You may not have guessed it from our clean streets, our pristine lakes and our imposing yet peaceful mountains but Killarney has, on numerous occasions in the past, been host to a whole host of battles and wars. We have a history laced with fighting and rebellion. Killarney’s past is like Ireland’s really; generally peaceful but punctuated with wild bursts of violence. Mostly involve those blasted English too.
Why am I telling you this? Well you can visit some of the scenes of Killarney’s most storied battles and fights. For instance, let’s go way back to the 1200s when the Normans first arrived on Erin’s shores. Many of them liked the look of Killarney and decided to locate their operations here. They’re long gone but their ruins remain – take Ballymalis Castle in Beaufort on the road to Killorglin or Parkavonear Castle in Aghadoe. Dunloe Castle also built by the Normans and also in Beaufort is another castle there for your perusal. Three capsules of history still in great nick. Say what you like about the Normans but they knew how to hire quality contractors.
Mangerton Mountain, to the west of where you are now (Get someone to point it out!) played host to a major battle in 1262 between the Mac Cárthaigh (Irish) and the FitzGeralds (Normans). The Irish won (Get in) and the area of the mountain where the battle was fought is known as Tooreencormick, Tuairín Cormac in Irish, after the Gaelic chief Cormac Mac Cárthaigh who was killed in the fighting.
Indeed, Killarney’s most famous castle and one of Ireland’s most fabled Ross Castle has an interesting military past. The castle was built in the 1400s by the ruling O’Donoghue clan but ownership changed hands in the 1580s to the Mac Carthy Mór clan. An old Irish prophecy said the Ross Castle could never be taken by land so when Oliver Cromwell was leading his little violent foray around Ireland in the 1660s, he sent warships up the Laune River and onto Lough Leane to take the castle. They succeeded. Ross Castle was one of the last castles in Ireland to surrender to Cromwell and this is still seen as a point of pride for many locals. Though in fairness, it has more to do with geography rather than the natives’ resilience.
In more recent times, Killarney was hub of activity during the War of Independence in the 1920s when we finally got shot of those blasted English. Ambushes occurred in Headford and Rathmore and during the Civil War which immediately succeeded the War of Independence (Looong story), Four Irish Volunteers were massacred by Free State Forces at the head of Countess Road. A memorial to them is still in place there.
We’ve been a bit more peaceful in the last 100 years.