Lough Allua

Leaving Inchageela I found myself entering into the deep solitude of the mountain district, where the Lee expands itself into a beautiful sheet of water called Lough Allua (from Lough-a-Laoi, the Lake of the Lee), about three miles in length, and in some places nearly a mile in breadth. This lake is picturesquely dotted with clusters of islands; but the natural beauty of the scene has been considerably impaired by the destruction of the woods which clothed the islets, and skirted the shores of the lough. The road which has been recently constructed lies on the northern side of the lake, following the indentations of its winding shores, through scenery of the most diversified yet solitary character, which will gratify the warmest expectations of the tourist who has leisure to investigate all its various beauties. After passing the lake, the river contracts itself into a narrow stream, and the traveller approaches, through narrow defiles and deep glens, the sequestered lake of Gougaune Barra,—the first pausing place of the infant Lee, which bursts from the deep recesses of a rocky mountain a short distance from this spot. The lake, which is situated in a deep mountain recess, is enclosed on every side except the east with steep and rocky hills, down whose precipitous sides several mountain-streams pour their bright tributes into the placid waters beneath.

The small island in this lake, traditionally known as the residence of St. Fineen Barr, is, indeed, an admirably chosen place for the enjoyment of undisturbed solitude, and the indulgence of devout meditation. Several aged trees of the most picturesque forms grow upon its shores, and overshadow the ruins of the chapel built by the saint; the court or cloister, and other buildings appertaining, cover nearly half the area of the island. In the centre of the court stands the shattered remains of a wooden cross, on which are nailed innumerable shreds and patches, the grateful memorials of cures performed on the devotees who have made pilgrimages to this holy retreat, and by whom this sacred relic is held in extraordinary veneration. Around the court are eight small circular cells, in which the penitents are accustomed to spend the night in watching and prayer. The chapel that adjoins it stands east and west; the entrance is through a low doorway at the eastern end. The length of the interior is about thirty-six feet, and its width fourteen. The side walls, however, are not more than four feet in height, so that when roofed it must have been extremely low; not probably exceeding twelve feet. The walls of the convent adjoining are similar in height to those of the chapel.

Mr. Windele says, its entire extent "is fifty-six feet in length by thirty-six in breadth; it consists of four small chambers, and one or two extremely small cells; so that when we consider their height, extent, and the light they enjoyed, we may easily calculate that the life of the successive anchorites who inhabited them was not one of much comfort or convenience, but much the reverse—of silence, gloom, and mortification. Man elsewhere loves to contend with and emulate nature and the greatness and majesty of her works; but here, as if awed by the sublimity of surrounding objects, and ashamed of his own real littleness, the founder of this desecrated shrine constructed it on a scale peculiarly pigmy and diminutive." Indeed, while contemplating this and many other unworldly recesses in different parts of Ireland, it is impossible to avoid a conviction that the wild scenery of those solitary islands and untrodden glens must have had considerable effect in nurturing an ascetic tendency in the minds of religious enthusiasts.


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