Our History


Great Southern - A Landmark in Hospitality since 1854

Killarney is the proud birthplace of Irish tourism, with the town celebrating its 250th anniversary as a tourist destination in 2004. The Great Southern Killarney, has been a focal point of this lively and bustling tourist town since 1854. 1853 saw the grand opening of the first railway line to Killarney from Dublin. The Great Southern and Western Railway Company decided to build a "Grand Hotel" outside of Dublin, and after considering many locations, they chose Killarney. They would require 40 acres of land at the railhead for a station and hotel, but they wanted it free. The land in question was part of a giant estate owned by Lord Kenmare, including thousands of acres stretching from Killarney back to Kenmare. Although Lord Kenmare recognised the value of signing over the land, the piece the railway wanted was special – it contained a magnificent garden, which he had lovingly developed over many years. Eventually, a deal was struck, and the project was given the go-ahead. He was more than reluctant to lose the site but the parties eventually agreed that the Great Southern and Western Railway Company could build their new hotel under two conditions:

The Brownes (Lord Kenmare's family) would have free rail travel whenever they wished.

Should they be delayed in getting to the station, the train in question would hold departure until the Brownes had boarded safely.

Once these conditions were met, the Killarney Railway Junction Company ran a design competition in order to choose an architect for the hotel. For reasons that remain a mystery to this day, the hotel was eventually designed by an architect other than the winner of the competition. The final architect, Mr Frederick Darley, was the official architect to Trinity College, and had also designed Merchant's Hall in Dublin, the Kings Inn Library, and a Magnetic Observatory at Trinity.

A Grand Opening

Great Southern Railways opened the hotel in July 1854. The hotel cost in the region of £18,000 to build. The architect’s remit was to build a property to "take the visitor’s breath away".

Queen Victoria Visits

Queen Victoria visited, launching Killarney as an international tourist destination.

Killarney Tourism was born

The first organised tours featuring Killarney were launched by Thomas Cook.

Hotel Lounge Renovated

The hotel lounge is renovated at a cost of £6,000. The Coffee Room, now the hotels foyer was a large communal area where guests could meet & discuss the issues of the time & flanked on either side by two drawing rooms - one for men & one for ladies, now the Reading & Writing Room

The Picture Room

In the Edwardian era from 1901 to 1910, a photographic dark room was created within the hotel. A trained technician employed by the hotel helped guests develop and print their photographs. Great Southern was the first hotel in Ireland to provide such a service. This space is now The Picture Room which houses the hotel’s archive of photography.

A Spy Captured

In 1912, a German espionage agent, Carl Hans Lody fled the UK and checked into the hotel. Two Scotland Yard detectives arrived at the hotel with an arrest warrant. Lody grabbed a suitcase full of documents and ran to the hotel’s boiler room and attempted to burn the documents. The detectives apprehended and arrested him. Lody was convicted and was executed by firing squad in the Tower of London. Lody was the subject of memorials and commemorations in Germany before and during the Second World War. A destroyer ship bore his name.

The Great War

World War 1 broke out which had a catastrophic effect on the Irish Tourist Industry. Great Southern remained open under difficult conditions throughout The Great War from 1914 to 1918.

The Easter Rising

A rebellion against British rule in Ireland took place Easter week 1916 and was swiftly defeated by the British military response. As a military campaign The Rising failed however it became a turning point for the majority of the Irish public towards the concept of a fully independent Irish Republic. On the 17th May 1916 members of the British army came to stay at Great Southern and posted guards in the lobby.

The First Telephone

The first telephone was installed at the hotel. ‘Killarney 26’ was the phone number.

Going Up?

A decision was taken to install an elevator from the basement kitchen to the Coffee Room and Dining Room. Before the lift was installed, service staff had to carry trays up two flights of 26 steps.

Irish War Of Independence

In 1920 the hotel was seized by the British Military and for the following 4 years of national strife, the hotel ceased trading and was closed to the public. Barbed wire defences were erected and plush curtains gave way to sand bags. The elegant Coffee Lounge became a general office and bedrooms were packed with army bunks.

The Irish Free State

The Irish Free State was established in 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty and ended the Irish War of Independence between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the British Crown Forces. Following the truce, Civil War ensued. The IRA used the hotel for bomb making and vacated in late 1922 when a large rival force of the Free State army were on route to Killarney. The Free State army was the next inhabitant of the hotel and the basement was used as a prison (the bars can still be seen on the windows). The Free State army took control eventually bringing peace to the island. The hotel reopened in 1924.

The Irish Tourist Board

On foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922, local tourism associations were formed, which combined in 1924 into the Irish Tourism Association (ITA), a private organisation “promoting tourism to the benefit of the nation”. Lobbying by the ITA led to the establishment of Irish Tourist Board in 1939.

State Ownership

At 90 years old the Great Southern Hotel saw the transition of the hotel into state ownership. The Great Southern & Western Railway Company experienced major financial difficulties in this decade. Following 96 years of private ownership The Great Southern Hotel becomes property of the government of the recently created Republic of Ireland.

A Royal Visit

Queen Salote of Tonga who reigned from 1918 to 1965 visited Killarney & stayed at Great Southern in the early 1950's. She also visited London in 1953 for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

100 Years

The hotel very proudly celebrates a century in business.

A New Wing

A new wing was constructed with the first en-suite bedrooms.

The 1960's

Today two of the hotel’s Grand Suites are named after famous guests of the Sixties era; Jackie Kennedy & Princess Grace of Monaco. The Chaplin Room is named after the eponymous star who was also a guest and holidayed in Kerry frequently with his family.

Conference Centre

The first conference centre outside of Dublin opened at the hotel and thus began the hosting of large-scale prestigious events.


A cinema screening and editing room was created for use by film director David Leen, while he and his crew were on location in Kerry for 2 years during the filming of the movie Ryan’s Daughter. (This now The Picture Room)

The Garden Room

Gourmet restaurant opened and prospered; The Garden Room.

The Eighties

The state owned Great Southern brand dominated luxury travel on the island and the hotels became a training ground for national hospitality students.

The Nineties

A time of exceptional national growth and confidence. The hotel thrived along with the resurgence in tourism.

Event Centre

A new purpose built Event Centre was added featuring The Great Room & The Auditorium.

150 Years

The Great Southern Hotel Killarney celebrates its 150th Birthday. An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was present to unveil a plaque to mark the great occasion.

The Malton

Following years of state ownership, the Great Southern brand was dissolved and all of the hotels were individually sold. This hotel came under private ownership and was renamed The Malton.

New Beginnings

Local hoteliers, the Scally family became the proud proprietors of the hotel. Today the hotel is led by the 3rd generation of the family dedicated to the art of hospitality.

Hayfield Family Collection

Hayfield Family Collection brand was created incorporating the Scally’s original hotel, Killarney Royal, Hayfield Manor in Cork and The Malton (soon to become Great Southern). Each hotel is run with the overarching brand values: Create Happiness, Be True, Do Exceptional.

Return To Greatness

Following years of extensive refurbishment, in January 2018 the hotel reopened under its former name of Great Southern Killarney. The new Great Southern resumed its iconic status as Killarney’s Premier Historic Hotel. On its return, Great Southern was honoured with a host of awards including Best 4 Star Hotel at 2017 Gold Medal Awards, Conference Venue of the Year National Hospitality Awards, Best Hotel Breakfast 2018 Gold Medal Awards, Bar of the Year for Brownes Bar Bar of the Year Awards.

Preferred Hotels & Resorts

Following years of research to find the perfect partner, the international luxury brand of Preferred Hotels & Resorts was chosen to represent Great Southern. For the first time in the Hotel’s history, an internationally recognised brand represents Great Southern globally to continue the hotel’s legacy of attracting visitors to discover the beauty of Killarney.

165 Years

On the 165th anniversary of Great Southern, the Management and Staff paid tribute to past guests and colleagues, while looking to the future with a renewed purpose to further and enhance the Great Southern legacy & experience.

Best Historic Hotel in Europe

In 2020 we were delighted to be crowned Best Historic Hotel in Europe in the 2020 Historic Hotels Awards of Excellence.