killarney town

History of Killarney

Killarney (Irish: Cill Airne, meaning “church of sloes”) is a town in County Kerry, southwestern Ireland. The town is on the northeastern shore of Lough Leane, which is part of Killarney National Park. The town and its hinterland is home to St Mary’s Cathedral, Ross Castle, Muckross House and Abbey, the Lakes of Killarney, MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, Purple Mountain, Mangerton Mountain, the Gap of Dunloe and Torc Waterfall. Owing to its natural heritage, history and its location on the Ring of Kerry, Killarney is a popular tourist destination. 

Killarney has featured prominently in early Irish history, with religious settlements playing an important part of its recorded history. Its first significantly historical settlement was the monastery on nearby Innisfallen Island founded in 640 by St. Finian the Leper, which was occupied for approximately 850 years.
Following the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169, the Normans built Parkavonear Castle, also at Aghadoe. The castle was perhaps intended as an early warning outpost due to its views of the entire Killarney valley and lakes region.The first written record of a monastery dates from 939 AD in the Annals of Innisfallen where the Aghadoe monastery is referred to as the “Old Abbey.Aghadoe, the local townland which overlooks present day Killarney, may have begun as a pagan religious site. The site has also been associated with the 5th century missionary St. Abban, but 7th century ogham stones mark the first clear evidence of Aghadoe being used as an important site. According to legend, St. Finian founded a monastery at Aghadoe in the 6th or 7th century.

Ross Castle

Ross Castle was built on the the edge of Lough Leane, in Killarney National Park in the late 15th century by local ruling clan the O’Donoghues Mor. Ownership of the castle changed hands during the Desmond Rebellions of the 1580s to the Mac Carty Mor. It is better known for its association with the Brownes of Killarney who owned it until recently. It is located on the edge of Lough Leane, in Killarney National Park.

He then leased the castle and the lands to Sir Valentine Browne ancestor of the Earls of Kenmare. The castle was amongst the last to surrender to Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads during the Irish Confederate Wars, and was only taken when artillery was brought by boat via the River Laune. Lord Muskerry (MacCarty) held the castle against General Ludlow who marched to Ross with 4000 foot soldiers and 200 horse; however, it was by water that he attacked the stronghold. The Irish had a prophecy that Ross could never be taken until a warship could swim on the lake, an unbelievable prospect. The sight of the ‘ships’ unnerved the onlookers and the castle soon submitted.

At the end of the wars, the Brownes were able to show that their heir was too young to have taken part in the rebellion and they retained the lands. By about 1688, they had erected a mansion house near the castle, but their adherence to James II of England caused them to be exiled. The castle became a military barracks, which remained so until early in the 19th century. The Browne’s did not return to live at Ross but built Kenmare House near Killarney.

There is a legend that O’Donoghue leaped or was sucked out of the window of the grand chamber at the top of the castle and disappeared into the waters of the lake along with his horse, his table and his library. It is said that O’Donoghue now lives in a great palace at the bottom of the lake where he keeps a close eye on everything that he sees.

Ross Castle Killarney Tour

Muckross Abbey

Muckross Abbey was founded in 1448 as a Franciscan friary for the Observantine Franciscans by Donal McCarthy Mor. It is still standing, despite having been damaged and reconstructed several times when its inhabitants were raided. “Friars Glen” on Mangerton Mountain is customarily said to have been one of the places the monks would flee to when the monastery was attacked. The central feature of Muckross Abbey is a central courtyard that contains a huge Yew tree surrounded by a vaulted cloister. It is traditionally said that this tree is as old as Muckross Abbey itself. The abbey was burned down by Cromwellian forces under General Ludlow in 1654, and today remains a ruin. The abbey was the burial place of local chieftains. In the 17th and 18th centuries the Kerry poets Seafraidh O’Donoghue, Aogán Ó Rathaille, and Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin were buried there.

Muckross House

The Herbert family owned the land on the Muckross Peninsula from 1770 onwards. They became very wealthy from copper mines on this land. Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife—the water colourist Mary Balfour Herbert—finished building Muckross House in 1843. The Herbert’s financial situation became precarious in the late 19th century, and the Muckross estate was purchased by Lord Ardilaun of the Guinness brewing family in 1899.

Irish War of Independence

Killarney was heavily involved in the Irish War of Independence. The town, and indeed the entire county, had strong republican ties, and skirmishes with the British forces happened on a regular basis. The Great Southern Hotel, (now renamed as the Malton Hotel) was for a while taken over by the British, both as an office and barracks, and to protect the neighbouring railway station. One notable event during the war was the Headford Ambush when the IRA attacked a railway train a few miles from town.

However, divisions among former colleagues were quick to develop following the truce and treaty, and Killarney, like many other areas, suffered in the rash of increasing atrocities during the Civil War. A day after the Ballyseedy Massacre, five Republican prisoners were murdered in Killarney in retaliation.

Killarney National Park

Killarney National Park is one of the very few places in Ireland that has been continuously covered by woodland since the end of the most recent glacial period, approximately 10,000 years ago. Humans have lived in the area since at least the Bronze Age, approximately 4,000 years ago. Archaeologists have found evidence that copper mining took place in the Ross Island area during this period, which suggests that the area was of considerable importance to Bronze Age people. The park has many archaeological features, including a well preserved stone circle at Lissivigeen. The woods in the park have been disturbed and cleared at different periods since the Iron Age. This has caused a gradual decline in the diversity of tree species in the park.

Some of the most impressive archaeological remains in the park are from the early Christian period. The most important of these features is Inisfallen Abbey, the ruins of a monastic settlement on Inisfallen Island in Lough Leane. It was founded in the 7th century CE by St. Finian the Leper and was occupied until the 14th century. The Annals of Inisfallen, a record of the early history of Ireland as it was known by the monks, was written in the monastery from the 11th to 13th centuries. It is thought that the monastery gave rise to the name Lough Leane, which means “Lake of Learning.” After the Norman invasion of Ireland, the land around the lakes was owned by the McCarthys and O’Donoghues. Ross Castle is a 15th century tower house on the shore of Lough Leane. It was once the residence of the chieftain O’Donoghue Mór. The castle was extended in the 17th century. It has been restored and is open to the public. A 1580s Elizabethan military record describes the Killarney area as a meagerly inhabited wilderness of forest and mountains.

From the 18th century the land in today’s park were divided between two great estates, the Herberts of Muckross and the Brownes (Earls of Kenmare). During the 17th and 18th centuries the woods were extensively utilised for local industries including charcoal production, cooperage and tanning. Pressure on the woods intensified in the later part of the 18th century. The biggest cause of oakwood destruction in Killarney in the 18th century was the production of charcoal to fire smelters used in the local iron industry. Approximately 25 tons of Oak was needed to produce one ton of cast iron. In 1780 Young famously described Derrycunihy wood as “a great sweep of mountain, covered partly in wood, hanging in a very noble manner, but part cut down, much of it mangled, and the rest inhabited by coopers, boat-builders, carpenters and turners…”

Woodland exploitation again increased during the Napoleonic era in the early 19th century, probably because of the high prices that Oak was commanding at this time. Replanting and management of the Oak forests was promoted at this time. There was a large-scale felling of Oak trees at Ross Island in 1803, Glena in around 1804 and Tomies in 1805. Tomies was then replanted with three-year-old Oak and Glena was coppiced. These activities have increased the relative abundance of oak in the park in the past 200 years. As most of the oak trees in the woods today are around 200 years old, it is likely that the majority of them were planted, and the oakwoods that have never been disturbed by humans are restricted to a few isolated pockets in remote areas such as mountain valleys.

In 1910, the American William Bowers Bourn bought Muckross Estate as a wedding present for his daughter Maud on her marriage to Arthur Vincent. They spent £110,000 improving the estate between 1911 and 1932, building the Sunken Garden, the Stream Garden, and a rock garden on an outcrop of limestone.

Maud Vincent died from pneumonia in 1929. In 1932 Arthur Vincent and his parents-in-law donated Muckross Estate to the Irish state in her memory. The 43.3 square kilometres (10,700 acres) estate was renamed as the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park. The Irish government created the national park by passing the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park Act in 1932. The Act required the Commissioners of Public Works to “maintain and manage the Park as a National Park for the purpose of the recreation and enjoyment of the public.” The memorial park is the core of today’s enlarged national park.

Initially the Irish government was unable to provide much financial support to the park, so it operated primarily as a working farm that was open to the public. Muckross House was closed to the public until 1964.

Around 1970 there was public disquiet about threats to the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park. The Irish authorities looked at international practises in classifying and managing of national parks. It was decided to expand and re-designate the park as a national park that corresponded broadly to ICUN Category II. A decision was also made to establish other national parks in Ireland. Almost 60 square kilometres (15,000 acres) has been added to the original park, including the three lakes, Knockreer Estate, Ross Island,

Innisfallen, and the townlands of Glena, Ullauns, and Poulagower. The park is now more than double the size it was in 1932. As the Irish economy became wealthier and the perception of the role of national parks changed, much more money was made available to the park.

Climate and geography

Killarney National Park (Irish: Páirc Náisiúnta Chill Airne) is located beside the town of Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland. It was the first national park established in Ireland, created when Muckross Estate was donated to the Irish state in 1932. The park has since been substantially expanded and encompasses over 102.89 km2 (25,425 acres) of diverse ecology, including the Lakes of Killarney, Oak and Yew woodlands of international importance, and mountain peaks. It has Ireland’s only native herd of Red Deer and the most extensive covering of native forest remaining in Ireland. The park is of high ecological value because of the quality, diversity, and extensiveness of many of its habitats and the wide variety of species that they accommodate, some of which are rare. The park was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1981. The park forms part of a Special Area of Conservation.

A major geological boundary between Devonian Old Red Sandstone and Carboniferous limestone is located in the park. The underlying geology of the majority of the park is sandstone, with the limestone pavements occurring on the low eastern shore of Lough Leane.

The park has an oceanic climate, heavily influenced by the Gulf Stream. It experiences mild winters (6 °C (43 °F) February average) and cool summers (15 °C (59 °F) July average).

Mean daily temperatures range from a low of 5.88 °C (42.58 °F) in January to a high of 15.28 °C (59.50 °F) in July. The park experiences high rainfall and changeable fronts, with light showery rainfall being frequent throughout the year. The mean rainfall is 1,263 millimetres (49.7 in) per year, 223 days per annum typically having more than 1 millimetre (0.039 in) precipitation. The mean number of frost days is 40.

The geological boundary, the park’s wide range of altitudes, and the climatic influence of the Gulf Stream combine to give the park a varied ecology. These ecosystems include bogs, lakes, moorland, mountains, waterways, woodland, parks and gardens. Outcropping rock, cliffs and crags are features of the park. Above 200 metres (660 ft), the mountainous sandstone areas support large areas of blanket bog and heath.
The Lakes of Killarney

The Lakes of Killarney are Lough Leane (the lower lake), Muckross Lake (the middle lake), and the Upper Lake. These lakes are interlinked and together make up almost a quarter of the park’s area. Despite being interlinked, each lake has a unique ecosystem. The lakes join at the Meeting of the Waters, a popular tourist area. Sport angling on the lakes has been a popular pastime for generations, utilising the lakes’ large populations of Brown Trout and Salmon.

Lough Leane is approximately 19 square kilometres (4,700 acres) in size and is by far the largest of the three lakes. It is also the largest body of fresh water in the region. It is also the lake richest in nutrients.

It has become eutrophic as a result of phosphates from agricultural and domestic pollution entering Lough Leane Reedbed, an important habitat on the edge of Lough Leane. This nutrient enrichment has caused several algal blooms in recent years.

Killarney Cycling Tour

The blooms have not yet had a severe effect on the lake’s ecosystem. To prevent further pollution causing a permanent change in the lake’s ecosystem, a review of land use in the catchment area is being carried out. Water quality in the lake appears to have improved since phosphates were removed from sewage in 1985. As of August 2007, several large hotels and businesses have stated their intention to stop using phosphate detergents, in an effort to preserve the quality of the lake water.

Muckross Lake is the deepest of the three lakes. It has a maximum depth of 73.5 metres (241 ft), close to where the steeply sloping side of Torc Mountain enters the lake. The lake lies on the geological boundary between the Sandstone Mountains to the south and west and the limestone to the north.

Lough Leane and Muckross Lake lie across the geological boundary. The presence of limestone causes both of the lakes to be slightly richer in nutrients than the Upper Lake. There are many caves in the limestone at lake level, created by wave action combined with the dissolution effect of the lakes’ acidic water on the exposed rock. These caves are largest on the northern shore of Muckross Lake.

From the Meeting of the Waters a narrow channel called the Long Range leads to the Upper Lake, the smallest of the three lakes. This lake is located in rugged mountain scenery in the upper Killarney/Black Valley area. The fast run-off in its catchment area can cause the level of the lake to rise by up to a meter in a few hours during heavy rain.

Muckross Lake and the Upper Lake are high quality oligotrophic systems, with water that is slightly acidic and low in nutrients. This is caused by run-off from the upland sandstones and blanket bogs in their catchment areas. They have diverse aquatic vegetation, including Quillwort (Isoetes lacustris), Shoreweed (Littorella uniflora), and Water Lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna).

All three lakes are very acid sensitive and therefore vulnerable to afforestation within their catchment areas. The National Parks and Wildlife Service is responsible for the management and administration of the park. Nature conservation is main objective of the park, and ecosystems in their natural state are highly valued. The park is also known for its beautiful scenery. Recreation and tourism amenities are also provided for.


Aghadoe (Irish: Achadh Deo) is a large townland overlooking the town and lakes of Killarney in Ireland. Officially it is also a parish, although the parish is larger than the area normally associated with the name. The area is famous for its views of the lakes and islands, including Innisfallen Island. The ruins of 13th century Parkavonear Castle and of “Aghadoe Cathedral,” an old Romanesque church in ruins, make the spot popular with tourists and archaeologists.

Aghadoe takes its name from Acha Dá Eo, which is Irish for “The place of the two yew trees”. (It was traditional for church yards to have only one yew tree).

The Gap of Dunloe

The Gap of Dunloe (from Irish: Dún Lóich, meaning “Lóich’s stronghold”, otherwise known as Bearna an Choimín meaning “gap of the common-land”) is a narrow mountain pass between Macgillycuddy’s Reeks (west) and Purple Mountain (east) in County Kerry, Ireland. It is about 11 km (6.8 mi) from north to south. Within it are five lakes: Coosaun Lough, Black Lake, Cushnavally Lake, Auger Lake, and Black Lough (north to south). These lakes are connected by the River Loe. Between the first two lakes is an old arch bridge called the ‘Wishing Bridge’ so named because it is said that wishes made while upon it are destined to come true.

gap of dunloe pony and cart


Kate Kearney’s Cottage

Kate was a well-known beauty in Ireland in the years before the Great Famine (1845-1849). The legend of Kate has captured the imagination of people far and wide down through the years.

It was at this síbín that Kate distilled her famous poitín, ‘Kate Kearney’s Mountain Dew’, which was “very fierce and wild, requiring not less than seven times its own quantity of water to tame and subdue it.” It was of course illicit. However, Kate flouted the law and invited the weary traveller to partake of her hospitality.

Pictured to the left are Julia Burke and her husband Donal Mór Moriarty who lived in Kate Kearney’s Cottage in the middle of the 19th Century. She and her husband are the first to be documented after Kate herself. They are Jim Coffey’s (the current owner) Great Great Grandparents.

Among the many characters who lived in the Gap of Dunloe was the famous Patrick Boyle, the bugler. This excerpt from ‘Empire News’ describes the man: “In a defile in the hills of Kerry is Sir Echo himself…78-year-old Patrick Boyle, the bugler who wears no uniform. Into his seven-mile valley of echoes, the romantic Gap of Dunloe, come thousands of visitors from all lands to ride under towering cliffs and hear the magic bugle. For more than 60 years Patrick has ‘blown the echoes’ for millionaire and honeymooner. His father before him made the valley echo for Queen Victoria.

Unlike most buglers, he lives unsurrounded by precise barrack walls and men in uniform, he lives alone. But the bugle he blows these days was the gift of a soldier in 1948: a thoughtful gesture by Lieutenant-Colonel G Down, RA whose name and Paddy’s are inscribed on the much-dented instrument that wakes the valley.”