They gathered in Victorian costumes to welcome the official opening of the €7m restoration of Killarney House and gardens on the 155th anniversary of the visit to the estate of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1861.

A painstaking recreation of the gardens, which had been the former estate of the Earls of Kenmare, has been taking place for a number of years and the day-long event to mark its official opening saw locals don Victorian costume.

The project to restore the gardens has been overseen by conservation landscape architect Elizabeth Morgan, along with the Killarney horticulturalist and plantsman, formerly of the OPW, Cormac Foley, and Killarney gardens supervisor Gerry Murphy.

Extensive research involved examination of archival maps, old photographs, drawings and diaries from the 1861 visit of Queen Victoria to Killarney to unearth the garden’s various layers.

Walks have been replanted and one of the key features is the 18th century-style raised walk designed to suit ladies in long skirts, along with the cherub statue.

Minister Michael Ring, who officially opened the event yesterday, said “a new chapter” in the tourism industry in Killarney had begun.

A number of events have seen thousands flock to the gardens and walkways, which open the town to the Killarney National Park, its lakes and island.

The house itself when fully restored is to showcase Edwardian living as well as act as an interpretive centre. The house and thousands of acres of lake, parkland, islands and mountain was sold in the 1950s by the late Mrs Grosvenor, a descendant of the Earls of Kenmare, to a US syndicate which in turn sold it to American builder and race horse owner John McShain and his wife Mary.

The McShains later gave most of it to the State for a nominal sum, retaining Killarney House and 50 acres of gardens until the death of Mrs McShain in 1998.

In the hands of the State since, it had fallen into a near derelict condition and in July 2011, €7m was announced by then tourism Minister Leo Varadkar for its restoration.


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