As I drive into Killarney on the N71 and join the summer traffic creeping in from the Ring of Kerry, I see something that makes me smile. A teenager wearing a GAA backpack over his hotel uniform trudges down the street to work.
Normal service has resumed.
I always see this iconic city as a barometer for Irish tourism – as is Killarney, so is the nation. The pandemic has caught your eye, but checking back in makes me hopeful.
Arriving at the end of the August heatwave, I find Killarney somewhere between fourth and fifth gear. It’s not quite flat out, but American accents are in the air. Tour buses are cruising around, Jarveys are in t-shirts and caps and the whole place feels freshly painted.
It’s 30C and it feels like everyone is waiting for the weather to change.
Killarney House & Gardens, which deteriorated as I wandered around a few years ago, is being reborn as a free attraction with immersive exhibits about the wildlife, people and heritage of Killarney National Park.
Visitors laze outside on lawns, and one display reads a quote: “Despite its commercialization…this traveler at least has to remember.” [Killarney] as a place of innocent and oddly irresistible charm.”
It’s taken Here is Irelanda 1924 book by American travel writer Harold Speakman.
Almost a century later, it still feels appropriate.
There’s always a temptation to see Killarney as twee and amusement park-ish, but there’s a lot of new stuff happening too.
As I stop for a Hazy IPA and pizza at Killarney Brewing Company, I learn that a new brewery, distillery and visitor center is opening up in Fossa.
Many hotels in Killarney have signed up to a sustainability charter. The PREM Group has invested €7.8m in Cahernane House in recent years, and The Gleneagle has a hip new ‘hotel within a hotel’ (Hotel 67) as part of a major refurbishment (it made our Fab 50 list recorded). of the best places to stay in Ireland this year).
Over dinner at The Tan Yard, I learn that there are beehives on the roof and a custom “urban farm” with hydroponic towers has been built in what was once a late night pub.
“In 2020 society has been forced to stop, rethink and start over,” reads the menu, a hymn to local and Irish producers from Cronin’s Butchers to Gubeen and Knockatee cheeses.
“There’s so much going on in the Killarney food scene,” says Karen Coakley of Kenmare Foodie Tours.
“Covid has really changed it… I think the lack of overseas tourism came as a shock and they’ve changed their model… they’ve adapted to the Irish market.”
Karen is planning a food tour here like in Kenmare, she tells me. “There’s so much to offer by digging beneath the surface.”
One of her picks is Muckross Creamery (above and above), where the Fleming family diversified their farm to sell incredibly creamy ice cream made with their cow’s milk.
Driving into Scartlea I find an old cottage with a small fridge scooping big generous chunks of splendor for €3 each. The sensitively preserved building even has a Prague child in the window. It’s perfect.
Of course some things haven’t changed – and that’s the way it should be.
The seats in front of JM Reidy’s still boast some of the best people on the island, and the tangle of old booths and drunkards inside still has me reaching for my phone to take photos.
There’s still a busker with a little too much reverberation on his mic under the arch on Old Market Lane, and Killarney National Park is still achingly beautiful – in the scorching heat or in the splattering rain.
“This morning we got up and deer were hanging right in front of our balcony,” says an American tourist at the bar in the Lake Hotel. “Of the towns, Killarney is probably my favorite.”
Overseas tourism is returning to Ireland but remains 24 per cent below 2019 levels, according to the latest CSO figures.
The next day the clouds darken, tourists put on ponchos, and it rains. I step over a ghost mark on the floor – the specter of 2m social distancing.
The recovery feels fragile, but my check-in in Killarney gives me peace of mind. I pass a guide finishing a tour.
“Are you stuck about something? Do you need something else? … Anyone want to go have a drink with me?”
This city knows about tourism.
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/its-tempting-to-see-killarney-as-twee-but-this-town-could-soon-be-better-than-ever-41918846.html It’s tempting to see Killarney as a twee, but this town could soon be better than ever