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THE LAKES OF KILLARNEY.
O British tourists needing relaxation from overtaxed exertion, and to travellers in search of the sublime and the beautiful, the LAKES of KILLARNEY
supply the means of relief and enjoyment as readily as any part of the world that could be named. They surpass, in combination of grandeur and loveliness, most of the more distant scenes celebrated for picturesque attraction in `foreign travel,' and may be reached with far less expenditure of money and time. Their romantic beauties have long been commemorated, both in history and song. * Beautiful Killarney!' is the admiring expression familiarly applied to, them. It is admitted that, as a whole, and in their settings and surroundings, they excel the most renowned lochs of Scotland, such as Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine. Wordsworth, foremost of lake poets, attached as he was to the scenery of Westmoreland and Cumberland, pronounced them to be the finest portion of the British Isles ;' while Ireland's own ardent sons proclaim them as being the loveliest part of a country which they are wont to describe as 'the Emerald Isle, and first gem of the sea.' Situated in the south of the island, near the coast of the Atlantic, and amidst sheltering mountains, the atmosphere floating over them is healthy and exhilarating.
VOL. III. THIRD SERIES. JANUARY, 1879.
The Town of Killarney itself has not much in it to detain the visitor. It bears no signs of trade or manufacture, and has much of the forlorn aspect common to the lower class of Irish towns. The inhabitants, for the most part, are poor and ragged ; and many of them prefer beggary to hand-labour on the roads or in the fields. On entering the streets men are seen idly lounging at the doors of their dwellings, while the women and children gather in groups around the visitor, and with piteous looks, and oft-repeated witticisms, seek to cosen him out of your honor's loose coppers, of a purty little saxpence to divide among them.' There are two principal streets crossing each other at the centre of the town. In them there are, here and there, better built houses and shops; but on all sides, in the suburbs beyond, there are characteristic Irish cabins, dark and filthy themselves and in their appendages. The town has in it some Protestant places of Worship, including a newly-built parish church, and the Presbyterian and Methodist chapels ; but the most imposing ecclesiastical structure belonging to it is the large Roman-Catholic Cathedral, recently erected, in full Mediæval style, from the designs of the late AUGUSTUS PUGIN, that foremost génius in relation to Gothic architecture. Near to this are Religious Houses' for Romanists, both male and female, with a Fever Hospital, and Alms Houses, mostly provided from the bountiful charity of the chief proprietor of the town and neighbourhood, LORD KENMARE. His
, lordship is now building for himself a stately mansion on the left of the road at the entrance of the town, from which elevated position a commanding view will be had of both land and water.
The LAKES are situated a few miles from Killarney, and may be approached by roads either to the left or right of it. The best way to them is by the road on the right to the Gap of Dunloe; inasmuch as that way affords additional interest to the visitor in the picturesque ruins of the ancient church, castle, and round tower of ST. AGHADOE, perched on a ridge of rising ground on one side, and in mansions of the O'Connells and of other families of celebrity on the other. There are also, from that road, pleasant peeps of the lakes on the left, and there are Druidical caves which bear within them unmistakable signs of remote periods of occupancy, both by the living and the dead.
The GAP of DUNLOE is reached by a drive of five or six miles from the town, and is justly famed as being one of the greatest wonders of the region. It is a stern, wild, narrow mountain-pass, with steep, sterile rocks and overhanging boulders on either hand. It extends some four miles, and has a zigzag stream of water running and
tumbling in a broken and irregular channel below. A rugged pony track skirts the stream, and as the traveller ascends towards the other end of the huge ravine, it becomes fearfully grim and desolate. Beggars and volunteer guides pick their way by the traveller's side, and vie with one another in relating horrible traditions of the origin of the gap and of the dark deeds perpetrated within it. A monstrous giant is said, in the fury of his wrath, to have smitten the mountain asunder by his sword, and there to have avenged himself upon his enemies. Doubtless, the gap was originally produced by a violent convulsion of nature which split in twain a great mountain, leaving between the riven parts the deep defile. The guides on the way fire off, without notice, cannon at certain parts, and awake thundering echoes which rumble and reverberate, right and left, amidst hollows and caverns, until the whole region seems to tremble.
On reaching the uppermost ridge of the ascent, a lovely scene of contrast opens between it and what is termed the Black Valley.' The latter has in it dark pools, filled with water drained from the peat moss which covers the surrounding hills, and where thick, heavy mists brood over the landscape as if reluctant to allow it to be anywhere relieved by rays from the sun. By a gradual descent round to the left the upper edge of the lakes is reached, where boats are in waiting, which when entered are rowed off by sailor-like guides.
The LAKES of KILLARNEY are three in number : the UPPER LAKE, the MIDDLE LAKE, and the LOWER LAKE. Together they extend over some ten or twelve miles from end to end, broadening in their course downwards, and covering an area of some thousands of acres.
For the most part, they spread out their waters at the foot of mountains of graceful, picturesque forms, and rich in colour; and each lake is studded more or less with islets of varied size, shape and clothing. The UPPER LAKE is the first approached by the visitor who goes by the Gap of Dunloe, and, though least, is not last in beauty and attractiveness. It is something more than two miles long, and three quarters of a mile wide. It is situated within an amphitheatre of mountains, is broken at the sides by numerous indentations, and has within it twelve small islands, all of which are covered over with plants and flowers of pleasing variety. The Arbutus is common on the shelves and shores of the Lakes of Killarney, and, though of Spanish origin, flourishes there as if of native growth. All the islands have on them more or less of this ómyrtle of Killarney,' as have most of the road-sides and grounds adjacent. The waters of the Upper Lake are smooth and
clear, and, with the vivid reflection of all around, present a scene of quiet beauty, too serene to admit of disturbance by the human voice, or by the dip of oars.
Gliding softly along over this mirror of nature in its loveliest combinations, the long range,' or narrow passage of deep water, is reached, flowing like a river between rocks of romantic forms, each of which has its own legend. Towards the end of this long stretch of water rises on the left the famed · EAGLE'S NEST,' which is a rock of pyramidal shape, some seven hundred feet high, covered with climbing foliage at the foot, but bald and rugged at the summit, where the royal bird of prey is said to have its habitation inaccessible by man. The echoes of bugle and cannon from this part are charming and astounding. The notes of the bugle
. swell and multiply by reverberation, until it would seem as if all nature had become vocal, and united to swell and multiply the sounds. The softer notes float around deliciously as if in a chorus of whispers, and they rise and fall, and rise and fall again, until, as if miles away, they die out in unseen valleys and glens. The roar of the cannon fired off appears to arouse all the mountains far and near into furious anger, and to fill heaven and earth with voices of loud thunder, that growl and then burst forth with terrific crashes which repeat themselves a dozen times over, until all nature seems roaring with desperate wrath. It is impossible for language, with all its similitudes and superlatives, adequately to express the effect of these echoes as they alternately awe, terrify and enchant the wondering visitant.
Shortly after passing the Eagle's Nest,' a neck of broken and turbulent waters is reached, where the Upper Lake rushes into the Middle and Lower Lakes, and which is named the “Meeting of the Waters. Here the current is swift, and the traveller shoots the rapids,' under the guidance of skilled boatmen, much after the manner of the swift passage made between the rocks in the river St. Lawrence, in Canada. This part is spanned by an antique bridge of two high, narrow arches, named the 'old WEIR BRIDGE,' and which being mantled over at the top with brushwood, flanked on both sides with rich foliage, and reflected in the water before it, is among the most picturesque objects connected with the lakes. A Vignette illustration of this picturesque scene is given on the opposite page.
Skirting the way eastward, by what is named Dinis Island,' the TORC, or MIDDLE LAKE, is entered, and rowing forward a mile or so to the right, between long stretches of rock and herbage on the one hand, and thickly-growing foliage on the other, the eastern shore is reached, from whence ascent is made of the Torc mountain,'