Carran-tuel, Mangerton, The Devil's Punchbowl

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter II-13 | Start of chapter

I did not ascend the Reeks, or, more properly, M'Gillycuddy's Reeks; so named from an ancient sept or branch of the O'Sullivans. They are reputed the highest of the Irish mountains: the altitude of Carran-tuel (the culminating point of the range), according to the late surveys of Nimmo and Griffith, being three thousand four hundred and ten feet, making it eight hundred feet above the height of Mangerton, which had previously been considered the loftiest mountain in Ireland.

The ascent of Carran-tuel is both difficult and dangerous, requiring an active and experienced guide to conduct the courageous traveller by the fearful precipices which lie between him and the dizzy summit of this monarch of the hills, and is only to be encountered by strong lungs, cool heads, and feet accustomed to those perilous mountain-paths. But the peak of the ridge once attained, the prospect from thence will, I have been assured, richly repay the toil of the way. The scene is magnificent beyond conception. Beneath the spectator's feet lies "a sea of terrene billows, each with its own blue lake, amongst which Lough Carra is distinguished as the broadest and fairest. At every turn they are seen in the sunlight or shadowed by overhanging precipices. Of the Killarney Lakes, a small portion only of the Lower Lake is visible, owing to the interposition of the Tomies Mountains." A vast and uninterrupted view is also obtained from this elevated point, extending beyond the Shannon on the north, and embracing in a westerly and southerly direction the bays of Tralee, Dingle, Castlemaine, Kenmare, Bantry, Dunmanus, with Cape Clear, and far beyond all, the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, forming a dark line of horizon to the immense picture.

Mangerton Mountain and its vicinity remained only to be visited now; and the following morning, accompanied by a guide, I commenced ascending it. Its height is calculated at two thousand six hundred and ninety-three feet. It is not by any means so difficult of ascent as Carran-tuel, being easily accessible on horseback. Though not so wildly picturesque in its appearance as the monarch of the Reeks, Mangerton possesses sufficient interest to repay the traveller for a day's visit to it. As he ascends, a vast and commanding prospect is gradually revealed: mountains, plains, and lakes seem spread like a map beneath him in pleasing distinctness of outline and position. The great object of attraction to the visitors of this mountain is the Devil's Punch-bowl, which lies near its summit, and usually forms the limit of their examination.

This "Bowl," which is a small lake about a quarter of a mile in diameter, is contained in a deep chasm of the mountain. Its waters, which appear of an inky blackness from the dark nature of the surrounding peat-soil, and the overhanging shadow of the perpendicular rocks, are intensely cold, yet they have never been known to freeze. The supply is principally from springs, and the overflow of the water discharges itself, under the name of the Devil's Stream, down the side of the mountain, and after forming the Turk Waterfall, flows into the Turk Lake. The Bowl has been conjectured by many persons to be the crater of an extinct volcano; this opinion seems, however, to have been formed on very slight grounds, for there are not the most remote traces of volcanic action anywhere in its vicinity; and if the hypothesis were founded merely on the shape of the Bowl, the same supposition might with equal correctness be extended to every other lake or tarn to be found in such numbers amongst the entire chain of these mountains. The Punch-bowl, independent of the natural interest it possesses, has gained an additional celebrity from the circumstance of the great statesman, Charles James Fox, when on a visit to Lord Kenmare, in 1772, having swam round the bason, a feat, like that of Lord Byron's swimming across the Hellespont, which subsequent travellers feel more disposed to admire than imitate.