KERRY ISLANDS, HARBOURS AND BOGS

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

Several of the mountain ridges form headlands projecting boldly into the sea, the intermediate valleys being the basins of noble bays and estuaries, into which the rivers empty themselves. Commencing at the southern extremity of the county, the first of these is the bay or estuary of the Kenmare river, which penetrates 25 miles into the country, and is navigable at high water up to Kenmare town at its innermost extremity: it contains, on the south side, the harbours of Ardgroom and Kilmacalogue, and on its northern side, that of Sneem; and along the northern shore is a succession of small islands, of which the principal are Rossmore, Ilansherky, Cappanacoss, and Dunkerron. The next bay is that of Ballinaskellig, near the entrance of which are the Hog islands, and towards the west are the Skellig islands, which, with the other principal islands here noticed, are described under a separate head. Beyond these is Puffin island (see Killemlagh), and beyond it is Valencia island, forming a harbour by the channel that separates it from the main land, which has an entrance at each end; it is considered one of the safest and most commodious on the western coast.

Between Valencia island and the Blasquets is Dingle bay, an extensive opening with steep shores on each side, in which a ship may anchor in any part above a mile from the shore: it contains the harbours of Ventry, Dingle and Castlemaine. Dunmore Head, the most western point of Ireland, forms the northern extremity of Dingle bay: the natives call it Tig-vourney-Geerane, or Mary Gerane's house. Off this headland are the Blasquet or Ferriter's islands, between the largest of which and the mainland is a deep sound with a rapid current. Beyond Dunmore Head is Smerwick bay, the whole of which was originally bog, now invaded by the sea. Pursuing eastward the north coast of the peninsula of Corkaguiney, between Magharee Head and Brandon Head, lies Brandon bay, on the eastern side of the mountain of that name. The Magharees, or Seven Hog islands, lie at the extremity of a peninsula which separates Brandon from Tralee bay.

Between Fenit island (behind which is the inlet called Barra harbour) and Kerry Head is Ballyheigue bay, in which there is no shelter, and from an error in laying down the latitude of Loop Head in the charts, it has often been fatally mistaken for the mouth of the Shannon. The only harbour in Kerry within the Shannon is that of Tarbert: off its mouth is the island of the same name. The climate is mild, and though moist from its vicinity to the Atlantic, the height of the mountains, and the extent of the bogs, is salubrious: several trees which are deemed indigenous to warmer latitudes, particularly the arbutus, grow here naturally to great size and beauty. In some instances cultivation extends up the sides of the high lands in the mountainous region to an elevation of 700 feet above the sea. The soil in the northern parts is of a coarse quality, much inclined to produce rushes, and retentive of surface water, a considerable portion of it having been reclaimed from a state of bog; but in summer it is very productive of grass, and is chiefly depastured by dairy cattle.

The middle district, bounded as it is by mountains of considerable elevation, is in general of an alluvial aspect: the soil and gravel transported from the uplands on each side forms the cover, and limestone the substratum to an uncertain depth. The south side is generally a stone-brash of the slate and rubble stone mingled with sand; the northern, a gravel of blue flag, tightened with sandy clay. The valley from Tralee by Castleisland and down the river Maine has a sandy and clayey loam on limestone: the upland on the north is argillaceous, being chiefly composed of slate clay and hard argillaceous sandstone. A band of limestone is found to traverse the lower part of this tract. In the mountainous district, which occupies nearly the whole of the south of the county, there are deep and extensive vales, which are almost entirely occupied by bog, but which, though at present little better than wastes, appear, from their favourable exposure and the facility with which their produce may be exported, to be well adapted to a more improved mode of cultivation.

The bogs are not confined to the mountainous districts, but occur frequently in large continuous tracts in all parts of the county, and cover an extent of 105,577 acres, exclusively of the small mountain bogs which were not estimated in the general survey of the bogs of Ireland. One species of bog, found chiefly in the barony of Corkaguiney, peculiarly deserves notice: it is called in Irish Meagh Vone, which signifies flat turf. In its natural state it is of a glutinous or saponaceous quality, lying upon the gravel under shallow peat bogs, which are of a black and brittle nature, with a grassy surface, often producing rushes. It lies about three spits deep, in a stratum of from eight to twelve inches thick, and is of a light brown colour, mixed with a clayey white. When found, it is carefully laid aside, not for fuel but for light; as two or three sods of it, broken small and placed successively on the top of the fire, supply light for the family during the longest night. When kept it is carefully dried, in which case it is nearly as light as cork and has a similar smell when burning. A chymical analysis showed it to be wood much decayed and highly impregnated with bituminous matter: when distilled it yielded a considerable proportion of a thick oily inflammable matter, with a residuum of soft charcoal.

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