‘The Gates of the Ring of Kerry’ – Killarney National Park

Hey guys!! Welcome back on TodaysWanderluster, this week’s journey on our page won’t require to much of a distant travel from our previous location, as in fact, we aren’t leaving the Iveragh peninsula nor the ‘Ring of Kerry’.

Today’s Wanderlusting will take place on the very gates of the ring and as mentioned in the previous article, on our ‘Ring of Kerry’ tour, we are going to take a closer look onto those Gates, the Killarney National Park.

The Francisian Friary, Killarney National Park, Killarney, Co.Kerry
View Full Galery here.

Discovering the History behind Killarney National Park

What is the Killarney National Park ?

Páirc Náisiúnta Chill Airne’ in Irish, or Killarney National Park located just outside of Killarney town, is pronounced as the first ever national park established in Ireland. The park began to expand from 1932 after it’s creation in the same year when Muckross Estate was donated to the Irish Free State.

Covering a distance of 102.89km2, the park is regarded to be of high ecological value due to a number of factors such as the park’s diversity and the wide variety of species aswell as extensivesnes of habitats that find themselves accomodated within the park, with a certain number of them addressed as ‘rare’.

In 1981, the Killarney National Park was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with the park being known to form part of a Special Area of Conservation.

Nowaday’s the park is regarded almost as a diamond on the ring of Kerry, a very known and popular tourist attraction and is hugely known for it’s beautifal scenery with the park’s main objective to preserve it’s ecosystems and wildlife.

The History behind the Killarney National Park ?

[DISCLAIMER:] If you ain’t the history type, you may proceed to the next heading.. though I think you’ll be missing out on all the interesting stuff but … whatevr]

The history of the Killarney National Park goes waaaaay back, even before humans stepped foot onto the soils of the park, to approx. 10,000 years ago hence the same time when the last glacial period ended with the park said to be one of the very few places in Ireland that continued to be covered by woodland and forest.

Humans have appeared in park around the Bronze Age which was approx. 4,000 years ago. On Ross Island, evidence was found by Archaeologists that copper mining took place in the area which means that even for the people of the Bronze Age era, that area we now call the Killarney National Park, was very important. However, for different reasons and to contrast their reasons with ours in the 21st century,

well…

let’s just say they didn’t seem too interested in biodiversity or nature conservation… it was just on heard off as since the Iron Age, at different time periods, these woodlands and forests in the park have been often disturbed if not completely whiped out in certain places which in the aftermath, resulted in a gradual decline in the parks diversity of tree species.

Image showing a fallen over tree, Killarney National Park, Killarney, Co.Kerry
View Full Galery here.

Fast forwarding now to the 17th century, where the park again built great importance, this time for the local industries who found themselves heavily reliant on the park’s forests for charcoal production among others.

In the 18th century, when the park was divided among two great estates, the ‘Herberts of Muckross’ and the ‘Brownes’ aka ‘Earls of Kenmare’, the situation for the park’s forests only worsened, as a higher demand put more and more pressure on these woods.

Within the 18th century, the park suffered the biggest destruction of it’s oak trees that were in demand for charcoal production to fire smelters. The iron industry needed needed around 25 tons of oak to be able to produce just a ton of cast iron.

The exploitation of Killarney’s forests further increased, down the line through the early 19th century (this time often refered to as the ‘Napoleonic era’) again.. because of the high demand at the time but it’s believed that the high prices of the oak played a vital factor. But hey!.. atleast we can’t say it was all bad as in comparison with the previous centuries, where such activities progressed that left a visible mark on the park and an abundance of oak for almost 200 years, the replanting and management of oak forests was promoted.

Which leads us to our fun fact : Most of the oak-wood trees today in the park are only and around 200 years old, with only a small minority that were never touched by humans, which are restricted to a few isolated pockets of the park.

Trees at Killarney National Park, Killarney, Co.Kerry
View Full Galery here.

The Historical Sites in Killarney National Park

The Muckross House

This tudor style built mansion located between the lakes of Muckross and Lough Leane, 6 km south of Killarney town, counts 65 rooms.

The mansion was built in 1843, designed by William Burn (a British architect) for the Herbert family. Later on, in the 1850s, the Mansion under-went some extensive improvements due to Queen Victoria’s visit in 1861, which in the end… resulted in a serious financial crisis for the Herberts who later had to sell the estate. From there, the Muckross House found itself under many different owners, in 1899, by Arthur Guinness who worked towards the preservation of the ‘dramatic landscape’, from just around the corner of WWI in the August of 1911, the mansion was owned by a wealthy Californian William Bowers Bourn and his family. The Muckross House was then passed down to their daughter Maud and husband Arthur Rose Vincent but unfortunetly, the couple lived there only for a couple of years as in 1929, Arthur’s wife Maud died from pneumonia.

Three years later and here is where we begin to see, this idea of creating a park, coming into place, as in 1932 the Muckross House along with the entire estate was given to the Irish Nation by the Bourn’s and their son in law Arthur Vincent. With the park being known as the ‘Bourn Vincent Memorial Park’ (we know it today as Killarney National Park) which in later years expanded over the former lands of the Earl of Kenmare’s estate.

The Muckross Abbey

Founded in 1448 by the ‘Observantine Franciscans’, the Abbey is known to have been the burial place of local chieftains aswell as the 17th and 18th century poets ‘Seafraidh O’Donoghue’,’Aogán Ó Rathaille’ and ‘Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin’.

Although the Abbey and it’s inhabitants were often raided with the Abbey having to be reconstructed over and over and again, each time after it was destroyed, it is to our surprise that it still stands to this day.

Muckross Abbey, Killarney National Park, Killarney, Co.Kerry
View Full Galery here.

The Inisfallen Abbey

Another early christian landmark that can be found in the park today is the Inisfallen Abbey located on the the Lough Leane’s biggest island, the Inisfallen Island.

Founded in the 7th century by ‘St.Finian the Leper’ the Abbey was built in 650 AD and was further occupied towards the 14th century for an estimate of 850 years !!

The Abbey today stands on the Island as the left over ruins of a monastic settlement, which is thought to have given Lough Leane it’s name “Lake of Learning”. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, a record of the early history of Ireland known by the monks as the ‘Annals of Inisfallen’ , was written there and can be reviewed in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. 

Inisfallen Island would have been regarded as one of the most important sites in the park due to it’s impressive archaeological remains ranging back to the early christian period.

Ross Castle

Located on the edge of the Lough Leane, west of the Inisfallen Island stands a 15th century tower house. Built in the 15th century by the O’Donoghue Mór, it served residence of the chieftian O’Donoghue Mór who after the Norman invasion of Ireland owned vast parts of the land around the lakes together with the O’Donoghues and the McCarthy’s.

Later as time went on… the castle came under the ruling of the Earls of Kenmare who back then, owned a major portion of the land that we call now the ‘Killarney National Park’, earlier they were known as the ‘Brownes’.

Ross Castle was the only castle that stood on those lands and it was among the last to surrender in the Irish Confederate Wars to Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads.

A legend goes about that.. supposedly every seven years on the first morning of May, the O’Donoghue rises with his horse from the Lough Leane and circles the lake. It is said that anyone who would have a glimpse of the O’Donoghue would be assured good fortune coming their way.

What to see in Killarney National Park

Areas of Natural Beauty

Some of the most impressive features that the park has to offer are it’s lakes, which cover approx. one quarter of the park’s area. These lakes are the Muckross Lake, regarded as the deepest lake with a maximum depth of 73.5 metres (241 ft) and the Lough Leane which is the largest lake from the two.

Now of course, one couldn’t talk about the park’s features without talking about it’s woodland and forest. The Killarney National Park is known to be the most extensive area of semi-natural native woodland in the country of Ireland, with an estimated 120 square kilometers or 30,000 acres of woodland which finds itself in the dominance of indigenous species aka.. species that found themselves there as a result of a natural process only without any human intervention.

Three main types of woodland that dominate the park are the ‘acidophilous oak woodland’ on Devonian sandstone which is one of the many features that the park is known for, covering a distance of 12.2 speare kilometeres with the majority of these woodlands located on the lower slopes of the Shehy and Tomy Mountains.

The ‘moss-rich yew woodland’ on carboniferous limestone outcrops, also known as the ‘Reednadinna Wood’ covers an area of 0.25 square kilometers and is located on low-lying karst limetsone pavement that can be found between the lakes of Muckross and Lough Leane on the Muckross Peninsula and is pronounced one of the rarest habitat types within the park aswell as one of the rarest types of woodland on the continent of Europe.

The ‘carr’, which is another name for the wet woodland dominated by the alder on low-lying swampy limestone soils located on the lake edges is the third common woodland type in the park.

Another feature of the park are it’s boglands that seem to dominate the mountains which are essentially bare.. as in, no trees except for the sessile oak that can be found at the lower slopes. These bogs are the blanket bog types that occupy a ‘characteristic flora’ such as the heather, bell heather, the western gorse, the occasional bilberry and the large flowered butterwort which is known to be common in these boglands. We will talk more about the Flora & Fauna of the park in just a sec.. however since we are on the topic we might just mention that these boglands support a wide variety of species that include all of the mentioned below..

(Sphagnum pulchrum, S. fuscum, S. platyphyllum, S. strictum, S. contortum, Calliergon stramineum), liverworts (Cladopodiella francisci and Calypogeia azurea) and lichens (Cladonia mediterranea, C. macilenta, C. rangiferina, C. arbuscula and Cetraria islandica) among a few others.

Now, onto the Mountains!

Ladies Viewing Point, Killarney National Park, Killarney, Co.Kerry
View Full Galery here.

Some of the more known mountains that are located not so far away from the park include the Torc Mountain (south of Muckross Lake and the Torc Waterfall). Further south of the Torc Mountain lies the Mangerton Mountain that overlooks the ‘Devil’s Punch Bowl’ lake and if your looking to completely submerge yourself in mountain climbing in the area, the next stop will be the ‘Knockanaguish’ Mountain south west of the Mangerton Mountain.

At the height of 832 metres, the Purple Mountain can be observed from the upper lake at Killarney on the walk along with the Shehy and Tomies Mountains. The mountain is regarded as the highest point of the Purple Mountain Group aswell as one of the highest mountains in Ireland and isn’t too far away from the McGillycuddy Reeks that start from the Gap of Dunloe

… so in a nutshell, thats where all them mountains are.

Flora & Fauna

We already touched on the topic of the park’s flora when together we discovered the forests and boglands of the park earlier, however…. there is still a little bit more that’s worth exploring and aswell as that, we will also take a look at the park’s Fauna.

One of the many things the Killarney National Park is known for greatly is it’s vast number of different plant and animal species that accomodate themselves within the area of the park, where a great number of these species fall into the hiberno-lusitanean distribution category (only occuring in certain areas like the south-west of Ireland).

An image showing a herd of cows, Killarney National Park, Killarney, Co.Kerry

The most common species in the park would include a majority of the Irish native mammal species, a certain number of fish species in the park’s lakes aswell as plant species in the park that are stated to be rare and having unusual geographic distributions. The plant species of Killarney National Park are divided up into four groups, the arctic-alpine plants, Atlantic species (which are commonly found in southern or south-western Europe and include species like the arbutus), North American species (the blue-eyed grass or the pipewort) and lastly the extremely rare species such as the ‘Bryophytes’….

or in simple english, mosses, liverworts and ferns, that we can find growing on branches or tree trunks which don’t appear to grow anywhere else in Ireland.

Ferns & greenery at Killarney National Park, Killarney, Co.Kerry

I think the next one is pretty interesting, the ‘Killarney Fern’ or if you fancy ‘Trichomanes speciosum’ is found growing in the splash zones of waterfalls or in other damp areas and is generally regarded as the most rare plant species in the park.. why? Oh, because of the pickers who collected these plants later to sell them to in-coming tourists have almost made this plant species extinct.

Some of the plant species that are common to the park but rare in the rest of the country are the ‘strawberry tree’ found on cliff tops and edges of the woodlands around the lake, the ‘Killarney Whitebeam’ which is a small tree growing on rocks near the lakeshores, the ‘greater butterwort’ located in the bogs and the irish spurge, where in the past fishermen used it to catch fish and it’s milky sap used for curing warts… the more you know!

Finally onto the Fauna, for those who have been curious to learn about the native inhabitants of the park.

The main animal species of the park include the Mammals native to the area including the Dear, a variety of Bird and Fish species and Invertebrates.

: Dears

The Killarney National Park is home to the last remaining wild herd of native deer in Ireland that are found in the park’s upland areas such as Torc Mountain. Their population in the park today counts approx. 900..

..however whether you think that number is high or low, the species were near extinction and not so long ago either as in 1970, the number presented us with less than 100.

More over the herd has made Ireland it’s home as it has been present in the country for 4,000 years since the return of the red deer which is believed, was helped by humans after the last ice age.

: Birds Species

The park today counts a rough population of 141 bird species within all areas of the park with a great number of them regarded as rare in the country. The common bird species include the Meadow Pipits, Ravens and Stonechats found in the upland areas with the Chaffinches and Robins found in woodlands being the most common bird species and the Merlins and Peregrine Falcons known to be the park’s rare bird species.

The most notable bird species in the park include the migrating Osprey that sometimes may be noticed in the sky as it flies over from Africa towards Scandinavia, other’s include the Chough or the Nightjar.

In summer, birds such as the Cuckoss and Swallows can be observed from the park as they migrate to Africa. In winter, the Mallard, Pochard, Goldenye and Coot are among the certain bird species that appear in the park. The Lough Leane accomodates other bird species such as the Herons, Water rails and Kingfishers among others and in winter supports the wintering birds like the Redwing. The park’s boglands at Killarney Valley, can also be regarded as home to a certain bird species for example the ‘Greenland White fronted geese”… (yes, im not kidding, that’s its name), whose number remains low in the park.

In 2007, a project called to re-introduce the White-Tailed Eagles, plans to increase their population over the next couple of years, these bird species becoming completely extinct in the 19th century due to landowner persecution.

: Fish Species

The lakes of Killarney National Park count a number of different species of fish like the Brown Trout or the Salmon which would be the common species there. The rare species of fish found in these lakes include the Killarney Shad and the Artic char, which is regarded as a ‘relict species’ as it was left behind after the previous Ice Age. This rare species of fish is more common in the sub Artic lakes in the north and used to be more commonly widespread but today are designated to certain isolation pockets inland freshwaters such as lakes with of course, the appropriate habitat.

: Invertebrates

So essentialy.. we are talking about insects, yey!

Image showing a green caterpillar, Killarney National Park, Killarney, Co.Kerry

In the Killarney Valley (aka.. the park’s boglands) one can stumble upon some of the most unusual intervtebrates species, such as the northern emerald dragonfly, stonefly or the caddisfly. Why is it so strange to have them there ? It’s because they are more common in northern Europe.

The northern emerald dragonfly is regarded as the rarest Irish dragonfly and is found to breed in shallow pools of water in the boglands, together with the earlier mentioned invertebrates regarded as ‘relict species’.

Landmarks

For those who don’t necessarily express their deep interest on areas of natural beauty, nature or animal species, who consider themselves ‘explorers’ .. but yet wish to avoid the word ‘history’, don’t worry we hear ye out, which is why we divided up the blog in a certain way where it may satisfy everyone.

We already touched on the history of these landmarks however we are now going to take a closer look, by actually imaginating ourselves walking into these places, on our journey.

Muckross House

Is a victorian, tudor styled built mansion located at the small peninsula between the two famous Killarney lakes, ‘Lake of Muckross’ to it’s south-west and the ‘Lough Leane’ to it’s north-west. From Killarney town, the Mansion is located 6km away, to the south.

Muckross House, Killarney National Park, Killarney, Co.Kerry

The mansion is one of the many icons of the park and seems to belong in the landscape and with the Killarney National Park itself. The Mansion is a hugely popular tourist spot in the park, admired not only for it’s beautifully preserved architecture and style but also for it’s gardens that play a big factor in maintaining that specific ambiance felt at the mansion and it’s grounds. Once entered these gardens, we may come across the ‘rhododendrons’ and the azaleas (these are the flowers which we would be admiring most when at the gardens), a water garden, flowing lawns and among others the gorgeous arboretum.

The Muckross House offers a guided tour for it’s visitors through out the mansion, with a purpose to bring their tourists back in time by showing the interior of the mansion with each floor showing how life was like for those who lived there back in the 19th century. Within the mansion one has the ability of seeing what the people once living there saw with their eyes as they explore all the elegant rooms furnished in the style typical of the 19th century.

Another feature of the Muckross Mansion worth checking out for those interested in the history of farming and how work was carried out on a farm back in the 1930s and 1940s period are the Muckross Traditional Farms, (which makes one think of how lucky we possibly are nowadays not having to commit ourselves to the same level of effort), the exhibition gives insight to the laborious process of carrying tasks like milking, harvesting or planting in order to ensure the appearance of food on the tables.

Muckross Abbey Tower, Killarney National Park, Killarney, Co.Kerry

Muckross Abbey & Inisfallen Abbey

Located north-east of the Muckross House and is only within a few minutes of a walk from Killarney town, the Abbey is also reffered to as a Francisian Friary and is known to have been a burial place to local chieftains.

Images found online of this Abbey give a false impression that it is small and is better of seen when passing by, however on the approach to the Abbey or .. within the four walls of it, not one will be taken by surprise as the structure is simply way WAY larger.

The Abbey features a central courtyard with a huge yew tree positioned just in the middle that some say (may be as old as the Muckross Abbey itself), which may be observed from the open arcade running along the walls of buildings and forming a quadrangle (aka. a cloister). The Abbey is known to have a second floor that’s accessible with the stairs which it’s visitors will find out as soon as they step foot into the Abbey and begin to wanderluster-around all the darkned hallways and chambers, the TodaysWanderluster Team suggests bringing a flashlight.

The Inisfallen Abbey is another important landmark of the Killarney National Park, situated on the biggest Island approx. 1.5km of the shore at Ross Castle, on the Lough Leane (out of the 32 other Islands, which is probably why the Abbey has been built there).

Today, the only thing that is left of the Abbey are it’s remains that would be known in the form of ruins. However, before you start imagining a pile of rubble on an island in the middle of a lake, the Abbey’s walls are still standing to this day and one can wonder around the ruins of this roof-less oratory… (btw there are two buildings). One may come across the Abbey’s detailed stone archways aswell as the carved into stone… face.

Every year, boat trips to the Inisfallen Island are offered to visitors between the months of March and October.

Ross Castle

Swimming back now and onto the shore, we begin to see the only castle at Killarney National Park and hence our last site that we are going to explore on our journey of the Killarney National Park.

The Ross Castle is located at the Lough Leane, west of Inisfallen Island we just came from and south-west of Killarney town. The castle features a 15th century tower house which used to have square bartizans on the diagonally opposite corners aswell as thick walls (orginally was surrounded by a square bawn). The Tower house is the tallest feature of the castle, where one can climb up to five stories. The Tower house is surrounded by tall castle curtain walls which feature ramparts that back then aided the soldiers with protecting the castle.

Other features of the castle include the castle turrets (which served the purpose of further protection, as soldiers would use them to look out for enemies). To the east of castle, visitors can enjoy many beautiful views of the park from the castle courtyard or the castle ‘viewing point’. Visitors wondering around the castle and it’s ground, may explore the castle features from a closer look and photographers like myself, would definetly have more than enough space to take some fabulous shots!

Muckross Abbey, Killarney National Park, Killarney, Co.Kerry
View Full Galery here.

That’s all for this week !! Thank you for joining us on this adventure of the Killarney National Park. We hope you enjoyed reading this blog post and found it informative. Stay tuned for our up-coming article, ‘Killarney for the Photographers’ on the Top 10 Best Viewing Points in Killarney National Park and our previous article on the ‘Ring of Kerry’ you may find here . You may share with us your feedback in our comments box below which will be hugely appreciated by our team.

Support us by following our page and become a member of the ‘TodaysWanderluster’ Team. Check out our Instagram page here at dk.photography2003, where you can browse through our most recent posts on our Gallery, the 2020 Edits of the Killarney National Park and the Ring of Kerry featuring the Ladies Viewing Point and Castlecove Beach taken in 2016.

Au revoir and have a lovely weekend,

Published by Dawid Kucharski

Would you like to know more about me? Hey!! My name is Dawid Kucharski, I'm the administrator of TodaysWanderluster and head of our team. I help with the publishing of our weekly articles and I'm also the team's Photographer. I have been building my online presence since joining on Instagram in 2015, where I picked up an interest in photography. Recently I took part in the LensCulture Street Photography competition 2020 and currently I'm working hard on improving my photography skills. Earlier in April, together with my team, I helped with launching our project 'TodaysWanderluster' and we are constantly working hard to produce amazing weekly content for you. Thank you for visiting. Check out the 'About us' page for more information.

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