More to the west is seen the island of Inisfallen, a fertile and enchanting spot, containing eighteen acres of land, and richly clothed with wood. There are only two landing places, although the shore is indented by numerous sinuosities, owing to the shallows on one side, and the bold rocks on the other; however, a convenient mole for disembarking has been erected at one of them, and
p.54nature has provided accommodation for the visiter at the other. The view of Inisfallen, on the approach from any side, is of a totally different character from that of any other island on the lake; it impresses the visiter with an idea of luxuriance, comfort, and tranquillity; the surface of the glebe is spread with the brightest verdure, over which flourish, in rich foliage, the greatest possible varieties of trees and shrubs. Groups of lofty oaks fling their arms over the sward beneath, and the intervals between them are generally occupied by various shrubs, so that only an occasional glimpse is permitted, through the woods, of the Lake and distant mountains; occasional openings are left, where the richest imaginable pasture is unfolded, beautified by an undulating surface, and embosomed in sylvan scenery. In walking round the island, the variety to be met with, in so small compass, almost exceeds belief, and delights the admirer of the soft, the beautiful, and the gentle in nature, to ecstacy. Here a forest scene, in whose centre stands the royal oak; a little farther, trees of less commanding, but not less beautiful aspect, present themselves. The loftiest trees enclose and shelter occasional lawns, affording the richest pasturage, while the smaller shrubs crowd so closely together, as to form an impenetrable barrier. In some places gleams of light pour through the thickening shade, and enliven
p.55the retirement of the interior; and, again, an opening to the Lake recalls the idea of the watery boundaries, which here seclude us so completely from the scenes of the busy world, and induce us to reflect upon our remoteness from the haunts of men. The very trees, in their rarity of species and form, appear to rival the surface of the island itself; a gradually ascending hill sinks into a pleasing vale, and this swelling and undulation of the surface, which art has never been able to effect, exists in such pleasing variety, that the imagination of the artist could not conceive, nor his pencil execute, more varied slopes, more gently falling declivities, or more pleasing inequalities on the face of a landscape.
Oak, ash, alder, holly, both bald and prickly, with the arbutus, grow spontaneously and luxuriantly in every part of the island; the service (or Sorbus) tree, is also to be found here. Smith (in his History of Kerry) seems to think that these trees were planted by the monks of Inisfallen, contrary to the general opinion of the natives, who, finding them to be the production of every other island equally, conclude they are the natural product of the soil.
In one part of the island a holly is shown, the circumference of whose stem measures fourteen feet; in another place, a large hawthorn has made its way completely through the centre of a monumental
p.56stone in the vicinity of the monastery. At the northern extremity of the island stands a crab-tree, in the trunk of which is a large oblong aperture, called the eye of the needle; the guide, who points out this phenomenon, never fails to recommend ladies through it, in consequence of a certain charm which he assures them this adventure will call into action. At the most remote extremity of the island, a projecting rock overshadowed by an aged yew, is designated the bed of honour.16
Not far from the harbour, where visiters generally land, are the ruins of an ancient monastery, founded by St. Finian Lobhar, (or the Leper,) the son of Alild, King of Munster, and disciple of St. Brendan, towards the close of the sixth century. In the year 640, St. Dichull was abbot, who, with his brothers Munissa and Nerlugis, were worshipped by the votaries at Inisfallen, and the island was then called Inis-Nessan, or Inis-Mac-Nessan,
p.58i. e. the island of the sons of Nessan, from Nessan, the father of Dichull. The name Inis-Nessan has been rejected for its present very appropriate designation, Inisfallen, the beautiful or healthy island, or Inisfaithlen, the island in the beautiful lake; this lake is called by Colgan, Lough Lein, and the Lake of Desmond, indiscriminately. The latter name was borrowed from the Earls of Desmond, once petty princes in Kerry, but whose greatness has long since gone by.
After the abbacy of Dichull, a considerable hiatus occurs in the annals, and neither abbot nor occurrence is registered until 1180, if we except the name of one abbot, Flannan: at this period, says Archdall, this abbey being ever esteemed a paradise and a secure sanctuary, the treasure and most valuable effects of the whole country were deposited in the hands of its clergy; notwithstanding which, the abbey was plundered by Maolduin, son of Daniel O'Donaghoemany of the clergy were slain, and even in their cemetery, by the McCarthys: but God soon punished this act of impiety and sacrilege, by bringing many of its authors to an untimely end.
It is said, that a collection of bones were discovered beneath the threshold of the oratory hanging over the river, which Weld supposes to have been the bones of the clergy slain by the
p.59O'Donaghoes in 1180; but why not suppose them to be rather of more recent date, viz. 1652, when the vicinity of Lough Lein was wasted by fire and sword, by Ludlow and the parliament's army?
The annals are continued uninterruptedly down to 1320, but do not contain any matter of interest. In 1320, Dermod M'Carthy, King of Desmond, who was murdered at Tralee, was interred here. The writer of the early part of the annals of Inisfallen, lived only to the year 1215, from which period to 1320 they are continued by another historian. These annals contain a history of the world from the creation to the year 430, after which they treat solely of Irish history: a perfect copy of them is preserved in the library of the Duke of Chandos, according to Bishop Nicholson, and there is an imperfect copy in the manuscript-room in the University of Dublin. The Dublin Society possess a copy of Sir James Ware's MSS of these annals, translated by Walter Harris, the Irish antiquarian.
By an inquisition, taken the eighteenth of August, in the thirty-seventh year of Elizabeth, the monks of Inisfallen appeared to be possessed of one hundred and twenty acres of arable land, with four town and three plough lands, together with extensive church patronage in the county of Limerick; all which, besides the abbey of Irrelagh
p.60(Mucruss) and its possessions, were granted to Robert Collan, for ever, in fee farm by fealty only, in common soccage, at an annual rent of seventy-two pounds, three shillings, sterling.
The ruins of the abbey are very inconsiderable, and the workmanship of what still remains, extremely rude; indeed, there can be but little hesitation in pronouncing the remains of the monastery, now pointed out, not to have been part of the original building. There was a garden attached to the monastery, and a few plum-trees are shown close to the ruined walls, which, it is supposed, were planted by the religious inhabitants of the island; from one of the walls of the cloister a very picturesque yew shoots up. The only trace of the ancient edifices erected on this island, which possesses the character of the architecture of those times, is an oratory, standing on a projecting cliff, at the south-eastern extremity of the island, on either side of which are the coves where strangers land. The door-case is a Saxon arch, enriched with chevron ornament, one side of which is quite perfect, and very beautiful; but the soft stone of which it was composed has yielded to the decay of a lapse of centuries. This little oratory has been fitted up by Lord Kenmare, as a banquetting room: in one side is placed a large bay-window, from which a delightful view may be had of Ross island, Mucruss shore, Mangerton,
p.61Turk, and Glenà. Some have thought the oratory profaned by being repaired in its present manner; but the truth is, that had it not been converted into its present purpose, it would, like the adjacent mouldering walls of the monastery, have now been nearly level to the ground. It is not upon this point the tourist can complain of the noble proprietor, for in this he has endeavoured to preserve some remnants of the ancient greatness of Inisfallen, and to accommodate the visiter also; but it is greatly to be regretted, that the complaints of so many travellers, of the neglected state of the walks and lawns of the island, should be so totally despised as they have hitherto been. The scenery of Inisfallen is of the soft, gentle, and civilized character, in which a degree of neatness is necessary to beauty; there are scenes of wildness, sublimity, and command, where the very ruggedness of neglect, and want of cultivation, compose the principal and noblest features of the view; but here the walk through the grass should be cleaned and strewn with gravel taken from the shore; the briars and brambles, that are daily choking up the natural evergreens, should be removed, and sheep alone permitted to pasture on the lawns.