Start/Finish: Muckross House Carpark: 52.018869/-9.500889
Length: 2.50 kms/1.5mi, allow 1-2 hours
Terrain: Mainly woodland paths which includes some rough ground over limestone rocks.
Gear: Comfortable walking shoes/boots
When to go: All year round
Wheelchair Accessible: No
Family Friendly: Yes but the path is close to cliff edges so children need to be kept strictly to the paths.
Dog Friendly: Yes but dogs must be kept on a leash.
Stopping Points: Our trail follows some of the markers of National Park’s ‘Arthur Young Trail’.
Nearest Services: At car park and in restaurant at Muckross House
Car Parking: There is free car parking at Muckross House. Check sign in carpark for closing time of entrance gates.
Ordnance Survey Map No: 78 & National Park Series
Disclaimer: Gems Publishing Ltd. do not accept responsibility for injury, loss or inconvenience caused while walking these trails. Common sense should prevail at all times.
Before you Start
Kilbeg Trail is a relatively short walk but one you’re sure to enjoy. It has history, interesting flora and fauna and geology. However, be warned that there are high cliffs close to the trail and that children need to be kept strictly to the paths for their safety.
If you plan to do the tour of Muckross House and also the nearby Muckross Traditional Farms there is a joint ticket available. For those of you planning to visit Ross Castle in Killarney and other historical buildings that charge an entrance fee, a Heritage Card may save you some money.
Bain taitneamh as! Enjoy!
Start – Muckross House
This fine Victorian Mansion was built by the Herbert Family in 1843. Among its guests were Queen Victoria of England and Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Elegantly furnished rooms portray the life of the gentry of that period in history. It is open to the public.
Believe it or not!
Muckross House was built for £33,000. In the early days the house had no running water or electricity, they had yet to be invented. The house has 62 chimneys.
The ha-ha and Kerry Cattle
As you leave Muckross House and head towards the lake take a look at the recess between the field and the roadway. This is known as a ha-ha. The name “ha-ha” got it’s name from the unexpected drop which you cannot see at a distance. These were used to prevent cattle entering the gardens, without ditches or walls obstructing the views from the house.
The all black pedigree cattle usually seen in the fields here are known as Kerry cattle (Bó Chiarraí). These docile animals were once prized for their ability to adapt to the poor grazing and harsh weather on the Kerry uplands. They are a rare breed of dairy cattle, native to Ireland and believed to be one of the oldest breeds in Europe. They are probably descended from the Celtic shorthorn, brought to Ireland as early as 2000 BC. By 1983 their were only around 200 pedigree Kerry cattle in the world but now there numbers have increased.
Here there is a fine view of Dúndag Bay. The Gaelic ‘Dúndag’ may translate as ‘the fort of Dagda’, a mythological hero or from ‘dún an daig’, the fort of the wood. Whatever the meaning, the name suggests that there was an Iron-Age (c. 500BC to 400 AD ) promontory fort here. Dundag Bay is part of Muckross Lake, at 65m, the deepest of Killarney’s three lakes.
The start of the trail
1. On the Trail – Oak trees
You begin your walk at the end of the Ha-Ha (GPS: V95620/86114). Notice the stone plaque for the ‘Arthur Young Trail’. The trail described here is a shortened version of the Arthur Young Trail and uses the occasional marker from it.
Enter through the swinging pedestrian-only gate. As you cross the field to the gateway directly opposite, you will see marker No.1. Notice the mature oak trees on your left. Their spreading branches indicate that they have grown in open space and not in a woodland habitat.
The last of Ireland’s great oak woodlands are to be found here in the Killarney Valley.
Sessile oaks Quercus petraea (Irish Oak), meaning the oak of rocky ground.
After you pass through the second swinging gate notice how the habitat has changed. This area has returned to scrubland with bracken fern and bramble. This is a great area to pick blackberries at the end of summer.
In the sheltered spots, along the woodland edge in the sunshine, see if you can spot the small tortoiseshell, speckled wood and peacock butterfly. The small tortoiseshell can be recognised from its blue markings along the edge of its wings. The speckled wood is less colourful and has dark and light brown colouring while the peacock butterfly has two sets of “eyes” on its wings. These “eyes” are to deceive predatory birds.
Butterflies: Top left, clockwise: small tortoiseshell; peacock; red admiral and speckled wood.
2. Limestone outcrops
After a short distance into the woodland the path swings sharply to the left around a limestone outcrop. On your left is No.2 (GPS: V96460/86364). Notice how the limestone outcrop supports yew trees and hart’s tongue fern. ‘Hart is the Scottish name for deer.
3. Wet woodland
A total of 155 hectares of the National Park are wet woodlands, the most extensive in Ireland. Alder is one of those plants that has bacterium in its roots that enable it absorb atmospheric nitrogen and make it available to the tree. They are also the only broad-leaved trees in Ireland that bear cones.
Left: Alder – long male catkins and the smaller female flowers on top. Right: Alder cones.
4. Yew and hazel trees
Before the path joins the surfaced road at marker No. 3 (GPS V96327/86385), take the steps on your left up on to the limestone outcrop. Yew and hazel are the predominant trees on limestone outcrops. Yew (Taxus baccata) are evergreen trees with needle-like leaves and red berry-like fruit, which are called aril.
Left: Steps up into yew woodland. Right: Yew berries.
Yew woodland. Notice the hazel trees at the top of the steps. If you are lucky to be here in the autumn you can enjoy some hazel nuts.
Left: Hazel flower which develops into the hazel nuts seen here on the right.
5. Kilbeg Bay
The path junction (v96127/86107) is on the shores of Kilbeg Bay, Muckross Lake. Kilbeg is probably an Anglicisation of the Gaelic ‘Cillbeag’, meaning ‘little church’. It’s likely that there was a small Early Christian settlement here but no trace of it remains today.
At 65m in places, Muckross Lake is the deepest of Killarney’s three lakes. The lakes hold 14 varieties of fish, the main species being brown trout and salmon. There are two rare varieties; char and Killarney shad, an Arctic species.
From here, take the path to your left.
Kilbeg Bay, Muckross Lake with Torc mountain 536 m (1758 ft) in the background.
The path follows the lake shore up on to the limestone cliffs. At marker 21 (from the Arthur Young Trail), (v95873/86036) , there are fine views of Muckross Lake and the surrounding mountains.
Here we have one of Killarney’s most famous trees, the arbutus (Arbutus unedo). Although a native of south-western Europe where it grows as a shrub of about 3m, it thrives in Killarney, growing to heights to about 10m. It is often referred to as the ‘strawberry tree’ because of its round red fruit.
It’s unusual in that the fruit takes a year to ripen and can be seen on the tree at the same time as the flowers. Note also the red flaking bark which prohibits the growth of mosses and lichens. In the early 1900s, arbutus was used in the making of furniture in the Gap of Dunloe. Some fine examples can be seen at Muckross House.
Birds of the woodlands
The National Park has a wide variety of habitats for birds, including mountains, woodlands, moorland, lakes and rivers. In all, 141 species have been recorded.
Birds of the woodlands – Top Left, clockwise: Long tailed -tit, siskin, great tit and jay.
7. Devil’s Island
From the limestone cliffs you can view a small island, known as Devil’s Island. Locals will tell you that this is the only part of Killarney that’s owned by the Devil.
On the left hand side of the path is cotoneaster, a low growing shrub that has small white flowers in spring and red berries in the autumn, which are cherished by thrushes and blackbirds. A native of the Himalayas and China, it may have been planted here, or may be a garden escapee.
From here the path drops down to the lake shore and rises again on to another limestone outcrop.
8. Glacial Erratics
A few paces back from marker 23 – V96052/85958, (from the Arthur Young Trail) are good examples of erratics.
The mountains in this area consist of Old Red Sandstone which was laid down during the Devonian period, 340-395 million years ago, a time when Ireland was part of a hot arid continent. The Old Red Sandstone was later covered with limestone during the Carboniferous Period (280-345 million years ago) but, it has been eroded on the mountains and is now found mainly in the lowlands.
However, if you look on top of the limestone here, on the left, you will see rounded sandstone boulders, known as erratics. These were deposited here by a glacier during the last Ice Age which ended about 10,000 years ago.
9. Bay Leaf
A short distance from the erratics you will find marker 24 (V96032/85932) near a steel barrier. The bush behind the marker is a bay leaf (Laurus nobilis). This is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub with green, glossy leaves, native to the Mediterranean region. It is widely used in cooking. This is another garden escapee.
10. Monterey Pine
As the path descends to the lake shore notice how the vegetation has changed. You are now in an area where the soil is more acidic, not suitable for yew but more favoured by woodrush, heather and gorse. There is an opportunity at this point to walk down to the lake shore and admire the views.
Monterey Pine – Top Left, clockwise: Bark, cones and needles
At the path junction here notice marker 25 (V96087/85901). Behind the marker is a fine Monterey pine, (Pinus radiata), a native of California, USA. On its branches are very large cones. Look on the ground for some of its needles and see how they are grouped in sets of three.
From here continue straight ahead, parallel along the lake shore.
Even though the underlying rock is limestone, there are pockets of acidic soil which favour the luxurious growth of ling heathers (Calluna vulgaris). This is the most common plant found in peatland around Ireland.
Here is another good example of woodland regeneration. Saplings of holly, oak, birch and pine raise their heads above the heather.
Across the bay, notice how the lake waters have dissolved the limestone rock, creating numerous caves.
After descending the short flight of steps at marker 29 take note of the old oak tree that has a profusion of mosses, lichens and ferns growing on it. These plants are known as epiphytes. They grow on other plants but do not take nourishment from their host. They get their nutrients from the rainwater and leaf litter. The fern pictured on the tree here is polypody.
Among the animals which you may see along the trail are red squirrels, especially in the autumn when they gather nuts. They are more usually found in mixed woodland rather than in pure deciduous woods.
Nationally they are under threat from the introduced grey squirrel. However, the increase in the pine martin population has led to a shrinking of the grey squirrel territory.
13. Limestone Erosion
Our last stop of the trail is at marker number 30, on the left of the path leading to the surfaced road. Here we have an example of how rainwater has dissolved the limestone and created cracks and crevices.
Limestone is soluble in water as it is composed of the skeletal remains of corals and marine animals, laid down at a time when Ireland was submerged under warm seas, about 280-345 million years ago.
Although laid down horizontally, the limestone here is almost upright as a result of tectonic plate movements which created the mountains around you, about 300 million years ago.
Should you wish to visit Muckross House there are guided tours available. There is a restaurant and craft shop adjacent to the gardens. Muckross Traditional Farms are open to the public during the tourist season.
We hope you have enjoyed the walk and found the information here useful. As always, if you have any comments to make please contact us at email@example.com
Want to learn more?
For those wishing to learn more about the National Park, Killarney National Park Education Centre works with groups from all backgrounds, ages and abilities, including primary schools, post-primary schools, third level institutions, tour groups, youth groups. They also provide facilities and programmes for the general public and the corporate sector. The Centre is based at Knockreer House in Killarney.