You might not recognise the man in this picture, but you should. I have to confess my own ignorance here; I didn’t know much about him either until I read an article by local historian Damien Switzer in this year’s edition of Killarney Magazine, which was published a couple of weeks ago.

The man pictured is John McShain, a multimillionaire American philanthropist who was born in Philadelphia in 1898. He took over his family’s construction business in 1919 and went on become one of the most successful builders of his time.

When he was 59, McShain was part of a syndicate that bought Killarney House and Gardens (and later the 8,300-acre Kenmare Estate in Killarney, an area of town that included Killarney House, the Demesne, Ross Castle and Innisfallen from Lady Grosvenor). Two years later he bought out the syndicate, answering the age-old question, “How do you buy Killarney?” in the process.

So how did it come to pass that 8,300 acres of private property – the site of some of the most spectacularly beautiful scenery in the world – found its way back to the people of Killarney? It’s not exactly something you just give up for free out of the goodness of your heart.

Unless you’re John McShain. In 1973 McShain and his wife, Mary, gave Innisfallen and its historic ruins to the nation. A few years later, they handed over their estate for a nominal fee on two conditions. First: they wanted to live in Killarney House for the rest of their lives. And second: they insisted that the land would forever be part of Killarney National Park.

John died in 1989 and Mary in 1998. Killarney House and Gardens, located in the heart of the town, has since been redeveloped and it has quickly become one of the most beloved spots in the entire park.

Killarney is an incredible place and we have a great many people to thank for that. Some of them have been memorialised in place names and roads, such as famed men of enterprise MD O’Shea and Dr Hans Liebherr. Other famous sons, like legendary musician Johnny O’Leary from Gneeveguilla and Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, have had statues erected in their honour.

But what about the man who basically gave Killarney to the people of Killarney? Imagine not having access to Killarney House and its gardens, the Demesne, Ross Castle, the middle and lower lakes, Innisfallen… It’s unthinkable.

Damien Switzer has called for walls of Killarney House and Gardens to be pulled down to make it more accessible to locals and tourists alike and this section of the park to be renamed the John McShain Memorial Park. He would also like to see a statue to erected somewhere prominent in town. After all we have the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park in Muckross. I, for one, agree with him. It seems strange to me that someone who played such a massively positive role in our past should be so absent in our present.

What do you think? Should Killarney House and Gardens be renamed John McShain Memorial Park? Should we erect a McShain statue? Let us know by emailing newsdesk@killarneyadvertiser.ie. 

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