It is being hailed as the jewel in the crown of Killarney, and its restoration will bring the Killarney National Park right into the heart of the town and create the biggest urban park in the world.
The official opening on Sunday of the revamped grounds of the State-owned Killarney House is the fruition of years of lobbying and work at local, national, and international level.
A total of €7m has been invested in the restoration of the house and formal gardens reflecting in part the style of 18th century French chateaux, part Capability Brown, much loved by the Victorians, and part 20th- century Edwardian class.
Work is still underway on the house, once home to the earls of Kenmare.
In the 1950s, it was bought by the American McShain family, which, in turn, sold the house and thousands of acres of parklands to the State for a nominal sum to ensure it would forever be enjoyed by the public.
Killarney House came under State ownership in 1998 on the death of Mary McShain. However, in the ensuing years, it became so run down and neglected it was the subject of town council motions. At one stage, Sr Pauline McShain, the only daughter of the late John McShain and Mary, herself intervened to plead its case in the national press.
Now, however, it has not just been saved but magnificently revamped, and the Killarney House project is one of the few such to have been advanced during the economic downturn.
Its significance for Killarney and for Ireland is underlined by Niall Ó Donnchú, assistant secretary general of the Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht: “The uniqueness of Killarney House Gardens is that they open from the centre of town to the stunning panorama of the National Park. This magnificent property is a prologue to some of the most stunning natural scenery in the world.”
A new side entrance, alongside the Monsignor O’Flaherty statue on Mission Rd, will complement the restored Golden Gates on the Muckross Rd; and three centuries of garden styles will be reflected in the restoration.
The project has been overseen by conservation landscape architect Elizabeth Morgan, the much-respected Killarney horticulturalist, plantsman Cormac Foley, and Killarney gardens supervisor Gerry Murphy. Research on the gardens involved archival maps, old photographs, drawings, and diaries from the 1861 visit of Queen Victoria to Killarney to unearth the garden’s various layers.
The popular Cherry Tree Walk has been replanted and one of the key features will be the 18th century-style raised walk designed to suit ladies in long skirts, along with the cherub statue.
Killarney Chamber of Tourism & Commerce has worked closely with the OPW and the NPWS on the run up to the opening.
“The gardens are just one element of the restoration project, which also involves developing a major National Park visitor centre in Killarney House, restoring some of the formal rooms, and using the house’s exceptional collection of antiques to tell the story of the house and those who lived there,” said Killarney Committee member Declan Mulvany.
The garden is opening at weekends from this Sunday. Planting works will be continuing in the garden for the next few weeks and a full opening will take place once this work is completed.
On Sunday, a fun-packed afternoon is planned for children of all ages between the hours of 2pm and 4pm. Children are invited to get creative between now and Sunday and create colourful Easter Bonnets before parading in the Easter Bonnet Parade on the Long Terrace Walk at 3pm.
The afternoon line-up also features falconry and a historical presentation on Killarney House & Gardens. There will be music from the Killarney Golf Club Choir, Marina Cassidy, Grace Foley, and members of the Killarney School of Music.
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