Killarney's tradition of entertaining visitors began over two centuries ago. Tales of the legendary lakes and mountains surrounding the town initiated a wave of tourism that continues to this day. The town's charm is retained in the curious old-style shop fronts and brick footpaths, while luxury hotels offer the most modern facilities. There have been many unsuccessful attempts at town planning in Killarney since the 18th century; the maze of lanes and oddly angled streets that have resulted lend the town a truly unique flavor, offering the visitor a surprise at almost every corner.
The town center sits at a T-junction, which connects New Street with High Street on one side, and Main Street on the other. Shops catering for visitor interests radiate in all directions. The footpath is very wide here with benches and shady trees. It's a popular gathering spot with visitors and locals alike, and there is usually a crowd milling about or listening to a musician busking. Directly behind the junction, the large brick building divided by a high arch was once the Town Hall—it is now home to various businesses. If you wander through the arch, you will enter Old Market Lane—once the heart of Killarney's commercial quarter. The old terraced cottages are now boarded up, but artists have painted their doorways with colorful characters that seem to observe your progress as you walk along.
High Street is filled with shops selling clothing, tourist goods, pottery, and antiques. Several lanes branch off High Street; rushed locals use them as short cuts, but visitors can indulge and explore them at a leisurely pace. Pleasantly restored in recent years, these lanes have a mixture of housing and small shops. The Old Firehouse stands in Glebe Lane and features pretty, modern wood carving along its porch. On the left-hand side of High Street, three lanes lead to Chapel Place. Fleming's Lane and Barry's Lane are perhaps the most pleasant of the three; the brightly painted houses and shops lending them a cheery aspect.
The second road branching from the town center is Main Street. Books, clothing, hardware and other goods can be found along here, as well as several restaurants. Built in the 19th century in English Gothic style,
Past St. Mary's, Main Street veers to the left. There is a concentration of hotels here, with nine in the immediate vicinity. Branching off Main Street, Brewery Lane leads to College Square. This is another area full of shops and restaurants. In the 1780s a Franciscan school for boys was located here, giving the area its name. College Street leads out of the Square towards Fair Hill. Scene of numerous hangings at the hands of Cromwellian soldiers, the
At the Western End of the town is a complex of religious buildings.
The Muckross Estate dominates the Southern End of Killarney. The estate offers many pleasures for those interested in nature and history.
No trip to Killarney would be complete without a trip to Aghadoe at the Northern End of the town. In addition to spectacular vistas of the lakes,
Beyond Killarney Town
Killarney is the perfect base for anyone wishing to explore the many delights of the entire south Kerry region. The 110-mile long
Tour One: The Ring of Kerry
The fabled 110-mile Ring of Kerry explores the Southwest's most celebrated peninsula. Many operators have bus tours of the Ring, but driving your own transport is the best way to enjoy the breathtaking scenery, ancient forts, and religious monuments.
Begin by taking the R562 road out of Killarney towards Killorglin. After approximately five miles, turn left at the thatched house, following the road to its end. Here is the 16th century tower house Ballymallis Castle. Return to the main road and continue to Killorglin. In the Town Square a wild mountain goat is crowned king in August during Puck Fair. The oldest European festival, it combines revelry and copious alcohol consumption.
Heading towards Glenbeigh, you will soon pass the Kerry Bog Village. This stop combines pub life with a glimpse into Irish history. The picturesque town of Glenbeigh was once part of the Headley estate. The estate house ruin is known as Wynn's Folly and offers a panoramic view. It is worth a small side trip to Rossbeigh Beach, but save Rossbeigh Hill Walk for another time.
Entering Cahersiveen, Daniel O'Connell's Birth Place is on the left. The Daniel O'Connell Memorial Church is the only Irish church dedicated to a layperson. Across the bridge are Ballycarbery Castle, Cahergal Fort, and most impressive of all, Leacanabuaile Fort. If time allows, a visit to the old smuggler's den of Portmagee is worthwhile before going on to Valentia Island, connected to the mainland by a bridge.
On Valentia, the Old Slate Quarry at the top of the island has spectacular views of the Atlantic and the two famous monastic islands of Skellig Michael and Little Skellig. Former home of the Knight of Kerry, Glanleam Subtropical Gardens offer the possibility of an enjoyable interlude in the jungle.
Back on the N70, continue on to Waterville. This Victorian resort town was one of Charlie Chaplin's favorite holiday spots. His bronze statue on the promenade also offers a humorous reminder. Earlier visitors left Eightercua, a stark line of standing stones on a hillside. The next stop is Derrynane House, former home of Daniel O'Connell. In addition to the interesting museum, there is a pleasant walk along the strand. The Derrynane Walk includes abbey ruins, Bull Rock, and the beautiful estate gardens. Well sign posted and a little off the main road is Staigue Fort. This magnificent 1000 BC stone fort is the largest in Ireland.
Sneem is the next town on the ring. A winner of Ireland's Tidy Towns Competition many times over, its most interesting attraction is a sculpture park. The park tour is called The Way the Fairies Went with written guides available at the tourist office.
The road now leads to handsome Kenmare. As the Stone Circle shows, this area has been inhabited for centuries. In 1775 the town itself was planned by the first Marquess of Lansdowne. The Kenmare Heritage Centre has an interesting museum on the town and provides maps for walking tours. Other places to note are Our Lady's Well, Hutchin's Folly, Cromwell's Bridge, and Kenmare Lace Centre. The return to Killarney takes you through stunning mountain scenery with viewing points at Moll's Gap and Ladies' View. Muckross House, Muckross Abbey, and the Kerry Country Life Experience are all worthy stops before entering town again.
Tour Two: The Town of Killarney
Killarney is relatively compact and a two-hour walking tour offers a pleasant way to view most of the historic sites. One of the most notable Killarney landmarks is the Old Workhouse on Rock Road. This large complex of buildings was designed by George Wilkinson of Oxford and completed in 1845. The stone buildings have remained virtually unaltered since those times.
Continue in towards the center of town pausing at the Mercy Convent on the right. This beautiful Victorian building is one of many in the town designed by Augustus W. Pugin. Unfortunately, visitors can only view the convent from the front gate as both it and the gardens remain private. Turn right at the next corner, continue past the Garda station, and take the next left down St. Mary's Terrace. These original two-roomed buildings housed estate workers. Built in 1890, it was the first time mass concrete was used in Killarney; they are known locally as "The Concrete." At the end of St. Mary's Terrace, turn right. You will soon come to the impressive St. Mary's Cathedral. A.W. Pugin designed it also; many people consider it to be one of his finest works. The Old Monastery stands nearby and is the only monastery Pugin designed in Ireland.
Retrace your steps, walking along the Deenagh River. Otters and a variety of birds are frequently seen here. Take a right at the large gates. You are now entering the old Knockreer Estate. The quaint thatched Deenagh Cottage was once a gatehouse, but now serves snacks. There are many pleasant walks through the estate, but these are best left for another day. Return out the gate and take the first right. Follow this wooded road to the car park and go towards the large hotel. On your left you will see a car barrier. Go around the barrier to St. Mary's Well. This small well dates from the 13th century. Pass by the well and through another car barrier to Main Street. St. Mary's Church will face you. Moving past St. Mary's and towards the cinema, you will see the charming Killarney Methodist Church. It has a beautiful interior and is well worth a look. Exiting the Methodist Church, turn left up Countess Road. At the top of Countess Road and on the bridge is a Civil War memorial.
Continue straight to the junction and turn left. Walk under the railway bridge to the Franciscan Friary. This beautiful, unique church is a combination of Belgian and Irish styles. Across from the Friary is the Speir Bhean Monument to Kerry's four Gaelic poets.
Killarney maintains a holiday mood throughout the year. Attractions remain open, there are festivals for every season, and nightlife is always upbeat. No matter what your age or taste, Killarney provides a plethora of options. Street entertainment, sporting events, theater, museums, art galleries, children's attractions and lively nightclubs cater for a wide variety of interests.
A large number of street artists and buskers make their way to Killarney. Many stay a few days as they travel around the country, while others are long-term residents. This makes for a great mix at the Market Square as artists vie for the crowd's attention. During the summer, the town center is pedestrianized from 7p-8a. The quiet streets provide a perfect entertainment forum as onlookers spill out of pubs, restaurants, and ice cream parlors to enjoy the atmosphere. Street entertainment also plays a big part in the numerous festivals held in the Killarney region. The most popular include the Guinness Roaring 1920s Festival and Celtic Music Weekend. The oldest festival in Europe, Puck Fair, crowns a wild goat king and launches three days of merrymaking in his honor.
Those with an interest in equine affairs will enjoy the bi-annual horse racing at the Killarney Races. Even if you don't place a wager, it is worth going to savor the atmosphere. High fashion rules on Ladies Day when women with extraordinary hats compete for prizes. Just as exciting, but more down to earth, are the Rossbeigh Races. Maintaining an age-old tradition, horses race on the beach at low tide with the crowd scattering at their approach. If motorized transport is more to your liking, however, Killarney hosts a number of rallies. Each May, the town is alive with the sound of revving engines and squealing brakes as the Rally of the Lakes roars around the narrow mountain roads. More sedate are the various vintage rallies. The Olde Machinery Rally and Fancy Dress Classic Car Rally are held each Easter, while specialist car rallies are held throughout the year.
Killarney town is surrounded by lakes and rivers and water sports are naturally popular. The colorful Killarney Regatta offers the perfect combination of nail-biting excitement and relaxation. Natives and visitors alike pack a picnic, grab a square of grass, and cheer on their favorites from the lakeshore. Numerous fishing competitions are held in the region, including the Cahersiveen International Angling Competition. If you prefer to fish without pressure, you could always hire a boat complete with gillie for a Fishing Trip on the Lakes.
If all this seems too taxing, a trip to the theatre may be just what you need. The Dochas Drama Group produces up to two fine plays each year, while the Killarney Musical Society concentrates on one full scale musical. Both are amateur, non-profit organizations. The National Events Centre at the Gleneagle Hotel hosts a professional music and dance production with a Celtic flavor during the summer months. Killarney Manor Banquet offers dinner theater with a difference. Held in a historic building, guests are served dinner and entertained by costumed actors in the Old Irish manor house tradition.
Museums and art galleries offer the opportunity for educational enrichment. The Museum of Irish Transport has a fascinating collection of vintage vehicles with an Irish connection. The Kerry Bog Village is a living museum that gives insight into times past, while Muckross House displays furniture and objects in a period setting. The Kenmare Heritage Centre provides detailed information with a local focus. There is a large community of artists in the region and several galleries display their work. The renowned Frank Lewis Gallery features local artists on a regular basis. Cunningham's Art Gallery provides a retail outlet for the Kerry School of Art. Dermot McCarthy and The Artist Gallery combine studios with commercial sales. In Sneem,The Way the Fairies Went leads the visitor through the village's interesting collection of sculpture.
Children's interests are well catered for too. Cappanalea Outdoor Education Centre provides instruction in a wide variety of outdoor sports for all age groups. Gleninchaquin Park is a good place to appreciate nature while burning off some energy. Children can get up close and personal with numerous farm animals at Kennedy's Open Farm. Not as close perhaps, but just as thrilling are the wild seals and dolphins viewed on Seafari Cruises. The perfect answer to a rainy day is found at Killarney Model Railway. Here, Europe is displayed in miniature with tiny trains racing around famous sights. Killarney Cineplex is another option. Matinees are discounted throughout the week and the children's CineClub offers children's films at rock bottom admissions on Saturday and Sunday.
Killarney becomes adult-only after 8p when the atmosphere changes to serious socializing. Although much of the town's nightlife centers around its vast array of pubs, clubs take over as the night wears on. During the summer, most clubs are open seven nights per week. The Danny Mann Pub features ballad singing and nights of dancing. The Grand Hotel has a popular club that features live bands catering for people in their mid-twenties. Admission is free before 10:30p. For those who like traditional dance steps, Darby O'Gills has set dancing several nights a week.
Killarney's unique history began with the last Ice Age. A single ice sheet covered the entire region. As it melted, it sculpted Killarney's magnificent peaks Carrantoohill, Crohane, Tomies, Torc, and Mangerton. Pushing aside huge boulders and gravel, it created the winding passes of Moll's Gap and the Gap of Dunloe. The retreating ice also formed dark, mysterious loughs. The Long Range (Upper Lake, Muckross Lake, and Lough Leane), Lough Guitane, and the Devil's Punch Bowl are all glacial remnants.
Erosion over long periods has continued to form other beauty spots. The Upper Lake, Muckross Lake, and Lough Leane briefly combine at the Meeting of the Waters, creating a mass of small ripples before parting again. Water draining from the Devil's Punch Bowl is responsible for the spectacular Torc Waterfall, while mountain streams join and tumble down at O'Sullivan's Cascade.
The area's first human residents were Bronze Age Beaker Folk, from around 2000 BC. They mined copper on Ross Island and also left the open-air temple at Lissyvigeen. Beginning in 500 BC, successive waves of invaders culturally changed the area. Pictish tribes from the north of Ireland were the first invaders. According to legend, the ruling tribe in Killarney was descended from Queen Mebh's son Cair and was known as the Ciarraige. It is from this name that "Kerry" is derived.
In approximately 400 BC, the next wave came with the Fir Bolg or Iverni. The name Fir Bolg means "bag men." One explanation often given for this name is that they exported Irish earth to the Greeks to protect their cities from snakes. Expert stonemasons, the Fir Bolg created the stone forts Staigue, Cahergall, and Leacanabuaile centuries later. They also developed Ogham script, fine examples of which can be found near Killarney. A Celtic people, they gave Ireland some of its richest legends. The tales of Cuchulainn, Deirdre, and Curoi are all attributed to them; it is thought that the great Irish saga 'Tain' tells of the Fir Bolg's battles with the next invasion group, the Gaels.
The Gaels who later called themselves the Milesians arrived in 100 BCE. Although a fierce, warring race, it still took them 500 years to dominate the other two groups and eventually settle their power base around Killarney.
The Arrival of Christianity
Until 400 CE, Killarney remained under Gael rule with the Ciarraige and Fir Bolg paying tributes. The first Christian communities were established around this time with St. Abban building a cell at Aghadoe. Christianity was accepted quite readily in Kerry, with pagan festivals and rites readily assimilated. By 633 CE, Gael, Faithliu, established the monestary on Innisfallen Island. Although the Geraldines came as far as Aghadoe and built a castle on the site of Parkavonear, the Gaels ruled undisturbed for 200 years until they were overthrown by the O'Donoghue/MacCarthys. From 1200 onwards, the Anglo-Normans, based at Ballymalis Castle, launched successive attacks on the O'Donoghue/MacCarthy chieftains and were defeated in 1261. During the relatively peaceful centuries that followed, the O'Donoghue/MacCarthy family built Ross Castle and Muckross Abbey. Then in 1583, the English defeated the O'Donoghue/MacCarthys, and most of their lands were awarded to Sir Vincent Browne.
The Brownes became Earls of Kenmare and had the single biggest influence on Killarney. In the 15th century, English Protestant settlers were given land and a Cromwellian military post was set-up at Ross Castle. These soldiers then sought out and hung Irish Catholic "revolutionaries." The poet Piaras Ferriter was one victim and the Speir Bhean Monument commemorates him. The priest Thaddeus Moriarty was another, arrested for saying mass at Killaclohane Mass Rock. Remarkably, the Brownes remained Catholic throughout this period and never lost power.
Killarney continued as a small market town until 1750. Viscount Kenmare, seeing a great promotional opportunity, decided to capitalize on nature's bounty. He invested in roads, boat facilities, and gave out long leases for new inns beginning the town's tourist industry. During this same period, the lands around Muckross transferred to the Herbert family. The Herbert's amassed a considerable fortune by mining copper along the Muckross peninsula. In 1793 Rudolf Erich Raspe, the author of The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen, was employed as estate geological adviser. He died from a fever in November 1794 and is buried in nearby Killegy Churchyard.
With the continued encouragement of the Brownes, St. Mary's Cathedral, St. Mary's Church of Ireland, the Presentation Convent, and a new Franciscan Friary were all built in the early 19th century. Both the Herberts and Brownes also built grand, new estate houses at Muckross and Knockreer. This prosperity was halted in the autumn of 1845 when the potato blight struck. Partially built, St. Mary's Cathedral was used as a fever hospital. The population of the large workhouse, built in 1845 to house 800, had swelled to 1200 by 1847. The Herberts and Brownes were active in Famine relief, cutting personal expenditures to supply soup and agricultural expertise for their tenants.
By 1850, the ravages of the Famine had faded and Killarney's role as a tourist center returned. In 1861, with an entourage of over 100, Queen Victoria arrived. A panorama on the Muckross estate, enjoyed by her ladies-in-waiting, was dubbed Ladies View, a name it has retained.
The Muckross estate was sold in 1899 to Lord Ardilaun, a member of the Guinness family. Then in 1910 it was sold to a wealthy Californian, William Bowers Bourn, who gave it to his daughter as a wedding gift. Maud Bowers Bourn married Irishman Arthur Rose Vincent and made the estate their home. After Maud's tragic death in 1929, Arthur Rose Vincent decided to give the estate to the Irish nation. This was finalised in 1932, making Muckross the first Irish National Park. The National Park has continued to grow over the years and it now includes approximately 26,000 acres.
Killarney's tourism role has changed very little in the present day. The 1990s saw development of accommodation and tourist facilities on an immense scale. The homey charm of family-run bed and breakfasts gave way to large, purpose built guesthouses and international hotel chains. New golf, leisure, and entertainment venues were given the green light from planning authorities with remarkable speed. In 1993 the Killarney Golf and Fishing Club proposed adding a third 18-hole golf course to their grounds. The development included several acres of the National Park, on "loan." A groundswell of local opposition forced the Club to eventually abandon the plan and purchase land elsewhere. During the same period, the rise in tourist traffic benefited many of the historical sites with millions poured into restoration projects. Some argue that many new developments have brought revenue at the expense of Killarney's old-fashioned country appeal. To the fleeting visitor this may seem to be the case, but those willing to step off the beaten track find the same warmth and genuine hospitality that helped make Killarney famous.