The 3rd of April marked the eagerly anticipated re-opening of Killarney House which has been undergoing extensive refurbishment in the last 5 years. What we now call Killarney House is actually a converted stable block of Kenmare House, built in the style of a French chateau by Valentine Browne, the third Viscount Kenmare in 1726. Killarney House, on the other hand, was an extravagant mansion built by the fourth Earl of Kenmare on a site apparently chosen by Queen Victoria during her visit in 1861.
The original Killarney House cost an estimated £100,000 to build. An imposing red-brick Elizabethan Revival manor bristling with chimneys, bay windows, and gables of different shapes and heights, and its interior was said to resemble that of a luxury ocean liner.
It was still under construction in 1879, when fire broke out in the butler’s pantry, causing £2,000 worth of damage. Following on from this the third Earl could not keep up his mortgage repayments and the family lived in the Isle of Wight until the 1890s. The Kenmare’s then returned to Killarney House once agricultural prices started to improve. Just after its completion fire once again struck Killarney House, but this time it did not survive. Staff and locals salvaged as much as they could, but precious antique furniture, tapestries, and sculptures were lost. The house was not re-built after this and the Kenmare’s abandoned the ruined Killarney House and remodelled the stables of the 18th-century Kenmare House as their home. Confusingly, this is what we now call Killarney House.
Indeed, the Kenmare estate was an important source of employment in Killarney. Horses drew timber for sale to Dublin during World War II, when coal was not available. A six-acre orchard was connected to the main estate via a tunnel under what is now the Muckross Road. Enough fruit and vegetables were grown to sell in shops in on the estate and in the Town Hall.
The title Earl of Kenmare became extinct with the death of Gerald 1952, and his niece, Beatrice Grosvenor sold the estate in the 1950s, thus starting a new chapter in the story of Killarney House. The new Killarney House was purchased, along with 25,000 acres by John McShain, an American building contractor. He and his wife extensively renovated the building. In 1978, John McShain and his wife donated Killarney House and the greater part of the estate to the Irish government. They accepted a price well below market value at the time as they had agreed that the house and estate would be incorporated into Killarney National Park upon their death. They had agreed to reserve Killarney House and surrounding 52 acres to their use for their lifetime. Mr McShain died in 1989 and Mrs McShain lived in Killarney House until her death in 1998, when the house and surrounding land reverted to the Irish state. Having fallen into deep disrepair since Mrs McShain died in 1998 the 1st phase of refurbishment reopened in April following a €7 million restoration.
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