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Ross Island Copper Mines

Based along the shores of Lough Leane near Ross Castle in Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland and Britian’s oldest Coppermine first came in to use in 2,400 BC and continued to be excavated until 1900 BC. The Lakes of Killarney were the distributors of a mining industry that span over 4,000 years; copper, iron and possibly silver & lead were mined ion Ross Island which impacted greatly on the local economy and community at that time. The highlight years for the mining were between 1804 and 1828 which saw 5,000 tonnes of copper ore shipped to Wales. Impressively, Killarney was the first known location in Ireland to produce metal.

Professor William O’Brien conducted excavations on the lake shore from 1992 until 1996 which uncovered copper mines along with tens of thousands of stone hammers that were used to work them. Flooding of the mines was not uncommon; the main eastern mine is completely under water while the western mine at the entrance remains visible as it protrudes into 8m of limestone. They discovered that the mines were manipulated by lighting fires on the rock face whist using tools to break the rock. The rock was processed into copper ore at a work station that lay near the entrance to the mine itself. More than 11 oval/rectangle shaped houses comprised of stakes and trenches were also identified close to the work camp.

The sheer importance of the copper mines on Ross Island is that they are the earliest known copper mines to serve Ireland and Britain. A walking trail leading past many of the old copper mine sites and entrance to the mine was opened to the public in 2004. This leisurely and very enjoyable walk offers fantastic views of Lough Leane, Tomies and Shehy Mountains.


It is believed that Aghadoe, a village that overlooks Killarney townland and Mountains, may have originated as a Pagan Religious Site. The area has also been linked with 5th century missionaries; however the first major discovery that Aghadoe was an important site was the discovery of the 7th Century Ogham Stones. According to the Annals of Innisfallen, St. Finian the Leper founded another monastery at Aghadoe around the 6th or 7th century, dating from 939; the monastery is also known as the “Old Abbey”. Also present in the vicinity is the 13th century Parkavonear Castle, built by the Normans in 1169 post the Anglo-Norman Invasion.

It is also believed that the monastery on Innisfallen Island is closely linked with the monastery at Aghadoe; reference is first made to their relationship in the Annals of Innisfallen while also a great scholar of Innisfallen was buried in Aghadoe in 1010 AD. The round tower began construction in 1027; with the 12th century came new rulers, Eóganacht Locha Léin, who constructed a new church in Romanesque style called the ‘Great Church’. The church was finally completed by the end of the 12th century with the addition of a chancel; this was later segregated from the rest of the church by a wall.

Two ogham stones were discovered on site; these findings suggest how important the site was dating from the mid-7th century. One stone remains cemented into the south wall of the chancel while the other went missing. Another artefact called a ‘Ballaun’ can be found outside on the north-west corner of the church; it was used to gather holy water and was also believed to have brought great healing powers.

Innisfallen Island

Innisfallen Island is situated on Lough Leane, the Lower of Killarney’s Three Lakes and just off the shore of Ross Castle. The ruins of Innisfallen Abbey occupy the island today and feature as one of the most remarkable archaeological remains from the early Christian period in Killarney National Park. The Abbey, constructed in 640, remained occupied for an incredibly 850 years. The most important of these years saw created a treasure of Irish history; the Annals of Innisfallen. The monks documented their lives and a legacy of early Irish history, as it was known to them, over a period of an estimated 300 years to create the Annals of Innisfallen.  At the beginning of the Nine Year’s War on August 18th 1594, Queen Elizabeth 1 dispossessed the monks of Innisfallen Abbey, Island and the Annals of Innisfallen.

Ross Castle

Elegantly located on the shore’s edge of Lough Leane, the 15th century Ross Castle was built by O’Donoghue Mór. During the Second Desmond Rebellion in 1580 the castle changed ownership to the MacCarthy Mór; this was short lived as the castle and surrounding lands, all of which now make up Killarney National Park, were transferred to Sir Valentine Browne, Earls of Kenmare. The legends believe that O’Donoghue still remains trolling Lough Leane and wakes from his slumber on the first of May every seven years to patrol the lake on his magnificent white stallion. O’Donoghue’s prison refers to a large rock that lays at the entrance to the bay.

Ross Castle was amongst the last castle in Ireland to surrender to Cromwell’s forces during the Irish Confederates War. Another legend surrounding Ross Castle said that it would only surrender if a ship were to sail on the lakes; artillery forces arrived via the River Laune where General Ludlow attacked and took ownership of the stronghold. When the wars were over, the Brownes stated that the heir was far too young to have been involved in the rebellion and so were in a position to retain the ownership of Ross Castle and lands.

Due to the Browne’s relationship with James II of England, they were exiled from the property around 1688. Thereafter, the castle was operated as a military barracks and remained so until the 19th century.

Muckross Abbey

Founded in 1448 by Dónal MacCarthy, Muckross Abbey was built as a Franciscan Friary to cater for the Observantine Franciscans. The Abbey was subject to a harsh past as the friars saw it vandalised and reconstructed many times. The final battle was at the hands of Oliver Cromwell in 1654 that persecuted the remaining friars under Lord Ludlow. It was subsequently burned down and today the ruins remain largely roofless and very well preserved.

The grounds of Muckross Abbey became a burial ground during the 17th and 18th century for the infamous Kerry poets; O’Donoghue, Ó Rathaille and Ó Súilleabháin. Today the cemetery also consists of many priests and local families.

St. Mary's Cathedral

Commissioned in 1840 by a local fundraising committee, the design of St. Mary’s Cathedral was borne from the wonderful mind of Agustus Welby Pugin, despite only having raised £800 pounds at the time. Pugin gained inspiration from the ruins of the ancient Ardfert Cathedral which is particularly evident in the slender triple lancets in the east and west walls. Despite having to make funding appeals across Ireland and the US as the funds were so low, the foundations were laid in 1842. Construction then ceased for five years in 1848 due to the Great Famine. On succeeding Pugin, J.J McCarthy was appointed as architect from the beginning of 1853 when construction once again resumed. Separately, architects Ashlin and Coleman from Dublin constructed the nave and spire. Following two years, the cathedral was debt free despite the costs rising to £20,000, significantly complete and ready to welcome those of worship.

Minor additions were made in 1869 with the introduction of an organ and mirrors. However the final effort to complete the project came in 1907 when architects Ashlin and Coleman were appointed to complete Pugin’s design. The aisles and nave were extended by 8.2 metres which created two new bays, a new mortuary and sacristy were built, pinnacles added to flanking turrets  at the west and east ends and most notably the spire standing at 86.8 metres high was erected; all works completed by 1912.

Due to renovations in 1973 by Ray Carroll of Dublin and Daniel J. Kennedy of Tralee, the interior was both gutted and greatly damaged; reconstruction took place from 1972 until 1973 incurring a cost of £278,500. The approach by the two architects was nothing short of radical, which resulted in none of the former interior remaining, apart from a few small areas.

Muckross House & Gardens

Muckross House is an elegant 19th century Victorian Mansion nestled within 26,000 acres of National Parkland and on the shores of Muckross Lake, the second of Killarney’s three lakes, famed for their beauty and inspiration. Designed by Scottish architect William Burn, Muckross House was built specially for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, Mary Balfour Herbert. The Herbert’s occupied as many as four houses over the period of 200 years in which the family had lived on the Muckross Estate. The construction began in 1839 and was completed in 1843.

Astonishingly, the Herbert’s began extensive works on the house and gardens in 1850 in preparation for Queen Victoria’s looming visit in 1961. During the following number of years, the Herbert’s experienced significant financial strain and these said works are believed to have made it unbearable, so much so that it forced the sale of the Muckross Estate. It was purchased by Arthur Guinness in 1899 who wished nothing more than to preserve the estate in its natural setting. Some years later in 1911, the Muckross Estate was again sold to a wealthy mining entrepreneur, William Bowers Bourn. As a wedding gift, William and his wife presented the Muckross Estate to their daughter Maud and son-in-law Arthur Rose Vincent. The couple resided at Muckross until Maud’s death in 1929.

In 1932, a number of years after Maud’s death, Mr & Mrs Bourn and Arthur Vincent very generously presented Muckross House and 11,000 acres of estate to the Irish State. The donation of Muckross combined with Mrs Beatrice Grosvenor gifting Knnockreer and Killarney House formed Killarney National Park; Ireland’s oldest and largest National Park.

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