It is, or it is not, Ireland’s highest waterfall, depending upon local loyalties or upon the definition of a waterfall. It is a mighty drop: six hundred, or seven hundred, or eight hundred feet—again, depending on what constitutes the top and what constitutes the bottom. For this is not a cataract tipping headlong over a single precipice, but a cascade, a waterfall of many lesser falls, taking the waters of Coomadavallig Lake from the bleak shoulders of Hungry Hill to the greener valley of Coomgira, past the lonely standing stone, and thence to Adrigole harbour. Hungry Hill, like most of Beara, is sandstone, impermeable to the plenteous rain, and the waters make their way down the hills on the surface, rather than seeping through (as with limestone) and emerging as springs at the foot. So waterfalls are common—though not exactly commonplace, given their variety and drama—but The Mare’s Tail has always had special appeal. It has been so called for centuries; once, it seems, it was known as The Mare’s Mane, moing lárach, but even the Bishop of Ossory, who recorded a garbled version of this Irish name in 1758, translated it as ‘tail’, and Tail it has certainly been ever since.
The Mare’s Tail is highly visible—weather permitting, for it is sometimes hidden by mists and soft rain that linger in the valley—and more especially when it is augmented by the heavier rains of autumn and spring. Then the tiny clear etching of white, easily seen from Adrigole and the road from Glengarriff, becomes a wider landmark, as though painted with a wider brush. But the distant approach, at times of spate, gives no warning of what is deafeningly obvious near the foot of the falls: the noise of heavy waters crashing from rock to rock, spraying out as a fine spume or pouring down a long crevasse as smoothly as stout from a jug, before hitting a tiny step and leaping downwards again. Water in this sort of landscape does not appeal only to the eyes.
And it has appealed for almost as long as Beara’s place in the written record, for the earliest travellers here who recorded their adventures admired its picturesque vastness and commended it to others, making Adrigole a place of pilgrimage for those curious and leisured persons who had made it as far as the hospitality of Glengarriff. Nowadays the practicalities of farming, and perhaps the unthinking encroachments of too many modern visitors, preclude access to the very foot, but it is still possible to stand in Coomgira, almost encircled by the mountains, and pause in awe at the sight, and the sound.