Killarney (Co. Kerry)

Killarney (Cill Airne – “The church of the sloes”) is one of the most popular destinations in Ireland.  Celebrated by romantic poets and artists, the Lakes of Killarney are the jewels in the crown of Killarney National Park. The town itself is of course a tourist resort, with all that entails.

Lough Leane, the largest of the three famous lakes, seen from Aghadoe. (Photo –

Killarney history


The Bronze Age saw the first human settlement of the Killarney area. Around 2000 BC a group of the people known to archaeologists as Beaker Folk began to  mine copper on Ross Island, probably for export to the European mainland.


Beginning in 500 BC, successive waves of immigrants settled in the Killarney area. According to legend, Queen Maeve‘s son Ciar was the ancestor of the Ciarraige tribe that came to rule Killarney,  from whom the name Ciarrai / Kerry is derived. After losing ground to later arrivals, the Ciarraige moved on to dominate North Kerry. Saint Brendan the Navigator was traditionally said to be descended from the Ciarraige.


Innishfallen Island is the location of a Christian monastic site believed to have been founded in the early C7th AD by Saint Finian the Leper, a member of the branch of the Eóganacht dynasty that long ruled Munster from Cashel. The area was later dominated by another branch that came to be known as the Eóganacht Locha Lein, ancestors of the O’Cathail, O’Donoghue and MacCarthy clans.


The location of the monastery on the island is thought to have given rise to the name of the lake (Loch Léin – “Lake of Learning”), and the establishment has been likened to an early University. In the late C9th AD scholarly monks began writing the famous Annals of Innisfallen, chronicling the early history of the world in general and Ireland in particular (now kept in Oxford University‘s Bodleian Library). According to tradition the High King Brian Boru received his education at Innisfallen under Maelsuthain O’Carroll, possibly the originator of the Annals.


The Normans appeared in force c.1200,  launching successive raids and full scale attacks throughout Kerry, but were decisively defeated at the Battle of Callan in 1261. The Geraldines eventually established a form of semi-feudal control, heavily mixed with Gaelic usages, over the Earldom of Desmond and the County Palatine of Kerry, and it was under their relatively benign overlordship that the local chieftains founded Ross Castle and Muckross Abbey.


The Desmond Rebellions led to Crown seizure of Munster. The Royal Surveyor appointed in 1583 was Lincolnshire born Sir Valentine Browne, who divided the rebel lands into 35 lots; he himself was granted 6,500 acres / 26 km2 in County Kerry alone, in addition to earlier grants in Hospital (Co. Limerick) where he erected a stronghold called Kenmare Castle.  On 28 June 1588 he purchased land beside the Lakes of Killarney from the estate of Donal MacCarthy Mór, 1st Earl of Clancare.


His son Sir Nicholas Browne married Sheila, a daughter of The O’Sullivan Beare, whose clan controlled lands in West Cork. The Brownes soon reverted to Roman Catholicism, and became  sufficiently identified with the old Gaelic aristocracy to be include in a C17th Gaelic poem eulogising the old order.


English Protestant settlers were given land locally as part of the Plantation of Munster, and by 1604 there were 40 English houses in Killarney. However, this was not a success and by 1642, there were only 17 English men, women, and children left.


Ross Castle became a Cromwellian military outpost in 1652, garrisoned with soldiers whose principal activity was to search for and execute Roman Catholic insurgents. Victims included the poet Piaras Ferriter and the priest Thaddeus Moriarty. Remarkably, the Brownes remained Catholic throughout this period and never lost power.


Land which had been granted by Queen Elizabeth I to Sir William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke (10th Creation) and his brother Charles was taken up in 1656 by two of their descendants, one at Cahernane and the other at Muckross. They amassed a considerable fortune by mining copper along the Muckross peninsula, and were amongst the foremost families in Kerry for some 250 years.


Under its enlightened landlord, Sir Thomas Browne (1726 – 1795), 4th Viscount Kenmare, Killarney village developed from a small trading post surrounded by mud cabins into a centre for commerce (mainly linen) and early tourism, with new roads, inns and boat facilities. By 1780 even the Bishop of Kerry had moved to the new town.


Killarney began to attract famous names, with poets William Wordsworth and Alfred Lord Tennyson and writers Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen drawn by the romance of the landscape and waxing lyrical about the beauty of the lakes, making the valley something of a tourist mecca for visitors to Ireland and the wealthier inhabitants of the island.


The Great Famine caused much suffering in the Killarney area. The Herbert and Browne families were active in famine relief efforts, slashing household and personal expenditures in order to supply soup and provide agricultural expertise for their tenants. Despite these gestures, thousands died or were forced to emigrate.


Valentine Augustus Browne (1825 – 1905), 4th Earl of Kenmare, worked in the British Royal Household (eventually becoming Lord Chamberlain), and in 1855 announced the monarch’s intention of including Killarney on her third trip to Ireland.


The August 1861 arrival of Queen Victoria, her Consort Prince Albert, the Prince of Wales and an entourage of over 100 to stay for one night in Killarney House and three in Muckross House attracted massive media attention, giving Killarney a royal seal of approval and confirming it as a major tourist destination, a status it has enjoyed ever since. An account of the Royal Visit can be read here.


The War of Independence saw violence in several parts of County Kerry, including an incident at Headford Junction railway station near Killarney on 21 March 1921 when local IRA volunteers ambushed a train carrying British troops. Those killed were one British officer, at least nine ordinary soldiers, two IRA men and four civilians (including an informer killed after the ambush).


Michael Collins, in his capacity as Commander of the Irish Free State army then fighting the Civil War against Republican forces, visited Killarney on 22nd April 1922, four months before his assassination.


In 1929 the Muckross estate was gifted to the new Irish Free State, and became Ireland’s  first National Park in 1932; with the subsequent addition of adjoining land, including most of the old Browne / Kenmare estate, it has grown to cover some 26,000 acres / 100 km2.

Aghadoe (Co. Kerry)

Aghadoe (Achadh Deo, from Acha Da Eo – “The meadow of the two yews”), a large townland  famous for its views of the Lakes of Killarney, gave its name to an ancient diocese and a later parish. The village that once stood here was destroyed by Cromwellian soldiers in 1652.

Aghadoe church, by James Howard Burgess (1817 – 1890), who also illustrated the remarkable Report On The Antiquities Of Kathiawad And Kachh (1876) for the India Museum.

Aghadoe church

Aghadoe church, aka Aghadoe Cathedral, stands on a site thought to have been used for prehistoric pagan ceremonies, but first associated in Christian legend with Saint Abban.


A monastic settlement founded here by Saint Finian the Leper in the C7th, referred to as the Old Abbey in the Annals of Inisfallen , may have been linked to the island by a causeway across the lake. Construction of a new church known as Damh Liag Maenig (“Maenach’s house of stone”) began in 1027. In 1061 an O’Cathail heir to the local Eóganacht Locha Léin dynasty was taken from the church and murdered.


The “Great Church”, dedicated to the Holy Trinity and St Mary, was commissioned by Amhlaoibh Mór Ó Donoghue, chief of the new rulers of Eóganacht Locha Léin; constructed in the Romanesque style, and completed in 1158, it incorporated part of the older stone building. A chancel / choir added in the C12th was later separated from the rest of the church by a wall.


Although Aghadoe was ruled by abbots, there is no evidence that they were ever regarded as bishops. The church was severely damaged by a storm in 1282, and served as a parish church under an archdeacon until the early C17th, when it fell into disuse.


The ruins feature a carved west doorway, poorly restored in the C18th / C19th.  There are also several interesting C13th and C17th carvings, including an unusual crucifixion scene, plus a couple of broken Ogham Stones and a bullaun.


Aghadoe church is also the name commonly used for  a former Anglican edifice (1837) distinguished by an impressive tower.

Parkavonear Castle, an unusual Norman Tower House erected in the early C13th, is now a cylindrical ruin, often mistaken for the stub of a Round Tower. Locals refer to it as “The Bishops Chair” and “The Pulpit”, possibly for the shape of its outline.

A large green park with splendid views only partly compensates for the admittedly splendid Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa, erected in 2004 with the apparent intention of marring this atmospheric location.

Aghadoe is the name of a famous ballad about a fugitive on the run from the British after the 1798 Rebellion, betrayed by his lover’s son.

Aghadoe is due south of Faranfore on ByRoute 6.


Ireland and it's history, culture, travel, tourism and more!