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KILLARNEY is a considerable town, rather prim and staid and too offensively well kept to be wholly appealing. It is by no means handsome of itself, nor are its public buildings.

The chief industry is catering, in one form or another, to the largely increasing number of tourists who are constantly flocking thither.

The value of Killarney, as a name of sentimental and romantic interest, lies in its association with its lakes and the abounding wealth of natural beauties around about it.

Torc Mountain and waterfall, Muckross, Cloghereen, the Gap of Dunloe and its castle, the upper, middle, and lower lakes, Purple Mountain, Black Valley, Eagle’s Nest, and Innisfallen are all names with which to call up ever living memories of the fairies of legend and folk-lore, and of the more real personages of history and romance.


To recount them all, or even to categorically enumerate them, would be impossible here.

There is but one way to encompass them in a manner at all satisfactory, and that is to make Killarney a centre, and radiate one’s journeys therefrom for as extended a period as circumstances will allow. The guide-books set forth the attractions and the ways and means in the usual conventional manner, but it is useless to expect any real help from them.

The true gem of Killarney’s many charms is without question Lough Leane and Innisfallen (Monk’s Robe Island), which lies embosomed in the lower lake.

Yeats, the Irish poet, spent the full force of his lyric genius in the verses which he wrote with this entrancing isle for their motive.

Robert Louis Stevenson is reported to have said that, of all modern poets, none has struck the responsive chord of imagination as did this sweet singer with the following lines:

And I shall have some peace there,
For peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning
To where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer
And noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now,
For always, night or day,
I hear lake water lapping,
With low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway,
Or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”


Moore’s description is perhaps as appropriate, but it is no more beautiful:

Sweet Innisfallen, fare thee well,
May calm and sunshine long be thine!
How fair thou art let others tell, —
To feel how fair shall long be mine.”

From Glengarriff to Killarney via Kenmare is a long-drawn sweetness of prospect, which it is perhaps impossible to duplicate for its sentimental charm, — an ability to appreciate which belongs to us all, even if only to a limited extent.

The road from County Cork to County Kerry — and one journeys only by road from Bantry Bay to Dingle Bay, via Kenmare and Killarney, the age of steam not yet having arrived at these parts — winds fascinatingly up and down hill and dale, diving suddenly through a tunnelled rock, when a transformation takes place, and one leaves the ruggedness and freshness of Bantry Bay for the more or less humid fairy-land of the region about Killarney. The view ahead is peculiarly grand in its contrast with that left behind. Down the beetling precipices along which the road is clinging to its sterile sides, one traces the valley beneath until it blends with the silvery surface of Kenmare River. From Kenmare, the way to Killarney is by the “Windy Gap.” Beneath lies an extensive valley, and beyond is the Black Valley. Farther on are the skylines of the mountains which encompass the wild and dark Gap of Dunloe; and, farther still, will be observed the more jagged outlines of “MacGillicuddy’s Reeks.” Soon one beholds the first view of the beauties of far-famed Killarney, the immense valley in which repose the three lakes, — the upper, lower, and middle, with their numerous islets. En route from Kenmare to Killarney, one first comes to Muckross Abbey and Demesne, of which Sir Walter Scott has said: “Art could make another Versailles; it could not make another Muckross.” This is characteristic of Sir Walter and his fine sentiment; but, as Muckross is suggestive of nothing ever heard or thought of at Versailles, the comparison is truly odious.


Muckross is charming. It is thoroughly Irish; and reeks of the native soil and its people, wherein is its value to the traveller.

The scenery around about Muckross is very beautiful, but its ruined abbey is the great architectural relic of all Ireland. The ruins consist of the abbey and church, which was founded for the Order of Franciscans by McCarthy Mor, Prince of Desmond, in 1340, on the site of an old church which, in 1192, had been destroyed by fire. The remains of several of this prince’s descendants are said to rest here. In the choir is the vault of the ancient Irish sept., the McCarthys, the memory of whom is preserved by a rude sculptured monument. Here also rest the remains of the Irish chieftains or princes of the houses of O’Sullivan Mor and the O’Donoghue. The great beauty of these ruins lies in its gloomy cloisters, which are rendered still more gloomy by the close proximity of a magnificent yew-tree of immense size and bulk.

Killarney’s lakes are irregular sheets of water lying in a basin at the foot of a very high range of mountains, set with islands and begirt with rocky and wooded heights. They are three in number; what is known as the upper, the middle or Muckross Lake, and the lower lake, — the northernmost, — more properly called Lough Leane. The middle lake is also called the Torc. A winding stream, known as the Long Range, unites the different bodies of water. The chief of the natural beauties of the Long Range is the Eagle’s Nest, which rises sheer from the water’s edge 1,700 feet. The upper lake is the most beautiful of all, though the smallest of the triad. It is studded with tiny islands and girt with mountain peaks, bare and stern above, but clothed with rich foliage at their base. The middle lake is also a beautiful, though more extensive, sheet, and contains but four islands, as compared with thirty in the lower lake and six in the upper.

The Colleen Bawn Caves — reminiscent of Gerald Griffin’s story, “The Colleen Bawn,” and Boucicault’s famous play of the same name — are also in the immediate neighbourhood of the middle lake. Torc Cascade and Torc Mountain lies just to the southward, and is justly famed as one of the brilliant beauties of the region, as it falls in numerous sections over the broken rock to fall finally in a precipitous torrent of foam to its ravine-bed below.

Ross Castle, like Muckross Abbey, is one of Killarney’s chief picturesque ruins. It is on an island in the lower lake, and was built ages agone by the O’Donoghues. It was the last castle in Munster to surrender in the wars of the seventeenth century, giving in only when General Ludlow and his “ships-of-war,” as his narrative called them, surrounded it. MacGillicuddy’s Reeks lie farthest to the westward in the Killarney region. The name of this stern and jagged range sounds somewhat humourous, and in no way suggests the majesty and splendour of these hills; for they resemble the great mountains of other parts only by reason of their contrast with the low-lying land around their bases. One portion, indeed, rises a matter of 3,400 feet, and forms the most elevated peak in Ireland, grand and majestic, but, for all that, not a great mountain, as is so often claimed by the proud native. The celebrated Gap of Dunloe is far more deserving for its natural scenic splendour, and, in its way, rivals anything in Ireland.

Cloisters of Muckross Abbey

The popular method of imbibing the charm of Dunloe is a combination of picnic, al fresco luncheons, and donkey-riding. This answers well enough for the “tripper,” but is as unsatisfying to the real lover of nature as an imitation Swiss châlet set out in a London park, or a Japanese tea-garden built out of bamboo poles from Africa.

The Gap of Dunloe is a grand defile, perhaps five miles in length, which can only be explored and truly enjoyed by a pilgrimage along its solitary and rugged road on foot. Its scenic aspect is gloomy and grand, with mirrored lakes, lofty mountains, and a thick undergrowth of heather and ivy. It is, however, in no manner theatrical. Through this wild glen ripples the river Lee, linking its five tiny lakes as with a silver thread.

At the upper end of the gap one emerges into “The Black Valley,” somewhat apocryphally stated to be “a gloomy, depressing ravine.”


The sun, it appears, does not shine down its length for long in the day, as it is flanked on either side by precipitous hills. The average imagination will not, however, conjure up any very dark suspicions with regard to its past, judging from the aspect of the valley between the hours of nine in the morning and two in the afternoon. Both before and after these hours there is no sunlight; and, because of the dense, long-reaching shadows which are projected across it, it was so named.

There is a good week’s rambling here to spots already famed in history for their beauty; but one must search them out for himself as a personal experience.

England’s poet laureate has written in praise of Killarney in a fashion which should please his severest critics, those who have mourned the lack of a single thought in his verse. This is certainly not true with regard to his prose, which, in the following lines, so justly and appropriately describes the charm of South-west Ireland:

Vegetation, at once robust and graceful, is but the fringe and decoration of that enchanting district. The tender grace of wood and water is set in a framework of hills, — now stern, now ineffably gentle; now dimpling with smiles, now frowning and rugged with impending storm; now muffled and mysterious with mist, only to gaze out on you again with clear and candid sunshine. Here the trout leaps, there the eagle soars; and there, beyond, the wild deer dash through the arbutus coverts, through which they have come to the margin of the lake to drink, and, scared by your footstep or your oar, are away back to the crosiered bracken or heather-covered moorland. But the first, the final, the deepest and most enduring impression of Killarney is that of beauty unspeakably tender, which puts on at times a garb of grandeur and a look of awe, only in order to heighten by passing contrast the sense of soft, insinuating loveliness. How the missel-thrushes sing, as well they may! How the streams and runnels gurgle and leap and laugh! For the sound of journeying water is never out of your ears; the feeling of the moist, the fresh, the vernal is never out of your heart.... There is nothing in England or Scotland as beautiful as Killarney; ... and, if mountain, wood, and water, harmoniously blent, constitute the most perfect and adequate loveliness that nature presents, it surely must be owned that it has, all the world over, no superior.”


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