MY diary must introduce you to Glenaragh, where I saw a land whose beauty was a revelation to me; a new delight unlike anything I had seen in my experiences of the world’s loveliness. To one familiarized from childhood with Italy’s peculiar charm, a sudden vision of the Wild West of Ireland produces a sensation of freshness and surprise difficult adequately to describe.
“—June ‘77.—At Killarney we left the train and set off on one of the most enchanting carriage journeys I have ever made, passing by the lovely Lough Leane by a road hedged in on both sides with masses of the richest May blossom. For some distance the scenery was wooded and soft, almost too perfect in composition of wood, lake, river, and mountain; but by degrees we left behind us those scenes of finished beauty, and entered upon tracts of glorious bog-land which, in the advancing evening, impressed me beyond even my heart’s desire by their breadth of colour and solemn tones. I was beginning to taste the salt of the Wilds.
“The scenery grew more rugged still, and against ranges of distant mountains jutted out the strong grey and brown rocks, the stone cairns and cabins of the Wild West land.
“To be a figure-painter and full of interest in mankind does not mean that one cannot enjoy, from the depths of one’s heart, such scenes as these, where what human habitations there are, are so like the stone heaps that lie over the face of the land that they are scarcely distinguishable from them. When observed they only convey to the mind the sense of the feebleness of man, overpowered as he is here by the might of the primeval landscape. This human atom stands timidly at his black cabin door to see the stranger pass, often half-witted through privation; or he silently tills the little patch of land he has borrowed from the strong and barbarous earth that yields him so little.
“The mighty ‘Carran Thual,’ one of the mountain group which rises out of Glenaragh and dominates the whole land of Kerry, was ablaze with burning heather, its peak sending up a glorious column of smoke which spread out at the top for miles and miles and changed its exquisite smoke tints every minute as the sun sank lower. As we reached the rocky pass that took us by the wild and remote Lough Acoose that sun had gone down behind an opposite mountain, and the blazing heather glowed brighter as the twilight deepened, and circles of fire played fiercely and weirdly on the mountain-side. Our Glen gave the ‘Saxon lady’ its grandest illumination on her arrival.