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A weekend in Killarney

Shaun Curran finds luxury, rich tradition and, of course, the craic in the grand old town of Killarney, but a kitschy ghost tour makes him almost lose the will to live.

Published on October 20th 2010.

A weekend in Killarney

Gearing up for its annual Summerfest activities, the town of Killarney, County Kerry, was my destination for a short weekend break to discover the ‘beauty unsurpassed’ of the south-western getaway heralded as the birthplace of Irish tourism.

Outside of Dublin, there are more hotel beds in Killarney than anywhere in southern Ireland, making tourism the largest industry by far; an industry that actually stretches back to the mid 1700s when Thomas, fourth Viscount Kenmare, first attracted European guests and settlers.

Yet fear not; Killarney manages to avoid tacky clichés (for the most part, anyhow, but we’ll come onto the Ghost Tour later) that are normally associated with places relying on the custom of outsiders and proves a resplendent destination.

The Malton hotel, a luxurious four-star hotel in the very centre of the town, was our first destination and like everywhere we subsequently travelled, was steeped in the sort of historical significance and legend that you would expect from our Irish cousins. In fact, the depth of knowledge from our tour guides on every historical and religious aspect of the town was nothing short of frightening, the kind of detail that was difficult to digest but delivered with such passion and sentiment the enthusiasm was contagious.

Formerly The Great Southern, The Malton was built in 1854 to complement the first train line between Dublin and Killarney. The Victorian decor is still prevalent today in the lobby area, while the most comfortable, spacious double rooms have a more modern edge. The Punchbowl bar has a lovely, relaxing air, with friendly, efficient service, often personally manned by the hotel manager himself.

Our Malton meal on Friday was delicious. A six-course delight, our group was in raptures as each course surpassed the last. My choice of main, belly of pork, was a fine one, although there was a certain amount of food envy as the perfectly cooked steaks belonging to my fellow diners arrived looking ever-so-succulent. An Irish coffee to finish rounded off a fine evening. (It must be said the buffet breakfast is also excellent).

Either side of our meal, our activities took us to the natural surroundings. An afternoon stroll around the town centre revealed much. The town itself was a beautiful, if slightly strange amalgamation of traditional Irish fare, religious architecture, striking, exalted sights and consumerism that unfortunately attempts to strangle the life out of anywhere it can get its grubby mitts on; walking down the main street, with its numerous Irish ale houses (all boasting live music, most of them every night) and local delicatessens, the town has maintained a small village feel to it, a feeling that that would occasionally grind to a halt when you hit the corner of a road and face a bloody Subway. Still, the National Park is a short stroll from the very centre, allowing the quickest of escapes.

After our meal, a pre-arranged Ghost Tour was laid on, although the title was somewhat misleading, more like a history lesson with lashings of myth dressed up in a sensationalist manner. We jumped aboard a ridiculously decorated coach – skeletons, spiders, cobwebs – where two men introduce tales of the unknown while dressed to spook out the youngsters. All harmless fun, but two and half hours later, when you’re still walking round ‘locations associated with ghostly apparitions’ the premise wears extremely thin. The stories were often fascinating and in depth, but the guides’ attempts to convince us ghosts existed insulted the intelligence and 11.30pm was no time for that to be happening.

Bright eyed and bushy tailed, we set off Saturday morning for Ross Castle, a restored 14th century architect that was home to the legendary Gaelic Chieftain O’Donoghue Ross, and the last Irish fortress to fall to Cromwell in 1652. It also acts as the departure point for boat tours across Lough Lein. As the sun began to shine ever brighter, the half hour boat ride was a charming, tranquil manner of travel across to Muckross House.

Muckross House boasts to offer heritage, tradition and relaxation. It scores on all three counts. Since a legendary visit by Queen Victoria in 1861 (next year sees the 150th anniversary, where special plans are afoot), the splendorous Victorian mansion, built in 1843 by William Burn, who built many houses for the nobility in England, has been a pivot of tourist activity. Set back from the National park, offering predictably magnificent views of the park and Torc mountain, garden restaurant with reasonably priced food, craft workshop and gift shop, it is most renowned for Muckross Traditional Farms, a specially built representation of rural Killarney life until the advent of electricity, which in some cases didn’t arrive until the mid 1970s.

A startlingly accurate depiction (what I imagine going back in time would be like), you can enjoy life as-it-was, walking through working farm patches, live animals and into farm houses where no detail has gone unnoticed, from the religious imagery adorning the walls to the raised floors where impromptu dancing would take place. Inside, old women in quaint overalls regale tales and make bread, milk and butter before your very eyes; more like I can’t believe it’s actually proper butter than anything you’d find in a supermarket.

Saturday evening saw dinner at the infamous Kate Kearney’s cottage, a must for visitors who want the chance to eat good food (though slightly massed produced and not a patch on the Malton’s piece de résistance) and watch an excellent live Irish band.Afterwards, a night cap in Killarney Park Hotel, a five-star situated just round the corner from the Malton, was pleasant in the extreme. Cocktails and aperitifs were sound-tracked by live piano playing, where a personal favourite of mine, Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat, was performed.

The two days we spent were all too-short and sweet, leaving a host of activity untapped; the Irish Open-hosting golf courses, the paths, peaks and troughs of the beautiful national park, the spa treatment, the sporting adventures, the enticing night life. Killarney can’t possibly be fully taken in during a short break, so my advice is to make your stay a little longer.

-Four flights in and four flights our per week

- Manchester to Kerry

- Monday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday

- Prices are from 39 Euros (about 33 Pounds) one-way including taxes and charges.

- www.aerarann.com

The Malton
- Rates and Special offers for Manchester Guests – 2 nights bed and breakfast, 1 evening meal from 139euro per person sharing. Quote MANCHESTER at the time of booking and receive a complimentary upgrade to Deluxe Room.

- www.themalton.com

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