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Where is Muckross House? Located four miles (6.5 kilometers) south of Killarney, in County Kerry, Muckross House and its surrounding estate became Ireland's first national park in 1932.

Path to Muckross House
Path to Muckross House
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The size of Killarney National Park has expanded by 15,000 acres (60 sq km) since then, but Muckross House, Gardens and Traditional Farms are still the best places to begin a park tour. The Killarney National Park Visitor Centre is located at Muckross House.

It's easy to drive to Muckross House from Killarney by car, along N71, the main Kenmare road. You can also get there by jaunting car (horse cart), bicycle and walking trails.

Muckross House history

Our Ireland guided tour included a tour of Muckross House, which we visited after an easy walk from our Killarney B&B. Built in 1843, the 19th-century Victorian mansion is now a museum.

Our guide, Jessica, explained that Henry Arthur Herbert, the original owner, sold Muckross House and its 11,000 acre (4,450 hectare) estate to Lord Ardilaun in 1899. A member of the Arthur Guinness brewing family, Lord Ardilaun rented Muckross to wealthy hunters and fishermen.

In 1911, Lord Ardilaun sold the estate to an American, William Bowers Bourn. He gave Muckross to his daughter, Maud, as a wedding gift, when she married Arthur Vincent, from Co. Clare.

Maud died unexpectedly from pneumonia in 1929. Three years later, her husband and parents donated Muckross House and its property to the Government of Ireland, as a memorial to Maud. It eventually became Killarney National Park.

Flowers on stone wall
Flowers on stone wall
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Muckross House tour

Built from Portland stone, imported from England, the exterior of Muckross House is decorated with flower-filled pots. Antlers and hunting trophies adorn the entrance hall.

Besides antlers from three red deer stags and two small sika deer (Cervus nippon), imported from Japan, we saw massive ten-foot (three-meter)-long Irish deer antlers.

"Irish deer have been extinct since the last Ice Age," explained Jessica. "These 1,000-pound (455-kg) antlers were found preserved in a peat bog."

Also on display, are a stuffed osprey (now extinct, due to pesticide use) and a golden eagle, in a glass case. Although golden eagles are no longer in Killarney National Park, re-introduced white-tailed eagles are thriving.

The dining room looks exactly as it did when Queen Victoria came to visit Muckross House in 1861. The thick curtains were woven in Belgium for her visit.

Chairs, with horsehair-filled seats, surround the large mahogany table. Portraits of seven generations of the Vincent family line walls, covered with red wallpaper.

Men relaxed in the library, in front of the fireplace. A tray held their pipes. Windows offer views of Muckross Lake, with a mountainous backdrop.

The library's chandelier is made from Waterford crystal, which has a grey tinge, due to its high lead content. Bell pulls summoned servants from the basement.

Killarney furniture

The inlaid Killarney furniture was made from native yew and arbutus (Arbutus unedo). Also called strawberry trees, because of the shape and color of their fruits, arbutus trees are rarely found outside Killarney.

The drawing room contains the only original chandelier from the 1840s, as well as two Venetian cut glass mirrors, which were travel souvenirs. The ladies of Muckross House sat in front of the fireplace to sew.

Our tour guide pointed out some Chinese lacquer screens. "In the 1840s, makeup contained wax," explained Jessica. "The ladies sat behind these screens, so heat from the fireplace didn't melt the wax."

Blue rhododendrons
Blue rhododendrons
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Hand-painted Chinese silk wallpaper decorates the billiards room. The pool table, made from walnut and slate, weighs three tons (2700 kg).

"The floor below the billiard table was reinforced to support its weight," said Jessica. "It sits directly above the servants' dining room."

The main hall of Muckross House was used as a ballroom, after the carpets were rolled up and the furniture moved to the sides. Three oak sideboards, carved by the Egan family in Killarney, depict a fish, a hare and a deer, because fishing and hunting were the major male pastimes.

"It took six years to rewire Muckross House for electricity, when it arrived in 1970," said Jessica. Light also came from an old English crystal window in the upper landing.

"The window was frosted," said Jessica. "The Herberts didn't want to see servants working in the lower courtyard."

Gentlemen in Muckross House had their own servants. We noted a small hip bath. Servants carried hot water up from the basement.

The master bedroom had a very short bed. "People used to sleep sitting up," explained Jessica. "They were afraid of choking. Many people had breathing problems from lead in their makeup."

Dolls with porcelain faces, a tiny table and chairs, as well as cots, filled the children's bedroom. Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, Mary, had two kids, Billy Vincent and Elizabeth Rose. They had their own tiny staircase.

Muckross House in County Kerry
Muckross House in County Kerry
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Many famous people visited Muckross House in Killarney. They included William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Empress Eugenie of France and King Edward VII.

Queen Victoria's family

The most famous Muckross House guest was Queen Victoria in August 1861. She gave the Herbert family six years notice, so they could prepare.

Queen Victoria arrived with Prince Albert, four of their nine children and 100 servants, who slept in tents on the lawn. They stayed only two nights.

Because Queen Victoria was afraid of fire, she asked to sleep on the ground floor. Mrs. Mary Herbert converted her boudoir and private drawing room into a suite for the queen.

According to Jessica, the Herbert family thought they'd receive a title, after hosting the queen. A few months after they left Muckross House, Prince Albert died. Queen Victoria became depressed. The Herberts received neither money nor titles from the queen.

Our tour group walked past the wine cellar, now filled with empty bottles, in the former servants' quarters in the basement. It was kept locked. Only the master of Muckross House and the head butler had access to the fine wines.

A row of 32 bells lines the corridor. Each had its own tone. Many servants could neither read nor write, but they memorized the tone belonging to each room.

A stairway led from the servery to the dining room. Servants had to carry heavy trays upstairs, with boiling water below the food to keep it warm.

The kitchen was outside Muckross House, so cooking smells didn't disturb the family. Antique kitchen equipment, inside the kitchen, includes a mortar and pestle, a juicer, a knife sharpener and an ice cream bucket. Staff imported ice from Norway to make ice cream.

Muckross House Garden Restaurant. Killarney National Park. County Kerry, Ireland.
Muckross House Garden Restaurant.
Killarney National Park. County Kerry, Ireland.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Muckross Garden Restaurant

After viewing the scullery, where 22 servants washed the dishes and cooking pots, we crossed the lower and upper courtyards to the stables and coach house. Today, they house the Muckross Garden Restaurant and Craft Centre.

It was a beautiful sunny day, so after the tour we enjoyed lunch on the patio outside the restaurant, overlooking Muckross Gardens.

Besides the Garden Restaurant, Muckross Walled Garden Centre houses the Craft Centre and three workshops (Mucros weaving, pottery and bookbinding). Mucros is the Irish/Gaelic word for Muckross.


Muckross House: www.muckross-house.ie

Tourism Ireland: www.discoverireland.com

More things to see and do in Ireland:

Ireland Vacation Planner

Irish Folk Tours Dublin - Food, Folklore and Fairies

Sheepdog Trials and Training Border Collies - Kells Ireland

Muckross Abbey - Killarney National Park Ireland

Ross Castle - Killarney National Park Ireland