Where the Devil drinks; the lake with a snake and other stories

High in the mountains above Killarney, Co Kerry sits the enigmatically named lake the Devil’s Punchbowl. In the 1780s Arthur Young described it as the crater of an extinct volcano; by the 1930s its’ depth, shape and steep sides revealed it to be a coombe (corrie) lake – a remnant of the Ice Age. It is situated below Mangerton Mountain at almost 700 metres above sea level in a wild and wonderful place of rocks, purple heather and wildlife. The origin of its name is lost in the mists of time, however, it may be derived from Poll an Ifrinn (Hole of Hell) which is a name associated with it.
What better place for the Devil to have a lake filled with his favourite beverage to lure the lost and lonely. A story tells how it was not only the lost and lonely that were mesmerised by the charm of its waters. The Devil invited the Chief of the O’Donoghue clan to join him at his lakeside abode. O’Donoghue and his host enjoyed many cups of the devilishly tasty drink. Eventually they disagreed about a matter of the soul or perhaps lake ownership. With a swift blow, O’Donoghue knocked his host to the rocky ground and fled like the wind. When the Devil recovered, he saw that the Chief had reached Muckross Lake and was rowing for his home at Ross Castle. In fury, he pulled a large rock from the mountainside and threw it towards O’Donoghue’s boat. It landed near enough but missed him. Devil’s Island in Muckross Lake is said to be where the rock fell. Indeed, if you look towards Mangerton Mountain from the Lakes of Killarney you can see the gap at Barrnancurrane on the horizon amid the cliff side where the rock once stood.
It’s no wonder that the lake was once a water source for the town of Killarney. A local is reputed to have said to Robert Lloyd Praeger “Just a drop of whiskey in it and it will go down your throat like a torchlight procession, and warm the nails of your boots, begob.”
The Lake is also known to have a resident monster … no surprise there. When St Patrick was rounding up the serpents, he incarcerated a snake in the lake. He told him he would be let out on Lá na Luain which means Monday but also, apparently, Judgement Day. It is said that on some days you can hear a voice on the breeze saying “is it Monday yet?”
In the early days of tourism in Killarney, the Devil’s Punch Bowl was a “must see”. Mr and Mrs Carr made the trip in 1840 “… the sure feet of our horses were soon tired as they… had to make their way over rocks, bogs and huge stones, through rushing and brawling streams and along the banks of precipices. At length we reached the Devil’s Punch Bowl, a small lake in the midst of perpendicular rocks, [water] of a very dark colour and its depth is said to be unfathomable. The water is intensely cold and yet in the severest winter it never freezes. The peasants attribute this to the influence of his Satanic Majesty.
Despite possible meetings with the devil and serpents, there is nothing more enjoyable than spending some time by the lake imagining what’s below the dark waters or what might be prowling the lake sides and cliffs after dark. The path taken by the early tourists is a little better today! Enjoy.