Upper Lake, Killarney

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter II-11 | Start of chapter

I had already obtained a view of the Upper Lake from the cliff above the tunnel in Turk Lake; but I resolved to devote another day to exploring its numerous beauties more closely, and also in visiting the extraordinary mountain-pass, called the Gap of Dunloe.

The wild grandeur of the Upper Lake strikes the observer, on first beholding it with feelings of awe and admiration. Perfectly distinct in the character of its romantic scenery from that of the Turk and Lower Lake, it combines many of the softer beauties of wood and water, with all the stern sublimity of mountain scenery; possessing in a surpassing degree every variety of landscape that can delight the eye or gratify the imagination. Embosomed amidst majestic mountains, whose fantastical summits seem to pierce the sky, the lake appears to be completely landlocked. On the south lie the Derricunnehey mountain ranges, and on the left the lofty Reeks

"Lift to the clouds their craggy heads on high,

Crown'd with tiaras fashioned in the sky;

In vesture clad of soft etherial hue,

The Purple Mountains [9] rise in distant view,

With Dunloe's Gap———."

This mountain cincture imparts to the Upper Lake an air of solitary beauty and intensity of interest not to be found to the same extent in either of the other lakes. Nature here sits in lonely and silent grandeur amidst her primeval mountains. Solitude—stillness, the most profound, rest upon the woody shores and the tranquil lake, filling and overpowering the mind with a deep sense of the perfect seclusion of the scene.

At various points bright mountain-streams may be seen pouring down the glens and deep ravines—now leaping from rock to rock, and flashing, like living silver, in the broad sunlight—now glittering in the shade of the dark foliage, till they are lost in the shining waters of the broad lake. A number of islets of the most picturesque forms are also scattered over its surface; some of them are mere masses of naked rocks; others, on the contrary, are redundant in vegetation, producing trees, shrubs, and plants in the wildest profusion; amongst which the arbutus, with its tempting berries, and the mountain-ash, with its scarlet clusters glowing through the dark shining foliage of the holly-tree, are prominently conspicuous in the autumn season. In several instances the action of the water has worn away the lower parts of the rocks composing these islands, giving to the overhanging portions the resemblance of masses of giant architecture, thrown confusedly together by some convulsion of nature. In other places the rocks are completely perforated, forming natural arches, sufficiently large for boats to pass through; though I must confess, while our boatmen rested on their oars for a few moments in one of these singular chasms, to enable us to examine it at our leisure, that the threatening appearance of the huge impending rocks, supported upon disproportionately slender columns and crumbling foundations, considerably abated the pleasure that I should have enjoyed in the contemplation of these strange freaks of nature at a more respectful distance.

There are three principal islands in the lake, known as Ronayne's, McCarthy's, and the Eagle's; besides the several lesser islets, to which the lake-boatmen have given names. The first mentioned, the centre of a cluster of five lying near the western shore, is finely wooded, with precipitous shores, and covered with the richest verdure. From the summit of a rock in the centre of this island, a new and magnificent view may De obtained of the whole scenery of the Upper Lake, with all its splendid accessories of mountains, rocks, and woods. The spectator there beholds the cloud-crowned peaks of the surrounding mountains, piled up like the eternal barriers of a vast amphitheatre, of which the sparkling waters of the lake form the smooth arena; producing a coup-d'oeil which for beauty and grandeur cannot be surpassed by the most favoured spots on earth. Brandon Cottage is the principal object of interest on the western shore of the lake. A modern antique tower, erected by the late Lord Brandon, stands in the gorge of the rugged glen of Coom dubh, or the Dark Valley. When viewed from the lake, with its majestic mountain background, it forms a bold and prominent feature in the picture. The situation of the cottage is highly romantic, and the noble possessor has enhanced the natural beauties of this picturesque retreat by his tasteful improvements.

Derricunnehey Cascade forms the great point of attraction for visitors on the eastern side of the lake. In the vicinity of this fall is a lovely creek or inlet from the lake, whose entrance is between two lofty crags. Within these lies a spacious and beautiful sheet of water, hemmed in by rugged precipitous rocks, and thick overhanging trees. Behind this is a deep, wooded ravine, through which a rapid stream rushes with considerable force from a cataract concealed in a sequestered glen at a short distance from the shore. This charming place has received from the boatmen the very unexpressive and common-place name of Newfoundland. I had now nearly completed my tour of the Upper Lake, having reached Coleman's Eye, the point at which its superabundant waters begin to descend, by a narrow outlet nearly five miles in length, to the Lower Lake.

One of the most remarkable objects to be visited in passing down the river from Coleman's Eye to the Weir Bridge, is "the Eagle's Nest," which every curiosity-hunter makes a point of seeing before leaving Killarney. It is a rugged cone-shaped mountain, nearly one thousand seven hundred feet in height, thickly wooded at its base, but presenting to the spectator's eye as it travels upwards a succession of broken crags, thinly covered with trailing plants and flowering mosses. Amongst these inaccessible precipices the golden eagle (Falco chrysaetos) makes its eyry, and from this circumstance the mountain derives its name. This noble bird, though formerly common in the western parts of Ireland, is now rarely to be found, and only in remote and mountainous districts, where it breeds amongst the loftiest cliffs. But it is not from its being the lofty station of the king of birds that this cliff has obtained all its celebrity; it is also remarkable for its fine echoes, which may be heard to the best advantage at a station selected on the opposite shore. To produce the effect desired, a small cannon is sometimes discharged; each explosion awakening a succession of echoes, like peals of thunder, breaking on the startled ear with a deafening crash that seems to shake the mountain to its granite foundations, and followed by another and another till the reverberations are lost in the hoarse and indistinct murmurs of the distant hills. A bugle sounded under the Eagle's Nest produces, on the contrary, a series of wild and solemn melodies; the plaintive and lonely voices of the rocks and glens fill the soul with "sweet sadness," and, as Inglis says, "makes our imagination endue the mountains with life; and to their attributes of magnitude, and silence, and solitude, we for a moment add the power of listening and a voice."

There are many other objects of minor interest to which the stranger's attention is always directed in his voyage down the channel; each possessing some strange tradition or amusing anecdote, and many of them, I suspect, owing their existence to the creative fancy of the guides, who endeavour to gratify the appetite for the marvellous of the lion-hunters who visit the lakes, by inventing the wonderful stories they relate.


[9] Purple Mountains.—This lofty range of hills has acquired its name from a beautiful heath of a bright purple colour, which clothes them nearly to the summits, and gives them, when viewed at a distance, a peculiar rich tint.