Mag­i­cal Kil­lar­ney is our an­swer to Florida – with­out the al­li­ga­tors!

Irish Independent - Farming - - ANALYSIS - ANN FITZGER­ALD

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.

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