Killarney – a gem of a National Park
Killarney National Park is 25,400 acres in size, contains three lakes and just to its west is the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, the highest of all Ireland’s mountain ranges. Centerpiece of the park is the almost 10, 000 acre Bourn Vincent Memorial Park (which all the locals call the Muckross Estate.) In 1932 it was donated by Mr. & Mrs. Bowers Bourn to the become Ireland’s first national park. In 1981, it was designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
Close to town is the Ross Castle, built for the O’Donoghue Chieftans in the early 1400’s. This castle is a typical tower house with a large banqueting hall and minstrel’s gallery on the top floor. Tours are given from Mid-March through October. You are free to walk around the grounds and the exterior of the first floor without an admission fee.
On the grounds you’ll find a dozen or so jaunting carts just waiting to give you rides around the park. You can also rent boats or go for a guided boat ride on the lake.
Unless you take a boat ride from Ross Castle, you’ll probably miss the ruins of the famous abbey that sits alongside the lake. Fear not, a short drive down N71 outside the park will take you to a driveway that leads to the abbey. Beautifully landscaped, this path is a pleasure to walk, despite the lack of shade. The abbey will be off to your right and is still impressive after almost 700 years.
Further from town is the entrance to the former Muckross House. It was built in 1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife Mary Balfour. It was foreclosed on in 1898 when the Herberts were experiencing financial hardship. It was then briefly owned by a member of the Guinness family before being purchased by Mr. Bourne of California as a wedding present for his daughter.
The home has wonderful open lawn areas stretching to the lake as well as small paths through the woods where small seating areas can be found. House tours are given daily. Outside the home you’ll find a nice gift shop/restaurant, as well as a traditional farm and craft shops around the grounds.
Across the highway, you’ll come to a parking lot for the Torc Waterfall. It’s a bit of a hike (maybe ten minutes) to get to the waterfall, but you parallel a stream with cascading water as you hike, and its in the shade, so it’s very pleasant.
The day I was there, some foreign tourists were behaving badly, climbing onto the rocks of the waterfall to get closeup photos. Someone should have bought them a zoom lens, as they stayed out on the rocks for well over a half hour. During that time, I watched a professional film crew grow more and more irritated waiting for the rock hoppers to leave.
I went back to my Bunk Camper and edited some photos, making much better use of my time. It didn’t make Mr. & Mrs. Bad Manners leave any sooner, but at least I had a feeling of accomplishment while I waited.
Only about 15 minutes from the waterfall is the Donoghues White Villa Farm Caravan & Camping Park on Killarney Road N22. The park is very nicely landscaped with both grass and hardscape parking slots. 30 Electrical hookups serve tents and RV’s. There are multiple laundry facilities and a screened in meeting/party room.
They also offer free Wi-Fi, supposedly at most sites, but it was being installed the day I was there and it wouldn’t stay working for more than 5 minutes. The laundry facilities were also acting up, so I’m not sure that my one night stay was indicative of the present situation. You might want to inquire first when making reservations – Tel 00 353 64 6620671.
I found a nice grassy spot near the registration area and with plenty of power, I was able to recharge all my electronics before retiring for the night. If you didn’t want to cook for yourself, it’s only a short walk to a local pub from the campground. The reservation desk also has a small supply of canned food available and a wealth of brochures on everything to do in the area.
With the Bunk Camper, I was able to pick some of the spots that other campers would have liked to have, but their rigs were too big to fit. The Vista model that I had is only about 6 feet longer than my Chevy Tahoe, yet it packed a full kitchen, full bath and sleeping for four. I really loved it, and I can’t wait to go back and do it again. [Read the full description.]
After taking it over a good portion of the Wild Atlantic Way and into large cities and small towns, there is only one caution I would give you before you rent. Well, maybe two. You’ll be shifting gears with your left hand as well as getting used to driving on the left side of the road. Before you set out onto the highway, there is a large shopping center right near the Bunk Camper depot, so I’d suggest taking a couple spins around there to get your shifting style fully developed. It only took me a couple minutes, but it was time well spent.
The other caution is watch your mirrors. Many of the roads are extremely narrow, sometimes barely wide enough for one car, much less two vehicles to pass each other. Somehow, there must be a gang of angel traffic controllers up in those blue skies, because I only had to back up once the entire trip when there was no place to pass each other. The mirrors are susceptible to branches sticking out, etc., so be aware and maybe take the additional insurance. I didn’t need it, but your mileage may vary. (Watch the video to get an idea of driving conditions – oh yeah, drivers do go both ways on all these roads.)
One final thought for the road: Compare the idea of having your own home on wheels waiting for you in the parking lot versus standing waiting for your coach to come pick you up (and your mom or grandma) after a long day of walking. These gals weren’t that pleased that their coach was MIA.
Our next article in the Wild Atlantic Way series takes us walking in Cork County.
Also published on Medium.