KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK
West and South of the town of Killarney is an expanse of rugged mountainous country. This includes the McGillycuddy’s Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland, which rises to a height of over 1,000 metres encompassing Carrauntuohill Ireland’s highest mountain 1040 metres high. At the foot of these mountains nestle the world’s famous Three Lakes of Killarney, here, where the mountains sweep down to the lake shores, their lower slopes covered in woodlands, lies Killarney National Park. The distinctive combination of mountains, lakes, woods and waterfall under ever changing skies give to the area a special scenic beauty. This beauty has attracted visitors for at least two hundred years and Killarney is the oldest and still the most famous tourist destination in Ireland. Killarney National Park is now over 26,000 acres in extent and the Three Lakes make up almost a quarter of that area.
The most interesting botanical areas in Ireland are (1) Killarney (2) Glengarriff for extensive old native Oak- Hollywood’s on sandstone with yew woods on limestone. The woods are extremely rich in epiphytic bryophytes and lichen species, including rare species of extreme oceanic and even tropical distribution. In 1981, Killarney National Park was designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) as a Biosphere Reserve, part of a world network of natural areas, which have conservation, research, education and training as major objectives.
Most of Killarney woodlands are dominated by sessile oak, which grows on acidic Old Red Sandstone and it is the main forest tree of acid soils in Britain and Ireland. The principal Oakwood’s of the Killarney Valley are Tomies Wood, Derrycunnihy Wood, Ullauns Wood and Camillan Wood. Other trees particularly birch and less frequently Rowan and Yew are sparsely scattered in the Oakwood’s. Ash occurs as a rarity in favourable locations. Beneath the Oak Canopy, holly is the predominant tree of the under storey and these woodlands might more accurately be described as oak-holly woods.
In unshaded areas at the edges of the woods, Arbutus (the Strawberry Tree) is common.
The Lakes are its main attraction. Lough Leane 5 miles long and with thirty small islands, is the largest. Muckross Lake is in the middle and The Upper Lake is peppered with magical islands, each filled with a pleasing variety of trees; juniper, holly, mountain ash and others. Together all the lakes and woodlands including the Muckross and Knockreer demesne and the colourful medieval churches and castles, comprise the magnificent park area. The spot is one of incredible horticultural beauty, including rhododendrons, camellias, hydrangeas, azaleas, and magnolias, as well as the arbutus or strawberry trees and oaks, eucalyptus and redwood trees. On the mountain slopes, red deer still roam freely, and in the woods, wild goats and Japanese sika deer share an ideal natural habitat with badgers, foxes, hares, and hawks. There are many nature trails on the estate varying in length
- Old Boathouse Nature Trail: It starts at the 19th century boathouse below Muckross Gardens, and leads around a small peninsula by Muckross Lake. It provides a brief introduction to the vegetation and the wildlife of the park. For the less energetic, this is the shortest nature trail, less than 1km long.
- Arthur Young’s Walk: This is nature trail for the most energetic. It is the longest nature trail- 4km in total from the start of the demesne to Dinis Island. It traverses fine natural yew woods and oak woods frequented by sika deer. Meanders along an old road known to visitors 200 years ago, and passes the old copper mines on the Muckross Peninsula.
- The Blue Pool Nature Trail: The Blue Pool Nature Trail in Cloghereen Wood close to Muckross village, goes through woodlands planted with a great variety of coniferous and deciduous trees and is inhabited by many birds and other animals. The trail goes around a small lake, a part of which is the beautiful Blue Pool after which the trail is named. The trail is almost 2km long.
- The Cloghereen Nature Trail: Is in the Cloghereen Pool Wood and is the first nature trail in Ireland for the visually impaired. A guide rope marks the trail and a taped commentary is available which along with a cassette player, can be had at a nominal charge from the Park Visitor Centre at Muckross House.
- The Friar’s Walk and the Monks Wood: Adjacent to Muckross Abbey, the Friars Walk is a formal avenue lined with lime and horse chestnut trees. The Monk’s Wood offers and interesting walk among fine exotic trees and shrubs on what is believed to be the site of the garden of Muckross Abbey
Muckross Peninsula and Dinis Island:
- Reenadinna Wood: Here you find unique natural yew wood growing on the Carboniferous limestone on the eastern portion of the Muckross Peninsula. Arthur Young’s Walk returns to Muckross through this woodland.
- The Colleen Bawn Rock: This rock is close to the Shore of Muckross Lake; it is famed in local legend as the place from which the Colleen Bawn threw herself to her death because of her unrequited love for the landlord’s son. In fact the playwright Boucicault transferred this story to the more romantic setting of Killarney, as the original story was, in fact, on the banks of the River Shannon.
- The Copper Mines: Situated on the Muckross Peninsula, they were last worked in the late 18th century. Some of the mineshafts can still be seen, but are in a dangerous condition. Nearby is a ruined building known as the Old Furnace, in all probability a summerhouse on the Muckross Estate?
- Camillan Wood: This oak wood is situated on the western end of Muckross Peninsula. Many features of the natural oak woods can be seen here. The wood was overgrown with Rhododendron Ponticum but has been cleared. Arthur Young’s Walk passes through this wood.
- Brickeen Bridge: A quaint 18th century bridge with a Gothic arch, which joins the Muckross Peninsula to Brickeen and Dinis. Panoramic views of Muckross Lake and Lough Leane can be seen on each side of the bridge.
- Dinis and the Meeting of the Waters: Dinis Island is reached on foot or bicycle via the Muckross Peninsula or by walking from the Dinis back gate car park on the Killarney to Kenmare Road. Dinis Cottage is a picturesque and popular stopping place and is open during the summer as a tearoom. The beautiful spot nearby where the waters from the Upper Lake divide to flow around Dinis Island has been known mistakenly as the Meeting of the Waters.
- The Old Weir Bridge: A double-arched old picturesque bridge crosses the rapids flowing from the Upper Lake just upstream from the Meeting of the Waters. The bridge gives pedestrian access to the area known as Glena.
Torc and Mangerton:
- Torc Waterfall: 7km from Killarney on the Killarney to Kenmare Road. It falls more than 20 metres over sandstone crags at the foot of Torc Mountain, close to Muckross Lake. It can be heard from a distance especially after heavy rains but it is screened from view until one is close to it. It is the finest of the many waterfalls in the Killarney area. A footpath winds it’s way up beside the fall and affords panoramic views of the Lake area. Queen Victoria climbed to the top of this Waterfall.
- The Old Kenmare Road: This leaves the present road, by which it was replaced around 1830, about 1.5km south of Killarney Town. It passes between Torc and Mangerton mountains in a southwesterly direction meeting the old road from Galway’s Bridge to Kenmare about 1km south of Galway’s Bridge. An ideal track for the keen walker and it is now part of the Kerry Way, the long distance walking route around the Ring of Kerry.
- Torc Mountain: Only 538 metres high it provides an opportunity for a fine view close up of the lakes and especially the Muckross area. An easy climb by approaching the summit from the south from the Old Kenmare Road.
- Mangerton Mountain: At 840 metres this is the highest mountain in the National Park. The easiest approach is via a path up the northern slopes, reached from the end of the Mangerton road from Muckross village. The summit commands fine views of the Killarney Lake district and much of the South West of Ireland. Mangerton can also be climbed from the Old Kenmare Road and there are other approaches around the Horses Glen outside the National Park.
- Tomies Wood: Growing on very rich soil it is one of the finest Oakwood’s in Killarney on the western shores of Lough Leane. Entrance is via a side road off the Killarney to the Gap of Dunloe road or by boat from the Lake.
- O’Sullivans Cascade: A waterfall situated in a remote location within the Tomies Wood close to the western shore of Lough Leane. This fall is made up of three distinct falls with a total drop of 20 metres. Easily reachable by boat or by foot through the Tomies Wood.
- The Purple Mountain: This Mountain is 835 metres high. At the summit one gets good views of the gap of Dunloe and the Upper Lakes. It can be reached at the highest point of the gap of Dunloe or along the ridge from Tomies Mountain. It is the highest peak in the western part of the National Park.
- Shehy Mountain: It can be reached from the southern end of Tomies Wood or along the ridge from the higher peaks of Tomies and the Purple Mountain. Fine views can be seen of Lough Leane and Muckross Lake.
The Upper Lake and Long Range:
- The Eagle’s Nest: Formerly the haunt of Golden Eagles. These birds became extinct in Ireland by overshooting in the 19th century, the last being shot in 1870. It is 336 metres high but is very steep sided. Best viewed from a distance across the Long Range from the main Killarney to Kenmare Road.
- The Five Mile Bridge: On the main Killarney to Kenmare Road it is beside the Long Range. A good viewing point for Eagles Nest and the face of Small Torc Mountain. A stepping off point to see and explore some of the open moor land vegetation of the National Park.
- Gearhameen: Situated at the head of the Upper Lake is the site of Lord Brandon’s Cottage. A place of refreshment for those taking the traditional tour of Killarney through the Gap of Dunloe, either on foot, or by jaunting car, or by pony, returning to Killarney by boat via the Three Lakes to Ross Castle. Also if one drives along the main Killarney to Kenmare as far as Derrycunnihy Church one can take the old Mass Path through the Oakwood’s of Derrycunnihy.
- Derrycunnihy Cascade: Here the road tunnels through the rock forming a natural rock bridge. A little further south, a rough roadway, right leads to a footbridge beyond which is a superb view of Derrycunnihy Cascade, which cuts a spectacular gorge through the primeval Derrycunnihy Woods, a botanical area of great interest.
- Ladies View: On the main Killarney to Kenmare road about 20km from Killarney. This is the best known of all the views of Killarney. Over 100 years ago Queen Victoria visited here with her Ladies-in-Waiting and it was the delight these Ladies expressed that gave the name to Ladies View.
- Molls Gap: A superb vantage point from which to view the Lakes of Killarney on the Killarney to Kenmare road south of Ladies View.
- The Black Valley: You can drive through this beautiful lake filled valley from the N71 – the Moll’s Gap to Sneem road. One of the last places in Ireland to be connected to the national electricity grid, the valley had only radiotelephone until well into the seventies. The place to lose yourself. The valley has An Oige (Youth) Hostel. Pony trekking tours can be arranged here.