The town played an important role in early Irish history. It’s first significantly historical settlement was a monastery on the local Innisfallen island. Founded by St. Finian the Leper in 640, it remained inhabited for nearly a thousand years. The Innisfallen Abbey is reportedly one of the most impressive archeological ruins from the early Christian Era. It was during the monastery’s active period that the monks penned the “Annuals of Innisfallen”, chronicling the early history of Ireland. A local legend states that the Irish High King, Brian Boru, received his education at the monastery. On August 18, 1594, Queen Elizabeth I threw out the abbey’s monks (although it is unclear what she did with the property afterwards).
During the Irish “War of Independence” (1919 to 1921), Killarney became a major player in the conflict. Because of its strong opposition to British Rule, Killarnian folks had skirmishes with British troops on a regular basis. At one point, the Brits occupied the Great Southern hotel in the center of town, using it as a barracks for its troops.
By some accounts, Killarney’s tourism industry began to develop in the mid-18thcentury when Lord Kenmare tried to attract visitors to the town in the hopes of establishing new residents. A visit by Queen Victoria in 1861 added a significant boost to Killarney’s tourism efforts, especially on the international scene. Among other attractions in the town are Ross Castle (built in the late 15th century,), Muckross Abbey (dating from 1448), and the Torc waterfalls.
One of Killarney’s most famous inhabitants was the Catholic priest, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, who was responsible for saving 6500 allied soldiers and Jews during World War II. Monsignor O’Flaherty was portrayed by Gregory Peck in the 1983 television film “The Scarlet and the Black.”
Since public transportation access to Killarney from Tralee was so easy, we spent several day trips exploring this lovely town.