Killarney National Park

A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Killarney National Park

Killarney National Park, no visitor should miss on the first tour of Ireland. The 25,425 acre (102.89km2) National Park, with its' amazing scenery and diverse ecology, is so important that in 1981  it became a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and is part of a Special Area of Conservation. 

It is one of Ireland's only areas to have been continuously covered by woodland since the end of the last ice age some 10,000 years ago. The extensive native forest includes important Oak and Yew tree species. It is home to the only red deer herd on mainland Ireland.

The park was established through the generosity of two families, the Bourns' and the Vincents'. In 1932, they donated Muckross House and its 10,700 acres (43.3k2) estate to the Irish state. The house and its' estate is the centre-piece of the Killarney National Park.

UNESCO World Heritage Status

A brief history of Killarney National Park

Prehistoric times
The history for Killarney goes back at least 4,000 years to prehistoric times with evidence of copper mining at Ross Island circa 2,400 -1,800 BC. These mines are among the oldest in north-western Europe. 

Standing stones
In the park's lowland areas, further evidence of prehistoric life exists in Stone Circles found at Lissivigeen, and standing stones. Both features of Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age man. Also, existing are traces of ringforts dating from the Iron Age and early Christian times.

The Annals of Innisfallen
Monastic sites provide additional evidence of early Christian occupation with the 7th-century monastery on Innisfallen Island. It was here that the monks wrote the Annals of Innisfallen' of Innisfallen Abbey. Monks completed the document around 1092; the manuscript chronicles Ireland's medieval history and has over 2,500 entries spanning years 433 to 1450. The annals are in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. It may have been associated with the monastery that gave the lake the name of Lough Leane, which means "Lake of Learning."

Muckross Abbey
Muckross Abbey was founded in 1448. Whilst much of the Abbey has been reconstructed over time, a central feature is a huge Yew tree in the courtyard surrounded by a vaulted cloister. The tree is said to be as old as the original Muckcross Abbey. The Herbert family, who became extremely wealthy from the Muckross Peninsular copper mines, built Muckross House around 1840. The estate was ultimately purchased by Lord Ardilaun of the Guinness brewing family, a name familiar throughout Ireland and beyond.

Ross Castle
On the shore of Lough Leane stands the 15th century Ross Castle, once the residence of a powerful local chieftain. It was extended in the 17th century and is today open to the public. Over the 17th and 18th centuries, abundant wood supplies provided fuel for the local iron industry's smelters. They were also used by coopers, carpenters, and boat builders.  

High prices for Oak timber also contributed to significant felling of Oak trees in the Napoleonic era and resulted in a determined replanting programme. Hence many of the Oaks present today are 200 years old.

Creation of the Park
An American, William Bowers Bourn, bought Muckross Estate as a wedding present for his daughter, Maud, in 1910. She married Arthur Vincent but fell victim to pneumonia in 1929 and died. Shortly after, the family donated the estate to the Irish state in her memory. It became the catalyst for the creation of the Killarney National Park. 

Highlights of Killarney National Park

Muckross House and Gardens

Standing within the magnificent Killarney National Park is Muckross House, a charming 19th century Victorian Mansion close to Muckross Lake's shores. The rooms feature period furniture and décor. The gardens are also magnificent and well worth a visit.

Ross Castle
Sitting on the edge of Killarney's lower lake is Ross Castle. The stronghold was built by O'Donoghue Mor 500 years ago. Legend has it that O'Donoghue rises from the lake on a white charger and circles the lake. Ross was one of the last Castles to be captured by Cromwell during the conquest of Ireland and held out until 1652.

Lough Leane
The largest lake Lough Leane means "lake of learning" and is probably a reference to the monastery on Innisfallen Island, a centre of learning in the early middle ages. The scenery around the lake is spectacular.

Ladies' View 
Ladies' view is around 12 miles from Killarney on the road to Kenmare. It's a truly stunning view, perhaps the best known in Killarney National Park. The name was given after Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting were so enchanted by it. It is well worth ensuring that you include it in your visit.

Touring and accommodation
The South West of Ireland is, for many, the most beautiful region of the Country. Not only do you have the spectacular Skellig Islands to sail to, but you have Killarney National Park to tour and the sublime Ring of Kerry drive. Don't forget the lesser-known Dingle peninsula with some of Europe's most dramatic cliff-scapes. Please see our customisable Private Tours of Ireland here

Killarney is the obvious place to stay, and there are plenty of options. We recommend the Killarney Park Hotel, although there are many options. Killarney is a lively little town, a happy place in Killarney National Park.

UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Area of Special Scientific Interest

  • Guided Hikes
  • Outdoor Family Adventure Parks
  • Guided Kayaking
  • Horses Riding 

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