The National Park comprises of 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres) of beautiful lake and mountain scenery. The Park is famous for its' native natural habitats and species including oakholly woods, yew woods and red deer. The National Park Visitor Centre (located at Muckross House) and the Information Point at Torc Waterfall provide information on all aspects of the park. Access for visitors with disabilities to The Visitor Centre. The Education Centre, located at Knockreer House, provides a range of courses related to nature conservation and the ecology of The National Park for school children, students and other groups.
To the south and west of the town of Killarney, are the world famous Lakes of Killarney. Killarney National Park, 10,289 hectares in extent, comprises the mountains and woodlands which surround these Lakes as well as the three Lakes themselves. The Park includes the peaks of Mangerton, Torc, Shehy and the Purple mountains while just to the west of the Park rise MacGillycuddy's Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland. The nucleus of the National Park is the 4,000 hectare Bourn Vincent Memorial Park, formerly known as the Muckross Estate, which was presented to the State in 1932 by Mr. and Mrs. W. Bowers Bourn and their son-in-law Senator Arthur Vincent to be Ireland's first National Park. In recent years, lands and waters of the former Kenmare Estate have been added, including Knockreer, Ross Island, Innisfallen and the townlands of Glena, Ullauns and Poulagower. In 1981, the Park was designated by the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme as a Biosphere Reserve, part of a world network of natural areas which have conservation, research, education and training as major objectives.
Human presence in the Killarney area dates back at least to the early Bronze Age, over 4,000 years ago, when copper was first mined at Ross Island. In early Christian times, monastic settlements provide the main evidence of the occupation of the area. The most important of these was the monastery on Innisfallen founded by St. Finian the Leper. The "Annals of Innisfallen", written there in the 11th-13th centuries, are a major source of information on the early history of Ireland.
Following the Norman invasion of Ireland the lands around the Lakes were held by McCarthy Mr and O'Donoghues of Ross. Later the lands came into the hands of the Herberts of Muckross and the Earls of Kenmare respectively. In 1911 the Muckross Estate was purchased by Mr. W. B. Bourn as a wedding gift for his daughter, Maud, on her marriage to Arthur Vincent.
Muckross Abbey, a Franciscan Friary, was founded in 1448 by Donal McCarthy Mor. These well-preserved ruins were the burial place of local Chieftains and, in the 17th and 18th centuries, of the Kerry Poets, O'Donoghue, Rathaille and S illebhin.
In the upland areas of the National Park, especially on the slopes of Torc and Mangerton, roam the only native herd of Red Deer remaining in the country. Now numbering over 650, this herd has had a continuous existence since the return of Red Deer to Ireland, possibly with human assistance, some 4,000 years ago. Japanese Sika Deer, introduced to Killarney in 1865, are found not only on the open mountain but also throughout the woodlands. Most of the other native mammals, as well as the long established introduced species, occur in the Park. Worthy of note is the Bank Vole, a species first identified in 1964 in north west Kerry from where its range has expanded and now includes the National Park.
With the varied habitats of mountain moorland, woodland and lake, the Park is rich in bird life. On the uplands, the most common birds are the Meadow Pipit, Stonechat and Raven. Peregrine Falcons and Merlins are occasionally seen. The woodlands support characteristic bird communities with the Chaffinch and Robin as the most common breeders. The aquatic habitats are home for Heron, Mallard, Little Grebe and Water Rail which all breed around the Lakes, while the Kingfisher and the Dipper are frequently seen on the rivers and streams. In both winter and summer, native bird populations are augmented by migrant species. In winter, for example, a small flock of Greenland White-fronted Geese from the world population of around 12,000 feed in the Killarney Valley. Natural stocks of Brown Trout and Salmon inhabit the lakes and fishing for these is free, subject only to the usual Salmon licence regulations. The lakes also contain populations of Char, usually a fish of Sub- Arctic lakes, and of Killarney Shad, a small lake-dwelling form of Twaite Shad.
Within the National Park are the most extensive areas of natural woodland remaining in the country. On the Old Red Sandstone of which the mountains are composed, are the native oakwoods, dominated by Sessile Oak with Holly and other evergreens as the under-storey. On the low-lying Carboniferous Limestone on the lake edges, swamp forest is dominated by Alder, while on the limestone reefs of the Muckross Peninsula is a unique Yew Wood. The mild oceanic climate permits a luxuriant growth of mosses and filmy ferns, many of them growing as epiphytes on the branches and trunks of the trees. In the uplands, the Park contains interesting areas of bog and moorland vegetation. Quite a number of plant species found within the Park have interesting or unusual geographic distributions and are of localised occurrence within Ireland. These fall into four main categories;- Atlantic species, the North American element, Arctic-Alpine plants and very rare plants. The Atlantic species are those found otherwise mainly in Southern and South-Western Europe. Examples of these are the Arbutus, St. Patrick's Cabbage and Greater Butterwort. The North American element includes the Blue-eyed Grass and Pipewort.
The Killarney National Park Visitor Centre at Muckross House is the main Information Office and is open on a year round basis. It includes an audiovisual introduction to the Park and exhibition area showing features of the ecology of the Park. Publications on sale include booklets for the self-guiding nature trails, illustrated guide books and a large scale Ordnance Survey map of the Park. A coffee shop and restaurant is open all year in the Walled Garden Centre close to Muckross House.
Jaunting Cars:- A traditional feature of Killarney, jaunting cars are available for hire in the town and at other locations adjoining the National Park. Most jaunting car routes pass through parts of the National Park. Motor Cars:- Cars may enter Muckross Demesne by the Muckross House gate, the opening hours of which are displayed at the gate. Visitors in cars to other areas of the Park have access from several car parks and lay-bys along the public roads.
Pedestrians:- Many parts of the National Park are accessible only on foot. As well as the Nature Trails, there are many developed paths and roadways. The outlying areas are suitable for hill-walking but visitors are urged not to venture alone into remote areas.
Killarney National Park exists to conserve significant parts of our environment in a natural state. Please help to protect the Park for future generations by observing the Park by-laws. We ask you especially to observe the following points:-
Text courtesy of the National Parks and Wildlife Service: http://www.npws.ie
Note: Map is an approximate indication ONLY. Please contact Killarney National Park for directions and precise location prior to your visit.