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Donal ‘Dux’ O Donoghue: A legend of the lakes



Oh the summer time is coming, and the trees are sweetly blooming....

After glorious back-to-back weekends of sunshine, cafes, bars, and restaurants are buzzing with happy customers. Bus and boat tours are revving up for another blockbuster season, and Killarney National Park? Well it's teeming with visitors eager to explore its 25,000 acres of pristine beauty.

Here at Killarney Advertiser HQ, the start of summer means the launch our annual tourism magazine - "We Are Killarney". Visitors can expect insider tips and local advice on everything from heart-pumping adventures to soul-soothing wellness retreats, and of course, unforgettable dining and entertainment experiences .

Championing our town is a full-time job for the Killarney Advertiser team, and this year's edition of the tourism magazine is no exception. We had the pleasure of interviewing the legendary boatman Donal "Dux" O'Donoghue for the 2024 edition which we are looking to forward to sharing with you here. Now, this article comes with a warning, Dux tells many great stories, and he swears everything to be true, but we will let you decide what is fact, and what might be fiction.....

Donal ‘Dux’ O’Donoghue - A Legend of the Lakes

At the heart of tourism in Killarney is a legacy as timeless as the waters that flow through the National Park. For the O’Donoghue family, boating isn’t just a livelihood; it’s a tradition etched into the very fabric of Killarney.

Meet Donal ‘Dux’ O’Donoghue, a man whose connection to the waters runs deeper than Muckross Lake. From his grandfather ‘Pato’ Connor to his father Dan O’Donoghue, Donal was raised among boat builders and boatmen and the lineage intertwines with Killarney’s boating heritage dating back 250 years.

During the 1800s trips on the lakes were reserved for the gentry. People of good social position would take trips out to Lord Brandon’s Cottage where they would spend their days hunting (a practice which is now outlawed in the National Park). In 1861, a visit by Queen Victoria placed Killarney, and Ireland, firmly on the tourist map.

Recalling his early days on the boats Donal transports you back to the early 1970s, a time when the rhythm of the oars dictated life’s pace, the work was tough but the craic sounds mighty!

“Back when I first started, you needed four rowers to power a boat up and down the lake. It was 14km up, and 14km back. It was arduous work but it was a case of get up and go, we were glad to be kept busy and earning decent money.

“We were forced to train on Guinness Stout, a gallon of Guinness per man. You could say we were doing 28km to the gallon back in those days,” he jokes.

Boating was tough back then, and it was only for the boatmen’s resourcefulness that made it work. “We were out on the water every day we could. If the weather was too poor for a tour, we would grab our fishing gear and head out to catch some salmon and trout.

“I would have great memories of the old brigade; local men Seanie O’Leary, Do-Do O’Sullivan and Donnie Buckley. No other man has pulled as much Salmon out of the Lakes of Killarney as Donnie, he was a great fisherman.”

The boatmen would  sell their catch of trout and salmon back to the local hotels and restaurants and that would help subsidise the loss of earnings from that day.

“In the height of the summer, and when the weather was good we would have to call on ‘the spares’. These were local men that had other jobs in town but were flexible enough to leave if you needed an extra body.”

By 1974 Donal had two boats of his own out on the water and the tourism industry locally was getting busier every year.

With the advent of engines in 1980s, the local landscape of boating underwent a transformation. Boats that were rowed up the lakes could carry 22 passengers but when the engines came along boatmen were only permitted to take 12 passengers. While passenger numbers were down, the plus side was that it only took one man to operate the boat, making it more commercially viable.

Keeping up with demand, Donal grew his fleet from two to five boats while his brother Dermot did the same, and despite the slight modernisation and a busier tourist season the O’Donoghue family were keen to preserve the essence of Killarney’s boating heritage.

“People are so used to rushing around these days. Our tours are slow and easy going, that way visitors can have a similar experience to that of the gentry 250 years before them”

One thing that hasn’t changed all these years on is the fantastic itinerary…

“Starting at Ross Castle, we take visitors across to Innisfallen island to see the beautiful monastery that dates back to 640 AD. From there we head across the Middle Lake, under Old Weir Bridge and to the meeting of the waters. We shoot down the long range river before arriving at Lord Brandon’s Cottage. If lucky, you might spot the majestic White-Tailed Eagle or very rarely capture deer swimming from Innisfallen Island to Ross Castle”.

Visitors are always blown away by the beauty of the lakes but it is the stories that the boatmen tell which are just as much a part of the experience and you will struggle to find a tour operator in Killarney who tells a better story then Donal ‘Dux’.

“Not many people know this now but Ross Castle was owned by the O’Donoghue Clan back in the 14th Century. Every seven years the Chieftain of the clan reappears on his white horse in the form of a ghost. He jumps off the castle and out on to the waters. He gets up on the pulpit rock in the middle of Lough Leane and summons all the boatmen. He lectures us on the importance of telling the truth at all times. His most recent appearance was last year and I was called up in front of 2,000 boatman to receive a beautiful medal for always telling the truth, only I am too modest to wear it.”

If you are looking for a scenic tour on the lakes with some history, mythical legend and a bit of ‘blaggarding’ thrown in for good measure, then Gap of Dunloe Boat Tours is one Killarney Experience you don’t want to miss!

To read the full online version of the "We Are Killarney" magazine click here, if you would like some physical copies, call the Killarney Advertiser office and we can arrange to get some to you.



Three Peaks Challenge to raise funds for Down Syndrome Kerry

This year’s Three Peaks Challenge, organised by Killarney Cycling Club will raise funds for Down Syndrome Kerry. The June 15 event,  the only one day cycle event Down Syndrome Kerry […]




This year’s Three Peaks Challenge, organised by Killarney Cycling Club will raise funds for Down Syndrome Kerry.

The June 15 event,  the only one day cycle event Down Syndrome Kerry is associated with this year, promises to be a fabulous day of cycling and fun!.

The 100km route challenges the stronger cyclists and the 75km route gives cyclists the chance to become familiar with Moll’s Gap which is part of the Ring of Kerry route.
The cycle sets out from Killarney, heading out the Cork Road. The 75km route (one peak) turns right at Loo Bridge for Kilgarvan and onto Kenmare, while the 100km route, (three peaks) heads over the county bounds to Ballyvourney, onto The Top of Coom and then Kenmare. Both routes continue on over Moll’s Gap, passing through the picturesque Ladies’ View and back into Killarney, where all participants will be treated to a burger and drink at the finish line.

“We will guarantee plenty of laughs and refreshments along the way, there are two routes available; 100km or 75km, to meet all abilities, covering some of the most beautiful landscapes in Ireland. This is the perfect warm-up for anyone thinking of doing the Ring of Kerry cycle this year or anybody looking for a really well run sportive with great craic compulsory,” Chairperson of Killarney Cycling Club, Kevin Murphy.

All cyclists who register online will be entered into a raffle for some great spot prizes kindly donated by our sponsors, winners collecting their prize at the finish line.

Down Syndrome Kerry’s goal is to help people with down syndrome to make their own futures as bright and independent as possible by providing them with education, support and friendship every step of the way.
Funds raised from this cycle will help Down Syndrome to continue to provide vital services such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and job coaching to their members.
As Down Syndrome Kerry do not receive any government funding, they are totally dependent on your support to continue to make these services available to those who need them.
You can register for the cycle which is €40 for Cycling Ireland members, €20 for accompanied under 16’s on event master:-

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BAR 1661 is teaming up with Pig’s Lane for a night of cocktail mastery

BAR 1661, the winners of Ireland’s Bar of the Year 2022, are taking up temporary residency in Killarney’s first underground hotspot, Pig’s Lane for one night only on May 21. […]




BAR 1661, the winners of Ireland’s Bar of the Year 2022, are taking up temporary residency in Killarney’s first underground hotspot, Pig’s Lane for one night only on May 21.

The dynamic team at Dublin’s BAR 1661, who have recently taken their talents to venues in Sweden, London, and the famous Dead Rabbit Bar in New York, are now hitting the road to Killarney for an epic takeover event.

Staunchly Irish and fiercely independent, BAR 1661 have two goals in mind; to introduce the world to Poitín and lift Irish cocktail culture to fresh heights.
Headed up by their founder Dave Mulligan, the Dublin team will transform Pig’s Lane on College Street for one night only. Since opening just a few months ago, Pig’s Lane has been raising the bar in Kerry with its cocktails, whiskey and wine offering. Kicking off at 6pm, experience a curated selection of Poitín-infused cocktails, featuring a bespoke rendition of BAR 1661’s drinks menu.

The crew will also serve up their unique take on the classic Irish Coffee with their Belfast Coffee, steeped with cold brew coffee, top-quality Irish Poitín, and rich demerara syrup. Guests will be able to chat with the team, get some insider knowledge on how to elevate their own cocktail-making skills, as well as learn insider tips on how to blend flavours to satisfy their own palette.

Two-time World Championship Mixologist and Drinks Development Manager for the O’Donoghue Ring Collection and Pig’s Lane, Ariel Sanecki said of the upcoming takeover: 

“We are very excited to welcome one of Ireland’s leading bars, BAR 1661, for an exclusive collaboration with us here at Pig’s Lane. This takeover is a great opportunity for people to meet with innovative mixologists who will be crafting bespoke creations right in front of them! We look forward to welcoming guests on the night, to what promises to be an epic event, featuring premium drink producers and unforgettable flavours.”

Before the takeover starts, drinks aficionados can join Dave for an intimate Poitín Masterclass. Attendees are invited to explore the diverse landscape of Poitín, accompanied by fascinating insights into its vibrant history and contemporary revival.


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