Valley of the Flesk

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter III

THE route which I selected for my return to Cork runs through the valley of the Flesk, and the romantically situated village of Ballyvourney, and is much more interesting than the mail-coach road by Millstreet. The Flesk river, which is formed by the junction of two mountain streams, after a rapid and tortuous course through the valley to which it gives its name, enters the open country about seven miles from Killarney at Killaha Castle, and after a brief but interesting career through woods and plains, savage rocks, and flower-enamelled banks, mingles with the waters of the Lower Lake at Castlelough. Killaha Castle, now in ruins, was formerly a stronghold of the O'Donoghoes, erected some time about the close of the fifteenth century for the protection of the important pass of Glenflesk, at the southern extremity of which it is situated. A slender square tower is all that now remains of this once proud edifice: every portion of the outworks and external defences having long since yielded to the destroying tooth of time, and the depredations of the country people. Running parallel to the high-road, the river, which is here narrow, but deep and winding, traverses the valley. The sides of the glen on either side are composed of sterile, rocky mountains, exhibiting continuous ranges of weather-beaten rooks, rising in terraces one above the other, interspersed with patches of coarse heather, and scanty pasturage for a few goats and poor-looking cattle. In the lower parts of the glen and along the banks of the river the soil is rich and abundant, and the traveller's eye is relieved by the sight of cultivated plains, verdant meadows, and waving fields of yellow grain, chequered by the vivid green of the frequent potato-garden, that invariable appendage to the Irish peasant's cottage.

At the southern extremity of the valley, opposite to the entrance from Killarney, a series of precipitous rocks have received the name of Phil-a-dhaun, or the Cliff of the Demon: they form the face of the Crochawn mountain at the opening of the valley. About midway up, a fissure in the rock, called Labbig-Owen, or Owen's Bed, is pointed out as the place of refuge of a notorious outlaw, who formerly had his head-quarters in this district. The passage to this mountain retreat is intricate and toilsome; but after some difficult scrambling over loose stones and broken crags, the visitor reaches the foot of the Outlaw's Rock, and by means of a ladder gains access to what is called his bed, which is only a rough platform, overhung by a portion of the cliff, that effectually shelters it from the rain and the crumbling of the rock above. Here, armed and provisioned, and accompanied by only one faithful follower, Owen, secure in his impregnable lair, defied for a time all attempts of his enemies to seize him. His fireplace, table, stool, &c., hewn from the rock, are still pointed out by the guides, who delight in recounting numerous anecdotes of the prowess, courage, and generosity of the Irish Rob Roy.