The picturesque Killarney House and gardens sit nestled beyond the grand entrance to the National Park as you enter from the town. Here you will find pretty pathways weaving carefully through manicured gardens, an oasis of calm and an ideal starting point for a journey through the wonders of the National Park.
The ‘golden gates’, with each pillar topped with a lamp and coronet, were originally built as the entrance to the large Chateaux style house constructed by the Browne’s in 1721. This powerful family had previously lived in Ross Castle on the banks of Lough Leane. The family had established itself in Ireland in 1559 when Sir Valentine Browne was appointed Surveyor General of Ireland. His grandson, also called Valentine, was granted the title Baron by King James 1. In 1689, his Grandson Nicholas was granted the title, ‘Viscount Kenmare’ by King James II and in 1801, they became the ‘Earls of Kenmare’. Between 1875 and 1880, they built a vast, red brick Tudor-style mansion on Knockreer Hill overlooking Lough Leane and they demolished all but the Coach House & Stables here. Sadly, their impressive mansion was accidentally destroyed in a fire in 1913. The family returned to this original site and converted the Coach House and Stables into the fine house that you see today. The Brownes lived here until the death of the last Earl in the 1950s.
Following the Earl’s death, the estate was inherited by the Earl’s niece; Beatrice Grosvenor. She sold half of the estate, including Killarney House and the lakes, to an American syndicate, who later sold it on again to Irish Americans John and Mary McShaine from Philadelphia. John had earned his fortune as a developer and had the nickname ‘the Man Who Built Washington’. One of his best-known constructions is the famous Pentagon building, the headquarters of the US Department of Defence. The McShaine family lived in this house for many years, until after the death of Mary McShain in 1998 when they gifted the house and the land, to the State and the People of Ireland.
By the time that it came into State ownership, Killarney House and its gardens had fallen into serious disrepair. However, following consistent lobbying in 2014, the house and gardens underwent a 7-million-euro renovation that returned them to their former splendor. In 2016 the gardens were reopened to the public, followed by the magnificent house itself in 2017.
After your visit to Killarney House, exit through the gates and turn left, heading towards the centre of the town. A short distance from the house towards Killarney town, you will find a wonderful bronze sculpture that commemorates Johnny O’Leary, one of Ireland’s greatest traditional Irish music players. The life-size sculpture featuring Johnny playing his beloved accordion, was made by local man and O’Leary’s good friend, Mike Kenny. By his early teens, Johnny O’Leary had embarked on a musical career that would result in numerous recordings, radio and television appearances and win him several accolades and awards.
On your way into town you might also see a number of horses and carriages known as jaunting cars with their ‘jarvey’ drivers. They have been part of the Killarney tourism experience for generations.