Lakes of Killarney, Ireland
Also known as: Killarney Lakes, Lough Leane, Lower Lake, Muckross Lake, Middle Lake, Upper Lake
For more than 250 years, the beauty of Killarney Lakes has attracted royalty, world leaders, literary figures and now more than one and a half million visitors a year. Tucked in the Mountains of Kerry in Ireland’s Southwest Tourism Region, the three Killarney Lakes are found within Killarney National Park. Lough Leane (Lower Lake), Muckross Lake (Middle Lake) and Upper Lake make up 24 percent of the park’s total area. The remainder of the park protects native woodlands, rare plants, indigenous wildlife and historic sites dating back to the dawn of the Bronze Age.
Evidence of Ireland’s ancient history can be found at Ross Island on Lough Leane, where one of the oldest copper mines in northwestern Europe was in use from 2400-2200 BC. Additional ring forts found in the park area are thought to date from the Iron Age. Settlements continued around Killarney Lakes through the years of early Christianity. Ruins of a seventh century monastery can be found on Lough Leane’s Innisfallen Island. For 300 of the 700 years this monastery was occupied, written records were kept. These treasured records of Ireland’s early history are called the “Annals of Innisfallen” and are housed at the University of Oxford. Over the following centuries the land surrounding Killarney Lakes was passed down through generations of prominent families.
From the mid-1700s into the twentieth century, Killarney National Park’s land was held by two family estates: the Herberts of Muckross and Brownes (Earls of Kenmare). In 1910 the Muckross Estate was purchased as a wedding gift for Maud Bourn and Senator Arthur Vincent. Upon Maud Bourn’s death, the estate was given to the government of Ireland and named Bourn Vincent Memorial Park. Killarney National Park was formed in 1932 from this land. The addition of the former Kenmare Estate in 1972 and 1985 brought the park to 25,425 acres of beautiful mountains and grassy lowlands. In 1981, UNESCO recognized Ireland’s efforts to balance conservation with sustainable use within the park by designating Killarney Lakes and the surrounding park land as a Biosphere Reserve. Management of this national treasure now falls under the auspices of Ireland’s National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).
Celebrated in song and story, the three Lakes of Killarney each offer a unique landscape and ecosystem. Together the lakes cover 6,178 acres and their combined length runs 13 miles. The water from Muckross and Upper Lakes journeys into Lough Leane, which is drained by the River Laune and carried into the Atlantic. A dam lies along the River Laune nine miles from the city of Cork. Water quality in Muckross and Upper Lakes is excellent. Lough Leane is being carefully monitored for a decline in quality due to excess nutrients introduced by the lake’s tributaries. Lough Leane is the largest of the three lakes with a surface area of 4,888 acres, mean depth of 43 feet and maximum depth of 197 feet. The shoreline of Lough Leane, or Lower Lake, varies from limestone to sandstone and steep tree-lined hillsides to shallow bays that provide excellent wildlife habitats.
Muckross Lake, or Middle Lake, is separated from Lough Leane by the Muckross Peninsula. Muckross is the deepest of the Killarney Lakes with depths plunging to 250 feet. These depths are reported to hide “Muckie,” the monster of Muckross Lake. Although legends of lake monsters date back to the Irish Druids, Muckie is a lake monster with a much more recent origin. Fish surveys conducted in 2003 by the Irish Char Conservation Group turned up sonar evidence of a serpentine USO, unidentified swimming object, about 80 meters (262 feet) in length. While monster searching, consider casting a line to catch a sample of the lake’s excellent spring salmon run or renting a boat to enjoy the view of Torc Mountain rising from the shore.
Upper Lake is connected to Muckross Lake by a wooded channel named Long Range. Dotted by numerous islands, Upper Lake is the smallest of the three lakes with a surface area of 430 acres. Bogs and lush vegetation surrounding this lake provide excellent habitat for Killarney Lakes waterfowl. Set in the mountainous Killarney and Black Valley, the scenery on Upper Lake is spectacular but potentially hazardous. As seen in the floods of 2009, flash flooding can occur when the region’s substantial rainfalls run off the steep and mountainous terrain.
Long before there was a national park, boating was a popular pasttime on the Lakes of Killarney. The number of boats permitted on the Lakes of Killarney is now limited to the number of available berths on the lakes. All boats must be registered and assigned one of over 600 boat spaces, with the majority on Lough Leane. Private boat owners receive a “mooring disc” upon registration . The discs are transferable to immediate family members only. New applicants remain on a waiting list until a relinquished disc becomes available or they may apply for a limited number of one-year moorings handed out via lottery. Engine size for private craft is being limited to six horsepower. In an effort to protect the lakes from invasive plants, all boats that have been used in waters outside the park must certify that they have been steam cleaned. Rowing clubs remain a proud tradition at Killarney Lakes, where Ireland’s oldest regatta is held. Canoes are allowed on Killarney Lakes with permit.
Fourteen fish species exist within the many lakes of Killarney National Park. All three Killarney Lakes are open for fishing, although Lough Leane is best known for its salmon and trout fisheries. The majority of anglers fish by boat for perch, flounder, eel, tench and char. Two fish species are unique to Lough Leane: Killarney shad and artic char. Killarney shad is a sub-species of twaite shad found throughout Europe. Dwindling in number, arctic char is a fragile relict species that has survived from the last ice age.
Other activities within Killarney National Park’s 40 square miles include swimming, with the most popular site being Goleen shore on Muckross Lake. Other favorites include rock climbing (with permit), cycling on most of the roads and paths, mountain biking along a dedicated course in Muckross Forest, and hiking over 44 miles of scenic paths and trails.
While hiking the hills and lake shores, take note of large stands of native woodlands. Some of the rarest habitat around Killarney Lakes includes 200-year-old oak trees and a stand of yew wood said to be one of three pure yew woods in Europe. Printed hiking and park guides will also note rare plant species like Killarney fern, slender naiad, pillwort and betony.
Ireland’s only herd of indigenous red deer are among the abundant wildlife found at Killarney Lakes. Other species you may encounter are otter, pine marten, Irish hare, badger and horseshoe bat. Bird watchers can seek out over 140 species of birds, including the peregrine falcon, merlin, hen harrier, golden plover, Greenland white-fronted goose, redstart, garden warbler, wood warbler, and white-tailed sea eagles that were reintroduced to the park in 2007.
The town of Killarney rests on the northeastern shore of Lough Leane in the valley of MacGillicuddy Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland. It was here that resident Lord Kenmare started the Killarney Lakes’ tourism business in the mid-1700s. Tourism remains the primary industry for the community’s 140,000 residents, and visitors won’t want to miss the hospitality and charm of Killarney’s delightful shops, restaurants and accommodations.
While at Killarney Lakes, be sure to ride one of the Jaunting cars (open carriages) for a unique gander around the lakes and many historic sites dotting the lake shores. Among the sites is Muckross House, built in 1861, is a museum depicting 19th century life. Portions of the estate are a working farm used to depict farming in the 1930s. Also a museum, Ross Castle is a 15th century castle overlooking Lower Lake. Ruins of Muckross Abbey, a Franciscan Friary founded in 1448, still display beautiful architectural detail. Numerous gardens, shops, restaurants and even a research library make a visit to the Killarney National Park a truly Irish experience.
The Killarney Lakes are one of Europe’s top tourist destinations. The lakes, park and people of Killarney are prepared to make your stay exceptional in every way. Vacation rentals, real estate properties, lodges and bed & breakfasts are centrally located in Killarney. Here you can find the perfect country cottage, inn or home nestled among the MacGillicuddy Reeks only minutes from the legends, lore and renowned attractions of Ireland. Come to the Lakes of Killarney and come to know Ireland.
Things to do at Lakes of Killarney
- Vacation Rentals
- Rock Climbing
- Wildlife Viewing
- National Park
Fish species found at Lakes of Killarney
- Chinook Salmon
Lakes of Killarney Photo Gallery
Lakes of Killarney Statistics & Helpful Links
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