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Killarney's Big Houses. Muckross House and recently renovated Killarney House
Killarney's Big Houses
Muckross House and recently renovated Killarney House
It has been decades since I visited Muckross House. With the rain coming down, it proved a handy stand-by during a recent 36 hour visit to Killarney. Nowadays, you may visit only by guided tour and no photos are allowed. That tour starts in the stables of the house built in 1843. In the entrance hall, there are many animal heads on the wall, the most striking mounting that of the antlers of an ancient elk. Note too the unusual Albino Hooded Crow.
The Dining Room, in the Victorian style, still has the original curtains made in Paris in 1861. Not too sure what they had on the windows from 1843 - no one thought to ask our guide. The outstanding piece in the Library is a table made of local Arbutus timber with many Killarney landmarks engraved on it while the drawing room sports a 1910 Killybegs carpet.
There are many exhibits in all of the rooms so I'm just giving you a few that caught my eye. In the Main Hall, used mostly for banqueting and dancing, there are a few local brown trout mounted and displayed; most of them are around the 6 to 7 kilo mark, quite large.
Killarney House and part of the rose garden
In 1861, Queen Victoria visited the Herbert family at Muckross and took over the Billiards Room (up to then Men Only!) as her breakfast and dining room. Indeed, the visit was disruptive in other ways as it cost the Herberts a small fortune and led, among other factors, to their bankruptcy. Eventually the estate was sold and the final private owners were the Bourn Vincent family and it was they who left it to the state.
One of the house’s biggest mirrors is seen upstairs and it is made of old English crystal. There are many Waterford glass chandeliers around the house. We were taken through the Gentlemen's Wash Room, next the main bedroom (with its view of the Middle Lake) and then what became the main bathroom (with the taps on the outside of the bath itself).
After the nursery area, we were shown the gallery where the vast majority of the paintings are by Mary Herbert. One striking exception is “Emily” painted by none other than John Butler Yeats, the father of of WB and Jack B.
In the gardens of Muckross
The Lady's Boudoir was one of a suite of rooms used by Victoria (and her 100 strong entourage) during her visit. Here the ladies of the house normally occupied themselves with flower arranging, music and writing. The writing desk was a gift for the English queen but she left it behind her.
Then our final stop was the Kitchen area. Lots of gear here, everything from the huge range to a much smaller ice-cream churner. The servants hardly got a moment to the themselves. There were 22 indoor servants in the house and upstairs there were no less than 32 bell-pulls in various rooms to ring the 32 bells downstairs to summon a servant to duty.
Tours at Killarney House are of a much more recent vintage, much shorter too as the house, renovated in recent years and opened to the public last July, has just three rooms to show at the moment. This is, according to the guide, the third Killarney House. The first, nearby where the Plaza Hotel now is, was left in favour of the second (where Knockreer House now stands), which burned down in 1913.
The family, the Brownes, dominant in the area for 400 years, then moved to the current building, their former stables! In the 1950s, John McShane, “the Man who built Washington”, bought the house and, in 1979, handed it over to the Irish government. As is often the case in these situations, the house was allowed deteriorate before the recent renovation.
The tour is free and short and again no photos are allowed. You are also free to roam around the acres outfront, including the beautiful rose gardens. Furniture rescued from the 1913 fire is featured around the house where once the likes of Gloria Swanson, Rock Hudson, and Grace Kelly were entertained. Here too you’ll see a beautiful 19th century fireplace and French grandfather clock. Splendid views also out over the grounds down to the lakes.The living room contains some 3,000 books in its library, some of which are hundreds of years old.
Renovation continues in the upstairs section and that will eventually contain an interactive guide to the National Park, all 26,000 acres of it. By the way, a quarter of the area is taken up by the famous lakes.