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Bradshaw’s Guide

Lakes from Kenmare Road, Killarney, Ireland. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress


The traveller who wishes to see the lakes, and be as near to them as possible, should not stay at the village, but take up his residence at one of the hotels near the Lake, not for the sake of avoiding the town but for the convenience of being near the lakes, and within full view of the magnificent mountain scenery. The two Hotels peculiarly adapted for this purpose are The Lake, situated on the south-eastern, and The Royal Victoria, on the northern margin of the Lowrer Lake, and within about ten minutes’ drive from the station. The grounds in connection with these hotels are very tastefully laid out, and command views of lake and mountain scenery of the most enchanting character. They extend down to the water’s edge, thereby affording every facility to the visitor for early morning bathing purposes. Three and four-oared boats can also be hired at these hotels, fully equipped for any part of the lower and upper Lakes. In tact both the internal and external arrangements of these hotels correspond with the requirements of first-class establishments, to which crowds of tourists from all parts of the world resort during the season. On looking from the windows of these hotels, the stranger will see at a glance that the beauties of the Killarney Lakes have not been exaggerated.

The lake, the surface of which is studded with numerous green and romantic islands, shines like molten gold in the light of a morning sun, hemmed in by the lofty mountains, which rear their majestic crests across the limpid waters. Amongst the most conspicuous of these is the round-topped Mangerton, 2,754 feet high, celebrated for a lake about half way to its summit, called the Devil’s Punch Bowl, the ascent to which is strongly recommended to all travellers. The Turk or Tore Mountain, the Purple Mountain, with its separate hills of Tomies and Glena; and the jagged, highly picturesque, and splendid range known as Mac Gillycuddy’s Reeks, bound the view, and impress the visitor with a deep sense of their grandeur and beauty. We do not assert that the lake scenery of England and Scotland is inferior to Killarney; but we affirm that Lochs Lomond, Katrine, and Windermere — beautiful as they are — do not possess the various attractions of these comparatively small but most lovely lakes. There is but one lake that we have visited which seems to us to be more beautiful in some features, and more sublime in others, than the Lakes of Killarney, and that is Loch Awe, at the foot of the mighty Ben Cruachan — the queen of all lakes for beauty — the monarch of all mountains for sublimity. The Lakes of Killarney are considerably smaller than Loch Awe; and even Mac Gillicuddy’s Reeks, in all their vastness, are pigmies to Ben Cruachan; but though on a smaller scale, both lakes and mountains are only second to those wonders of Argyleshire, in the effect they produce upon the mind of the cultivated enthusiastic lover of nature. One great source of the beauty of the Lakes of Killarney is the number of islands upon them. From- the windows of the inn can be seen at one view the promontory or Island of Ross, and the ruins of Ross Castle, the seat of the renowned O’Donoghue — the “myth” of these parts — with whose name and fame almost, every inch of ground is connected in some way or other, by history, tradition, legend, or song. In addition to this, covered with magnificent foliage, are Lamb, Heron, Cherry, Rabbit, Innisfallen Islands, O’Donoghue’s Prison, and a score of others that become visible one after the other in rowing through the three lakes.

The Lakes of Killarney are three in number — the Upper, the Tore (or Middle), and the Lower; these, with their islands and other attractive objects, together with such matters of interest and importance as are to be met with in then immediate neighbourhood, we shall briefly describe.

The tourist, on approaching the Lakes, is at once struck by the peculiarity and the variety of the foliage of the woods that clothe the hills by which they are surrounded. The effect produced is novel and beautiful, and is caused chiefly by the abundant mixture of the shrub Arbutus unedo with the forest trees. The arbutus grows in rich profusion in nearly all parts of Ireland; but nowhere is it found of so large a size, or in such rich luxuriance, as at. Killarney. On Denis Island there is one, the stem of which is 7 feet in circumference, and its height is in proportion, being equal to that of an ash tree of the same girth which stands near it On Rough Island, opposite Sullivan’s Cascade, is another fine specimen of arbutus, the circumference of which is 9½ feet. It strikes its roots apparently into the very rocks, thus filling up spaces that would otherwise be barren spots m the scenery. Its most remarkable peculiarity is, that the flower (not unlike the Lily-of-the-Valley) and the fruit — ripe and unripe — are found at the same time, together on one tree.

Ross Castle is built on a point, of land which advances into the Lower Lake; and in the rainy season is insulated by the waters collecting from the marsh. In summer, however, this peninsula (which the term Ross denotes) is connected with the island, as the castle is by a bridge and causeway. It is named Ross Island, and is the largest on the lakes. The castle is now in nuns, but a few years ago it had a military governor and a detachment of soldiers.

In Ross Bay is situated the boat-house. At the moment of embarkation the bugle is sometimes sounded, and an echo is heard as if proceeding from the castle, and more remotely from the slopes of Mangerton. This echo is the finest from the shores of the lakes, and is particularly beautiful if heard in the evening.

O’Donoghue’s Prison is a steep rock, nearly 30 feet high, so called from a chieftain of gigantic stature, who is supposed to have consigned his enemies to this barren spot. His celebrated white charger has also a local record in another rock, resembling a horse, close to the Mucross shore, named O’Donoghue’s Horse. To the north of O’Donoghue’s Prison are Heron and Lamb Island; and further to the west is Rabbits, or Brown Island. Mouse Island, so called from its diminutive size, is a rock situated in the channel between Ross Island and Innisfallen.

Innisfallen is situated to the west of Ross Island, and is, as its name imports, a beautiful or healthy island. It has but two landing places, at one of which there is a mole where tourists disembark. This beautiful spot consists of 18 acres of delightful woodland, knoll, and lawn. Among the curiosities pointed out to the visitors are — a holly, 14 feet in circumference; a hawthorn growing through a tombstone near the abbey; a crab tree, with an aperture, through which the guide recommends ladies to pass; and the Bed of Plonour, a projecting rock, shaded by an old yew, and so called from having been visited by the Duke of Rutland, when he was Governor of Ireland. The Abbey of Innisfallen was founded in the sixth century, by A. Finlan, but the ruins now visible are evidently of a much later date. At the south-east corner of the island is an ancient Chapel, with a Saxon doorway; it is called the Oratory. Tho pasturage on this island is celebrated for fattening cattle.

The Upper Lake consists of about 720 acres, and is completely surrounded by mountains, which give it a sublime and picturesque aspect Its extreme length is about If mile, but its breadth varies greatly. The principal islands on its surface are — Ronan, where parties occasionally dine; Duck; Mac Carthy’s; Arbutus; Rossbarkie. or Oak, from the shores of which there is a splendid prospect; Knight of Kerry’s; Eagle; and Stag. A fine view of the whole lake may he had from the Cramiglann, which rises from the brink of the lake in majestic grandeur.

Macross Abbey adjoins the pretty village of Cloughreen, and is in the demesne of ‘Henry A. Herbert, Esq., M.P., which includes the whole’ of the peninsula. The site was chosen with the usual judgment and taste of the “monks of old,” who invariably selected the pleasantest of all places. The building consists of two principal parts — the Convent and. Church. The steeple of the church, between the nave and the chimed, rests on four high and slender pointed arches. The principal entrance is by a handsome pointed doorway, luxuriantly overgrown with ivy, through which is seen the great eastern window. The intermediate space, as indeed every part of the ruined edifice, is filled with tombs, the greater number distinguished only by a slight elevation from the mould around them. A large modern tomb in the centre of the choir covers the vault wherein, in ancient times, were interred the Mac Carthys Mor, and, more recently, the O’Donoghues Mor of the Glens, whose descendants were buried here as late as 1833. The dormitories, kitchen, refectory, cellars, infirmary, and other chambers, are still in a state of comparative preservation. A recess is pointed out as the bed of John Drake, a pilgrim, who, about a century ago, took up his abode in the Abbey for several years. As will be supposed, his singular choice of residence has given rise to abundant stories, and the mention of his name to any of the guides or boatmen, will at once produce a volume of the marvellous. The cloisters, which consist of 22 arches, 10 of them semicircular, and 12 of them pointed, is the best preserved portion of the Abbey. In the centre grows a magnificent yew tree, which covers as a roof the whole area. It is more than probable that this tree is coeval with the Abbey, and was planted by the hands of the monks, who built the sacred edifice centuries ago. By visiting the “Gap of Dunloe,” and returning in a boat through the lakes, much of the sylvan beauty and the wild grandeur of Killamey may be seen in one day, should the traveller be pressed for time. But, whether his stay be long or short, the first excursion he should make is to this far-famed “Gap.” The attentive, host and hostess of the Lake and Victoria Hotels will make all arrangements for his comfort. The usual mode of proceeding is to hire a car or pony, and ride halfway through the pass; and thence proceed on foot over a shoulder of the Purple Mountain, to the head of the Upper Lake at Geraghmene, where a boat will be stationed to row him through the three lakes. By this journey he will be enabled to see all the most celebrated and remarkable portions of the scenery; hear the finest and most renowned echoes; and learn from the civil, well-informed, and garrulous guides and boatmen, the legends, traditions, and histories of each spot he passes. The distance from the Victoria Hotel to the entrance of the Gap is from 4 to 5 miles, and the car proceeds about 4 miles through it, until it becomes too rugged or impracticable for vehicles or ponies. The traveller — who, if he be wise, will take a stout staff in his hand — must walk the remainder of the way to Geraghmene, at the head of the lake, a distance of about 4 miles more. We will not, by any general description of the scenery, anticipate the recital of the beauties that will enchant, or the sublimities that will enrapture him, during this excursion, but name each loveliness in its place, and dwell upon each sublimity in the due succession of its scenery.

The first point of interest on the road is the ruined Church and Round Tower of Aghadoe. These ruins stand upon a gentle eminence, from whence a very good view of the lake is obtained. From this position the eye may wander over those delicious lakes and islands, and a mountain chain of 40 miles in length, stretching far beyond Mill Street, towards Cahirciveen and Valentia.

From Aghadoe to the entrance of the Gap of Dunloe, there is nothing to arrest attention. The Gan (for those who admire the wild, desolate, and sublime), is the most attractive portion of the scenery of Killarney. The entrance to it is abrupt and grand. The cleft between the mountains is supposed by the peasantry to have been caused by one blow from the weapon of one of the giants of the olden time, and is certainly magnificent enough to exercise a powerful influence over the minds of a much less imaginative people than the Irish. On the right of the winding road, Carrantual, and the kindred mountains, appear to look down upon the traveller from a height of more than 3,000 feet, affording no home but to the eagles; while, on the left, the scarcely less lofty peaks of the Purple Mountain and Tomies, raise their craggy heads above the clouds. That brawling river, the Loe, which gives name to the Gap, runs through it, expanding twice into gloomy lakes in the middle of the pass.

The Tore Cascade

The Tore Cascade, supplied from the “Devil’s Punch Bowl,” in the mountain of Mangerton, is conveyed through a narrow channel called the Devil’s Stream. It is a chasm between the mountains of Tore and Mangerton; the fall is between 60 and 70 feet. The path that leads to it, by the side of the rushing current which conducts it to the lake, has been judiciously curved, so as to conceal the full view until the visitor is immediately under it; but the opposite hill has been beautifully planted, art having been blended with nature, and the tall young trees are intertwined with the evergreen arbutus, holly, and a vast variety of shrubs. As we advance, the rush of waters gradually breaks upon the ear, and at a sudden turning the cataract is beheld in all its glory.

The liberality of English tourists has accustomed almost all the poor people of the country to expect pennies and sixpences; and every now and then in the traveller’s progress through the gap a little urchin, plump and good humoured, though shame fully ragged, will pop up at the road side, and ask for “a penny to buy a book!” or offer a tastefully made bouquet of heather and wild flowers to ensure the loose coppers or small coin of the Sassenagh. A little spring, a short distance from the gap present a scene of a different kind. A decent and comely looking matron presides over the well, holding in one hand a wooden jug of goat’s milk, and in the other a whisky bottle, and asks the traveller if he will not partake of her mixture. She strongly recommends it as the best of all preliminaries for a successful day among the mountains, and is usually surrounded by two or three nymphs of the same class as herself, all offering goat’s milk and whisky, or, to those who prefer it, a draught of the clear cold water of the well, dashed with a due portion of the mountain dew, or national beverage. This matron, it appears, claims to be a Kate Kearney, the grand-daughter of the famous and veritable Kate Kearney,

Who dwelt ty the Lakes of Killarney,

and whose name is well known to all the lovers of Irish melody.

The echoes in the gap are very fine and distinct, and the guides being generally provided with a bugle, produce notes which are echoed back again by the Carrantual on one side, and the Purple mountains on the other; the latter passing them on to all the nameless hills in the vicinity, till the sounds die away in the dim distance — the effect is exceedingly beautiful. On firing a small cannon the mountains are immediately alive with sounds, hill thunders to hill — mountain peak to mountain peak — gorge to gorge — and rock to rock — until it seems as if contending armies were battling in the clouds.

At the end of the gap, a beautiful view presents itself, the Comme Dhur, or Black Valley, with its wall of mountains, and fair river meandering lazily through the flat meadows. The walk over the hill brings the traveller to Geraghmene, a beautiful cottage at the head of the Upper Lake. Here the boat despatched from the Lake or Victoria hotels is generally in waiting to receive the traveller, and convey him on his homeward journey through the Upper, Middle, and Lower Lakes.

The Upper Lake is, perhaps, the most beautiful of the three; although the charms of each are so varied, that it is difficult to accord the palm of superiority over her lovely sisters to any of these watery graces.

After the fatigues of the Gap of Dunloe the tourist appreciates the luxury of rest, and enjoys, sitting at ease the delicious progress of the boat through the placid waters. The hills are clothed with verdure —  the islands reflect their shadows in the lake — a heron occasionally wings its graceful flight over head — and the soft notes of the bugle die away amid the woody recesses of the hills. Every change of landscape is but a variety of loveliness. The first halting place is at the base of a magnificent hill, wooded to the very top, and called the “Eagle’s Nest.” At this spot the lake narrows to a river, and is in fact a stream connecting the Upper with the Middle or Tore Lake. The echo here is the most famous of all those of the lakes; and any traveller who, being in too great a hurry to get to the end of his journey, might refuse to linger here for a while, would be set down in the estimation of boatmen and guides as utterly deficient in respect for Killarney.

A mile beyond the Eagle’s Nest is the old Wier Bridge, of two arches, one only of which is practicable for boats neither is the passage at all times safe or pleasant. The current by which the Upper Lake discharges its surplus waters into the Tore Lake is exceedingly rapid, and it is customary for the tourist to disembark here, while the boatmen shoot the rapids. When the travellers re-embark the boat proceeds to the beautiful island of Denis, where persons who bring their luncheons or dinner with them, from the hotel, can be accommodated, at a snug cottage on the shore, with chairs and table, and a cook, who will dress salmon and potatoes, and supply hot water for whisky punch, for a small gratuity.

From this point to Glena Bay is a delightful sail to another beautiful cottage, erected for the same purpose. The travellers are then in the large or Lower Lake, and within an hour’s sail from the Victoria, and half an hour’s sail from the Lake hotel.

The Ascent of the Mangerton

The ascent of this mountain is usually made first, because its summit commands a very extensive prospect; and secondly, because, at a short distance from the top, a crater-like hollow on its side receives the waters of the hill, and collects them into a receptacle, famous all over the country for its odd name of the “Devil’s Punch Bowl.” The ascent, commences at Cloughreen, a village about four miles from the Victoria Hotel. The inn at Cloughreen, called Noche’s, or the Mucross Hotel, from its close proximity to that beautiful domain, is a beautifully situated and well conducted house, of which all travellers speak highly. Ladies and those travellers who do not like the fatigue of climbing on foot, may ride nearly the whole of the way up to the Devil’s Punch Bowl.

The longer the tourist remains at Killarney the more lovely its mountains, vallies, placid lakes, and rushing waterfalls, appear. The weather, too, is often highly favourable for viewing the scenery under all its aspects. One day, in a clear and cloudless atmosphere, the outlines of the hills stand sharply out against the deep blue sky, and the lakes lie silently and bright as sheets of burnished gold. On the day following, it may be wind and rain; then the high peaks of Carrantual and his sublime brothers of the “Reeks,” shroud themselves in the driving mists; the wind curls the broad bosom of the lake into foam-crested waves; and the clouds, from which, for one half-hour, rain in torrents may pour down, open in the next, and admit the sunshine into the magnificent landscape; the rainbow spans Carrantual and the Purple Mountains, then melting away into the heavy clouds upon which it was reflected, allows the whole of the glorious panorama to glitter in the full blaze of a midsummer sun. The effects on such a day are constantly changing and ever beautiful. The alternations of colouring, from the deepest dun, in which the lakes and mountains are enwrapped at one moment, to the grey, brown, purple, green, and gold, which girt them about with beauty in the next, are especially delightful to behold, study, and admire. Not only the grandeur, but the smaller features of the scenery are beautiful at Killarney. Under the splendid yew trees, hollies, and arbutuses of lovely Innisfallen, or amid the still more umbrageous foliage of Mucross, it is impossible to walk a step without discovering a new beauty in the landscape. Innisfallen alone offers almost every variety that can charm the eye and fill the imagination of the lover of nature. Those who delight in the shade of thick woods and countless wild flowers, may indulge here at sweet leisure. The lover of the pastoral glade, or the smooth-shaven lawn, sloping down to the water, may at a short distance find the scenery he admires; while he who delights most in rocks, mountains, and torrents, can, from the same little island, gaze undisturbed upon many of the grandeurs, and some of the sublimities of nature.

Tour from Eillamey to Glengariff and Bantry Bay

From Killarney to Glengariff, a distance of forty miles by car, the road passes through scenery unsurpassed for beauty in any portion of the kingdom. For one third of the distance the lakes and mountains of Killarney continue in sight, and the tourist is enabled to acquire a still more intimate knowledge of them, in all their wondrous and lovely variations, than he can obtain even by sailing or roving about the lakes, or by coming down upon them from the heights of Dunloe or Mangerton. After passing Cloughreen, Mucross, and the splendid Tore Cascade (the music of whose rushing waters swells audibly upon the ear above the din of the car), the road winds round the shore of the Middle or Tore Lake, having the lake on the right hand, and on the left the Tore Mountain, clothed with the richest vegetation, and lifting his steep sides to a height of 1,760 feet. It then passes the connecting link of river between the Upper and the Middle Lakes, affording a fine view of the “Ergle’s Nest,” the “Purple Mountain,” and high above them all, “Maegillycuddy’s Reeks,” and “Carrantual.” The road is a continual ascent all the way from Cloughreen, and, after passing the beautiful waterfall of Derricunihy (beautiful, though inferior to the Tore Cascade), reaches a point at which all travellers should halt for awhile to survey the landscape around, above, and beneath them. This is the Police Barracks or Constabulary station. Standing here, or at any other point higher up the hill, a most magnificent view is obtained, including the whole of the lakes, the Gap of Dunloe, and Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. Beyond this point, although Carrantual remains in sight the most conspicuous object in the landscape, there is little more to be seen of the lakes of Killarney. Let the traveller take his last look, and then prepare himself for a new panorama, as well worthy of his admiration as anything that he leaves behind him.

A ride of ton miles will bring him to the beautifully situated and picturesque town of Kenmare, The road descends gradually from the heights to the sea-level. Kenmare is built at the head of an arm of the sea. The Suspension Bridge across the “Sound,” is one of the greatest ornaments, as well as conveniences, of the town.

From Kenmare to Glengariff is a distance of seventeen miles. Were it thrice seventeen the tourist who loves the wild, the rugged, and the majestic scenery of the mountains, would think it short. The road attains a height from Kenmare of 1,000 feet above the level of the sea, with a gradual ascent of 150 feet in a mile. It passes through two tunnels — a rather ma usual circumstance on any road, except railroads. One of them is 200 yards in length; and passing through it in the open car, the tourist will obtain, at either end, a view of the hilly country which will make him wish that tunnels on common roads were somewhat more frequent. After passing the largest tunnel, which stands on the confines of Kerry, the road enters the county of Cork, and winds amid the rugged mountains of Glengariff to the sea, at the head of Bantry Bay. The characteristics of Glengariff are wildness and sublimity. The name, which signifies the rough or rugged glen, has been well bestowed, and aptly describes it Hitherto this unrivalled scene has been comparatively little known. A good hotel, or at all events, an inn of some kind was necessary to attract tourists, and this great want has been supplied Let no tourist who loves nature in all her moods, the wildest as well as the softest, be deterred from visiting Glengariff by any doubt as to his creature comforts on the way. They will all be well and cheaply attended to; and if, leaving for awhile the better known districts of Scotland, Wales, and England, and the great continental highways of the sight-seers, he will be fully rewarded for his pains and selection. The mere repetition of the only possible, epithets which admiration can apply to scenery fails to convey a proper idea to the minds of those who are not passionate lovers of it.

All that the tongue or pen can do, is to affirm that it is “magnificently beautiful”. No words can describe the beauty of some scenes. We can feel but we cannot exactly explain our sensations. We can say no more of Glengariff than that it is both sublime and beautiful and that it seems to us far better worth the time and cost of a pilgrimage than hundreds of other scenes of greater celebrity. The valley is three miles long, a quarter broad, and is shut out from the busy world by stupendous precipices. Through its entire centre flows in summer a peaceful stream which in winter takes to itself the voice of many waters, and rushes a foaming torrent into the sea. The vegetation upon its banks is profuse and lovely but it requires a residence of some days at Glengariff to become thoroughly acquainted with the beauties of this little river, and all the loveliness and grandeur that surround it. From the inn at Glengariff — which, stands upon the shore of the Bay of Bantry — a different, but equally magnificent, prospect is obtained. The Bay stretches its broad, deep waters studded with islands, towards the Atlantic Ocean! He who would see its beauties of island and of mountain in then full extent, should take a boat, on a fine summer evening, and be rowed across to Bantry

The distance is but nine miles, and the scenery is most superb. The picturesque island of Garnish crowned with a fort and martello tower, erected shortly after the French made their appearance in the bay sixty years ago, is at first the most conspicuous object after leaving the inn; but as the boat proceeds on its course, the island and the fort dwindle into insignificance against the dark background of the lofty Gleagariff mountains. As these seem to recede, the low island of Whiddy appears in front, with its solitary ruin of the ancient castle of the O’Sullivans; and the eye may range across the noble bay quite spell-bound with the beauty of the scene from the towering summit of Dade, or “Hungry Hill,” 2,100 feet high, to the thickly-wooded cove that leads to, and conceals, the town of Bantry.

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