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Islands and Castles of KillarneyKillarney ActivitiesHome

Islands and Castles of Killarney

   Inisfallen Island & Monastery


Ireland's First University

Sweet Inisfallen(Thomas Moore) 
Sweet Inisfallen, fare thee well,
May calm and sunshine long be thine!
How fair thou art let others tell,-
To feel how fair shall long be mine.

Sweet Inisfallen, long shall dwell
In memory's dream that sunny smile,
Which o'er thee on that evening fell,
When first I saw thy fairy isle

Killarney's Lake Isle of Inisfallen is perhaps not as internationally famous as Yeats Lake Isle of Innisfree, but the above opening verses were penned in tribute by an equally internationally famous poet and composer, Thomas Moore. Moore was a frequent visitor to Innisfallen and as can be seen from his writings, it held a very special place in his heart.


The monastery on Inisfallen Island was founded in the c.early to mid 7th century. It was sited on the largest of the islands on Lough Leane, in beautiful isolation, yet only a short boat ride away from the Killarney Valley. With crops from its relatively fertile soil, fish from the surrounding lake waters and, wildlife in the nearby lakeside woodlands, the early monks must have been very self-sufficient in terms of their daily needs.

The early church buildings and dwellings are long gone and what remains today are the extensive ruins of a church and an Augustinian priory building dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries.

The monastery on Inisfallen became a very important centre of learning in the early Christian period in Ireland and is sometimes known as one of the oldest universities in Europe. Listed among those who it is claimed were educated there was Ireland's most famous King - Brian Boru. 

Although originated in other Munster monasteries, the monks on Inisfallen between the c.9th and 14th centuries completed the Annals of Inisfallen. These Annals represent a most important contemporary history of Munster and they now reside in the Bodlein Library in Oxford University.

Throughout its 1000-year existence, Inisfallen was subjected to repeated attacks and the destruction of its buildings. It is believed that it was effectively deserted as a place of worship and education at the time of the Cromwellian campaign in the mid 17th century. In the 18th century, the Island became a popular outdoor location for wine, food and merriment for the various guests of the Earls of Kenmare. Throughout the 19th century, it was "oft visited" by the romantic poets and writers including Thomas Moore and it is best celebrated in his wonderful poem "Sweet Inisfallen". 

No trip to Killarney is complete without a visit to this place of immense beauty. As you walk midst its ruins, one can sense the spirituality that must have first drawn the monks to this most special place. Boat Trips to Inisfallen Island are available from Ross Castle Pier and the adjacent Reen Pier.


   Ross Castle - A Seven Century Story

Built in the late 15th Century by one of the O'Donoghue Ross Gaelic Chieftains, Ross Castle has had a long and distinguished history. This typical Irish keep is built on a rocky outcrop on Ross Island by the shore of Lough Leane. Although not a large fortress, its profile and location make for an imposing structure and it has proved to be a very effective defensive stronghold throughout the centuries.

Perhaps the most significant event in its 500+ year history occurred in 1652. Cromwellian General Ludlow and his army of 4000 foot and 2000 horse soldiers pursued the retreating Lord Muskerry and his Irish forces from Cork to Killarney. Ludlow laid siege to Muskerry and his remaining forces at Ross Castle. The Castle was well defended against attack from land, and fearing a protracted siege, Ludlow hastened the surrender when he brought artillery up the Laune River (on specially constructed boats) and laid siege to the Castle from the lakeside also. It is said, that an old Irish prophecy that Ross Castle would never fall "until a ship should swim upon the lake", may have been instrumental in the decision to Surrender.


Many years after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, the Castle was for the first time occupied by the Browne family. For his loyalty to King James II, Sir Valentine Browne was given the title, 1st Viscount Kenmare - predecessor to Thomas 4th Viscount Kenmare - the acknowledged founder of Killarney Town (1754) and the father of Irish Tourism.

Having served as a residence for the "Kenmare" Family and subsequently as an Army Barracks, the Castle was finally vacated in 1825. For almost the next 150 years, under various owners, it remained as a "deteriorating" but famous Killarney landmark on the shores of Lough Leane. In 1970, the Castle came into State ownership and has been beautifully restored by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and refurnished in the style of the 17th century. It is now under the management of the OPW and is open to the public - by guided tour only. A Guided Tour of Ross Castle is an experience not to be missed. Contact: 353 (0) 64 35851 - e-mail rosscastle@duchas.ie

Reference Reading: Ross Castle Visitors Guide (available from Ross Castle).


   Ross Island

Ross Island is certainly a "Treasure Island" and in many respects - "A One-Stop Shop for Killarney's Heritage".

Strong links with the Bronze Age "Beaker Community" have been found during archaeological excavations of the Copper Mines at Ross Island. Copper mined from this island provided the very first metal to be used in Ireland over 4000 years ago, and again during the early Christian period in Ireland.

Substantial shipments of copper ore were also delivered to British smelters during the 18th and 19th centuries to meet the demands of the Industrial Revolution.

Due to serious problems with frequent flooding of the mines and the growth of Tourism in Killarney, the mines were eventually closed. Shafts were filled in, buildings were demolished and the mine surface workings were landscaped.

Archaeological work commenced on the mines in 1992 under the direction of Dr. William O'Brien of Department of Archaeology, National Universityof Ireland, Galway. Thanks to his work and the support of Killarney National Park, visitors to the Island can follow the development of its mining heritage by reference to a comprehensive Guide Booklet on The Ross Island Mining Trail (available from Ross Castle and Muckross House).

Detailed "Information Panels" are also located at relevant points around the Island. As there are still open shafts within the surrounding woodlands, visitors are asked to remain on the designated tracks and to ensure that children are supervised at all times.

Duration of Mining Trail Walk: Discretionary, but allow 45 mins to 90 mins.


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