Killarney and its surrounds have been inhabited probably since the Neolithic period and were certainly important Bronze Age settlements, based on the copper ore mined on Ross Island. Killarney changed hands between warring tribes, notably the Fir Bolg (‘bag men’), expert stonemasons who built forts (including Staigue), and developed Ogham script.
In the 7th century, St Finian founded a monastery on Inisfallen Island, and Killarney became a focus for Christianity in the region. The O’Donoghue clan later ousted the Gaels, before building Ross Castle (in the 15th century).
It wasn’t until much later, in the 17th century, that Viscount Kenmare developed the town as a tourist centre, an Irish version of England’s Lake District. Among its many notable 19th-century visitors were the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who began Queen Mab here, and Queen Victoria.