Nature Notebook


P1010086 waterfall for nature notebook– waterfall visiting season

The enormous power of the mass of falling water had observers transfixed. The thunderous crashing sound had them speechless. The few who spoke could not be heard. The wildly gyrating white mass looked nothing like water.

That was the experience of Torc Waterfall after the relentless heavy rain over 36 hours. If I had been there some hours earlier the spray from the cascade would have showered the onlookers.

You need to get there while the rain is still falling. Perhaps just immediately after it has stopped. Rain gear makes it possible to fully enjoy the experience.

Torc, as well as the other cascades – O’Sullivan’s, Derrycunnihy and Tower Wood are all within striking distance of our holiday home at Gallan Eile.

And the stories.

It was said there was treasure hidden at the back of the falls at Torc and that one of the Herberts spent a lot of money trying, unsuccessfully, to find it.

It is easy to imagine the great chieftain O’Sullivan spending a day chasing a great stag that turned out to have special powers. While he was resting he was suddenly accosted by Fionn Mac Cumhail who accused him of hunting his special stag.  But Fionn relented and taking pity on O’Sullivan struck the ground and a spring began to flow with whiskey. That was how O’Sullivan’s Cascade started. But the liquid turned to water when the first Sassenachs** arrived.

Climb to the top of the Tower Woods Falls and see how the stream runs parallel to the top of the falls, like a millrace.

Even on warm, calm, dry days the waterfalls are special places.  Imagine Queen Victoria sitting in front of her royal tent looking at the Derrycunnihy Cascade on her visit to Killarney in 1861. The scene was idyllic, except, the queen later recorded in her journal, she was eaten by the midges.

The surrounds of the waterfalls have micro climates. These were the places to find Killarney fern, champion trees, lush carpets of mosses. The immediate surrounds of the falls are cool on sultry summer days. On humid, calm days there are rich aromas from the wood.

It is little wonder that the romantic poets were inspired.  Tennyson famously wrote of Ross Castle, the evening sun on Lough Leane and thunderous sounds from O’Sullivan’s Cascade

The splendour falls on castle walls

And snowy summits old in story:

The long light shakes across the lakes,

And the wild cataract leaps in glory.

Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,

Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

– Frank Lewis

(Note:  ** ‘Sassenachs’ – English

Sorry for the delay this week.

PICK BLACKBERRIES NOW – in spite of tears and tangles

20150909 sarah blackberry picking P1010069The briars caught in her hair, pulled at her jumper, blocked her way.  My companion did not complain.  She was determined to pick blackberries.  After the warm, dry spell there were at last ripe berries in evidence.

We were out last Wednesday.  Micheal and Chris Horan told us about an overgrown area, on the next road to Gallan Eile, which they felt might be worth trying.

Archaeological examination has show that there is every likelihood that our ancestors mining for copper on Ross Island in Killarney may well have been eating blackberries 4,500 years ago. It is now the only wild fruit still widely gathered all over the world.

I have vivid memories of being pricked and torn by the blackberry thorns.  But the lush, sweet blackberry and apple made the king of all jams, pies and tarts.  As well they were unequalled eaten straight from the briar.  Our photograph shows nothing has changed.  That memory is much stronger and compels to continue picking each year even though the thorns are as viscous as ever.

Blackberry (bramble) bushes protect young birds at nesting time.  Bushes were once planted on graves, to cover less sightly weeds and deter grazing sheep, but probably also an echo of more ancient and magical hopes of keeping the dead in and the devil out.

Old cookbooks give recipes for blackberry sorbet, ice cream, mousse, cobbler, blackberry & elderberry jam, blackberry and sloe jelly, pickle, chutney, syrup, cordial, vinegar and wine. Drop me a note if you would like the detail on any of them.

“Dado*, is this one alright?” my determined fellow picker called.  “Is it black?” “No. It’s red.” Another was green. “No good. Only pick the ones that are black.”

Early in the 19th century blackberries were sometimes picked commercially by children who were paid up to six pence** a pound. At the time blackberries were used widely to make a dye.

Looking out at the torrential rain this morning, and the status orange rainfall warning, as well as the numerous reports of flooding, it does not look like blackberry picking weather.***

According to old folklore, blackerries should not be eaten after Michaelmas (September 29) because the devil then spits on them. The advice is sound because the fruits become mushy and insipid about that time.  But the villian is not the devil but the flesh-fly, which dribbles saliva on to the berries and is then able to suck up the juice.

But the weather forecast is good for tomorrow, as well Wednesday, Friday and Saturday look alright. It would be great to get out for at least one more blackberry picking expedition from our Gallan Eile holiday home.

The bowl of last Wednesday’s fresh blackberries, with sugar and cream, was rich and fresh. The photograph shows Sarah got her rewards. An early celebration of her third birthday in a month’s time.

* ‘Dado’ – the Irish or gaelic for grandfather;

** ‘six pence’ – about two cents in euro currency.

** but this is an ideal day to visit a waterfall … Torc, Tower Woods, Derrycunnihy, O’Sullivan’s, Gleninchiquin are all spectacular. But be careful to take advice on flooding.

– Frank Lewis


– from one point on Faill a’ Crann


“The devil from the top of Mangerton mountain was firing big lumps of land at O’Donoghue over in Ross Castle”, Killarney boatmen will tell you. “On top of Mangerton there is now a big hole with a lake and the piece of land is Devil’s island” – which is shown in the first lake in the photograph.

We are standing at Faill a’ Crann (the cliff of the trees) at the cul de sac, the highest point on the forest roads on the western side of Mangerton. On the 1:25,000 ordnance survey map of Killarney National Park it is just below Barnancurrane. It is just over an hour’s walk from Gallan Eile.

The basin for the two lakes was gouged out by a two million year movement of a 500 metre deep mass of ice.

The light green trees in the foreground are the needle shedding larch. Why have so many of these died in recent years? The dark green conifers further down are primarily Douglas fir introduced from California to this part of the world some 150 years ago.

Between larch and fir is a gorge with a micro climate of its own. Torc Waterfall – which is at its most awesome during or immediately after very heavy rain – is at the head of gorge and across the Owengarriff River the Douglas fir include some of the tallest trees in Ireland. Immediately behind the car park there are specimen European larch and along the park road a little way up, in to the left/east, is a very fine Scot’s Pine.

The Muckross Peninsula – which runs east/west between the two lakes – has the largest yew wood in Europe. Near the peninsula’s northern shore – to the right/east out of photograph – is Friar’s Island near which it is said the friars from nearby Muckross Abbey dumped their valuables in the lake when they were fleeing from Cromwellian forces. A number of friars were martyred at the time.

At the south western end of Ross Island – the large peninsula sticking out into the lake – there are the remains of 4,500 year old copper mines, said to be the oldest in north western Europe.

Off the end of Ross island you can see a part of Innisfallen island where the oldest contemporary account of the history of Munster was written. Students at the university here included Brian Boru our most famous high king – who drove the Danes out of Ireland at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.

The white building, above the eastern end of the lake near the top of the photograph, is the Liebherr factory employing a thousand people in one of the largest container crane factories in the world. The high ground behind is the holy hill of Agahdoe and along the skyline is the beginning of the mountains that are the spine along the entire length of the Dingle Peninsula.

All of that from one point. An ideal two and a half hour walk from our holiday home at Gallan Eile.

– Frank Lewis

Deer Mating Roar & Autumn Colour at Gallan Eile

A Red Stag catches the evening light,near Fertha,The Killarney National Park,as the stags near the end of The Rutting Season in Killarney.Photo:Valerie O'Sullivan
A Red Stag catches the evening light, near Fertha,The Killarney National Park, as the stags near the end of The Rutting Season in Killarney.  Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan

An aggressive sika buck boldly strode across a neighbour’s lawn about 7.30 this morning.  In the early hours of last Wednesday or Thursday I heard the sika buck’s triple, whistle-like, mating roar for the first time this year.  This will continue until November.

For the month of October the bull-like mating roar of the Irish red deer stag will reverberate in Killarney hills and woodlands.  The red deer is the largest native Irish mammal and has survived since the end of the ice age only in the Killarney valley.

Walking the mile and a half from Gallan Eile to the foot of Mangerton Mountain this morning the top of the stone wall is covered in heather in full bloom.  The purpely pink ling heather dominates but it is attractively interspersed by the darker purple bell heather and a very occasional, ground-hugging yellow Autumn furze.

The flowering heather gives Mangerton a purple hue.  It might be remembering the great battle here in 1262 when the gaelic McCarthys defeated the Anglo Norman Fitzgeralds and kept south Munster in the control of the old order for a further 300 years. The McCarthys were the Kings of south west Munster.

As well this morning a variety of small birds sang and sang.  Since mid July they have been silent, hidden away in the bushes during their annual moult.  There is no song from blackbird and thrush who are busy raising young.

The smaller birds are not singing to entertain but to warn off intruders.  Defending their feeding ground – to the death if necessary.  This is a matter of life or death for them and their young who are now most vulnerable.

Along the road to town the leaves of a horse chestnut are a wonderful array of yellow, brown and red.  Killarney woodlands will show a rich cloak of Autumn colour from now until late november – weather permitting.

I had my first sea swim this year in Fenit last Saturday – my first in Muckross lake only three weeks ago. As a heron flies overhead here at Gallan Eile all of the signs are good for a great Autumn.

Frank Lewis