Desert, Temperate Seas, Volcanoes, Two Million Year Ice Age
The Killarney mountains are comprised of red sandstone that was formed in the estuary of a great, desert river. This happened some 395 to 345 million years ago when this land was 30 degrees south of the equator.
Then (345 to 295 million years ago) the land was covered by a shallow, warm sea. Limestone was formed from the sand mixed with the remains of shells and fish.
A little over 430 million years ago the Lough Guitane region, south-east of Killarney, was a centre of very active volcanic activity. Here there is volcanic rock - lava and ash - that varies in thickness from 300 to 600 feet.
Some 200 million years ago there were a series of earth foldings that forced up all of the Killarney mountains. This pushed the older red sandstone through the limestone. The limestone was left in the valleys.
Killarney's ice age began two million years ago and only ended 10,000 BC. A 1,600 foot/490m of ice and snow was slowly pushed northward through the Killarney Valley giving the mountains their jagged appearance, gouged out deep valleys like the Gap of Dunloe and Cappach and left basins that are now filled with dozen and dozen of lakes.
The weathering of the past 12,000 years has further emphasised the jaggedness of the mountains and the waters in the Lower and Middle lakes have lapped away at their limestone surrounds to form a warren of caves and give the rock an attractive scalloped appearance.
Yew & Oak Woods
The mild climate, high rainfall and the shelter has produced a rich vegetation in Killarney. The valley has some 500 varieties of mosses and 250 liverworts (a broad leafed moss). About one-fifth of these were first discovered here - but they are not unique to this area.
At the other end of the botanical spectrum Killarney has the largest yew wood in Europe (some 32 hectares/80 acres) as well as the most extensive native oak woodland in Ireland (c.600 hectares/1,500 acres).
As well there are extensive swamp woodlands -alder and sally. Native to Killarney are a range of plants not normally found growing naturally further north than Spain or Portugal. These include the very prolific Arbutus and the insect eating Kerry Butterwort.
Killarney, and the broader Kerry/West Cork area, has a series of unique gardens that become world-class when your combine their botanical collection with their spectacular locations. Muckross, Glanleam, Dereen, Garnish, Dunloe Castle, Knockreer and Derrynane.
Red Deer to Kerry Slug
The Irish Red Deer, the largest native Irish mammal, has only survived in an unbroken line in the Killarney valley where it has lived since the end of the last ice age some 12,000 years ago. It is a particular experience to walk in the hills around Killarney during the mating season in October and hear the bellowing roar of the stags as they warn off any other thinking of trying to steal some of their harem.
Four Sika Deer (Sika Nippon) were presented to the Muckross Estate in 1861 and their descendants are now among the purest strains of Sika deer in the world.
Foxes, badgers, pine martins, red squirrels. At depths of over sixty feet in Lough Leane there have been shoals of char since the ice age. Some of the last of the Irish Golden Eagles and White-Tailed Sea Eagles soared in Killarney skies up to the late 1800s. A programme is now in place to re-introduce the White-Tailed Eagle to Killarney and the Southwest. In recent years one of the most efficient fishing birds the Osprey have been seen after an absence of a century. Greenland White Fronted Geese from far off Canadian shores are among our winter visitors.
On balmy summer evenings Killarney has significant colonies of rare moths. The silver spotted Kerry Slug is another native whose normal range is not further north than the north of Spain.