Killarney National Park
South and West of the town of Killarney is the world famous Killarney National Park and Lakes of Killarney. The park totals 10,236 hectares - comprising the Upper, Middle & Lower Lakes surrounded by mountains and woodlands. The Park is an area of outstanding beauty and includes the peaks of Mangerton - Torc - Shehy and to the west of the park are the MacGillycuddys Reeks - the highest mountain range in Ireland.
There are several ways of entering the National Park, the closest to The Holiday Inn Killarney is Muckross Abbey, situated approx 15 mins walk or alternatively Killarney House is situated approx less than 10 mins walk.
The nucleus of the National Park is the 4,000 hectare Bourn Vincent Memorial Park, formerly known as the Muckross Estate, which was presented to the State in 1932 by Mr. and Mrs. W. B. Bourn and their son-in-law Senator Arthur Vincent to be Ireland's first National Park. In recent years, lands and waters of the former Kenmare Estate have been added, including Knockreer, Ross Island and Innisfallen.
In 1981, the Park was designated by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve, part of a world network of natural areas which have conservation, research, education and training as major objectives.
For the active, walking and cycling are the best ways to see the National Park. There is a network of surfaced tracks in the Muckross, Knockreer and Ross Island areas of the park which are ideal for both cyclists and walkers. Bicycles can be rented in and around Killarney Town . There are numerous low-level walks as well as some marked circular routes and some nature trails in the Muckross area. In addition there is a mining trail in Ross Island . All routes provide the visitor with wonderful views of Killarney's spectacular scenery. Maps and booklets can be obtained at the park information centres at Muckross House and at the Gate Lodge of Killarney House.
For those that prefer something a little more energetic there is the magical Gap of Dunloe trip. This involves a boat trip from Ross Castle through the Lower and Middle lakes into the upper lake to Lord Brandon's Cottage. (Boat operators will take bikes on the trip) From here you can either, walk, cycle or take a pony and trap through the 12 kilometres to the Gap of Dunloe to Kate Kearney's Cottage. Alternatively you can walk along the Mass Path and up on to the Old Kenmare Road which will bring you back to Muckross and Killarney. This is very much a trip for seasoned walkers. The trip is also done in reverse with coach transport to Kate Kearney's Cottage , pony and trap through the Gap of Dunloe and boat through the lakes to Ross Castle with coach back to Killarney Town . This trip can be booked at reception.
Boat trips are available at Ross Castle and at Dundag in Muckross. There are trips to Innisfallen Island on the Lower Lake and to Dinis Cottage on the Middle Lake .Waterbuses operate from Ross Castle on the Lower Lake .
Horse drawn jaunting cars are available in Killarney Town and in Muckross and offer a traditional and enjoyable way of experiencing the National Park.
Knockreer, Killarney House and Ross Island are all within walking distance of Killarney Town . Muckross House and Gardens, Walled Garden Restaurant and Traditional Farms and can be accessed by the motor entrance on the Kenmare Road N71 approximately 6.5 kilometres from the town.
The drive from Killarney Town along the Kenmare Road N71 to Moll's Gap offers superb views of the lakes and Killarney Valley .
Human occupation of the Killarney area dates back at least to the early Bronze Age, when copper was first mined at Ross Island, almost 4,000 years ago. In early Christian times, monastic settlements provided the main evidence of the occupation of the area. The most important of these was the monastery on Innisfallen founded by St. Finian the Leper. The "Annals of Innisfallen", written there in the 11th-l3th centuries, are a major source of information on the early history of Ireland.
A pedigree herd of Kerry cattle, once the dominant breed in Ireland, graze the demesne grasslands. The only native herd of Red Deer remaining in the Ireland roam the upland areas of the Killarney National Park, especially on the slopes of Torc and Mangerton,. Now numbering over 850, this herd has had a continuous existence since the return of Red Deer into Ireland at the end of the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago. Japanese Sika Deer, introduced to Killarney in 1865, are found not only on the open mountain hut also throughout the woodlands. Most of the other native mammals, as well as the long established introduced species, occur in the Park. Worthy of note is the Bank Vole, a species first identified in 1964 in north west Kerry. From there its range has expanded and now includes the National Park.
With the varied habitats of mountain moorland, woodland and lake, the Park is rich in bird species. On the uplands, the most common birds are the Meadow Pipit, Stone chat and Raven. Peregrine Falcons and Merlins are occasionally seen as is the Red Grouse. The woodlands support characteristic bird communities with the Chaffinch and Robin as the most common breeders. The aquatic habitats are home for Heron, Mallard, Little Grebe and Water Rail which all breed around the Lakes while the Kingfisher and the Dipper are frequently seen on the rivers and streams. In both winter and summer native bird populations are augmented by migrant species. In winter for example, a small flock of around 40 Greenland White fronted Geese from the world population of around 12,000 feed in the Killarney Valley.
Natural stocks of Brown Trout and Salmon inhabit the lakes and fishing for them is free, subject only to the usual Salmon licence regulations. The lakes also contain populations of Charr, usually a fish of Sub-Arctic lakes and of Killarney Shad, a small lake dwelling form of Twaite Shad.
White Tailed Eagles
In June 2007 fifteen white tailed eaglets were brought from Norway to Killarney National Park . This was the first step in an ambitious reintroduction programme which saw those fifteen birds take flight on the 16 th August. In June 2008 a further 20 eaglets arrived and were successfully released the following August. The birds have done exceptionally well in their new environment in the Kerry hills and valleys. White tailed eagles are magnificent birds and feed mainly on carrion and pose little threat to sheep farmers. However there is a tradition in some areas of laying out poison during the lambing season and seven of the released birds have been lost due to picking up poisoned bait. One the birds that died had travelled west to the Skellig islands and as far north as Co. Derry before coming back to Killarney where it was found dead. All of the birds are tagged and carry small radio transmitters so that their movements can be tracked.
Donal McCarthy Mor founded the Abbey, a Franciscan Friary, in 1448. These well-preserved ruins were the burial place of local Chieftains and, in the 17th and 18th centuries, of the Kerry Poets, O'Donoghue, O'Rathaille and O'Suillehhain. The Abbey provides the visitor with a wonderful experience - follow the old narrow stairways to get a feeling of how the old monks would leave their living quarters and make their way to prayer. Today, many visitors from around the world visit Muckross Abbey to say a prayer for world peace in these the troubled modern times.
The most familiar part of the National Park is the Muckross Demesne, of which the focal point is Muckross House. The House, built in 1843, is now jointly managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Trustees of Muckross House (Killarney) Ltd. as a major centre for visitors.
The House, to which there is an admission charge, is presented primarily as a late 19th century mansion. In the former stables of the House is a restaurant and craft shop.
Muckross Gardens, are renowned for their fine collection of rhododendron species and hybrids and azaleas. There is an extensive water-garden and a rock-garden on a natural limestone outcrop. Many tender and exotic trees flourish in the mild climate and sheltered location around the large expanse of informal lawn and in the Arboretum.
Within the National Park are the most extensive areas of natural woodland remaining in the country. On the Old Red Sandstone of which the mountains are composed, are the native oak woods, dominated by the Sessile Oak with Holly and other evergreens as the under-storey. On the low-lying Carboniferous Limestone, swamp forest on the lake edges is dominated by Alder, while on the limestone reefs of the Muckross Peninsula is a unique Yew Wood.
The mild oceanic climate permits a luxuriant growth of mosses and filmy ferns, many of them growing as epiphytes on the branches and trunks of the trees. In the uplands, the Park contains interesting areas of bog and moorland vegetation.
Some of the characteristic plants of this region are those which are found otherwise only in Southern and South-Western Europe. Examples of these are the Greater Butterwort, St. Patrick's Cabbage and Arbutus.
The closest part of the National Park to the town of Killarney, is the northern portion of the former demesne lands of the Earls of Kenmare. There are several pleasant walks through pasture and woodland and! along the shores of Lough Leane. Knockreer House, and its surrounding gardens command fine views of Lough Leane and the Mountains beyond.
Visitor Facilities: The Killarney National Park Visitor Centre at Muckross House is the main Information Office and is open on a year round basis. It includes an audiovisual introduction to the Park and exhibition area. A Park Information Office is open during the Summer (July -September) at Torc Waterfall. Publications on sale at these offices include booklets for the self-guiding nature trails, an illustrated guide hook and large scale Ordnance Survey map of the Park.