Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Killarney Echo

The Killarney Echo is the sound that resounds off the mountains and lakes of Killarney when you fling music or noise at them. Whatever auditory projections are thrown-bounce off the lakes and jump back tenfold into the ears of those who seek "the echo." It was an obligatory part of the tour of Killarney throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. The echo is most famously described in Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "The Splendour Falls." Given that "Where Splendour Falls" is the name of my newest musical endeavor, I was delighted to accompany my good friend Séan Looney to the Eagle's Nest-in search of strange reverberations. So it was that, myself and select bunch of rovers determined to search for that elusive sound. Billy Kemp was to record this audio, but clattered his leg and recording gear on rocky outcrops and was put out of action. Still, David Lynch, our resident trumpeter, marched on and "set the wild echos flying" (with trumpet and french horn) across The Long Range- that narrow band of water that runs by The Eagle's nest, Killarney. But we first went through tomes, before we roamed in glens!

David Lynch, Séan Looney and Billy O' Kemp
Séan Looney, gentlemen, scholar and Killarney native, has two books in his possession that mention the echo. The first extract below, is from "Illustrations of the Scenery of Killarney and the Surrounding Country" (1807) by Isaac Weld Esq. M.R.I.A.

The Eagle's and their Nest 

The Eagle's Nest is represented in the engraving, as it appears from the opposite bank, about one hundred yards higher up the stream: being seen as it were in profile, the range of mountains of which it forms a part are concealed. The river flows from the left, winds round the cliff, and loses itself behind the dark rocks on the right; and in the distance appears a gloomy vale one of those ill-fated spots,

Which, circled round with a gigantic heap 
Of mountains, never felt, nor ever hopes 
To feel, the genial influence of the sun.

It is scarcely in the power of language to convey an adequate idea of the extraordinary effect of the echoes under this cliff, whether they repeat the dulcet notes of music, or the loud discordant report of a cannon. Enchantment here appears to have resumed her reign, and those who listen are lost in amazement and delight.

To enjoy the echoes to the utmost advantage, it is necessary that a number of musicians should be placed on the banks of the river, about fifty yards below the base of the cliff: while the auditors, excluded from their view, seat themselves on the opposite bank, at some distance above the cliff, behind a small rocky projection. Were a stranger conducted hither ignorant of this arrangement, and unprepared by any previous description for the illusory effect of the echo, I am persuaded he would be unable to form a tolerable conjecture, as to the source of the sounds, or the number of the instruments. The primary notes are quite lost; whilst those which are reverberated meet the ear increased in strength, in brilliancy, and in sweetness. Sometimes it might be supposed that multitudes of musicians, playing upon instruments formed for more than mortal use, were concealed in the caverns of the rock; or behind the trees on different parts of the cliff; at others, when a light breeze favours the delusion, it seems as if they were hovering in the air. At intervals treble sounds of flutes and clarionets, 

In sweet vibrations thrilling o'er the skies,

are alone heard; and then again, after a short suspension,

The clanging horns swell their sweet winding notes, 
. . . . . and load the trembling air 
With various melody.

But notwithstanding the occasional swell and predominance of certain instruments, the measure of the melody is not impaired, nor do the notes come confusedly to the ear: the air which is played should, however, be very slow, and the harmony simple, affording a frequent repetition of perfect chords.

When the music has subsided, whilst every auditor still remains in a state of breathless admiration, it is usual to discharge a cannon from the promontory opposite to the cliff, which never fails to startle, and to stun the ear, ill prepared as it must be for the shock, after dwelling upon the sweet melody which has preceded it. The report of the gun produces a discordant crash, as if the whole pile of rocks were rent asunder; and the succeeding echoes resemble a tremendous peal of thunder. During a favourable state of the atmosphere, upon which much depends, twelve reverberations, and sometimes more, may be distinctly counted; and what appears extraordinary, after the sound has been totally lost, it occasionally revives, becomes louder and louder for a few seconds, and then again dies away. 

Now seems it far and now anear,
Now meets, and now eludes the ear;
Now seems some mountain's side to sweep, 
Now dies away in valley deep.

This second extract appears in Beautiful Ireland, Killarney, by Mary Gorges (pub. 1912). So it seems the echo is reverberating through at least its third century in print....and perhaps with these digital ramblings a fourth!

David's French Horn, Eagle's Nest, Killarney

Here the eagles still have their nest, for nature has secured them from the hand of man. It is a very majestic rock, thickly clothed with evergreens nearly to the summit, where, however, heath and a few scattered shrubs hide the nest, and show the great outline, the rugged mass, in stern sublimity. Here the Killarney Echo is best heard.

Perhaps among the many writers who have tried to describe the effect produced by this echo, Mrs. Hall gives the most vivid impression. She says: "The bugler first played a single note; it was caught up and repeated loudly; softly again loudly; again softly, and then as if by a hundred instruments rolling around and above the mountains, and dying softly away. Then a few notes were blown, a multitude of voices replied, sometimes pausing, then mingling in a strain of sublime grandeur and delicate sweetness. Then came the firing of a cannon, when every mountain around seemed instinct with angry life, and replied n voices of thunder, the sound being multiplied a thousandfold, first a terrific growl, then a fearful crash, both caught up and returned by the surrounding hills, while those nearest became silent, awaiting the oncoming of those that were distant, then dropping to a gentle lull, as if the winds only created them, then breaking forth again into a combined and terrific roar."

This won't be our first venture with the Killarney Echo, rather it was a reconnaissance to get us acquainted with its territory-preparing us for further sallys into that "deadly breach" between the Eagle's Nest and Torc Mountain!

1 comment:

Bealtaine said...

Well said Charles Gavan, you give a wonderful description of the elusive Killarney Echo in your blog. Now that we know what we seek it will be much easier and more fun to get the crisp resonances from the performing landscape in the images you posted. Mise, Seán.