Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park was the first national park established in Ireland, created by the Maud Bourn Vincent Memorial Park Act 1932 after Muckross Estate was donated to the state and since substantially expanded to encompass over 100 km2 / 25,425 acres of diverse habitats, including the Lakes of Killarney, mountain peaks, bogs, heaths and woodlands of international importance. The park was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1981.
The lakes lie in a valley flanked to the east by Torc Mountain (535m) and Mangerton Mountain (843m) and to the west by Sliabh Corcra / the Purple Mountains, a massif long aka Tomish / Toomish, comprising three main peaks: Purple (832m), Tomies (735m) and Shehy (571m), with MacGillikuddy’s Reeks looming behind them, including Ireland’s highest summit, Carrauntoohil (1,038m).
The Eagle’s Nest hill on the shore of the Upper Lake has a distinctive shape that from the right angle reflects sounds, inspiring Alfred Lord Tennyson to include the line “set the wild echoes flying” in his poem The splendour falls.
Mangerton Mountain (an Mhangarta) (839 m / 2,753 ft) is the highest summit in a massif that also includes Mangerton North Top (782 m), Glencappul Top (700 m) and Stoompa (705 m).
Horse’s Glen / Glencappul is a deep U-shaped valley enclosed within the massif, containing three lakes: Lough Garagarry (Loch Garaigre), Lough Mannagh (Loch Meáin) and Lough Erhogh.
A short walk north of Mangerton’s summit is The Devil’s Punchbowl (Poll Ifrinn), an oval-shaped hollow with a lake in the middle, the subject of several amusing folk tales.
(The far northern slope of Mangerton was the site of a battle in 1262 between the Mac Cárthaigh clan and the FitzGeralds. The site is known as Tooreencormick (from Tuairín Cormaic – “little field of Cormac”) after Cormac MacCárthaigh, who was killed during the clash. Despite this, the battle is considered a Gaelic victory because the Norman invaders were kept out of the region for a while longer).
In Crinnagh Glen, a semi-circular valley formed by the Crinnagh River, the furrows and stone walls of a pre-famine village provide a stark reminder of harsher times. Some 262 people were recorded living in the glen in 1841, but by 1861 not one remained.
Irish red deer, a notably large cervine species, are descended from animals brought to Ireland some 4,000 years ago. Now numbering around 650 in the Killarney area, they spend most of their time in Crinnagh Glen and on the heathland slopes of Mangerton. (This was long the only purebred herd left in the country, but efforts are now being made to reintroduce these magnificent beasts in Connemara National Park).
Sika deer were introduced to the area from Japan in 1865, and their population has increased considerably since then. Within the park they are found both on open upland areas and woodlands.
The bank vole, first identified in north Kerry in 1964, has now expanded into the National Park, which is also home to the elusive pine marten. Other mammals to be found include foxes, badgers, Irish stoats, pygmy shrews, Irish hares, rabbits, otters, mink and seven species of bat.
The white-tailed sea eagle, once common locally, was extirpated in the late C19th. A major project to reintroduce these raptors to the glens, begun in 2007 with the the first annual release of 15 chicks from Norway, has had mixed success to date. Despite a local poisoning scare, birds introduced to or hatched in Killarney have been tracked as far afield as Counties Wicklow and Donegal.
(Golden eagles, which used to nest on crags overlooking the lakes and in the Black Valley, met a similar fate to their cousins. There is some talk of reintroducing them to Killarney, as has been successfully done in County Donegal’s Glenveigh National Park.)
Over 140 bird species have been recorded in the park, including upland, woodland and wintering waterfowl species. Several species which are otherwise rare in Ireland are present, notably the Redstart, Wood Warbler and Garden Warbler. Sharp-eyed walkers may spot peregrine falcons and merlins. Other noteworthy species found in the park are Red Grouse and Ring Ouzel (Red-listed species of high conservation concern), Chough, Curlew, Nightjar, Barn Owl and Long Eared Owl. Occasional visitors include Osprey, en route between Northern Africa and Scandinavia; historical accounts and place names suggest that Osprey bred locally in the past.
Herons, Little Grebes, Water Rails, Kingfishers, Dippers,Coot, Cormorant, Pochard, Teal, Goldeneye, Wigeon,Mallards, Tufted Duck, Whooper Swan and Mute Swan can be seen on the lakes and rivers. Lough Leane supports wintering Redwing, Fieldfare and Golden Plover.
A small flock of Greenland white-fronted geese migrates to winter within the Killarney Valley. This population is the most southerly in Ireland, one of the few that feed entirely on bogland and almost entirely within a protected area.
The Killarney Valley shelters the Northern Emerald dragonfly and several caddisfly and stonefly species usually found much further north in Europe, thought to be relict species left behind after the last Ice Age. A wide range of butterflies and moths, some rare, have been recorded in the park.
The oak woods in the remote Glaism na Marbh valley are a stronghold for a wood ant species that is rare both in the Killarney woods and in Ireland as a whole.
The Kerry Slug, reputedly the only slug capable of rolling itself into a ball, emerges in Killarney’s frequent wet weather to graze on lichens on rcks and tree trunks. It is found only in southwestern Ireland, Galicia and Portugal.
O’Sullivan’s Cascade in Tomies Oakwood is another place featuring in legends and funny stories, usually involving whiskey. (Photo by granardblue)
The park’s famous oak woodlands, mere remnants of the great forest that once covered most of the island, occupy about 12.2 km2 / 3,000 acres, mainly on the lower slopes of the Shehy and Tomy mountains adjacent to Lough Leane, while Derrycunihy Wood, overlooking the Upper Lake, is perhaps the most natural Sessile Oak wood remaining in Ireland.
Reenadinna Wood, the Park’s Yew woodland, occupying 0.25 km2 / 62 acres of low-lying karst limestone pavement on the Muckross Peninsula, is the only significant area of yew woodland in Ireland and one of only three in Europe. It is estimated that the wood developed 3,000-5,000 years ago.
Rare plant species to be found in the Park include some grow only in Ireland and the Iberian peninsula or southwestern Europe, Arctic-Alpine plants and North American species. The Park is internationally significant for bryophytes, with mosses, ferns and liverworts growing luxuriantly, many as epiphytes on the branches and trunks of trees.
The Torc waterfall (60ft), supposedly hiding the entrance to a fairy realm, is the last home of the Killarney fern, probably the rarest plant species in the park: once quite common, it was brought to the verge of extinction by pickers collecting it to be sold to tourists. The footpath that leads up the cascade takes in magnificent views of the Killarney lakes.
The arbutus / strawberry tree, relatively common in the park, is one of Ireland’s rarest native tree species, found in very few locations outside Killarney.
Killarney whitebeam, a shrub or small tree that grows on rocks close to lakeshores, is found only in Killarney. The more common Irish whitebeam is also found in the park.
The Greater Butterwort, aka the Kerry violet, is a carnivorous plant found in bogs, digesting insects in order to supplement the poor supply of nutrients. Its spectacular purple flowers bloom in late May and early June.
Irish spurge is an atlantic species that in Ireland is only found in the southwest. In the past the milky sap from its stem was used to cure warts and catch fish, utilising compounds in the sap that prevent gills from functioning and so suffocating the unfortunate creatures.
The Old Kenmare Road
The Old Kenmare Road is 12 miles long and requires a reasonable level of fitness, good hiking equipment and waterproofs.
The disused green road starts from the car park at Muckross House, on the geological fault line known as theMillstreet to Muckross Fault. Steep steps climb up the side of a waterfall, continuing through woodlands to Torc Old Bridge. The path then leads onto open heath land at Crinnagh Glen.
Esknamucky Glen lies between the shoulder of Cromaglan Mountain and Stumpacommeen. Here, the road narrows into a bridle path over mountain and bog, reinforced in places with railway sleepers. (Photo by Ian Macnab).
The walk then descends through the twisted, mossy oaks of Ullauns Wood, famed for their lichens. Another stretch of rocky road precedes a sustained ascent to the highest point of the route (331m) at Windy Gap, between the mountains of Peakeen and Knockanaguish, followed by a descent with stunning views of Kenmare Bay and beyond.
The Old Kenmare Road is the first section of the Kerry Way, a 135-mile waymarked walking route over old droving paths and coach roads, taking in woodlands, valleys and coastline.
The western part of Killarney National Park is explored by ByRoute 1.