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Innisfallen Island & The Annals of Innisfallen

Religious settlements were a prominent feature of Killarney’s history and more importantly the early history of Ireland. One of the most notable historic settlements which lay in ruins today as an infamous tourist attraction is the monastery on Innisfallen Island; founded by St. Finian the Leper in 640. Also referred to as the ‘Land of Saints and Scholars’, the monastery was a reputable education centre for the prestige Irish and attracted countless others from what is now Europe. Most notably the Irish high King, Brian Boru, was educated on the island and achieved high levels of excellence with some believing he may have been the initiator of the Annals.

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.

The English meaning of Lough Leane (Loch Léin) is “Lake of Knowledge” and it is believed that this name derived from the monastery being situated on the lake. Legend has it those who dip their foot in the lake are said to gain a fountain of knowledge!


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 Parkavonear Castle, built by the Normans in 1169 post the Anglo-Norman Invasion. Due to its location and clear view of the Killarney lakes and town; it is suggested that the castle was built as a watch-tower to give early warning signs of any threats afoot.

Ross Castle

The impressive tower house that is Ross Castle in Killarney is perhaps one of the most illustrated national monuments of the country. Built as a strong defensive tower house on the edge of Lough Leane in the 15th century by the O’Donoghue Mór, Ross Castle was their home until it was transferred to the MacCarthy Mór family during the Desmond Rebellions in the 1580s. Ross Castle was also held for the payment of traditional rents of butter and oatmeal by the O’Donoghue Mór. The MacCarthy Mór then leased the lands and castle to Sir Valentine Browne, who is a descendent of the Earls of Kenmare.

Legend has it, it was only when a ship would swim to Ross Castle by the lake is when they would surrender. This prophecy came to fruition during the Irish Confederate Wars when Oliver Cromwell forced Ross Castle into surrender.

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.


The Browne Family, Earls of Kenmare

The Browne Family, Earls of Kenmare. The first member of the Browne family to come to Ireland in the early 1550s was Sir Valentine Browne of Totteridge. Valentine was responsible for surveying escheated lands in Ireland and subsequently received 8,000 acres of land in Dingle and Killorglin; he soon surrendered these territories to receive the equivalent of lands from O’Donoghue Mór of Ross. Valentine’s heir, Valentine baronet, was only two years only when his father died and therefore was only a minor during the turbulent Cromwell period. In 1652, the Irish Confederates held Valentine’s property of Ross Castle; it was his uncle, Lord Muskerry, who surrendered the castle to General Ludlow. Following the restoration in 1660, Valentine was reinstated as an innocent papist.

Valentine Browne, 3rd Viscount Kenmare, married Honora Butler, daughter of Thomas Butler of Kilcash Co. Tipperary in November 1720. Valentine’s heir, Thomas, believed that the linen industry appeared the most likely to reclaim his tenants, therefore he set about fostering linen production by introducing weavers from the north. It is for the development of Killarney town that Thomas is best remembered. In the late 1740s Killarney contained less than six slate-roofed houses, with a collection of mud cabins described as ‘low and ill-thatched’. Killarney had been attracted increased numbers of visitors since 1756 and in order to improve the town, Thomas granted his tenants long leases for a trivial rent providing they would ‘raise and slate their houses’. Thomas removed all tolls in the hopes of making Killarney the cheapest market in the country, however Killarney’s market did not improve and so the tolls were reintroduced at £60 per annum.

In 1828, a subscription fund had been initiated in Killarney to finance the building of a cathedral for the Kerry diocese. By 1853, Valentine had subscribed £2,000 to this fund and bequeathed a further £500 in his will. Valentine’s preferred site near Deenagh River was selected for the Cathedral and the architect chosen was Augustus Welby Pugin.

Thomas was succeeded by his son, Valentine Augustus. On August 26th 1861, Augustus and Gertrude played hosts to Queen Victoria at Killarney. For months painters and decorators prepared Killarney house to receive the queen and members of her family. The following day was spent exploring the lakes before arriving to Muckross, the Herbert family estate. The couple seemed to genuinely concern themselves with the welfare of Killarney; so much so in 1860 Augustus supported the lighting of the town with gas, believing it a useful agent to promote civilization and morality. In 1865, he financially supported the establishment of the butter market.

It is believed to have been Gertrude who wished to build the new magnificent Killarney House which afforded a fabulous view of Lough Leane. The earlier 18th century Killarney House was demolished and the stable block yard retained. The new design by George Devey cost over £100,000 for the house and demesne developments. In September 1916, Killarney House was destroyed by fire caused by an overheated flue at the top of the building; the house was never rebuilt.

Beatrice Grosvenor, niece of Valentine Gerald, inherited Killarney House and for financial reasons, was forced to sell the house and much of the estate to an American syndicate.

The Herberts of Muckross

The Herberts of Muckross. For two and a half centuries, the Herberts were prominent and influential Kerry landlords. The power of the Herbert family was at its peak in 1857 when Henry Arthur Herbert, who was responsible for the construction of the present day Muckross House, was appointed chief sectary of Ireland. Their high profile and status was evident from a visit by Queen Victoria in 1861.

Muckross Estate, based on the shores of the Killarney Lakes had been leased from the MacCarthy Mór family, who had been in possession of this land for generations.

Lord Edward Herbert inherited the land when he married the only daughter of Sir William Herbert. It was witnessed that Edward Herbert gave the lands to his cousin Thomas Herbert, in consideration for his love and affection for the land. It was during the lifetime of Thomas Herbert that the family became extremely wealthy as a result of copper mining on the Muckross Peninsula. During the 1770s, Thomas built a new two story-structure on the lands of Muckross with the hall flagged with red and white marble of Muckross. Thomas also reclaimed 140 acres that had been covered in rocks and brambles and constructed a new road along the Muckross Peninsula.

Henry Arthur Herbert was only 23 when he inherited the Muckross estate from his father, Thomas.  By 1801 Henry had also built a cottage which was described as ‘under Mangerton’ – this is believed to have been Torc Cottage.

Charles John Herbert, son of Henry Arthur, married Louisa Middleton and leased the house and land at Muckross from his father. As part of the marriage settlement between Charles and Louisa, money was allocated from the Middletons for the renovation of the estate.

Henry Arthur Herbert, son of Charles Herbert, married Mary Balfour and came to live in Torc Cottage and in 1838, began building a new house at Muckross. Henry Arthur also constructed slate houses in Cloghereen, now known as Muckross, and well as a church and school for the village.

Queen Victoria came to visit Muckross with her family in1861. The Herberts invested huge sums in the renovation of the estate and even had a new road constructed on the slopes of Mangerton.

Son of Arthur Herbert, Harry Herbert, invested in property and built houses for the workers in the 1870s. In 1883 Harry attempted to make business contracts with paper manufacturers and potteries. Railway equipment and a steamer were high on his list of items as Harry’s plan was to turn the birch trees on the Muckross estate into cotton reels. Harry set his sights on the world of trading and wanted to grow a large business; however his dream was dampened when learned that the Mountain was too steep to build a railway and the River Laune was too shallow to allow for the transportation he had hoped for. Harry had incurred a large debt with Standard Life at this point on this estate and his failed attempt at starting mining at Muckross again. Harry signed the estate over to his son Keane Herbert who initiated a salmon hatchery at Torc. Due to failed attempts to raise money and sue his former wife, harry Herbert, who was supported by his son Keane, were evicted from Muckross house. The insurance company took control of the estate and the rental of the property along with shooting grounds.

In June1898, the Herberts transferred the property over to Standard Life Assurance where it was subsequently purchased by the occupying tenants at the time. Failing to reach the reserve price, an auction of the estate fell through in November 1899 but was sold a week later to Lord Ardilaun.



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