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    Killarney – The Wilderness Guide

    By Patricia Doe, General Manager
    More by Patricia

    A hub for all things adventure, the quaint town of Killarney has much to offer the enthusiastic explorer.

    In the heart of Co. Kerry, Killarney’s colourful and lively town provides a fantastic base to explore all of Kerry’s wild places. Bask in the locals’ strong lilting accent, the people’s warmth, the encroaching nature and the cosy pubs.

    Where is Killarney National Park?

    Welcome to Killarney

    Ireland’s first national park, Killarney is located in the southwest corner of Ireland. It sits on the inland part of the Iveragh Peninsula at the edge of the Ring of Kerry.

    Killarney is located about 4 hours drive from Dublin. From Limerick and Shannon Airport, it is a 2 hour drive, and from Cork, expect about 1.5 hours drive.

    Killarney is easily accessed by public transport: both bus and train are options. By train from Dublin, expect just over a 3 hour long journey with one change in Mallow. If coming from other parts of the west coast by public transport, bus is the only option.

    Killarney National Park

    Walking through the mountains of Kerry.

    Established in 1932, Killarney is Ireland’s first national park. Acting as a safe haven for the many areas of wilderness, lakes and mountains, the vast Killarney National Park stretches for over 26,000 acres – and sits just at the edge of town. The majestic Muckross House, farm and gardens is one of the focal points, and a beautiful reminder of country life in the 1920’s. Head over to Ross Castle and hire a rowboat or kayak to visit Innisfallen, a magical miniature island on Lough Leane.

    Even better, discover Killarney by your own two feet – by either hiking or biking! If you want to really embrace your tourist status, take a jaunting car (open topped horse and carriage) to the Gap of Dunloe. Watch in awe as the native red deer roam freely about the Park. If you are truly lucky you will get a glimpse of the newly reintroduced White Tailed Sea Eagles.

    The Ring of Kerry

    One of Ireland’s most popular things to do, the Ring of Kerry is essentially a 179km long scenic driving circuit of the Iveragh Peninsula. Take a day to drive it, stopping along the way to capture the many Kodak moments en route.

    However, there are other ways to experience this route as well – the Ring of Kerry should be on every avid cyclists bucket list who visits Ireland. The best way to see the Kerry Peninsulas and the Ring of Kerry is from the saddle of a bike. The rolling green hills, the winding back roads, the medieval castles and ruins, the golden beaches and dark blue lochs all combine to capture the rose tinted image of Ireland that many have in their minds eye.

    Learn more about the Ring of Kerry in our guide below. 

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    The Lakes of Killarney

    Ah, the lakes of Killarney. There are several. The principal lakes are Lough Leane, Muckross Lake, and the Upper Lake, though there are a number of smaller bodies of water in the area. Framed by the jagged silhouette of the mountains of Killarney in the distance and the glittering lakes and lush forestry in the lower regions, Killarney is one of the region’s hotspots for adventure tourists and outdoor lovers.

    A great way to experience the lakes is by combining a boat trip with a hike. A local boatsman (and his dog!) takes hikers in his boat across the lakes to the mountains on the other side, letting hikers meander back to Killarney (other options include taking a jarvey, a type of horse and cart, very popular in the park). This is a great introduction to the park, particularly for those that hope to head into the mountains of Kerry later in the trip.

    Love national parks? Want to visit the beauty of Killarney National Park yourself?

    Treat yourself to a deluxe tour through Ireland. Travelling coast to coast, this national parks adventure takes in three of Ireland’s national parks: Killarney, Connemara and Wicklow.

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    The Heritage of Killarney

    Killarney National Park was Ireland’s first established national park, in 1932. The park encompasses a variety of landscapes – lowlands and thick forests, soaring mountains and crashing waterfalls, important heritage sites like Muckross House, Ross Castle and Kate Kearney’s cottage.

    Ross Castle

    Ross Castle, along the lake shores in Killarney National Park.

    Ross Castle

    Hugging the edge of Killarney’s lower lake, Lough Leeane, rises the formidable remains of Irish chieftain O’Donoghue’s Irish tower-house. Built by O’Donoghue Mór in the 15th century, the castle was later gifted to the Browne family, along with the coveted title, “Earl of Kenmare.” Unfortunately, this was common practice at the time – the British government confiscated lands and castles owned by Irish chieftains who did not swear fealty to the British forces, instead giving the lands to more loyal British subjects.

    Interestingly, Ross Castle was actually the last holdout in the region against the invading Cromwellian forces. Cromwell and his feared troops were sent by the Crown in the 1600s to squash any hints of rebellion by the local Irish, as well as burn Catholic structures (to be replaced with protestant ones). Ross Castle was finally captured in 1652.

    There is a local legend still attributed with the place: it is said that the spirit of Lord O’Donoghue sleeps at the bottom of the lake, arising once every seven years to patrol his lands on his white steed. Anyone who witnesses this act is granted good fortune by the old chieftain (so keep your eyes out if you’re visiting in May!)

    Muckross House

    Erected in 1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, the water-colourist Mary Balfour Herbert, Muckross Abbey is a very pretty Tudor-style manor house  sixty-five rooms. It once hosted Queen Victoria on her visit here, but the expenses incurred to prepare for such a high-profile visit helped lead the Herberts to financial ruin, and the house was sold to Sir Arthur Guinness, of Guinness beer fame – though his motive was to preserve the Killarney landscape and simply rented the house out as a country lodge.

    Later passed to another family, the Bourns, the house was eventually gifted to the Irish Free State (later the Republic of Ireland) in 1932, serving the basis to Killarney, Ireland’s first national park. Today, you can visit the house and gardens, and there is a restaurant in the garden.

    Muckross Abbey & Yew Tree

    This ancient and peaceful place was built in 1448. Known today as Muckross Abbey, it was once an Observantine Franciscan Friary. It has a short but violent history, with the friars often suffering from raids, attacks and persecution, and was burned in 1652 by Cromwell’s army. The graveyard is cluttered with many significant graves of Gaelic chieftains and writers.

    The abbey was founded by Donal McCarthy Mor – unlike the O’Donoghues, the McCarthy’s just barely managed to hang on to their lands for several more centuries. At the heart of the abbey, in the central courtyard surrounded by the cloisters, there is a beautiful ancient Yew tree, a type of tree often associated with graveyards, death and the supernatural.

    Killarney's Red Deer

    Killarney’s best-known wildlife is the park’s resident herd of red deer. Of note, the red deer is Ireland’s largest land mammal, and it is considered Ireland’s only native species of deer, having survived Ireland’s last ice age.

    Though at risk of endangerment in the early 1900s, in the 1960s, red deer were carefully protected and re-introduced in Killarney, increasing the herd numbers. There are now somewhere between 600-700 red deer in the Killarney area. The deer are very easy to spot – no need for any gruelling hikes. Even in the lower foothills of the park, most visitors will be able to spot the red deer grazing the lush parklands.

    Interested in wildlife spotting? Learn more about where to spot Ireland’s fauna (or read about Ireland’s marine wildlife here).

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    Climb Ireland’s Highest Mountain


    The peaks of Carrauntoohil and others in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain rise from the Iveragh Peninsula.

    Although our mountains are not considered high, it’s always impressive to boast that you have reached the summit of the highest mountain in a given country. Kerry is home to Ireland’s highest peak. Carrauntoohil stands at 1,038m (3,405ft), but it is still a tough climb! Choose either the Coomloughra Horseshoe route which encompasses the second and third highest peaks, or for those who prefer a challenge, take the MacGillacuddy Reeks. The ridge trail hammers out six peaks in a day’s walk.

    Sound exhilarating? Make the climb yourself on a deluxe hiking trip in the mountains of Kerry.

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    Walk the Kerry Way


    Glistening waters of Torc Waterfall.

    If you are committing to holidaying in Kerry as opposed to a road trip of Ireland, then you must attempt the Kerry Way. Walk the 213km way-marked trail that will show you the best of the peninsula. It takes 8-10 days to do and can be sectioned off to walk from one accommodation to the next.

    If you want a trip that is off the beaten track, then this is definitely for you.  If it sounds too gruelling, simply pick one of the sections to do. The first leg, Killarney to Torc Waterfall is just 6km long. The breathtaking waterfall is worth the sweat and effort alone.

    Learn more about walking the Kerry Way and other Irish long distance trails in our guide. Or, walk sections of the Kerry Way on a new hiking trip through Kerry and Clare.

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    Bonus: Take a Day Trip from Killarney


    Winding roads of the dramatic Healy Pass.

    Killarney is ideally located in the centre of Kerry, therefore the perfect place to leave your luggage in the hotel, rent a car and take a day trip. The choices are plentiful:

    • Visit Valentia Island and the Skellig Islands
    • Drive and hike the Dingle Peninsula
    • Cycle the Healy Pass & Beara Peninsula (or even all three Kerry Peninsulas)
    • Dive in the Gulf Stream
    • Walk the beach at Derrynane
    • Surf the Atlantic Waves at Brandon Bay or at Inch Reef’s
    • Visit Crag Caves in Castleisland
    • Cycle Moll’s Gap

    Take time in the evenings to kick back and relax. The town of Killarney has as much to offer as the wild places surrounding it! Spend a night discovering its hidden gems such as sipping whiskey at the counter of old Irish pubs while listening to live traditional Irish music. Check out what festivals will be on at the time you are there. Take a whiskey class at the local brewery. In winter, there are the Christmas markets and in summer, plenty of outdoor concerts. Do the Kerry Craft Trail or the Killarney Mile Road Race… Killarney is not a place that you’ll risk boredom!

    Visit Killarney National Park

    Meet the Author: Patricia Doe

    “A Sligo native, Patricia spent several years in the upscale hospitality industry and knows everything there is to know about luxury accommodations in Ireland! A keen cyclist and runner, Patricia has travelled the world - including a honeymoon road trip through Middle America! Patrica is Wilderness Ireland's General Manager, having joined the team in 2015.”

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