Killarney (A Legend)

[From the Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 16, October 13, 1832]

The Upper Lake of Killarney.

It is scarcely necessary to inform our readers that the Killarney lakes are three in number, and distinguished as the lower, middle, and upper lakes. Each of these presents a character of scenery totally distinct from the others. The lower one, which is studded with rocks, wooded islands, covered with a variety of evergreens, is chiefly distinguished for its elegance and beauty — the upper one, which is the subject of our engraving, for its wild sublimity and grandeur. The middle lake combines, in a great degree, the characteristics of the other two. It is not our intention in the present number to eater on a descriptive sketch of this enchanting region, to which we shall have frequent opportunities of returning. We prefer indulging our readers' taste for legendary lore, by presenting them with the following beautiful tradition, as told by an accomplished Englishman, Mr.T. H. Bayley, author of so many delightful lyrics.

There was once upon a time, near the western coast of Ireland, a romantic valley inhabited by a few peasants, whose rude cabins were surrounded by the most luxuriant trees, and sheltered by mountain rising almost perpendicularly on every side. Ireland has still many beautiful green vales, but there is not one so deeply, so securely nestled among the hills, as the one, of which I speak. Add the depth of the deepest of these lakes to the height of the loftiest mountain that towers above us, and you may then, form some idea of the deep seclusion of this forgotten valley.

Norah was the prettiest girl in the little village. She was the pride of her old father and mother, and the admiration of every youth who beheld her. The cottage of her parents was the neatest in the neighbourhood: Norah knew how to make the homeliest chamber look cheerful, and the honeysuckle round the casement was taught by her hand to twine more gracefully than elsewhere.

There was but one spring of water in this valley; it was a little well of the brightest and clearest water ever seen, which bubbled up from the golden sand, and then lay calmly sleeping in a basin of the whitest marble. From this basin, there did not appear to be any outlet; the water ran into it incessantly, but no one could detect that any part of it escaped again! It was a Fairy well!

In those days there were Fairies! so says the legend, and so says Crofton Croker, that inimitable historian of the little people of Ireland in the olden time: ours is not a story involving in its detail national habits and characteristics; on such ground who would dare to compete with him? Not I.

To return to the well: it was, as I said before, a Fairy well, and was held in great veneration by the inhabitants of the valley.

There was a tradition concerning it which had time out of mind been handed down from parent to child. It was covered with a huge stone, which though apparently very heavy, could be removed with ease by the hand of the most delicate female; and it was said to be the will of the Fairy who presided over it, that all the young girls of the village should go thither every evening after sunset, remove the stone, and take from the marble basin as much water as would be sufficient for the use of each family during the ensuing day; above all, it was understood to be the Fairy's strict injunction that each young maiden, when she had filled her pitcher, should carefully replace the stone: if at any time this were to be neglected, the careless maiden would bring ruin on herself, and all the inhabitants of the valley; for if the morning sun ever shone upon the water, inevitable destruction would follow.

Often did Norah trip lightly to the well with her pitcher in her hand, singing the wild melodies of her country, with her beautiful hair decorated with the bright red berries of the mountain-ash, or the ripe fruit of the arbutus tree, and leaning over the bubbling spring, fill her pitcher, carefully replace the stone, and return to her parents without one sad thought to drive away sleep from her pillow.

This could not last for ever: Norah was formed to be beloved, and soon a stranger youth came to the valley, - a soldier - one who had seen the world. He was clad in armour, and he talked of brighter scenes:— ah! could there be a brighter scene than that lone valley? He dazzled the poor girl's eye, and he won her heart; and when she went at sunset to fetch water from the fairy well, Coolin was always at her side. Her old parents could not approve of such an attachment. The young soldier's stories of camps and courts possessed no charms for them, and when they saw that Norah loved to listen to him, they reproved their child for the first time in their lives, and forbad her in future to meet the stranger. She wept, but she promised to obey them, and that she might avoid a meeting with her lover, she went that evening to the well by a different path to that, which she had been accustomed to take.

She removed the stone, and having filled the pitcher, she sat down by the side of the well and wept bitterly. She heeded not the hour; twilight was fast fading into the darkness of night, and the bright stars which studded the heavens directly over her head, were reflected in the crystal fountain at her feet. Her lover stood before her.
"Oh! come not here," she cried, "come not here. I have promised not to meet you: had I returned home when my task was done, we never should have met! I have been disobedient; oh! why did I ever see you? you have taught me how to weep!"
"Say not so, dearest Norah," replied the young soldier; "come with me."
"Never! never!" she emphatically exclaimed, as she hastily arose, and advanced from the well. "I, who never broke my word, have broken it to-night! I said I would not meet you, and we have met." She uttered this, in an agony of tears, walking wildly forwards, whilst Coolin, with her hand clasped in both of his, walked by her side endeavouring to pacify her.

"Your fault, if it be one," said he, kindly, "was involuntary; your parents will forgive you, and when they know how tenderly I love you, they will no longer reject me as their son. You say you cannot leave them; well, well; I perhaps may stay here, may labour for them and for you. What is there I would not resign for my Norah? You are near your home, give me one smile; and now dearest, good night."

Norah did smile upon him, and softly opening the wicket, she stole to her own chamber, and soon fell asleep, full of fond thoughts of the possibility of her parents' sanction to her lover's suit.

She slept soundly for several hours.—
At last, awaking with a wild scream she started from her bed. "The well! the well!" she cried; "I neglected to replace the stone! It cannot be yet morning – No - no - no, the gray dawn is just appearing: I will run, I shall be in time."

As she flew along the well-known path, the tops of the eastern hills were red with the near approach of sunrise. Is that the first sunbeam that gilds yonder mountain.? No! it cannot be—she will yet be in time.

Norah had now reached a spot from whence, looking downwards, she could see the well, at the distance of a few hundred yards. She stood like a statue; her eyes were fixed; one hand grasped her forehead, with the other she pointed forwards. So suddenly had amazement arrested her flight, that her attitude retained the appearance of motion; she might have passed for the statue of a girl running, but she was motionless. The unclouded morning sun was shining brightly on the spot: the spring, once so gentle, was now sending forth a foaming torrent, which was rapidly inundating the valley. Already the alarmed villagers were rushing from their cabins, but Norah did not move; her hand was still pointed towards the spot, but she appeared unconscious of danger.

Still the foaming torrent poured forth, and the water approached the spot where she stood: Coolin who had been seeking her everywhere, now ran towards her; his footstep roused her, and, crying, "My parents! save them!" she fell at his feet.
He bore her in his arms up a hill which was near them: still the torrent raged behind them, the vast flood became wider and deeper.

When they reached the summit of the hill, it appeared to be a wooded island; water surrounded them on every side, and their resting-place became gradually smaller and smaller.

Many other green islands were to be seen, some less extensive than that on which they had found a temporary security; and these gradually grew smaller and smaller, and vanished one by one.

"Oh! that we were on the summit of yon mountain," said Coolin; and kissing Norah's pale cheek, he cried, "Is there no hope? my poor girl, my own dear love."
"My parents! - my parents!" exclaimed Norah," where are they? - Oh! they have perished, the victims of their only child's disobedience!"

Clasped in each other's arms the lovers awaited their doom. The waters still rose higher and higher - the island became indistinct - it was a speck - it was gone!
The cause of the calamity having expiated her error, the wrath of the Fairy was appeased. The waters rose no more; but the beautiful valley of the Fairy well now lies buried under the clear waters of the lake of killarney.