Jottings of my Life in Tyrone, Ireland – The Lakes of Killarney

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Jottings of my Life in Tyrone, Ireland – The Lakes of Killarney

After the excitement of the races, we would take a rest for a while in the soothing atmosphere of the Lakes of Killarney. Although many of us knew those beautiful stretches of water by heart, there was something about them that was continually inviting us to enjoy their charms once more. The little town of Killarney is only a little more than a mile from the Lower Lake, or Lough Leane as it is called. From there a trip around the lakes can be made in a day but that is no way to really enjoy all the lovely views that the lakes and mountains provide for appreciative visitors. However, when we were accompanied by friends whose time was limited, we would start off early in the morning, either in cars or on ponies.

Our first stop would be at the old ruins of Aghadoe (a portion of a round tower, an old castle, and all that is left of what was once a church). From here there is a lovely view of Lough Leane. But we do not spend much time here, as the exhilarating morning air makes us in no mood for rambling through such ancient abodes. This part of the lake is rather flat but still is not without beauty‘ but having seen it before, we would hurry on to the Gap of Dunloe. 0n the way we pass Dunloe Castle, the seat of the Mahoney family, and stop at Kate Kearney’s cottage for a glass of milk re-enforced with poteen. Here the Gap really begins, and the mountain scenery begins to be almost awe-inspiring. ”

The Gap is nearly four miles long, and the immense rocks which form its sides seem to give one a spooky feeling, especially as one rides through the deep shadows that are cast over everything. And the mountains, too, attain a height of nearly 3,000 feet, and are quite impressive after the undulating country we had left earlier. A little stream runs fussily through the glen, and every now and then expands itself into a small lake, as if to show us how important it is.

Kerry Climbing – Old RIC barracks,Gap of Dunloe

The police barracks, just half way through the glen, look quite inviting at the foot of the Purple Mountain, which at this point drops right down to the edge of one of the little lakes. I think this is the weirdest part of the valley. I am always glad when we are well on the way to Gap Cottage where we must leave our cars and walk or ride the ponies three miles more to the shore of the Upper Lake.

After arriving at Lord Brandon’s cottage near the lake, we would have our lunch which had been sent up the lake by boat. During luncheon I would admire the loveliness of the beautiful and varied tints of the trees that surround the shore and the brilliant green of the arbutus trees which bear such rich crimson fruit that warmth is given to the view even on-a winter’s day.

After lunch we strolled down to our boats and quickly embarked on our return trip to see the Lakes of Killarney by water — the most beautiful part of the excursion. The Upper Lake, though quite small, is generally considered the most beautiful of the three, owing to the nearby mountains and the numerous little islands that jut out of the water here and there. It is only two and one-half miles long, but all of it is so interesting. After passing Stag Island you enter the little river that connects Upper Lake with Muckross Lake, and then on to Eagle’s Nest. Where the eagles have gone, I do not know! As the Old Weir Bridge is reached, the current gets very swift, and the boatmen only need to guide the boats through one of the arches. We used to think that this was the most exciting part of the trip. But as we were now in the Middle Lake with Dinis Island close by, and the prospect of eats and tea at Lord Ardilaun’s cottage, the excitement was soon forgotten.

Mucross Abbey By Daviddphotos – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

At the time of which I write, Lord Ardilaun owned the Lakes of Killarney and was a very popular and highly esteemed landlord. Although Middle Lake is also called Muckross Lake, Muckross Abbey is on the shores of Lough Leane, or Lower Lake. Since some of the party wanted to see Muckross Abbey, we hurried over the tea and got started on our trip again. Lough Leane, the largest of the three lakes, is strewn with pretty little islands, of which I think Innisfallen is the most delightful. The ruins of Innisfallen Abbey, built by St. Finian in the 7th Century, are just near the quay. After passing Lamb Island we would begin to think of our hotel and the good dinner waiting for us there. We also notice that the seats of our boat seem to have become much harder than they were when we embarked at the head of the lakes.

Before landing we would still have time to discuss a couple of incidents or fairy tales associated with the lakes. One of these is as follows: Once every seven years on a fine morning, before the rays of the sun have begun to disperse the mists over the lake, The O’Donoghue comes riding over it on a beautiful white horse with fairies hovering before him and strewing his path with flowers. As he approaches his ancient residence, everything turns to its former magnificence; all is reproduced as in olden times. Those who have the courage to follow him over the lake may cross even the deepest parts dry-footed – like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea – and ride with him into the opposite mountains, where his treasures lie concealed and the daring visitor will receive a gift in return for his company. But before the sun has risen, The O’Donoghue re-crosses the lake and vanishes amidst the ruins of his castle.

Is it any wonder that these beautiful lakes with all their folklore, fairy tales, lovely vistas and charming nooks, impress themselves indelibly on our memories to be enjoyed in after-years?

Speaking of Killarney, who has not heard of the Colleen Baun Rock, from which, so the story says, the jealous Danny Man threw the fair Lilly of Killarney to her doom in the waters below? Of course, we would all get the creeps when passing this spot of such evil repute, and conjure up in our minds the picture of a beautiful maiden floating just under the surface of the water, with her face turned up and tranquil in the sleep of death. The legend says that on moonlight nights her ghost can be seen with her hair gently waving all about her.

A party of us visited the spot late one evening in the hope of seeing this weird spectre. It was a beautiful moonlight night and the lake was like a sheet of glass, with not a ripple on it except that made by the dipping of the oars. The Rock was there all right, cold and bleak, but the only one who fancied he saw the ghost was my Uncle Arthur Blake who had taken a little more than his share of the “good old Irish.” He swore that he had just seen the fairy Lilly float by, her lovely face upturned, just beneath the surface of the water. Now, although this miserable event is supposed to have taken place in the Lakes of Killarney, it was near the little village of Glin that it really happened. The unfortunate girl, Eileen O’Connor, was thrown from a rock on the County Clare side of the River Shannon, just opposite the residence of the Knights of Glin. They have a piece of the rope with which her hands were tied together.

Feature Photo: A bird’s-eye view of the lakes of Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland; the mountains in the background are identified across the top of the print as (from left to right): “Mangerton Mtn., Torc Mtn., Drooping Mtn., Cromaglan Mtn., Eagle’s Nest, Glena Mtn., Tomies Mtn., Gap of Dunloe, Macgillicuddy’s Reeks, [and] Geraun Tuel.” Many of the features shown are numbered with a corresponding key printed below.

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About this record

Written by Elizabeth La Hiff Lambert

Published here 10 Sep 2022 and originally published 1979

Page 0105 of the Athenry History archive.

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