Magical Killarney is our answer to Florida – without the alligators!
IN search of beauty, we often look into the distance, missing what’s right in front of us. This thought struck me after a short break in Killarney over mid-term.
Killarney is a strong hour’s drive from my childhood home in west Limerick and, while I have often been to the races there and passed through on the way to the coast, I had never really stopped off.
I don’t have the space — or the skill — to even try to describe its beauty, but I can say I now understand something of the fuss about Killarney and its accessible, spectacular lakes, jolly waterfalls, lofty mountains and stately old woodland.
It’s not a new phenomenon that the visit of the celebrity can make a place, and Killarney has had many famous visitors. These include Wordsworth and Jane Austen, but the four-night stay of Queen Victoria in 1861 did more than anything to put it on the tourism map.
Two of those nights were spent at Muckross House, set in the 26,000ac Killarney National Park, the jewel in the town’s crown.
Overlooking the Middle Lake, Muckross (means pigpeninsula) House was built in 1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, the watercolourist Mary Balfour Herbert. Many samples of her work are still to be seen in the 65-room Tudorstyle mansion, access to which is by guided tour.
Our guide told us that they had six years’ notice of Queen Victoria’s visit, and much of the current decoration was to her taste.
We also learned that they used to import ice from Norway!
With the only vehicular traffic allowed in the park being the town’s trademark jaunting cars, we decided the best way for us to explore was on (hired) bikes.
It was such pleasure to puff up tree-lined hills and zoom down parkland dales, ride abreast, chat and pass each other out in safety.
When we went out for a bite to eat that evening, I was shocked to find a 10-oz burger on the menu. I had previously noticed, in the restaurant at Muckross, that the desserts were very big.
Could this somehow be connected to the fact that Killarney has long been a destination for Americans, whose obesity epidemic is ahead of ours?
Next day, we set out to visit Ross Castle, only to discover that, along with a number of other attractions, it had closed for the winter on the previous weekend. Surely they could be kept open through mid-term?
As we rambled around taking photos, an elderly man came up and offered to take a family pic, which we gratefully accepted.
Originally from Thurles, he had retired to Killarney to be closer to his son, who works in Muckross, and grandchildren.
There seemed to be a lot of retired people around. I expect it could have something to do with the nearby extensive public lands and the allure associated with bodies of water, without the harshness of the sea.
Killarney also has the homeliness of a small town, with the services and benefits of a bigger one, as there seems to be lots going on.
So Ireland’s answer to Florida? Maybe. At least there’s no alligators!
We also paid a visit to Killarney House, which I had never heard of before.
Located right in town, it is a converted stable block of the previously adjacent Kenmare House, which was burnt down.
Killarney House was extensively renovated in the 1960s by Mary and John McShain, known as the man who built Washington. They later sold the house and lands of almost 25,000ac to the State for a nominal sum.
The House is currently undergoing a €7m renovation. An interpretive centre for the national park is expected to open upstairs next March. Three downstairs rooms are already open. Admission is free.
Now that we’ve discovered Killarney, we’ll be back.