Of the numerous lakes in the county of Kerry, the largest as well the most interesting are those of Killarney, situated about a mile and a half from the town, on the confines of a chain of lofty mountains, between which and the Atlantic are others of still greater magnitude and elevation, among which are the majestic Curran Tual, rising to the height of 3410 feet above the level of the sea, and forming the principal of the range called Mac Gillycuddy's Reeks, and the most elevated point in Ireland. The Lakes of Killarney may be regarded as an immense reservoir for the waters of the surrounding country, descending from the mountain lakes, and supplied by tributary rivers; and their surplus waters are conveyed through the harbour of Castlemaine into the Atlantic by the river Laune, which is the only outlet. They consist of the Lower, Middle, and Upper lakes; the two former, which are nearly on the same level, are bounded on one side only by mountains, and on the other open to a richly cultivated country, the surface of which is diversified with hills: the latter is surrounded by mountains on every side, and has a higher elevation than the others.

The Lower Lake is about six miles in length and three miles in breadth, and is bounded on the west by the mountain of Glena, rising abruptly from the water at that part, called Glena bay; and farther to the north by the Tomies mountain, which is of more gradual elevation, and has at its base a considerable tract of fertile and richly cultivated land, sloping to the margin of the lake. Of the numerous islands in this lake, the largest is that called Ross Island, containing about 80 plantation acres, which, being separated from the main land only by an artificial channel, crossed by a bridge, forms a peninsula projecting considerably into the lake. Here are the picturesque ruins of Ross castle, founded by the O'Donoghues; it was defended by Lord Muskerry against the parliamentarians in 1652, and surrendered to Ludlow. It gives the inferior titles of Viscount and Baron of Castlerosse to the Earl of Kenmare.

The shores of Ross are deeply indented, and the rocks along its borders are worn into every variety of fanciful forms: it is richly ornamented with thriving plantations of great variety, and the arbutus, and other evergreens, here flourish in the richest luxuriance. Near the castle is a small pier, this being the general point of embarkation for visiters to the lakes. At a short distance from the pier, the sound of a bugle is returned, successively from the castle, the ruined church of Aghadoe, and Mangerton, and afterwards innumerable reverberations are heard, becoming gradually fainter till they are lost in the distance.

To the north is O'Donoghue's Prison, a rock rising about thirty feet above the surface of the lake, from the fissures of which on the summit rise the arbutus, ash, and holly in the greatest luxuriance; and which, according to tradition, was used by a chieftain of that name, of prodigious strength, as a place of confinement. To the north of it are Heron and Lamb islands, and to the west are Brown and Rabbit islands, the last remarkable for its quarries of limestone, which is burnt for manure.

To the west of Ross island is that of Innisfallen, the most beautiful and interesting of all in the Lower Lake; it is extremely fertile and richly clothed with wood to the water's edge; among various trees of stately growth is a holly, of which the stem isfourteen feet in girth. Its name, originally Innis Nessan, from the father of the founder of its venerable abbey, was subsequently changed to Innisfallen, as more descriptive of its natural beauty: it forms the subject of Moore's beautiful melody, commencing— "Sweet Innisfallen, fare thee well." The abbey was founded by St. Finian Lobhar, or the Leper, at the close of the 6th century, and by some of the brethren were compiled the celebrated "Annals of Innisfallen," an ancient manuscript, containing a general history of the world, from the creation to the year 430 of the Christian era, but thenceforward confined to the history of Ireland. The ruins are inconsiderable and of rude character.

On a projecting cliff near the abbey is an ancient oratory, with a richly embellished Norman doorway; it is now used as a place of refreshment, but a banqueting-house is about to be erected for the use of visiters in another part of the island, which is now under-. going considerable improvement. Between the mountains of Glena and Tomies, on the western shore of the lake, is O'Sullivan's Cascade, consisting of three falls in a descent of about 70 feet, the noise of which is heard at a great distance: beneath a projecting rock overhanging the lowest fall is a grotto; and beneath the base of the mount, and where the torrent enters the lake, is a small bay, in which a quay of rude workmanship has been constructed. At this place is the greatest and most uninterrupted expanse of the lake, the navigation of which, from the extreme precariousness of the weather, is frequently attended with inconvenience from want of immediate shelter.

The bay of Glena presents a combination of sublime and beautiful scenery. Glena mountain, which forms its boundary, though bare on its summit, is towards the base clothed with a rich unbroken series of woods, sloping down to the water's edge; in this bay also a remarkably fine echo is produced by a bugle. On a gently swelling lawn, near the shore, is the elegant cottage ornée of Lady Kenmare, at a short distance from which a banqueting-house, for the accommodation of visiters, has been erected by Lord Kenmare. From a small mount furnished with rustic seats is obtained a fine view of the bay, the southern shore of Ross, and the island of Innisfallen.

The northern shore of the peninsula of Muckross is bold and rocky, and fretted by the action of the waves into a variety of caves and fantastic forms: between this and the southern shore of Ross, the lake is studded with numerous islands, to the east of which it expands into Castle-Lough bay. The Middle, or Torc, Lake, so called from the mountain which bounds it on the south, is separated from the Lower Lake by the islands of Dinis and Brickeen, and the peninsula of Muckross, the two latter connected by an antique bridge of one pointed arch, built by the late Col. Herbert; and is generally entered on the Glena side of Dinis island, through a passage of great natural beauty, both banks of the inlet being clothed with luxuriant groves to the margin of the water. The island of Dinis is richly wooded, and contains a cottage for the refreshment of visiters, looking towards Torc Cottage, the elegant residence of Capt. Herbert, and the mountain of Mangerton; the banqueting-room commands a fine view of the lake from one extremity to the other. This lake is about two English miles in length, and about one in breadth. On the north side are "Devil's island" and "bay;" the former, a rock of considerable elevation, with some shrubs on its summit, appears to have been thrown off from the mainland by some convulsion of nature.

The peninsula of Muckross, which forms the northern boundary of the lake, is occupied by the demesne of H. A. Herbert, Esq., and has but little elevation above the surface; it is thickly covered with wood, and forms a striking contrast with the southern shore, the lofty and magnificent features of which are deeply reflected from the surface of the lake, which is not, like that of the Lower Lake, interrupted by islands. On the south side, Torc Mountain, the precipitous front of which is wooded to a considerable height, appears in majestic grandeur, its apparent elevation being undiminished by that of Mangerton, which recedes from the view, and a picturesque cascade, chiefly supplied from a lake near the summit of Mangerton, called the "Devil's Punchbowl," has a strikingly beautiful effect.

The latter lake, which is remarkable for its great depth, the coldness of its water, and a peculiarly tremulous echo produced from its shores, is situated at an elevation of nearly 1700 feet above the level of the sea, Mangerton itself rising to the height of 2550. The mountain is barren and of great extent; but from its summit, which is easily ascended, is obtained a magnificent and extensive prospect, embracing the whole of the lakes and the surrounding mountains. On its eastern side is Glaun-na-coppul, the "Glen of the Horse," enclosed on every side by rugged and precipitous rocks.

The picturesque and interesting ruins of Muckross abbey are situated on a gentle acclivity at the eastern extremity of the peninsula. This abbey, formerly called Irrelagh, was founded by Donald, son of Thady McCarthy, in 1440, and has since continued to be the favourite place of sepulture of that family; it was rebuilt in 1626, but was soon afterwards suffered to fall into decay; it consisted of a nave, choir, transept and cloisters, which last are still nearly entire. The entrance is through a pointed doorway, of which the arch is deeply moulded; and a narrow pointed archway leads into the choir, in which are the tombs of the McCarthy Mores and the O'Donoghues of the Glens: there is also a large mural monument to the wife of Christopher Galway, Esq., beautifully executed in Italian marble.

The Upper Lake is about three miles to the east of Torc, or the Middle Lake, with which it communicates by a circuitous channel of difficult navigation; the current is in many parts very rapid, and the passage against the stream laborious and difficult. Not far from the old weir bridge is an eddy, called O'Sullivan's Punchbowl, where the visitors are obliged to disembark, while the boat is drawn through one of the arches of the bridge. Pursuing the winding course of the stream, various interesting objects successively present themselves; among these are several islands and rocks, of which latter, one, from its resemblance to a ship, is called "the Man-of-war;" on its summit is a very large yew-tree, of which the stein and branches are supposed to aid the similitude. The Eagles' Nest is a lofty rock of pyramidal form, rising abruptly from the river, which makes a sudden sweep round its base, and from which it has a very grand and picturesque appearance, though in a distant view it is lost in the superior height of the adjacent mountains; the base is covered with wood, and the face of the rock to its summit is interspersed with shrubs; the nest of the eagle is distinguished by a black mark near the vertex, and that bird is frequently seen soaring at a considerable elevation above the river.

From a hillock on the opposite side of the river, usually called the "Station for audience," an echo is produced by a single bugle equal in effect to a full band of instruments; the discharge of a cannon produces a crash as if the rocks were rent asunder, and the succeeding echoes resemble the reverberations of thunder. In the passage to the Upper Lake many superb mountain views and much sublime scenery are exhibited; the view is bounded on the north-west by Glena and the Long Range mountains; on the south-east, by Cromiglaun, and the base of Torc. The entrance is contracted into a very narrow passage, usually called Coleman's Leap, from a tradition that a person of that name leaped across the chasm. This lake is about two miles and a half in length, and, from its numerous indentations, of very irregular breadth; it is thickly studded with islands, and from its being almost entirely surrounded by mountains, the scenery differs greatly from that of the two other lakes. To the south, the Cromiglaun mountain rises from its very margin, and immediately behind is the Esknamucky, from which a considerable stream, failing into the lake, forms a picturesque cascade; to the west of Cromiglaun is Derrycunnihy, from which also falls the beautiful cascade of that name; and in a small glen, between it and the lake, is the pretty cottage of the late Rev. Mr. Hyde, occupying a highly romantic and secluded situation, and commanding a view of Derrycunnihy cascade, and its rocky and richly wooded glen.

To the west of Derrycunnihy, and separated by the river Kavoge, is Derrydimnagh mountain, covered on one of its sides by a dense wood; and in the distance, towards the southwest, are seen the Coombui mountains, and those of Barnasna more to the west, and to the north-west Bawn and Mac Gillycuddy's Reeks. The nearest of the latter to the lake is Gheramine, at the base of which is the entrance to the sequestered valley of Cameduff, watered by a river navigable to the late Lord Brandon's boat-house, whence a pathway leads to Gheramine Cottage, embosomed in woods. On an eminence in the grounds is a tower, 40 feet high, erected by his lordship in imitation of the ancient round towers of Ireland, from whose summit, ascended by a ladder in the interior, an extensive view is commanded of the valley and lakes of Cameduff, the mountains that enclose them, the islands of the Upper Lake, and Torc mountain in the distance.

To the north of the lake are Gheramine and the Purple Mountain, so called from the colour of the strata of shivered slate on its surface; and to the north-east is the "Long Range," backed by the mountains of Glena and Tomies. The most prominent of the islands in this lake is Rossburkie, or Oak island, rising from a rocky base, and crowned with wood; from its shores is a splendid view of the mountains, finely grouped. The others are Eagles' island, Ronayne's island, McCarthy's, Duck, and Arbutus islands, the channels between which open to new and varied scenery, combining splendid panoramic views of rocks, woods, and mountains, with numerous picturesque cascades, and forming an assemblage of the sublimest and most romantic features of nature. The northern shore of the lake commands prospects of equal magnificence; the rocks and islands, the resort of numerous birds of prey, are of a dark green colour, harmonising finely with the sombre sublimity of the surrounding mountains, which tower in wild and varied magnificence; while those of the lower lakes are chiefly of limestone, washed by the waves into a variety of fantastic forms.

The Upper and Middle lakes, previously visited almost exclusively by aquatic parties, have been thrown into a perfectly new and highly interesting point of view by the construction of the new road to Kenmare, which passes between Torc mountain and the southern shore of the Middle Lake, and continuing its course to the south-west, commands some fine reaches of the river, from the old weir bridge to Coleman's Leap, and winds round the eastern and southern shores of the Upper Lake. About five miles from Killarney the road is conducted through a tunnel, called "the Heading," 45 feet in length, cut through the solid rock: from this point the Upper Lake is seen in beautiful perspective, with its widest expanse of water, its wood-crowned islands and picturesque bays, in some parts fringed with foliage of every shade, and in others marked with features of sublime and rugged grandeur, till it disappears in the distance between the majestic mountains that form its remoter boundaries. On the approach from Kenmare the lakes, with their beautiful winding river, appear in a great vista between mountains wild and rocky towards their summits, but clothed at their base with luxuriant foliage to the water's edge. Here the Upper Lake displays its chief beauties, presenting at a single glance one of the grandest combinations of the sublime and beautiful in the works of nature.

About halfway between Killarney and Kenmare the road descends towards the former between the base of the mountains and the southern shore of the lake, through the thick woods with which the mountains are clothed; the arbutus and the "London pride" flourish here in the greatest luxuriance. In its progress towards Killarney, the road affords some fine views of the Middle Lake and the interesting scenery in the neighbourhood of Muckross. Of the three lakes, the scenery of the Lower is considered the most beautiful, that of Torc the most picturesque, and that of the Upper Lake the most sublime; taken altogether they are perhaps unrivalled by any of equal extent in Europe.—See AGHADOE, CLOGHEREEN, and KNOCKANE.

Killarney | Killarney Residences | Killarney Churches | Killarney Lakes

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