Muckross Abbey


By Donal Hickey


The jarveys and boatmen of Killarney have a largely new clientele this year because of the pandemic. In the absence of the usual Americans, British and other overseas visitors, they are entertaining Irish people. 

Huge numbers of Irish families are rediscovering their own country. Killarney is a popular choice and the area’s hard-pressed tourism industry has been exceptionally busy – more than happy to welcome them. 

Irish people can be seen every day on the horse-drawn carriages (still sometimes mistakenly called ‘jaunting cars’) and the children, especially, seem to be enjoying the experience. From the way the cheeky little faces smile as they wave at you, the impression is that it may be their first time on such a vehicle. A definite treat. 

Horse Drawn carriage approaching Muckross House

An essential element of the experience of such trips is learning a little of Killarney’s history, folklore and legends. The stories have been passed on for generations and some are much older than the area’s 250 years of tourism. 

Many of the tales are very tall indeed. One of the classics concerns the Devil’s Punchbowl on Mangerton Mountain. According to legend, the water is so deep in the punchbowl that there’s no end to it at all…at all. 

Glancing at the surrounding mountains, a boatman on the lakes might point a finger and tell the story of the two young men who went up to the punchbowl for a swim, fado, fado. After a while, one noticed the other was missing and, fearing the worst, immediately became concerned for his friend. 

The Devils Punchbowl on Mangerton Mountain

So off he runs back down the mountain to summon help and a search party goes back up. They probe the water and drag the punchbowl for days, but can’t find a bottom to it and there’s no sign of the missing man. 

Lo and behold, a few weeks later a postcard arrives from Australia from the ‘drowned’ man, saying he’d arrived safely and asking that they send his clothes! “That’s how deep it is,’’ the boatman might say to his incredulous passengers. 

Certainly a novel way of getting to the Land Down Under. 

Americans love (and expect) to be told yarns like that, which they relate enthusiastically to other tourists and tell their friends when they get back home. 

But, you wonder, do Irish people get the same kick out of them as Americans? The other day outside Muckross Abbey, I heard a jarvey telling his passengers some of its history. New graves are no longer opened in this last resting place for members of old Killarney families who have to share burial space with long-dead ancestors, he told them. 

Muckross Abbey

“This place is the dead centre of Killarney – people are dying to get in there,’’ was his punchline. 

But there was silence; no laughs, and no utterance of “really’’, as Americans might respond. After getting no reaction, the jarvey changed the subject and drove on towards Muckross House. 

Which prompts the question: do they need to put a different twist on the old legends for the new Irish audience? Or come up with new legends.

One comment

  1. A new audience for old legends is a constant challenge for everybody who would tell stories. Unless the story is adapted to suit the listener it falls on deaf ears. A timely story shown to very good effect.

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