fellow explorer we diverted to pine valley in the heart of the southern wood. Here there were great numbers of pine cones. Dermot and I twisted and gathered and Sarah put every one into the bag. With proprietorial attention for each cone we threw she called ‘Thank you’.

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Having filled the bag – or filled to a level where I could still lift it – we hid it under some rhododendron branches and marked the spot from the number on the very distinctive clay cylindrical nesting box hanging from a branch.

Now back across limestone and bramble. Even when she fell I was told “I’m alright Dado. I’m fine.” And picked herself up. We walked under what must be the largest evergreen holm oak in Killarney.

At the garden quay we wondered about the second Muckross House that stood nearby 200 years ago on a site marked by a walnut tree saved by Johnny & Helen O’Leary who nurtured this last relic of the walnut that provided nuts for the kitchen in that second Muckross House.

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Then down by the great Cedar of Lebanon that has the stately appearance of the temples and palaces built of cedar in the middle east.  Across the way the two surviving oaks from the five Queen Victoria planted here in 1861. ‘Dado, I’m tired.’ More song distracted.

Young legs had been encouraged to walk by the promise of refreshment at Muckross House.  But first through the gardens.  The big magnolia’s blossom was recovering from the frost a week earlier.  Up and down stone steps through the rockery.

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After two hours it was time to break.  Up behind the restaurant clumps of miniature daffodils.

Then retracing our steps we watched carefully for the nesting cylinder with the right number.  Sarah picked it out.  I hoisted the bag full of tory tops on my back.

“Dado, my legs are tired, lift me.” “I will if you lift the bag.” And so we sang more songs on the last leg of the walk.

We had been on to go for nearly four hours when we got back to the car and each of us had walked every step.

– Frank Lewis

23 February 2016

Nature Notebook

A GHOST BICYCLE

in the heart of the exotic Monks’ Yew Wood

Did you lock your bicycle in the middle of Killarney woods about 20 years ago and forget where you left it? I found it last Sunday afternoon. Untouched by human hand. But it is now a woodland sculpture. Rusted solid. Absorbed into the woodland by plant and animal. Undoubtedly an ‘exotic’. I could not decide whether it was more flora or fauna.

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“Monks walk the woods here at dusk,” the late Danny Cronin was convinced the Monks’ wood, between Muckross Abbey and the Garden Quay, were haunted. “I saw them myself”.

While this was the most unexpected encounter in three hours criss-crossing the woods but nature here is a harmonious mix of the native and the exotic.

One of the first yew trees is straight as a die and is spiral, like a giant corkscrew. “This is a feature of some yew,” horticulturist Cormac Foley, points out that the great yew at the centre of Muckross Abbey has the same spiral feature. “It may have come from this woodland.”

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We had walked up on to that Muckross Abbey/eastern end of the Monk’s Wood, which is on a raised fissured or creviced limestone platform, but if you pick your steps carefully it is not difficult to walk on.

This is a yew wood. Because of the evergreen cover and the growth suppressant from yew the woodland floor is relatively free of undergrowth and has whole areas covered in mosses, at their most luxuriant at the moment, thriving on the heavy rains of recent months.

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Several yew had up to a dozen trunks coming from the one base. A spectacularly contorted yew looked as if it one time carried a huge boulder – though there is no sign of that roundabout. There are trees with a tangled web of intertwining branches. There are yews here that must be among the oldest living things in Killarney.

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The Monks’ Wood is a quiet, calm, sheltered place. A great natural cathedral. A place to come to meditate, to reflect on the turbulent burnings and martyrdoms in the nearby abbey. It is hardly surprising that monks would have come here … and perhaps still do.

There are several open areas in the wood. Might these have grown fruit or vegetables for the monks or were they places to sit and take the sun? It is said Muckross Abbey is built on Carraig a’ Ceoil/the music rock. Imagine listening to music here on days like today (Tuesday February 23).

The Herberts in the later 18th and throughout the 19th centuries and the Vincents in the early 20th centuries used this sheltered, humid, relatively mild place to plant trees from around the world. Many of these exotics are still to be seen. Two of the finest specimen Monkey Puzzle trees from Chile. Several huge sequoias from California.

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But this is essentially a native woodland. It has several large native oak trees. Our three hours last Sunday was spent in the southern part of the Monk’s Wood. It is divided by the Muckross & Dinis demesne road. Imagine what more there is in the northern/lakeside part? Still to be explored before our radio walk here which will broadcast on April 30**

(ends)

Note … 

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Killegy Celtic Cross

NATURE NOTEBOOK 15 2 ’16

KILLEGY CELTIC CROSS

– great power & abuse of privilege

‘This church of Killegy was built as a family mortuary chapel by Maurice Hussey of Cahernane, late Colonel in the army of King James 11.  At his death in 1714 his body was borne here by his 4 sons and buried at midnight by torchlight.’

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This is the story carved into a limestone tablet set into the wall in the dimply lit interior of the little oratory in Killegy graveyard. Was the funeral in the middle of the night because of a fear of disturbance? Local tradition says not, that it was Hussey’s wish.

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The unworked stones set into the ground on the northern and eastern side of the little church anonymously mark the graves of famine burials. The little building looks much older than the 18th century. It is said to be a reconstructed 12th century building. The placename Killegy would support this. The limestone slab set into its wall is of comparatively recent vintage.

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On the eastern side of the church a wild domestic hedging shrub hides the carving on the headstone of Thomas Greaney. The story goes that a Miss Maybury, who worked in nearby Muckross House, was in the family way because of the attentions of the landlord Henry Arthur Herbert, who hosted Queen Victoria’s stay here in 1861.

When Miss Maybury confronted Mr Herbert about her condition he promised to look after her. Going outside his front door the first person he met was Thomas Greaney, who worked in his gardens.

“Greaney you will marry Miss Maybury. Before that you will become a member of the established church. You will join the RIC. After six months you will receive a commission as a sargeant and then retire on pension. Finally you will become the first Postmaster in the Post Office that I will set up in Muckross.” It was said that the child born to the couple bore a remarkable resemblance to Henry Arthur.

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The Killegy graveyard is dominated by a huge celtic cross that tells in raised lettering ‘IN AFFECTIONATE MEMORY OF THE RIGHT HONORABLE HENRY ARTHUR HERBERT BORN 1815 DIED 1866 HIS TENANTRY HAVE ERECTED THIS CROSS TO RECORD THEIR SENSE OF HIS VIRTUE_ AND THEIR GRIEF FOR HIS LOSS

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Local folklore says the word ‘virtue’ was originally ‘virtues’ but that the last letter was taken out – and there is a blank at the end of the word. The huge cross is covered in rich, very skillfully carved celtic ornamentation.

As the legend records it was commissioned by the tenants on the Herbert Muckross estate. The story goes that when the sculptor brought his huge work of art here the tenants didn’t have the money to pay for it! Local folklore becomes less credible when it tells that the scultpor left the cross rather than bear the cost of bringing it back to Cork.

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Henry Arthur is interred under the cross. It is said that he instructed that he was to be placed sitting on a great chair looking out over his estates of mountain, lake and woodland, so that when Gabriel’s bugle sounds he could race down the hill and be in heaven first.

Killegy graveyard is on a low hill, a place closer to heaven, and its perimeter of big trees gives the graves great shelter. The hilltop resting place looks as if it has been extensively man made. Perhaps it was an ancient place of worship.

‘It is said’ gives great scope to speculate.

– Frank Lewis

(ends)

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Nature Notebook

THE SEAT OF FIONN
– beholds lake, mountain, sea – & the brothers wet pants!

“My trousers will get wet,” the brother peeved as we started walking in the rain. He had left his waterproof pants at home.

“I checked Met Nor and they said there was only a very slight chance of rain.” He was not convinced. “If it gets too bad we can turn around.” That didn’t convince him he didn’t turn back.

We left Glenbeigh (on the southern shore of Dingle Bay) a little before two in the afternoon to follow the Kerry Way completing a circle around Seefin Mountain, south east of the village.

Seefin comes from the Irish Suí Fionn – the seat of Fionn, a mythological Irish warrior. The legend says the aging Fionn rested here in his chase around Ireland after the young warrior Diarmuid, who had eloped with Fionn’s promised young bride Gráinne. The young couple were said to have rested across the way on the side of Curra Mountain – one of the many places in Ireland bearing the name Leaba (bed of) Diarmuid & Gráinne.

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Curra Mountain with Dingle Bay in the background
The rain eased and then stopped as we walked east on the main road (N70) with long, low views north of the back strand at Rossbeigh.
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Hazy view of Dingle Bay, Rossbeigh Strand and Loch na dTrí gCaol

After two kilometers our route was south east on a minor tarred road (sign-posted The Kerry Way and Treanmanagh) which immediately started to rise giving ever widening views over the sand spits of Rossbeigh, Inch and Cromane that are the source of the poetically names Loch na dTri gCaol (the Lake of the three narrows), the inner part of Dingle Bay. Its name in English, Castlemaine Harbour doesn’t have the same ring. Great colonies of winter migrating seabirds feed on the mudflats here that are exposed at low tide.

In a little while the northern end of Caragh Lake can be seen from the rising road. After a little over two kms the route becomes a dirt or green road. Now there are dramatic views over the whole six kilometer length of Caragh Lake.

 

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Panorama of Caragh Lake with ‘the brother’

About this time the rain started again. Down below at Blackstones Bridge an old man told me some years ago that his grandmother had been lifted on sheet from her sick bed on a Christmas Eve in the 1890s and left on the side of the road while her stone cabin was knocked. A memory of the infamous Glenbeigh Evictions.

Wind and rain got stronger. After four kilometers on the green road our route turned west towards the Windy Gap. The increasing wind, rain and cold was proof that it was well named. The brother had the good grace not to mention the Met Nor weather forecast – though there were some dark silences.

At the far side of the Gap rain stopped and wind eased. It was still cold. Now to the north there was a dramatic panorama of Dingle Bay, the three sandy spits and Loch na dTri gCaol and the mountainy spine of the entire Dingle Peninsula in the background.

South west the Coomasaharn Horseshoe. The novel Red Cloud has a gripping account of a young bird being stolen from an eagle’s nest here. The huge panorma from the top is for another day. To the west Drung Hill a Luanasa mountain that is also a tale for a later walk. As the route dropped down, the sea views continued for more than a kilometer.

After six kilometers of green route we were back on tarmac that continued along a minor road until we finished in Glenbeigh after two and a half kilometers.

The brother said he enjoyed the walk. He has changed the screen saver on his mobile phone to that high view over Caragh Lake. Is that because he was so impressed – or because he wanted to remind himself never to come again? A bit like the day we struggled up Cardiac Hill some months ago “I have done that”, he declared, with little doubt about his future intentions for the route.

– Frank Lewis

PS In fairness to Met Nor (yr.no) the closest I could get to a Seefin forecast was Dingle Bay – the Macgillicuddy Reeks was not on offer – and the weather difference between the two is huge.

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RECORD RAINFALL & FIRST BLOSSOMS

Nature Notebook 2 February, 2016

“We had over 24 inches of rain in December compared to the previous record of 18 inches in 1948”, Gerry Murphy, the head gardener in Muckross, told me on Sunday. “In January we had over 15 inches compared to a January average of eight to ten inches.”  The average annual rainfall at Muckross is 70 inches.

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I had walked from the jaunting car entrance to the National Park. How many visitors have been drawn at this point by the panorama of Lough Leane with its high mountain backdrop of Tomies, Purple and Glena mountains.

Along the lake shore the high water levels and the banks of nature debris added to the wildness of the scene – though this was somewhat taken from by the amount of plastic.

Through the heavily vegetated Monks’ Wood, one of the many unexplored special places in Killarney. I hope to record a walk through here for radio later in the month.* The lowerbranches of a Scots Pine were at or below water level. 

Sunday looked ideal to walk Muckross and Dinis again. But when I rounded the corner beyond the Vincent Hostel the road was flooded. The water level was as high as it had been from early December up to the week when I walked here a fortnight earlier.

Instead by the grove of oaks planted by Queen Victoria in 1861 and our finest Cedar of Lebanon whose wood was used to build the great palaces and temples, skirting Muckross House and along the lake shore by swamp woodland to Torc where, as always, the carpark was overflowing and a constant stream of people visited the waterfall which is always worth seeing at this time of the year.

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Now along the jaunting car road to a welcome refreshment at Muckross.

Wandering through the gardens the occasional clump of miniature daffodils and the promise of many more blooms in the weeks and months ahead, with the weather dictating when. Maybe St Brigid’s Feast Day (February 1) marking the beginning of the Celtic Spring has it right.

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In the covered garden the first wax-like perfect pink and while camellia blossoms. In a few weeks this will be a very special place to visit. 

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Water level at the wet boathouse has risen. At the Dundag headland I had to hold on to my hat in the stiff breeze. Here there is an unparalleled view of the entire Middle Lake with Devil’s Island recalling the great legendary battle between the Devil (on top of Mangerton) and the Chieftain O’Donoghue at Ross.

The waves hitting the Dundag beach showed the strength of the wind.

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Once again through the gardens. At Muckross Abbey the funeral road was still impassible. Along the shore of Lough Leane to the car.

That 4.5 hours was the perfect start to another week.

– Frank Lewis

* The Saturday Supplement on Radio Kerry (96-97FM), every Saturday morning  9-11am

Note: This is one of the many walks within easy reach of our self-catering holiday home … see web site www.guidekillarney.com

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EERIE SWAMP AND SHINING MOSSES

You are walking through swamp woodland following the mining trail from the back of the boat dock at Ross Castle.  Last Sunday was the first time I was able to walk on to Ross Island for over two months.

It was still and dry. Round about there was all of the evidence of flood waters and repeated storms. Trees in swamp woodland are generally short lived. They grow tall and thin and then fall over.

There is an eeriness about walking through a swamp. Since I suggested to a grandson some years ago that there are crocodiles here I can’t get the image out of my mind.  Folk belief is that evil lurked in the alder, the dominant tree here. It was feared because when it is cut the wood takes on a blood-orange tinge, as if it was bleeding.  Clearly I am not the first person to have that eerie sensation.

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As the route rises out of the swamp there is a scattering of young beech trees with a full covering of brown withered leaves that shine out.

At the end of the mining trail at the copper mines on the lake shore, the water being driven by the wind is aggressively lapping along the shore, creating a sound more associated with the sea. The road here, and at a number of other points on Ross Island, is showing the wear and tear of flood and storm.

The water levels are still too high to see if the winter ravages have exposed any of the stone axe-heads from 4,500 year old mining activity that are sometimes seen here.

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Carpets of rich green mosses, at their best at the moment, occur throughout the woodland.  The hundreds of varieties of mosses are the most extensive and most unique flora in Killarney.  They were much sought after in the Victorian era.

While it is possible to walk on Ross Island now, access to the Governor’s Rock and the Library Point is still blocked by flood waters.

There is no road on the south eastern section of the island but it is well worth wandering on old tracks. Be prepared to backtrack and find another way, until lake levels drop further.

In the canal at Ross Castle submerged boats will be bailed out now that the fishing season has started and in the weeks and months ahead more clement weather will encourage trips on the lake – St Brigid promises that Spring starts on her feast day on February 1.

Walking on Ross Island last Sunday two hours of exhileration, through constantly varying views of lake and mountain through woodland.

 

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MUCKROSS & DINIS

– a route without peer  . . .  flooded at 14 points

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Scots Pine reflected in Dundag Bay

A wide panorama of the Lower Lake, by historic Muckross Abbey, through the heavily wooded Muckross Peninsula – with a mixture of native and exotic trees – including the largest yew wood in western Europe – unique swamp woodland, great oak woods … underneath thick carpets of mosses at their richest at the moment.

Along the way constantly varied glimpses of the Middle and Lower Lakes.  At Brickeen Bridge the waters of the Middle Lake flowing into the Lower.  Mountainous backdrop south and west.

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Mangerton Mountain from Dundag Headland

In light mist and some heavy showers the greens of conifers and mosses glistened.

I said in last week’s notebook that the Muckross and Dinis route was still flooded.  In ideal weather on Saturday last we followed this relatively flat and relatively smooth route to facilitate a three year old cycling.  We told an adult cyclist that Muckross and Dinis was still flooded.   But when we reached the first flood point – where a photo taken the previous Sunday showed Sarah with three legs – the road was clear, the flood waters had all receded.

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Dundag Bay and Glena Mountain

So on Sunday last a mad rush to do a walk that I have done on Christmas days since I was very young.  Flooding has made it impossible several times in recent years.   If deluge rain continues to be a feature of our weather the route will have to be raised or this most famous walk/cycle/jaunting car ride will be enjoyed on much fewer occasions.  On Sunday we counted fourteen points at which the route was flooded constantly since mid December.

As well we were late starting.   It was almost one o’clock when we left the carpark at the first Muckross entrance to the Killarney National Park.  Luckily Sarah agreed to travel in the buggy – from which she directed the collection of cones and leaves, sang songs and gave orders.

At Dinis the road has been badly torn away by the raised water levels over the past five weeks.

Walking along the main road is much less pleasant than the demesne track opened a number of years ago.  But it is level and is much more buggy-friendly.

We had the place almost to ourselves until we travelled from Torc to Muckross House.

It was after 4 when we finished.   

There really is no other route like Muckross and Dinis, at any time of the year and in any weather.  Now the Christmas calendar is complete.

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Panorama from Dundag Headland – Mangerton, Torc, Eagle’s Nest, Tomies, Shehy, Purple Mountains

Weather conditions and time did not encourage taking photos on Sunday.  Conditions on Monday were perfect.  It was calm and dry and the overcast conditions leant a moodiness to the extraordinary reflections on the flat calm waters around Dundag – which is part of the Muckross & Dinis route.

During the past weeks I have seen more jays than over a whole year up to now.  Has our most exotic native bird become more numerous or is it being forced to change its hunting ground by the flood waters?   I must ask Frank King.

– Frank Lewis

 

 

 

 

 

 

SWAMP WOODLAND – WITH A THREE YEAR OLD RUNNER – who does not have three legs

Nature Notebook January 12 2016

 

“Pick a route suitable for our buggy”, I was told. That meant it had to be flat and smooth.

From the carpark between the Queen’s Drive and Torc Waterfall we walked along the jaunting car road looking down over Muckross Lake, with a backdrop of snow-capped peaks. “Lets run Dado,” three year old Sarah was already off at a trot.

The lake level had dropped. We will be able to walk to Muckross House along the lower Park road – for the first time since mid-December.

We went up to Torc Waterfall – although the path is not suitable for the buggy. More running. The high walls to the south and west create a micro-climate in this short gorge which merits special attention to highlight the specimen European larch, Douglas fir and Scots pine as well as the rich carpets of mosses.

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Imagine the efforts of one of the Herbert landlords to divert Torc Waterfall so he could get at the treasure that legend said was hidden in the rock face behind the falls. It was a time when Herbert had financial difficulty. But his efforts only added to his problems. No rich cache was found.

Waters lapped on either side of the lower park road, at a point just beyond the beginning of a conifer wood. Another heavy shower could close the road again.

At the base of the Dundag headland, a favourite swimming place, it was possible to walk on a little of the sandy beach for the first time in weeks. Here the scene suggests the conifer wood, lake water and the sheer mountain backdrop associated with Switzerland and Canada.

Through arbutus woodland to the Dundag headland with its high view over the entire Muckross Lake. Out in front Devil’s Island that the boatmen say was torn from the top of Mangerton by his satanic majesty to fire at O’Donoghue over at Ross Castle.  His lack of accuracy must be some consolation.

 

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Along the way banks of reeds that had been washed up on lakeside, road and track. The flooded road to Dinis showed we were still not finished with winter weather. Flooding at the beginning of the route along the Muckross Peninsula means the road is also blocked at three or four other points.

This is part of the Killarney swamp woodland that is regarded by European authorities as our most unique forest. An active imagination could conjure up all sorts of dangerous creatures here.  But you and I know there is nothing to fear.  Don’t we?

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Sarah was still running. Any suggestion that she has three legs is entirely a creation of the camera.

On through the mix of native and introduced woods. By Muckross Abbey that is testament to a rich and bloody past captured in legend and history.  The promise of a break at Muckross House kept the three year old running.

By the time we got back to the car we were loosing light and it was getting cold.  We had been on the go for some four hours.

Frank Lewis

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BY BOAT & ON FOOT THROUGH NATURE AND HISTORY

Nature Notebook 5 January 2016

“The path to Gearhameen is flooded”, Gene Tangney told me when I phoned him Stephen’s morning. “But I have a boat down and I can collect you.”

The route from Derricunnihy, around the southern shore of the Upper Lake, by Lord Brandon’s Cottage, the Black Valley, through the whole length of the Gap of Dunloe ending in the salubrious Kate Kearney’s Cottage has been a favourite St Stephen’s Day walk for many years. Normally there are many others walking but this year it looked as if I might be the only one.

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Siubhan dropped me and my wire-haired terrier Billie to Derricunnihy. After a little while from where Queen’s Cottage used to be the view of the great cascade was mesmerising, although it was three hundred meters away. The crashing waters of the Galway’s River are even more riveting as they crash over the too perfect falls beside the cottage site.

Now on through the oakwoods, with their extensive underlay of holly and ground covered by rich carpets of mosses. I must not delay. At a footbridge across a stream Gene was waiting.

Gene boatman P1010285Photo shows Boatman Gene Tangney with McCarthy’s, Eagle and Ronan’s Islands in the background

As we walked towards the boat he pointed to the horizontal streams of cloud laying high up on the mountains. “These are a sure sign that there is a lot more rain to come.” That’s reassuring.

In a light mist we crossed the calm lake. Apart from the thick clump of lighter green rhododendron the scene is probably largely unchanged since Jonathan Fisher painted it from high over the southern end of the lake almost 250 years ago.

Halfway across Gene pointed out a white-tailed sea eagle flying over Duck Island to the south of us. We passed by the island that bears the name of mathematician Philip Ronayne who lived here with a black servant 225 years ago.

On the mountain shore on the western side of the lake Gene pointed at a ruin. “That was a shebeen where young girls sold a mixture of poitin and goat’s milk to visitors. They stopped towards the end of the 19th century after a number of drownings.”

Near the Toll Gate to Lord Brandon’s Cottage we met Gene’s wife Mary who told me that she managed to get three fine turkeys from a woman in Beaufort after her own were all killed by a pine marten earlier in December. They were given the stamp of approval by the fifteen members of the immediate family at the christmas dinner the day before and they would feed twenty to thirty members of the extended clan on New Year’s Day.

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Panorama of the Black Valley from the Upper Lake on the left (east) to Lough Reagh

 

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Looking North from the Gap of Dunloe

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On a walk on January 3, Colm O’Sullivan and Billie at the top of the Gap

Now it was calm and dry. At the top of the Gap of Dunloe the browns, purples, blues and green were at their most vivid. Torrents of water were streaming from every side as I walked down through the Gap.

I had been on the road for most of four hours when I reached Kate Kearney’s in the gathering dusk. A pint and some food with Siubhan … what better way to end a perfect day.

Frank Lewis

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