Lake of Shadows Annascaul Lake

Dedicated to my Mother who lived on both sides of its shore.
Is this the right road for the lake? was a frequent enquiry of my childhood; one that often gave rise
to all manner of elaborate descriptions and warnings of diversions to avoid, when really all I needed
have said was just follow the road, you can’t miss it.
Now people’s doubts about directions surprise me less, there are many adjectives that can be used
to describe this ancient corrie and ‘unexpected’ is a word that fits as well as any. Heading north from
Annascaul village, towards Coumduff and the Knockmulanane Mountains, you start the journey to
Annascaul Lake by crossing a bridge, so a water source has to be somewhere ahead. On the barely
imperceptible ascent on a West Kerry summer’s day, the roadsides are ablaze with montbretia
and Fuchsia, their exotic hues in sharp contrast to the inky, dark delight of Lough Annascaul that
awaits. Once you’ve dutifully shut the adjoining gates that cross the middle of the road, as the sign
instructs and secretly wonder why bother, as a wily west Kerry sheep negotiates their way between
the rails, you start a steep downwards decent. On rounding the second bend in the road you spy a
Holly tree with a definite southern lean as if about to do a dive and there it is, Annascaul lake.
Like all landmarks you first get to know as a child, this lake is my benchmark against which I measure
all others and few have ever quite matched its nonchalant moodiness and its ambivalent dark
beauty, that is both calming and unsettling. Set amongst an amphitheatre of rock, on a sunny
winters day those formidable mountains, will be reflected like a mirror in the calm water, giving the
impression of a magic underwater world. This lake does not invite you to dive in for a swim or take a
cheerful looking yellow kayak from your car to explore its shore. It is far too formidable for such
frivolity. As children we learnt to revere and respect the lake in equal measure. We were warned of
its dangers, told of the local boy who drown saving his dog. The dog lived. Told of the French tourist
who fell to his death climbing the slopes of scree. Only safe for sheep. Countering these sad tales
were the times when it provided sanctuary. Beyond the lake there is a Mass Rock, a heart shaped,
flat topped boulder called The Sagart. I never questioned why the religiously suppressed would
come here to hear mass, it always seemed like the perfect place for devotion. Above the lake there
is a ‘hut’, reputedly a retreat and look out for the old IRA and the well supported local resistance
that fought the war of Independence.
The lake of course has legends, as all the best ones do; Cuchulainn lived high above its shore and
when Scál ni Mhurnain who was kidnapped by a giant he dutifully fought to rescue her. As weak
heart never won fair maiden, a tense battle ensued, with Cuchulainn firing boulders from his home
in Dromavalla, across the lake at the giant. Fearing Cuchulainn dead when she mistook anguished
cries for his, Scál ni Mhurnain threw herself to her death in the lake, giving Loch Scáil its name – Lake
of Shadows and therefore Abhainn na Scal – the river of shadows.
Mystery, intrigue, secrecy, death, salvation, sanctuary and of course beauty; the best waterways
need to be so much more than just a nice place to kayak. If I’ve convinced you to visit just follow the
road, you really can’t miss it.