Cultural Heritage

There are many signs of the presence of humans in the Killarney area since the bronze age about 4,000 years ago, including extensive evidence of copper mining in the Ross Island area. The presence of copper would have made Killarney a place of considerable importance for bronze-age man, and many other archaeological features can be found here, including a well preserved stone circle at Lissivigeen.

Some of the most impressive archaeological remains date from early Christian times however, and the most important of these is the ruined monastery found on Inisfallen Island in Lough Leane. This monastery was founded in the 7th century by St. Finian the Leper, and was occupied for approximately 700 years. Over a period of about 300 of these, the 'Annals of Inisfallen' were written, which chronicle the early history of Ireland as it was known to the monks. The Annals are therefore an extremely important manuscript, and the original copy is kept in a controlled atmosphere in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The monastery here is also thought to have given rise to the name Lough Leane, which means "Lake of Learning".

The former monastic settlement on Inisfallen Island (photo Paudie O'Leary) Early christian architecture on Inisfallen (photo Mike Sandover)

The second major ecclesiastical site in the National Park is Muckross Abbey, which was founded in about 1448 by the Observantine Fransiscans.

It has had a tumultuous history, and was damaged and reconstructed several times. Although the inhabitants were persecuted and were often raided by marauding groups, they never seem to have fled far and always returned when the danger passed. The 'Friars Glen' on Mangerton Mountain is traditionally said to be one of the places to which the monks would flee in times of trouble. Today the Abbey is largely roofless, although apart from this is generally quite well preserved. Its most striking feature is a central courtyard which contains a huge Yew tree and is surrounded by a vaulted cloister.

Muckross Abbey (photo Mike Sandover) The huge Yew tree in the cloister of Muckross Abbey (photo Mike Sandover) In the cloister of Muckross Abbey (photo Mike Sandover)

Ross Castle, on the shores of Lough Leane is a fine 15th century tower house, once the residence of the chieftain O'Donoghue Mor. It was extended in the 17th century with the attachment of domestic buildings which were used for a time as an army barracks. The castle was restored in recent times and is now open to the public.

Ross Castle (photo Mike Sandover)


Killarney National Park
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Other Irish National Parks
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