MUCKROSS House is a neo-Elizabethan creation built in 1843 by the Herbert family, who were apparently infected with the same house-building fever as we saw in Ireland 2003-2007 — why have just one house if you can afford two?
In fact, they built three grand houses on the estate and spent their fortune on landscaping it. The grounds and gardens, now world famous, drove the Herberts to penury and they sold the estate in 1899.
With the front entrance to our left we turn right onto a wide avenue and then left towards the lake. We go right along the lakeside path, somewhat Tennyson-Gothic and romantic, with holly dark in the woods on either side. We pass views over Kilbeg (Little Church) Bay to the forested slopes of Torc and Gleana. Where there was once a wooden bridge, we are now forced to climb some ‘steps’ (in fact, convenient tree roots); the path in the wood offers a safer option.
At a T-junction; we turn left, between the gateposts. The trees of Camillan Wood, which we have now entered, are species that grow on Old Red Sandstone, especially oak and holly. We pass occasional Scots Pine. In pre-history a common species, it disappeared from Camillan 3,700 years ago and was replanted circa 1800. One Muckross specimen has reached a height of 28m.
At number 19, an arrow points right; we ignore it and go left. We are now in Ireland’s only yew wood. Yews may reach 4,000 years old; but here, due to clear felling in the 19th century, they are mere striplings, at oldest, 200 years. The wood is unusually hard and was first choice for the medieval longbow.
Following the road between the estate wall and a thatched house on the left we turn left where the paths cross. We ignore the road going right and continue, soon passing a small inlet. After 200 metres, we pass a magnificent Scots Pine, and cut in left onto a lakeshore path.
We come to a T-junction at a pleasant dell, and turn right, then, at a crossing of paths, take the Muckross Abbey sign. Originally the Friary of Irrelagh, it was founded for the Franciscans by McCarthy Mór in 1448. It took 50 years to complete. Limestone was much used; because it is very hard, there was little decorative carving, but the tracery of the stonework in the eastward windows is very fine. In the church, three of Ireland’s great medieval poets are buried, Aodghán Ó Raithile, Geoffrey O’Donoghue and Eoghan Rua Ó Suilleabháin. Kerry contributed more than its share to Irish poetry.
Leaving the site, we go straight across the intersecting paths to go up a hill and follow a sign going right for “Muckross House and Gardens”. Reaching a four-path cross, we go left. We follow signposts to the Walled Garden, and when we have enjoyed its beauty, we take a path marked “Arboretum and Stream Garden”.
The Arboretum is well worth a visit but upon reaching the estate road, we go sharp right, along the shore of Dundag Bay. The bay is enclosed; the pretty Boathouse is a feature, and the island, with silver birches and tall pines.
The views, here, as from Muckross House, are classical. We pass a robust stand of reeds along the shore and soon turn away from the lake towards Muckross House, and our trailhead.
Start point: From Killarney town centre we take the N71 south for 5km through Killarney National Park and turn right into a magnificent tree-lined avenue at the signposts for Muckross House. We start our walk from the house.
Distance/time: 9km, 3-4hrs.
Difficulty: Well-made walking paths, some on quiet roads within the estate. It can be a little muddy on some of the peninsula paths in winter.
Map: OS Discovery 78.
Jan 7: Doorly Park/ Cairns, easy, 12km, 3.5hrs, meet car park, Carraroe Retail Park (Curry’s end), 10am.
Jan 11: Knocknarea, moderate, 10km, 2.5hrs, meet at car park of the Institute of Technology, Sligo, 10am.
Jan 8: Night Hike, approx. 4hrs, meet at Askea Church, 6.30pm.
Jan 10: Friday Night Hike, approx. 3hrs, bring a torch, meet at Glanbia in Bunclody (beside Supervalu), 7pm.
Jan 12: Medium Walk in Wicklow, meet on Barrack Street, Carlow, 9.30am.
Jan 12: Guest Walk, Kenmare, grade D+, meet on Parnell Place, outside old TSB building 8.45, sign up online beforehand.
Jan 12: Annascaul Lake, Banogue and Bearna na Gaoithe, moderate, 4.5hrs, easy option also available, meet outside Garvey’s supermarket, Holy Ground, Dingle, 10am.