The character of the Upper Lake, which has frequently been compared with the Derwent Water, in Cumberland, is quite distinct from that of Turk or the Lower Lake. It is entirely encompassed by mountains; and, on looking back, the pass by which you entered upon its surface, is
p.83totally lost in the confusion of hill, promontory, and bay. In this retreat from the busy scenes of life, the beautiful and the sublime are exquisitely united; the expanse of water is no where very great, except near the entrance, by Coleman's Leap; but the number of islands is very considerable.
To the south, Cromiglaun mountain rises from the very water, behind which is Esknamucky, from which runs a considerable stream, falling into the Lake, in a bay parallel to the passage between the Lakes, and possessing a beautiful fall, called Esknamucky Cascade. To the west of Cromiglaun, or the Drooping mountain, is Derrycunehy; in a glen to the west of which is a pretty little cottage and demesne, belonging to the Rev. Mr. Hyde, in the vicinity of the beautiful fall called after the mountain itself. Mr. Hyde's cottage is a private residence; therefore, although the politeness of the proprietor permits the approach of strangers to his cottage, they should not expect or wish for permission to disturb this gentleman's domestic retirement. The cockswain should inform his party, that this cottage is not intended as a banquetting room, and that permission to walk through these grounds is a special favour. To the west of Derrycunehy mountain, and separated by the river Kavoge, is Derrydimna mountain, one of whose sides is clothed with a
p.84rich wood. The Coombui mountains are seen in the distance, towards the south-west point, and Barnasna more westerly. In the west also are seen Baum, with its coni-formed summit, and Mac Gillycuddy's Reeks, with their lofty, shattered, and shelving tops. These hills, the highest in Kerry, are composed of a sort of stone which is easily shivered by the storms after winter, and slides down the steep precipitous face of the mountains, nor rests until it reaches the deep ravines at the foot of these almost inaccessible cliffs, so that it may, perhaps with some reason, be concluded, that their height is somewhat diminished in the lapse of time. The nearest of the Reeks to the Lake is called Ghirmeen, or Gheramine.20 At the foot of Ghirmeen is the entrance to the wild and beautifully sequestered valley of Comme Duff. The river which waters this enchanting vale, is navigable as far as the boat-house of Lord Brandon, where is a place for disembarking, whence a pathway leads to the cottage of his lordship, totally embosomed in wood.
In the centre of the garden attached to the cottage, on the summit of a little eminence, stands
p.85a round tower, about forty feet high, erected by his lordship, probably in imitation of the ancient towers in Ireland, of which it is an exact resemblance; the situation, too, being not unlike that of the tower of Glendalough, in the county of Wicklow, is precisely such as the ancient projectors of these extraordinary edifices would have selected. There is a ladder inside, (rather inconvenient on account of its extreme perpendicularity,) by which you may ascend the summit, where is an extensive prospect of the unexplored valley and lakes of Comme Duff, the sides of the prodigious mountains closing up the vale, and the islands of the Upper Lake, with the always obtruding Turk, which appears of a perfectly different form and outline in this situation from its general shape and appearance. Perhaps it would not be proper to direct the tourist to the cottage of Gheramine, and to Lord Brandon's tower, as being indiscriminately accessible to the foe and the stranger, since an introduction to his lordship is thought necessary.
North of the Lake are Ghirmeen and the Purple mountain, at a distance; the Long Range, backed by the Purple mountain, Tomies, and Glenà. The Purple mountain is very properly so denominated, from the purple hue it possesses when seen from almost any quarter, and by any light. This extraordinary colour is attributed by
p.86most tourists to the heath, or rather to a little nameless plant, bearing a purpleflower, that covers the surface of the mountain; but this is certainly a mistake, and the cause of its continuance was the want of originality in the writers who described the beauties of Killarney, and who took up this idea without sufficient examination, merely because it was current before. When the sun shines strongly upon the summit of this mountain, a quantity of loose stones, shivered on its surface, may be seen, which reflect a purple colour, and to which the hue of the mountain is to be attributed; this opinion is also adopted by that accomplished, judicious, and learned tourist, Sir R. C. Hoare.
The islands in the Upper Lake are very numerous, and many of some importance; they generally consist of a green stone, which, close to the water, assumes a dark, muddy hue. This does not occur in the Lower Lake, nor in Turk, to the same extent, the islands in them being of limestone, which admits of such varieties of fantastic forms.
And here, as in all her works, nature has proved herself the most accomplished artist, in adapting the light and airy tints of the limestone rock to the gay and luxuriant shores of Glenà and Mucruss; and the more dingy shadows to the bold, terrific, and savage features of the Upper Lake.
This exposure of the rocky bases of the islands, and stony strands, which occurs in the Lakes of Kerry, forms a distinguishing character between these and the English Lakes, where the green sod always confines the apparently overflowing waters, producing the idea of eternal plenitude.
The most prominent of the islands, upon entering the Upper Lake, is Oak isle, or Rossburkie, a very beautiful object, rising from a rocky base, and crowned with wood; from its shores is a splendid and majestic view of the loftiest mountains, grouped in the most varied manner. The Reeks, Sugar Loaf, and Purple mountain, are the most striking and grand, and Turk, which is now left behind, assumes a totally different aspect. The space between this and Turk is occupied by the fantastic promontory of Newfoundland, overhanging the inlet into which the Esknamucky falls. A walk along the banks of this last-mentioned stream will surprise and delight the tourist; but such little expeditions can be undertaken and enjoyed only by one who has a longer period at his disposal than visitors generally bestow upon the Lakes.
Doubling Coffin Point, the headland sheltering the bay or inlet of Derrycunehy, the waterfalls in the river Kavoge are approached; these are more numerous, and generally better supplied, than any amongst the Lakes, and embosomed in the most
p.88enchanting sylvan scenery. From Coffin Point is a commanding view of the Long Range, Ghirmeen, and Mac Gillicuddy's Reeks. Coasting along the shores of Derrycunehy and Derrydimna mountains, a little archipelago is entered, containing seven islands.
Passing Eagle's Island the visiter is surprised at the sight of a solitary cottage on one of these little water-girt isles, more lofty than the rest. It was built by Mr. Ronan, a gentleman of independent fortune, who usually spent two or three months in each year, in this secluded spot, devoting most of his time to shooting and fishing. In the summer of 1821, Ronan's cottage was in a state of wretchedness and ruin. Parties, sometimes, bring their provisions from Killarney and dine here; but owing to the miserable accommodation, the cottages of Glenà, Dinis, and Inisfallen, are generally preferred. The island is thickly wooded with oak, arbutus, &c. and is accessible only in one spot, close to the cottage. A path winding round the island conducts at last to an eminence about thirty feet above the surface of the Lake, whence there is a very extensive prospect towards Carriguline, Derrycunehy, and all the surrounding mountains. The surface of this island is covered with infinite strata of decayed leaves and brambles. Those at a great depth are bound and united in such a manner, as to form
p.89one continued mass of putrefied matter, becoming, in proportion to its depth from the surface, darker in colour, until at the bottom, where the dissolution is most perfect, and the pressure greatest, it is one continued black turf. This fact may tend to explain how many of the bogs in Ireland may have been formed; for it is perfectly ascertained, that most of the mountains, and even a great portion of the plains, were once thickly covered with forest trees.21
The same combination is also discoverable in other islands in the Lakes, but is most obvious upon Ronan's.
Leaving Ronan's island, and pursuing a westerly course, Stag island next presents itself, of a similar character to the others in this Lake, its rocks crowned with rich foliage. Beyond this, the valley between Ghirmeen and Barnasna lies expanded before you, and in the centre the stately tower of Lord Brandon is seen rising above the woods. The other islands in this cluster are called M'Carthy's, Duck, and Arbutus. The
p.90channels between them open to new and varied scenes, which, combined with panoramic views of rock, wood, and mountain, produce one of the most awfully sublime pictures in nature. The northern shore affords equal beauty and variety of prospect; and, after sailing under the Long Range, conducts back once more to the singularly contracted entrance at Coleman's Leap.
The stream now carries the boat along so pleasantly, that the assistance of the oar is hardly necessary. The former views along the passage are transposed, and Turk is hardly recognised, appearing so black and shapeless.
The navigation of this natural canal is peculiarly delightful at evening time: the smoothness of the water, in which are seen reflected the woods and hills; the stillness of the atmosphere, so appropriate to the production of echoes beneath the Eagle's Nest, the meandering of the river, and the exuberance and luxuriance of the arbutus, yews, and hollies, which clothe the banks, produce the most delightful feelings.
It is quite absurd to point out particular stations where advantageous views may be had, for the precise spot can seldom be discovered; and, besides, every tourist finds the greatest pleasure in making such discoveries for himself; and stations would be multiplied ad infinitum, if all those that are worth mentioning were pointed out here:
p.91yet general hints may sometimes be given with advantage. In visiting the Upper Lake, the stranger ought to endeavour to ascend Cromiglaun, from whose summit is a most agreeable bird's-eye view of the Lake and islands; for, in consequence of their irregular disposition, a person merely sailing round the Upper Lake, carries away a very imperfect idea of its shape or magnitude.
The Upper Lake is about two miles and a half in length, but its breadth is irregular. The rocks and islands are inhabited by hawks, ospreys, eagles, and other birds of prey. In a tour through Ireland, made in the year 1797, by Mr. Holmes, is the following very just estimate of the comparative picturesque merits of the three Lakes of Killarney, and the serpentine river which connects them: I should distinguish the Upper Lake as being the most sublime; the Lower the most beautiful; and Turk, or Mucruss, the most picturesque: the winding passage, leading to the Upper, contains a surprising combination of the three, and, probably, is not to be exceeded by any spot in the world.
Mr. Curwen, whose taste and feeling as a tourist are acknowledged and admired, and whose admiration of the beauties of nature is sufficiently testified by his residence on Windermere, institutes a very just comparison between the Lakes
p.92of Killarney and those in the north of England. As a landscape for casual contemplation, says Mr. Curwen, I should prefer Killarney; as a permanent residence, I should choose Windermere.