Ministers announce Ireland’s first Marine National Park

Date Released: Monday, April 22, 2024

  • Páirc Náisiúnta na Mara, Ciarraí includes the Conor Pass, as well as new sites at Inch Peninsula, Mount Brandon and the Owenmore River
  • It is Ireland’s eighth and largest National Park, with more than 70,000 acres of lands and seas in public ownership
  • The Páirc will be dedicated to the protection and restoration of its internationally-significant biodiversity and archaeological heritage

Minister of State for Nature, Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD along with Minister of State for the Office of Public Works, Kieran O’Donnell TD, have today confirmed the establishment of Ireland’s first Marine National Park - Páírc Náisiúnta na Mara, Ciarraí.

The new Páirc, which is centred around Corca Dhuibhne in Co. Kerry, will unite some of Europe’s most ecologically valuable places in celebration of nature across 70,000 acres of lands and seas.

It brings together new acquisitions by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, such as the Conor Pass, the Owenmore River catchment, lands at Mount Brandon and the sand dune system at Inch Peninsula, along with sites already under State ownership, such as the limestone reefs of Kerry Head Shoals and the waters around the Blasket Islands.

The Ministers and local Minister for Education Norma Foley, announced that the Páirc’s heritage legacy would be further enhanced by the inclusion of lands on the Great Blasket Island, the globally significant UNESCO World Heritage property of Sceilg Mhichíl, and Derrynane House, Historic Park and Beach, which are managed by the OPW. Further collaborations with BirdWatch Ireland, who manage Little Skellig and Puffin Island, and with the Commissioners of Irish Lights, who manage An Tiaracht Nature Reserve, ensure that these internationally important sites for seabirds are also an integral part of the Páirc.

Speaking at the launch in An Daingean, Minister Noonan said:

“With the iconic Conor Pass as the gateway, Ireland’s first Marine National Park brings mountains, blanket bog, heaths, rivers, coastal dunes, limestone reefs, sea cliffs and some of the wildest land and seascapes in the country together in celebration of nature. Alongside its seven sister parks, Páírc Náisiúnta na Mara, Ciarraí will be a flagship for the protection and restoration of these incredible places and the globally important array of wildlife that they are home to. The Páirc will also honour the island and coastal communities who live alongside it by ensuring that their unique tapestry of cultural and natural heritage is central to the future story of this special place.”

Minister O’Brien said,

“Bringing the Conor Pass and the lands at Inch into public ownership has enabled the creation of a wonderful marine National Park, the first in Ireland’s history. This was a key commitment in the Programme for Government and today’s announcement delivers that commitment. It has been many years in gestation, and made possible through the Government’s renewed support of National Parks and Wildlife Service in recent years. I congratulate the NPWS on realising a national vision of global importance, and thank the Office of Public Works, the Commissioners of Irish Lights and all those who will have such an important role to play in the management of these sites that together form Páírc Náisiúnta na Mara, Ciarraí.”

The landscapes, islands and seas of this region are of enormous significance for biodiversity. Starting in the majestic uplands of Mount Brandon and Conor Pass, we find active blanket bogs and heaths, with famed alpine flora, providing valuable habitats for the Peregrine Falcon, Otter and Marsh Fritillary butterfly. Nestled among them is the pristine Owenmore river, one of the last remaining refuges of the Freshwater Pearl Mussel. Down at the coast, we can see some of the finest sand dune systems in Europe, which are home to the Natterjack Toad, before heading out to sea to encounter the shallow bays, which are important breeding sites for sharks and rays, and an extensive and biologically rich marine limestone reef system. The islands speak for themselves, with entire populations of rare and endangered seabirds such as Puffin, Storm Petrel, Gannet and Razorbill, as well as unique communities of lichen and other flora.

Equally, the area’s cultural and archaeological value cannot be overstated. The UNESCO World Heritage property of Sceilig Mhicíl, an island of global importance, is at the heart of the Páirc’s cultural heritage. The seas that surround it, meanwhile, were the routeways of the past and the last resting place of many historic wrecks. They include the Spanish Armada vessel of Santa Maria de la Rosa, which was lost off Blasket Sound in 1588. On the mainland, the landscapes of the Páirc document the history of settlement in the region, with archaeological monuments and traces of people over the millennia, including those who etched ogham script on the ancient standing stone at Araghglen on Mount Brandon, a National Monument.

Minister O’Donnell said

“As Minister for the Office of Public Works, I am delighted to confirm that the OPW-managed properties at Sceilig Mhichíl, An Blascaod Mór and Derrynane House, Historic Park and Beach are integral to Páirc Náisiunta na Mara, Ciarraí. They will continue to be managed by OPW. Sceilg Mhichíl, is one of only two UNESCO World Heritage Properties in Ireland and the most spectacularly situated of all Early Medieval island monastic sites. Together with An Blascaod Mór and Derrynane House, Historic Park and Beach, the three sites combine to bring an epochal spirituality and sense of our cultural history into a Páirc of immense environmental and cultural significance.”

Commenting on the announcement Local Minister and Kerry TD Norma Foley said:

“I am delighted that the astounding beauty of my home county and her pristine seas has been recognised today by the creation of a second National Park in Kerry; Páirc Náisiúnta na Mara, Ciarraí. This will be an incredible amenity. It is a transformative moment for West Kerry and the entire county, allowing us to showcase the very best of our natural environment locally, nationally and internationally.”

Niall Ó Donnchú, Director General of the National Parks and Wildlife Service said:

“Our new park is a celebration of heritage in all its forms. Our biodiversity and natural heritage sit layered in harmony alongside monuments and historic wrecks from many periods. This is a place of iconic significance and majestic beauty. At times, shrouded in mist as a far outpost, ethereal in its past, evocative in its firing of the imagination, and vital in its biodiversity. Undoubtedly, a place of local pride and universal value. We look forward to working with our partners, the Office of Public Works, the National Monuments Service, the Commissioners for Irish Lights, BirdWatch Ireland, Kerry County Council and the local communities to realise a truly world class National Park.”