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Shelley Sites/Sights

Killarney

Like most sites linked to Shelley, Killarney, to which he fled in 1813 after the Tremadoc attack, is a bit of a mystery.

Paul O’Brien’s Shelley and Revolutionary Ireland (Redwords, 2002) asserts that Shelley stayed on an island. Since the only island is Ross Island, most people assumed that Ross Cottage was the site, QED. It’s Ross in the guidebooks, and it is certainly well situated for tourism, sitting perfectly on a tourist walking trail on public lands. Unfortunately for the tourist trade, Ross Cottage simply can’t be the place: Kenmare Estate maps of the time do not indicate permanent housing on Ross Island until the 1830s, and old photos of Ross Cottage show architecture of a type built in the 1850s.

Fortunately, however, a Shelley scholar/sleuth by the name of Brian O’Connor currently lives in Killarney. Thanks to his bulldog persistence, he has uncovered a tremendous amount of useful information. Working with local historians, he determined that Shelley probably stayed at Reen Cottage (not so easily reached and on private property). Old Estate maps indicate that the Reen Cottage of the period was located on a narrow peninsula jutting out into the lake called Reen Point. Interestingly, Reen Point is cut off during heavy rain and becomes a temporary island. Aha.

But the mystery thickens! There currently is a Reen Cottage, but it is not the one Shelley stayed in—indeed, the present cottage is not even on the same site. Shelley’s cottage was on Reen Point.

Unlike most of the Shelley sites, this one has not been the object of renewal or replacement. O’Connor tells us, “The area has not been used since Shelley’s time and the view from there is exactly the same now as then.”

O’Connor notes that “Reen Point is a stunning location for a cottage. It has super views over Lough Leane to Innisfallen island and the mountains beyond. It is isolated but is still only a short walk from Killarney town. . . . Certainly, if one was prone to a bit of poetry, this spot would do nicely.”

As for the cottage itself, O’Connor recalls that “. . . across a small stream, I could clearly make out the ruins of a very old stone cottage. If Shelley stayed in Reen Cottage, this is it. It certainly wasn’t a peasant's cottage as it was made of stone, [was] inside the walls of the main estate and had a cobbled entrance.”

On a wet day it is easy to see why the older cottage was abandoned. Simply, it was badly located and at best it was damp, at worst flooded.

N.B. The view includes a small island known, now and then, as “Darby’s Garden.”

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Published @ RC

January 2006

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