History of Killarney

History of important landmarks in Killarney

Muckross Abbey

Muckross Abbey was founded in the 15th Century as a Franciscan Friary  by Donal Mc Carthy Mór.  It has been reconstructed several times after numerous raids.  Friars Glen on Mangerton Mountain  is said to have been the place the monks fled to when the monastery was under attack.  The monks of Muckross Abbey were driven out in the 1650’s by the infamous Cromwellian forces

These well preserved ruins include a square courtyard where grows and an ancient yew tree. It is thought that this tree is as old as the Abbey itself. Next to the abbey is a graveyard which is in a poor state of repair but is still used to this day as an active burial ground. The graveyard is said to hold the remains of the O’Donoghue chieftains amongst many others in its grounds. Eoghan Rua O’ Suilleabhain, Aoghán O Rathaille and Geoffrey O’ Donoghue are said to be buried there.

Muckross House

While the lands of the O’Donoghue Mor were confiscated in the 16th Century and given to Sir Valentine Browne the lands of McCarthy Mór remained in their ownership until the 18th Century.

 In the early 18th Century the Herbert family, originally from Wales leased land in Muckross from the McCarthys Mór clan.  Later, Florence McCarthy Mór married Agnes Herbert and when their unmarried son died in 1770  he left the entire  McCarthy Estate to the Herberts. Mining on the Muckross Peninsula made the Herbert family very wealthy.  As the 18th Century saw the industrialization of the British Isles, the copper deposits on the Muckross peninsula proved very valuable

Muckross House was built in 1843. This tudor style mansion looks out on Muckross Lake and is the focal point of the National Park.   The rooms are furnished in period style and give us an idea of the elegant lifestyle of the 19th Century landowning class. The basement where the servants toiled was separated from the main house.  The reason being, so that the cooking smells would  not travel through to the main house

In 1861 Queen Victoria arrived on the royal train to Killarney and stayed for two nights in Muckross House. The Queen  was brought sightseeing to Ross Castle, Muckross Abbey, Torc Waterfall and enjoyed hunting and boating on the Lakes of Killarney.  

No expense had been spared by the Herberts to get the house ready for her two night stay. Persian carpets, tapestries, china and linen were bought.  In fact it is reported that the Herberts got into financial difficulty as a result of the huge outlay spent in getting the House up to speed for the royal visit. It was the visit of Queen Victoria that launched  Killarney as a tourist destination. 

 In 1899, after 200 years and seven generations of Herberts, the Herbert family sold their Muckross Estate,  encompassing 1300 acres of lands to Lord Ardilaun.  Lord Ardilaun was a member of the Guinness family. The Guinness family did not actually live in Muckross House themselves but rather rented it out as a hunting lodge. Twelve years later it was sold again to a Californian mining magnate named  William Bovers Bourn who gave it to his daughter Maud on her marriage to  Arthur Rose Vincent  The  Vincents continued to live there  for the next 20 years until Maud’s death from pneumonia in 1929.  In 1932 the estate including 13,000 acres was gifted to the Irish Free State in memory of Maud and it became the Bourn-Vincent Memorial Park. It was to become Ireland’s first National Park

Muckross House is open 7 days a week from 9.30 to 6.  Last tour at 4.30 www.muckross-house.ie It is well worth a visit!!

Ross Castle

Ross Castle is a typical example of a stronghold of an Irish chieftain during the middle ages. Ross Castle was built in the 15th Century by the ruling clan called the O’Donoghue Mór. The ownership changed 100 years later during the second Desmond Rebellion to another powerful clan called the McCarthy Mórs. Ross Castle was amongst the last to surrender to Oliver Cromwell.

 The castle and lands were leased to Sir Valentine Browne.  At the end of the wars the Brownes proved that they had not partaken in the rebellion and they retained the castle and lands. The castle became a military barracks and remained so until 1852.  After that it fell into ruin. In 1970 the ruined castle was taken into state care and was rebuilt.  

Ross Castle is one of the most visited places in the national park because of its charming location and amazing architecture. Today the castle is authentically restored and contains 16th and 17th furniture. It is open to the public during high season. Many people don’t realize that when they are on Ross Castle they are actually on an island.

Copper Mining in Killarney

The earliest known copper mines in north western Europe were in Killarney.  Mining has taken place at two locations on the Killarney Lakes, Ross Island and on the Muckross Peninsula. Excavation of the Ross Island site over 10 years  by the Archeology Department of University of Galway came  up with evidence that the mines here were north western Europe’s earliest  known working metal mines.  Some of the earliest tools and instruments used in Ireland and now in the National Museum were probably made from copper mined here. It is known that copper, iron, lead and silver were mined in Killarney. Evidence shows that mining activity in Killarney  dates back to the Bronze age and came to an end in the middle of the 19th Century. The proximity of the mines to the lake shore meant they were constantly being flooded and why ultimately mining was discontinued in the 19th Century.   People had incredible knowledge way back then to be able to smelt and mould copper and bronze objects .  The furnace had to be over 1000 ° to melt the copper. The greatest 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 were needed to produce one ton of cast iron. . Between 1804 and 1829 over 5,000 tons of copper ore was sent to smelters in England.  Over 500 people were employed in the mines at the time.

Innisfallen Island

Innisfallen Island is located on Loch Leane. The monastery was founded in here 640 AD by St. Finian ) the Leper (Faithleann in Gaelic, and was occupied for approximately 850 years. The famous Annals of Innisfallen were completed by the monks over the next few hundred years. This was a chronicle of the early history of Ireland. They were written in a combination of Irish and Latin and can be found today in the Bodleian library in Oxford.

It is thought that the location of the monastery gave rise to the name given to Loch  Leane.  The Lake of Learning. It is also said that Brian Boru, a once famous king of Ireland got his education here.  None of the ruins of this monastery are visible today.  The ruins that you see are from the 12th Century Augustinian Priory.    The island served as a leper colony around this time.

Killarney House (originally called Kenmare House)

The Desmond Rebellion led by Gerald Fitzgerald the Earl of Desmond against the English Crown came to an end in 1583.  The lands of the rebels were confiscated The lands of O’Donoghue Mor of Ross was given to “undertakers” loyal to the English crown. His lands were given to Sir Valentine Brown. Valentine Browne was granted an earldom in 1801 for supporting the Union with Britain and he adopted the title Earl of Kenmare.  The Browns held on to these lands for the next 400 years.

The present Killarney House was once a stable block of a French chateau style residence . Kenmare House was originally built in 1726 and demolished by Sir Valentine Browne, 4th Earl of Kenmare, in 1872.

In that same year Valentine Browne and his wife Gertrude began construction of the new magnificent Killarney House; a manor built on higher grounds than the previous Kenmare House Estate, affording stunning views of Loch Leane and the McGillycuddy Reeks. This Victorian Tudor mansion cost over £100,000.

Seven years later in 1879, Killarney House was burnt down shortly after its completion. It was rebuilt but unfortunately in 1913 was once again destroyed by fire. Instead of rebuilding the house , Valentine Browne, 5th Earl of Kenmare renovated the original 18th Century Courtyard from what was the Kenmare Estate. Here is where their family resided from then on. They called it “Kenmare House” although local people called it Killarney House.

The Killarney House estate was a remarkable venue for attracting and entertaining guests; most notably, Queen Victoria.  Queen Victoria  holidayed in Killarney in 1861 and chose the Killarney house estate as her base. During the 1920’s and 1930s, Valentine, Lord Castlerosse, spent much time entertaining guests in the newly refurbished Kenmare House.

In 1957 Mrs Beatrice Grosvenor, niece of Gerald Ralph Desmond Browne, 7th Earl of Kenmare, sold the Killarney House Estate to an American syndicate. However one member of the syndicate by the name of John McShain bought out all the other members and the estate came into his full possession in 1959. On the death of John McShain’s wife Mary in 1998, the estate was gifted by the McShain family to the Irish State.

Timeline: