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At last, to tango in Killarney

At last, to tango in Killarney

Killarney has evolved, pivoted perfectly to cater for a broad church of tourists that descend upon the town each summer to leave it brimming with plenty to do and enjoy amid an exciting and vibrant bustle.

Well, you couldn’t blame Paul. He had certainly done his best. No day went by that my former colleague had not sung the praises of his beloved Killarney.

But it wasn’t for me. Not my cup of tea. Killarney was for tourists, American tourists. Killarney wasn’t cool enough for me.

I got that one wrong. Badly wrong. Killarney it wasn’t you, it was me!!

This imposing wooden bench in a tranquil corner of the Muckross House gardens has invited me to sit down and take stock. It’s a sturdy beast of a bench, fit to take the weight of the world, let alone the weight off your feet. It has carved out its place here in memory of Fleur Melville Gardiner. The plaque reminds us to say a prayer for her, and for Paul who has gone to his eternal reward.

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How ironic, that in the week he should pass away, I finally made it here to the famed lakes and Killarney, the tourist capital of the world. That would bring a wry smile and chuckle to Paul’s face. I was arriving just as he was departing.

When in Killarney, do as the tourists do, I guess. So, I decided to immerse in the complete Killarney experience – the Lakes of course, Lady’s View, Muckross House and Gardens, taking time to smell the roses, a visit to Torc Waterfall, which was still impressive despite the lengthy dry spell, the town itself and its tourist traps complete with shillelaghs and souvenir shops. We went the whole hog. Well, almost. I draw the line at jaunting carts. I’m not quite ready for that yet, but dozens of others seemed to be having lots of fun doing so and getting the lowdown from the gift of the gab jarveys. The Muckross Garden Restaurant serves excellent fayre and great value for delicious deserts for €4.80 and coffee €2.80.

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On the previous weekend, prior to our visit, Killarney had hosted Bike Fest with Harleys hogging the limelight and not to be outdone by honking Honda 50’s who were making quite the racket to make their presence felt on The Ring of Kerry.

There is of course a kitsch side to Killarney, but so much more on the menu too. A warm welcome for everyone from a town that knows how to butter its tourists’ toast. Yes, all the usual touristy things that you might expect are here, and rightly so but there’s also a sophistication, a culture, concerts (including Hozier June 27, The Waterboys November 6) hereditary history that welcomes generations back to the old sod to savour the past and to relish the new.

There’s hiking and biking and scenery to die for. Boat trips with breath taking views, coach excursions and well-priced tasting menus, cafés galore with in-season rhubarb tart, buskers and bars bursting with ‘come all ye’. And you can always go for a jaunt around the lakes in a pony and trap, just like in the postcards.

Souvenirs, lots of souvenirs in Quills, but even they come with a quirky or curious twist these days as Killarney takes on a cosmopolitan feel. The fresh fish at Quinlan’s might be locally caught in Cahirciveen but the recipes are distinctly international, with prices pitched for every pocket. Quinlan’s fish n’ chips are an ideal lunchtime pit stop for families, followed by cakes and coffee at Sceal Eile on Main Street for €5.95 and €3.25.

The point is that Killarney has evolved, moved with the times, pivoted perfectly to cater for a broad church of tourists that descend upon the town each summer to leave it brimming with an exciting and vibrant bustle.

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And by chance as we meander in along the Muckross Road we fortuitously land on the doorsteps of The Taproom at Killarney Brewing and Distilling. Now you’re talking. They have a small but exquisite selection of 10 pizzas here at this hipster hang-out, which is spacious and family friendly too. They open at 4pm and have an option of 3 samples in their tasting flights, which gives you a chance to explore their 6 in-house brews – our favourites being Golden Spear Blonde and Rutting Red Irish Red Ale, a homage to the native wild deer herd in the national park just down the road. A most pleasant evening was had and highly recommended. The pizzas cost €16, and the wood fired goats cheese and walnut with maple syrup and the Mediterranean were superb. Pints cost €5.50 and half pint €3 at Killarney Brewing and the tasting selections €2.66 each.

Similarly, we’ve had a most enjoyable second evening at nearby Tango, an Argentinian street food joint. It’s self-service and not the most scenic or celebrious of settings just in off the busy Muckross Road but top-notch food, and the friendliest and most helpful of staff. Check out their flame grilled Argentinian style steaks (€16) and delicious selection of empanadas, (€7.70 x2) sangria (€9.50 per glass) and wine list, but a limited option of beers. At last, to tango in Killarney.

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For our visit to Killarney, we were based in Flesk Caravan and Camping Park which is convenient and within easy walking/cycling distance of the town, or in the opposite direction, Muckross House and Gardens and Killarney National Park. There’s a good bike hire from The Killarney Bike Rental Company just outside the gates of the campsite.  

The camping grounds are manicured and maintained exceptionally well, as are the toilet/shower blocks, waste disposal and recycling areas, and extensive campers’ kitchen and common area. The tariff for two adults and our campervan is €39 per night, all inclusive of electricity and showers. The booking platform on the website had a two-night minimum requirement. The campsite also has a dedicated spacious area for tents.

The campsite is a good example of the modern tourism model situated as it is on the Muckross Road, slap bang in the middle of some of the finest hotels in the country, including The Gleneagle, The Victoria, The Brehon, The Lake Hotel. Most of the motorhomes were from the Continent or the UK. Motorhomes and campervans are real tourism, lest some locations tend to forget, but not Killarney.

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A big shout out too for Pa, who was on duty and in charge in Flesk Camping Park on our arrival. He not only offered a warm welcome and advice but he’s a font of helpful local knowledge on everything from attractions, amenities, bike hire services and entertainment. This included a run down on the one-way cycle route around Muckross and the talented duo performing in O’Connor’s Pub later that evening. You know who you are, and Pa was positively gushing over your not-to-be-misssed performance. You owe him a pint! Although I suspect that Pa has shares in the bike hire and is managing that duo… 😉

We toasted Paul to send him on his final journey, and it certainly won’t be our last tango in Killarney.


In memory of Senator Paul Coghlan June 1, 1944 – June 8, 2023.


SEE ALSO: Soaking up the sunshine on the Kerry Riviera

About The Author

John Whelan

John Whelan is a vastly experienced midlands based journalist and editor who has contributed extensively to the country's leading national and regional titles, as well as broadcast outlets. He runs the media services company, Communicate Ireland John is a keen camping and campervan enthusiast with an interest in music, culture, heritage and outdoor pursuits. He has written for the Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and the Woman's Way on these topics. He is also an author, and his latest book, The Last Beekeeper, reflects his love of nature, the landscape and our shared responsibility to protect the environment. The Last Beekeeper is available to preview and purchase at Safe travels...

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