Killarney House and Gardens

Killarney House and Gardens is a treasure of the Killarney National Park that is located on the doorstep of Killarney town centre. The house and gardens offers a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the busy town. Its weaving pathways through carefully manicured gardens provide an oasis of calm. Much more than that, Killarney House is an ideal starting point for a journey exploring the wonders of Killarney National Park. The ‘Golden Gates’ that stand guard at the main entrance form a portal to the wonders of the National Park beyond. As you pass through these (black!) gates, the sounds of the town fade away and the magic of the Park begins to wash over you with each step you take.

Killarney House and Extension
Killarney House (& extension)

In recent decades, the splendour of Killarney House & Gardens lay hidden behind high walls in one of the lesser visited parts of Killarney National Park. Although the grounds were always accessible, the house itself lay neglected and the surrounding gardens had long surrendered to the wild. The much loved Cherry Walk was a popular local pathway to the Knockreer area of the National Park. Yet few veered far from the cherry blossom -lined avenue to explore the environs of Killarney House.

The relevant obscurity that befell the house and gardens was hard to comprehend given its proximity to Killarney town. Following the completion of extensive restoration and reconstruction work in 2016, the house and gardens have been restored to their rightful place as the gateway to Killarney National Park.

How Do I Get There?

Killarney House : Golden Gates
The Golden Gates

Killarney House is located just a few hundred metres from Killarney town centre. The entrance to Killarney House at the ‘Golden Gates’ is where Muckross Road, Countess Road and Kenmare Place meet at a small roundabout. The nearby Methodist Church is the closest landmark to the Golden Gates entrance.

There is a second entrance from Mission Road beside the monument to Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty. Finally, you can access the House and Gardens via a gateway in the Knockreer area of Killarney National Park. All three entrances to the House and Gardens provide pedestrian access only and the gates are locked overnight. Entrance to the grounds of Killarney House are generally from 9am to 6pm although this is extended sometimes during the summer months.  Guided tours of Killarney House take place every 30 minutes during the months of April to September.

Killarney House History

Killarney House has a long and complicated history. The original ‘Killarney House’ was home to the Earls of Kenmare and was built in the early 18th century. Known locally as ‘The Mansion’ – (how imaginative…), this sprawling structure was considered one of the finest mansions in Ireland at the time. The house succumbed to fire in 1913 and all that remains today are the stepped gardens and some of the original gate lodges. Knockreer House now occupies the site of the original ‘Killarney House’ and continues to enjoy the marvellous elevated views of Lough Leane and the McGillycuddy Reeks.

Killarney House
Killarney House

After the fire that destroyed Killarney House, the Kenmare family relocated to a renovated stable block of the nearby ‘Kenmare House’. After the death of the last Earl of Kenmare in the 1950s, Kenmare House and its adjoining lands were sold to an American investor syndicate. Finally the property was purchased by Irish American property developer, John McShane and his wife Mary. The McShanes renamed the property ‘Killarney House’ and thus what we now know as ‘Killarney House’ came into being.

Over the intervening years, the McShane family used Killarney House as a summer home, and in their latter years as their primary residence. The family arranged for the property to be sold to the Irish state with a proviso that they would retain usage of the house and gardens for the rest of their lives.  Following the death of Mrs McShane in 1998, Killarney House became a welcome addition to Killarney National Park. For a wonderful reference guide on the history of Killarney, check out Killarney History and Heritage book – a mine of information about Killarney.

In the years that followed, Killarney House and Gardens fell into disrepair and neglect behind the high walls that encircled it. in 2014, the house and gardens were closed to the public to enable the extensive reconstruction works to be completed. Finally in 2016, Killarney House and Gardens was re-opened to the public. Following the opening of the Gardens, the house itself opened to the public in July 2017. Harking back to its former glories, the House and Gardens have been firmly re-established as a favourite with locals and visitors alike.

The Secret Garden

The gardens, fields and meadows in the vicinity of Killarney House have always held a special allure for the people of Killarney. The looming house in the background was often taken for granted, especially during its unoccupied years.

Killarney House : Cherry Walk and Promenade
Cherry Walk and Promenade, McGillycuddy Reeks in background

As youngsters, we often played in the adjoining fields – never for a moment contemplating the beauty and history that surrounded us. Those same meadows were often used for football and soccer matches and athletic meetings for local schools and clubs. With the McGillycuddy Reeks and Lough Leane on one side and Killarney House on the other, it made for a special arena – a field of dreams of a different kind.

More recently, Killarney House and Gardens was to be transformed into a concert arena to host a music festival. The ill-fated venture never transpired but the controversy at the time helped to reignite the conversation to have Killarney House and Gardens re-opened to the public.

Attraction Killarney House and Gardens
Distance 200m from town centre
Accessibility Pathways throughout
Ground Paved & Gravel paths
Elevation Flat throughout
Environment Gardens, open parkland
Conditions Exposed and open
Family/Kids Ideal for children, some grass areas prohibit ball games
Dogs/Pets Keep dogs on leash
Sights/Attractions/Features Architecture, horticulture, heritage, mountain views
Options Extend Knockreer and / or Ross Castle. Extend to Castlerosse
Facilities Killarney House not open to the public
Availability  Open All Year. Opening Hours are 9am – 6pm (extended in summer). Guided tours of the House are available.

The gardens in the immediate vicinity of the House includes several seats, benches and nooks and crannies to sit and watch the world go by. The planted beds and tree lined pathways provide a circuit to wander the gardens. The newly-planted cherry blossoms trees flank an avenue that has been revered by walkers and strollers since the gates were first opened. A grand promenade of flag stones has been reinstated in front of the house – a reminder of times gone by when the residents and guests of the house stepped out to take in the magnificent views. The towering rows of trees that climb above the boundary walls muffle the sounds of the town on the other side. As dusk approaches, roosting birds take over these same trees to signal the close of day.

The Town in the Park

Killarney House - Promenade
Killarney House Promenade

Killarney House and Gardens is the perfect place to while away an hour and get away from it all. It’s an ideal place to bring the kids for a wander around the gardens. You can start your adventure in the National Park from the grounds of the house as you head off for Knockreer or Ross Castle. If you’re taking the dog for a stroll or heading out on a run, where better to go? Even if you’re just using the route through the gardens to get to the other side of town, it’s a wonderful detour. And therein lies the attraction of Killarney House and Gardens – so much to do, so much to offer and just a couple of minutes stroll from one of the busiest tourist hotspots in the country. 

Killarney is sometimes referred to as ‘the town in the Park’, as it is surrounded by the National Park. Nothing embodies this claim better than Killarney House and Gardens. It is a portal to the wonders of Killarney National Park. This sleeping beauty was awakened from its slumber when it was re-opened to the public in 2016. A new generation will now enjoy its splendour and beauty and so begins a new chapter in the long and varied history of Killarney House and Gardens. 

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