One of the few multi-million euro restoration projects to have gone ahead during the economic downturn has been unveiled to the public with the limited reopening of Killarney House and Gardens, yesterday.
The €7m restoration of the house and grounds, once home to the earls of Kenmare, and latterly to the American McShain family, got underway after an outcry about its condition since being left to the State in 1998.
The project, which opens the national park to the town centre, got strong support in 2011 from then minister for Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, Minister Jimmy Deenihan.
Almost two years of work have so far gone into restoring the gardens to reflect the house’s diverse gardening history from 18th century French style to 20th century Edwardian.
An additional entrance along with restored avenues provides town centre access to the 10,000 hectare Killarney National Park with immediate glimpses of the woods, parkland, and lakes of Killarney.
The restored house and furnishings, along with an interpretative centre for the national park will open later this summer.
The current arrangement will see limited opening for weekends until further garden work is completed.
This weekend, Mr Deenihan said: “I made it one of my main priorities in that particular ministry because of the derelict nature of the house and grounds. And if it had been left in the condition it was in, it would have been almost beyond repair.”
Mr Deenihan who lost his seat in the last election, paid tribute to the collaboration between the then town council, afterwards the local chamber of commerce and tourism , the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the OPW and Failte Ireland.
Funding came from the National Parks and Wildlife Service of his department, as well as the Fáilte Ireland Tourism Development Fund and apart from projects to do with 1916 at the time Killarney House was “the only major national work by the Office of Public Works and the National Parks and Wildlife Service”, during the downturn, he said.
The gardens’ restoration project has been overseen by conservation landscape architect Elizabeth Morgan, along with horticulturalist Cormac Foley and Killarney gardens supervisor Gerry Murphy.
Unearthing the gardens’ history involved archival maps, and old photographs, as well as drawings and diaries from the 1861 visit of Britain’s Queen Victoria.
The Cherry Tree Walk has been replanted and one of the key features will be the 18th century-style raised walk
This walks was originally designed to suit women in long skirts said Kate O’Leary president of Killarney Chamber of Tourism and Commerce.
“Killarney Chamber recognises the opening of Killarney House and Gardens as the most significant development in Killarney for decades,” said Ms O’Leary.
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