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Eirinn: Day 3

Tuesday 4th September 2007

The weather was holding, and Killarney National Park was next on the itinerary. The park covers 25,000 acres of spectacular mountain, moorland and woodland scenery. At its centre, three large lakes serve as a focal point for this sprawling semi-wilderness.

Ross Castle sits perched on the edge of the lower lake, Lough Leane.

The castle benefits from inhabiting a beautiful and tranquil location, tucked away at the end of a small road some distance from Killarney town. However, the real draw lies across the waters.

Boats leave regularly from the castle quay, taking visitors on guided tours around the lake. However, for a smaller fee, a tiny launch will carry the visitor on a ten minute journey over Lough Leane to the Isle of Innisfallen. Once there, the occupants of the boat - six others, on this occasion - will be left to enjoy the isle in glorious isolation until the boat returns an hour later.

It's truly difficult for words to do justice to Innisfallen. Lough Leane is a vast and beautiful lake, surrounded by wooded shores, with mountains visible in the distance. As a backdrop, it evokes a sense of romantic wilderness that carries the visitor back a thousand years, to a time when the land was still raw and wild. What a spot then for this densely wooded isle - itself a reclusive gem, peaceful and sublime, bewitching in its charm. What a place this must have been when the early Christian monks chose to found a community here, right on the edge of the known world.

The footfalls of the monks can still be felt here. Their presence has been indelibly stamped on the isle, and like so many places in Ireland, the past hangs a mere heartbeat away. The modern world hasn't yet intruded upon this quintessential Eden, and for now, it remains possible to reach out with the imagination and cross the borderlands that separate us from our past. Inisfallen Priory is a place of restful beauty, outstanding and unique, untouched in its perfect tranquillity by any other monastic site in Britain.

The hour passed too quickly (although the visitor can choose to remain longer and return on a later boat), and soon the waters were receding into the distance.

Muckross Abbey was the next stop. Situated on the edge of the Muckross House estate, the abbey dates back to the 15th Century and is one of Ireland's best preserved Franciscan houses. Unfortunately, the weather was overcast by the time I arrived here, and the church was covered in scaffolding, undergoing renovation.

Upon arriving back on the Beara peninsula, the sky was starting to clear again, leaving just enough time for a visit to the stone circles of Cashelkeelty.

Cashelkeelty is reached by following the Beara Way from the main road, with a small car park conveniently located close by. A single standing stone can be spotted lurking in the undergrowth.

From the road, the path climbs steeply up through wooded terrain, roughly following the course of a stream that runs down from the mountains above. It can be slippy and muddy underfoot, making the ascent potentially difficult in bad weather. On this occasion, travelling uphill beneath the canopy of trees was a pleasant (if mildly exerting) stroll.

After five minutes or so, the path breaks out from under the trees, crosses a small wall, and leads the visitor onto wild moorland. I found the scenery here very reminiscent of Dartmoor - bleak, but also inspiring and beautiful.

The path skirts the side of the woodland, still cimbing - mostly gently - towards the higher slopes where the Cashelkeelty circles sit.

I was struggling by the end of it though, since I was moving at a fair pace, hoping to catch the last of the evening light as it illuminate the stones. I was also burdened down with a fair amount of camera equipment, making the the walk rather strenuous. I was able to reach the stones in time, catching them as they sat bathed in the golden sunlight of the dying day.

Like all of Beara's ancient sites, Cashelkeelty is dramatic and evocative, benefiting from the stunning scenery that surrounds it. I moved around the stones, taking as many photographs as I could before I lost the light, enjoying the sense of interaction that this hobby brings. It's a curious way of connecting with a place, but I've always felt that composing photographs really draws the photographer closer a subject.

Green Man