Killarney – Cill Airne – The Church of the Sloes
Recordings of human occupation in Killarney date from the Early Bronze Age, almost 4,000 years ago when copper was first mined at Ross Castle. In early Christian times, monastic settlements provide the main evidence of occupation in the area. The most important of these was the monastery on Innisfallen founded by St. Finian the Leper which was occupied for 850 years. The Annals of Innisfallen, written there in the 11th-13th centuries, are an invaluable source of information on the early history of Ireland.
Following the Norman invasion of Ireland, the displaced Gaelic chieftains, McCarthy Mór and the O’Donoghue of Ross, held the lands around the Lakes. Later the lands came into the hands of the Herberts of Muckross and the Earls of Kenmare respectively.
Muckross Abbey was founded in 1448 as a Franciscan friary for the Observantine Franciscans by Donal McCarthy Mór. The abbey was burned down by Cromwellian forces under General Ludlow in 1654, and today remains a ruin. Today the well-preserved ruins were the burial place of local Chieftains and, in the 17th and 18th centuries, of the Kerry Poets, Aodhgan O’ Raithaile, Eoghan Rua O’ Sullivan, Piaras Feiriteir and Seafraidh O’ Donoghue.
Tourism in Killarney dates back to the mid 18th century, when Thomas, fourth Viscount Kenmare (Lord Kenmare), worked at attracting visitors and new residents to the town. A visit by Queen Victoria in 1861 gave the town huge international exposure.
The costly preparations for the Queen’s visit to the Herbert’s of Muckross House contributed to the family’s financial difficulties and resulted in the sale of the estate. Muckross House was later owned by Lord Ardilaun (of the Guinness family) and later again it was bought by a wealthy Californian mining magnate William Bowers Bourn, as a wedding gift for his daughter Maud and her husband Arthur Rose Vincent. In 1932 Arthur Vincent gifted the house and its estate to the Irish State for use as Ireland’s first national park in memory of his late wife.
Muckross Gardens, are renowned for their fine collection of rhododendron species, 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.
Killarney was heavily involved in the Irish War of Independence. The entire county, had strong republican ties, and skirmishes with the British forces happened on a regular basis. One of the most notable events during the war was the Headford Ambush when the IRA attached a railway train a few miles from town.
However, divisions among former colleagues were quick to develop following the truce and treaty, and Killarney, like many other areas, suffered in the rash of increasing atrocities during the Civil War which ended in 1923.