Killarney House officially open after full makeover

It is taking two ministers today to open a mansion saved from ruin.

But, then again, the multi-million euro restoration of the 1860s-built Killarney House was one of the few projects given the go ahead during the economic downturn.

It is also of the few grand houses which opens up into one of the world’s biggest front gardens - Ireland’s National Park.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was tourism minister in 2011 when funding of €7m was approved. He will not be in the Kingdom today when Minister for Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys is joined by Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Brendan Griffin, to perform the official opening.

Once owned by the Earls of Kenmare, the stables’ part of the French Chateau-type property came into its own as the Irish homestead of ‘The Man who Built Washington’, John McShain and his wife Mary in the 1950s.

Racehorse enthusiast McShain had acquired the lakes, castles and islands in the heart of Killarney from the aristocracy, facing a downturn in their fortunes.

Afterwards, Mr McShainpassed it over to the State for a nominal sum.

The house became public property in Killarney after his wife’s death in 2009.

And there it lay. Not in great condition, unfortunately. With rising damp and a faulty roof, Killarney House with its cobbled front yard was left empty and derelict.

Its rundown condition caused an outcry, locally, and in the USA the McShain’s only daughter Pauline spoke of her disappointment.

It was noted that, after all, it was the house which had been left to Ireland by the man who had built the Pentagon and rebuilt the White House.

After a €7m makeover from Failte Ireland as well as the Department of Arts and Heritage, the restored gardens opened to the public last year.

Today will see the opening of the first section of the house with original antiques once owned by the Earls.

New exhibition rooms to act as an interpretive centre for the 25,000-acre national park will follow. The garden room, dining room, drawing room, and living room have now all been restored in period style.

Three gardening staff and five staff are assigned to the House which will be managed by Pat Dawson, former regional manager of the NPWS who has taken a hands-on interest in the meticulous restoration.

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