I have now given a general sketch of the confines of the lakes, and their most remarkable bays. The islands are no less worthy of notice; though, from their number, situation, and varieties, so difficult to describe, that I despair of conveying any distinct conception of them.
The number of islands in the lower lake exceeds thirty. They are dispersed without order, along the level shores to the East and North; for to the South and West, there is one unbroken sheet of water. A few of them lie unconnected, but the greater number is distributed into two irregular clusters, or archipels, on the opposite sides of the Ross, X, Y. This island is the largest in the lake: it lies to the East of Reen Point,
p.39about a mile from the village of Killarney. A very narrow gut, scarcely navigable for boats, separates it from the shore; and over this there is a bridge thrown, for the conveniency of the castle. The castle stands on the land side of the island, and was formerly a royal residence; being the seat of the Lords of the Lake, who assumed the title of Kings. The family of O'Donahue was the last that bore this title: its present representative enjoys a degree of respect from the country-people in right of his ancestors, but their power has been long extinct, and their property is now passed into other hands. The great O'Donahue, the hero of this ancient race, still survives in the praises of his countrymen; who set off his virtues with the colourings of enthusiasm. They represent him like the Demi-gods of old, a contemner of danger, a sworn foe to oppression, a passionate admirer of whatever is great and honourable. The
p.40severity of his warlike virtues was tempered, say they, by a generous hospitality, which embraced a Friend in every Stranger: The rigour of the Legislator was blended and lost in the endearing condescension of the Friend; the Prince was the Father of his country. His court was the seat of joy and festivity: worth took its place at the boards by inherent birthright, grey hairs received their reverence, distressed innocence had a peculiar plea of admission, for humanity was paramount, and suspicious policy absolutely unknown. He was wise too, and the God sped his councils, for his subjects were happy. Fruitful seasons crowned the year with plenty, and undisturbed tranquility led the way to enjoyment. 'Twas the reign of Pan in Arcadia nor were the shepherds ungrateful; for every valley resounded with his praises: nor was their patron unpropitious; for death, that extinguished his earthly lamp, seemed to rekindle his love.
And still he reigns to bless them; and to his unseen protection do they hold themselves indebted, for every gift of fortune. Often as the hind returns to his cottage, by the favour of the moon's pale light, are his eyes blessed by the figure of the good old King amidst a train of his attendants; his silver locks floating in the breeze, his limbs invested with a robe of regal dignity, and superbly mounted, like the twin brothers of Helena, upon a milk-white courser. Such a vision is considered as the happiest omen of good; it is reported with ecstasy, and listened to with transport: there are no unbelievers; even to hesitate were heresy: and why should we wonder? O'Donahue is the Hercules and Quirinus of this retired people, their San Januario, their Julium Sidus. The ancient tribute of the kings of Munster to this prince, was ten dun horses, ten coats of mail, and ten ships 4> This gives us the idea of a powerful chieftain, possessed
p.42of a navy, in those days, truly formidable. The castle, which has a non-resident governor, now serves as a barrack for infantry. From the top of it there is a good view of the island, which appears low and swampy, and rather narrow for its length. It is every where covered with trees, unless where it has been industriously cleared, which is the case around the castle, and from hence to the opposite shores. The winding Peninsula towards Innisfallen is particularly pleasant: the bays and creeks are much like those at Mucrus, but the happy situation of the surrounding islands gives them many additional beauties.
Innisfallen lies at a small distance to the Westward. It is not so extensive as Ross, but much more beautiful. Its shape is triangular, and its sides, from promontory to promontory, are hollowed into bays. The soil is exceedingly rich, and the verdure perpetual. The cattle that feed upon it testify to its fertility. Its
p.43surface is naturally moulded into a variety of sweeps and banks, which are cleared of underwood, and shaded by well-grown trees. Near the north-east promontory are the ruins of an abbey, and what the boatmen call a banqueting house. The abbey is a very paltry building, and was probably rather an occasional retreat for the good Fathers at Mucrus, than a seat of a distinct Brotherhood. Such retreats, with all reverence be it spoken, are less agreeable to the Anchorite, than Caprea was of old to the Roman Emperor. Whether it is, that the extremes of vice, and the rigours of virtue, equally decline observation; or that affected sanctity, and avowed sensuality, though looking different ways, aim at the same objects; or that a suspension, and perversion of the human powers, produce familiar effects; I leave to the curious to determine. Certainly here might Virgil find the realities of his beautiful descriptions,
and, looking upon the distant mountains, he might still subjoin,
- Hic laetis otia fundis,
Speluncae, vivique lacus; hic frigida Tempe,
The Hermit I have before mentioned, frequently shut himself up here; subsisting, as he made the country people believe, upon rats and other vermin: but they were deceived as usual; for the bounty of strangers, who almost daily touched on his island, supplied him with food better suited to his palate, and his private resources made up their deficiencies.
The low island to the Westward is inferior to Innisfallen in every thing but extent. It is called Brown Island, from its colour, and Rabbit Island, from its being stored with those animals. There are no trees
p.45upon it, and its only covering is fern: It seems to be placed here as a foil to the others.
The remaining islands of the western cluster, are of a less size, and more contiguous to the shore, than those I have spoken of. Lamb's Island is the largest of them: it is finely wooded, and is indeed Innisfallen in miniature. Hern Island lies South East of Lamb's: it is small, but wooded. O'Donahue's Prison, and Mouse Island, complete their cluster; and, tho' naked rocks, are not destitute of beauties: they derive their names, the one, from its resemblance in some views to a house; the other, from its diminutive size.
The islands which compose of the eastern cluster, Y, though smaller, are more numerous. Garvillan, or Rough-Island, at the east point of Ross; and Alexander's, nearer the shore; are very little raised from the surface of the water. O'Donahue's Table is a
p.46naked cragg, by gradual dilapidation worn into cavities. The other islands rise boldly to a point, and are counter parts of the vegetating heights at Mucrus. They are in general finely fringed with evergreens, which cover their angles and unevenness; and are peopled by distinct tribes of birds, that feed on land in the day, and return at the dusk of evening: The jackdaw, pigeon, hern, eagle, and osprey, have all their separate habitations.
Besides these which lie in irregular groupes, there are several single islets scattered along the shores of Mucrus. Friars Island is contiguous to the abbey; Oak Island more distant; and another, which produces junipers, still farther to the South. Cannon Island, a white rock of Camillan, is remarkably well situated for shewing the power of the echoes. A gun mounted here, and pointed against Glená, must produce a striking effect; for Turk, the Eagle's nest, and the
p.47several mountains on the opposite sides of the river, would serve as so many conveyances to transmit the undulations to the upper lake, and multiply the repetitions.
Brickeen and Dinish, which lie in the mouth of Turk Lake, have been already described: the only other island in this lake is Illanan-Deoul, the Devil's Island: it is lofty, steep, but not wooded.
The upper lake contains eight islands, which are all worthy of notice. The Oak Islands, or Rossburkree, separated only in winter, are the most considerable; and lie in the south-east part of the lake, opposite the mouth of the river. They are richly covered with timber, but particularly the eastern, which must yield up its oaks at the same time with the adjoining Glynn: they are rugged, and uneven, though no where hilly, and stretch away in length.
Arbutus Island lies over-against Rossburkree, half encompassed by a shady bay. Its shape is pyramidical, and its rocky sides are covered with strawberry trees. In the latter end of October, when I first visited Killarney, they were in high beauty; many of their bells and blossoms still remaining, the fruit on some just forming, and on others nearly ripe. The same bough often exhibited all these varities. The ordinary height of the tree is ten, or twelve feet; but I have seen some of happier growth which rose to eighteen or twenty. The blossom is shaped like a goblet, and the fruit nearly spherical: it is at first of a pale yellow, which deepens as it advances to ripeness, and gradually gives place to a rich scarlet. It equals the largest garden strawberry in size, but must be eaten with more caution, for those who are unaccustomed to it, and indulge too freely, are seized with an oppression little less than lethargic: This I take
p.49upon the credit of the country people, who use it themselves without reserve, generally accompanying it with a hearty draught of water, to qualify its juices. The elder Pliny calls this fruit Unido, because no more than one berry can be eaten at a time with safety: but Virgil makes it the common food of the first inhabitants of the earth, following Lucretius, who ranks it with the acorn itself, and tells us that in the earlier ages it grew to an extradinary size, and was found in great abundance.
- Glandiferas inter curabant corpora quercus
Plerumque; et quae nunc, hiberno tempore, cernis
Arbuta, paeniceo, fieri matura, colore,
Plurima, tum tellus, etiam majora, ferebat.
Lucretius Liber V
The arbutus was no less esteemed among the ancients for its pleasant shade, than its fruit; as may be discovered from the poets, and particularly from Horace,
p.50the admirer, and best judge of whatever is elegant in retirement.
The remaining islands, to the number of five, lie together in a cluster, Z, at the west end of the lake, about half a mile from the shore. They are beautiful in themselves, and are so grouped as to form a delighful assemblage: They are all lofty, all wooded; and the bold broken craggs, and angles, in many places overhanging the lake, seem to forbid the approach of human footsteps, and consecrate them to their native ospreys and eagles. But man has notwithstanding intruded: for in the central one, which is only accessible in one spot, there is a cottage raised under shelter of the rocks, and trees, which is occupied every season. The cottage is composed of timber, interwoven with boughs; and so matted, and covered in, with leaves, and sedge, as to form a comfortable habitation. The gentleman to whom it belongs,
p.51visits it twice a year, for the benefit of shooting and fishing: he sometimes continues for two entire months, as much secluded from the world as an Indian in Ontario, or Mishigan: He is a man of independent fortune, and, as I have been told, a bachelor.
In traversing his little island, I observed it was carpeted over with a thick covering of decayed leaves, and boughs. I could easily discover the strata of the several past years, by the different degrees of putrefaction, till near the bottom, where the dissolution was more complete, they were cemented into one uniform mass, condensed by the pressure above, and so swoln by the rains and moisture, as not to be at all distinguishable. As the decay was more perfect, the colours declined more perceptibly from the original lighter tints, ending, in the bottom, in as perfect a black, as I ever saw in any of our bogs. The similitude of the contexture, as well as the colour, convinced
p.52me, that the black bogs with which Ireland abounds, have been formed by the same process: a process which is probably forwarded, by the continual moisture, and rains, in a climate, neither burnt up by scorching heats, nor congealed by the rigours of cold.
This inhabited islet is the centre of the groupe; to the South-west of it lie Stag, and Hind; and McCarthy's, and the Eagle's Rock, to the North and North-west.