Human presence in the Killarney area dates back at least to the early Bronze Age, over 4,000 years ago, when copper was first mined at Ross Island . In early Christian times, monastic settlements provide the main evidence of the occupation of the area.  The most important of these was the monastery on Innisfallen founded by St. Finian the Leper. The "Annals of Innisfallen", written there in the 11th-13th centuries, are a major source of information on the early history of Ireland .

Following the Norman invasion of Ireland the lands around the Lakes were held by McCarthy Mór and O'Donoghues of Ross.  Later the lands came into the hands of the Herberts of Muckross and the Earls of Kenmare respectively.  In 1911 the Muckross Estate was purchased by Mr. W. B. Bourn as a wedding gift for his daughter, Maud, on her marriage to Arthur Vincent. Muckross Abbey, a Franciscan Friary, was founded in 1448 by Donal McCarthy Mór. These well-preserved ruins were the burial place of local Chieftains and, in the 17th and 18th centuries, of the Kerry Poets, Aodhgan O' Raithaile, Eoghan Rua O' Sullivan, Piaras Feiriteir and Seafraidh O' Donoghue.


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