Parknasilla: Beauty in the Magic Kingdom



By Margaret M. Johnson

A drive from Bantry to Glengarriff. . . Glengarriff to Kenmare. . . Kenmare to Sneem — who could ask for anything more? Spectacular walks and rare specimen plants are laid out in Garnish Island located in the sheltered harbor of Glengarriff in Bantry Bay; a desolate, otherworldly landscape zigzags across the mountainous N71 route past Molly Gallivan’s 200-year-old cottage and farm in Bonane near Kenmare; and the prospect of a few nights at Parknasilla Resort in Sneem make the drive from Kenmare all the more exciting.

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Playwright George Bernard Shaw, a visitor himself in 1909, described Parknasilla as a “place of long sea views and intricate walks between ferns and fuchsias, rock and rhododendron, to burnt our castles lost within the woods and along the various fingers of land that point west into the warm Atlantic, this place does not belong to any world that you or I have ever worked or lived in . . .it is part of our dream world!” Heady stuff, I know, but the resort, which is set among 500 acres of islands, inlets, and woodlands and flanked by the Kerry Mountains and Kenmare River, could not be more beautiful.

Approaching from Kenmare along the Wild Atlantic Way and world-famous Ring of Kerry, the resort is located on a wide curve in the road that invites you in “to stay a while” — and why not? There’s something for everyone in the grand hotel, which started out in 1895 in a building owned by Bishop Charles Graves. The current structure, designed in a simplified Scottish baronial style, was built with romantic high-pitched roofs, gables, and tower, all faced in local stone. It eventually became part of the Great Southern & Western Railway hotels and renamed The Great Southern Hotel, Parknasilla; in 2006 it was renamed Parknasilla Resort & Spa (www.parknasillaresort.com). In Irish Pairc na Saileac means “field of willow trees.”

THE DETAILS: the resort (16 miles from Kenmare, 2 miles from Sneem) has 80 rooms and 10 suites in the original building and stunning new extension; thirty-eight 3-bedroom accommodations in the Woodland Villas and twenty-four 2-bedroom accommodations in the Courtyard Villas. For golfers, there’s a 12-hole course of open and tight fairways with spectacular water views; a luxurious wellness facility with indoor pool and Elemis Spa; 10 trails ranging from walks along the water’s edge to interior woodlands (my favorite was the Fairy Trail where you search for at least 20 “homes” inhabited by the Parknasilla Fairy community); activities for kids (and adults, of course) like kayaking, bike riding, archery, boating, and ziplining. Two restaurants — fine dining Pygmalion and casual Doolittle Bar — seal the deal! Head chef Paul O’Loughlin offers these two enticements for a visit.


Makes 28 tea cakes

Pistachio cake is one of the most popular desserts served in Pygmalion Restaurant. Nutty, flourless, and moist, the cake is easily transformed into little tea cakes when baked in mini fluted Bundt pans. Serve them simply dusted with confectioners’ sugar, or for a show-stopper, top them with pistachio buttercream and sprinkle with finely chopped pistachios.

For the cakes

5 ounces almonds

3 ounces unsalted pistachios

8 ounces butter, at room temperature

2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons pistachio paste

5 large eggs

For the pistachio buttercream

4 ounces butter, at room temperature

4 tablespoons pistachio paste

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Finely chopped pistachios, for garnish

  1. Make cakes. Preheat oven to 325° F. Spray wells of two mini fluted Bundt pans with baking spray with flour.

  2. Combine almonds and pistachios in a food processor and process for 30 to 40 seconds, or until nuts are finely ground.

  3. In a medium bowl, beat butter, sugar, and pistachio paste with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Slowly add ground nuts, alternating with eggs, until mixture is blended and smooth.

  4. Spoon mixture into prepared pans, filling half full; let rest for 10 minutes to ensure mixture settles into wells. Bake for 25 to 28 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Remove pans from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Loosen cakes from sides of pan with a small knife; invert onto rack and tap gently to remove cakes. Cool completely. Repeat with remaining mixture.

  5. Make buttercream. In a medium bowl, beat butter and pistachio paste with an electric mixer on medium speed for 1 minute; gradually beat in confectioners’ sugar, cream and vanilla until smooth. Drizzle over cakes and sprinkle with nuts.



This moist carrot cake-like recipe can be iced with cream cheese frosting and topped with chopped toasted walnuts or simply dusted with confectioner's sugar.

1 1/4 cups flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup (packed) brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

10 ounces grated carrots

Cream cheese frosting, for topping (optional)

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

1.Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray wells of a standard cupcake pan with baking spray with flour.

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugars, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

  2. In medium bowl, whisk together oil, eggs, and vanilla. Stir into the flour mixture until blended; stir in carrots.

  3. Spoon mixture into prepared pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Let cool on wire rack for about 15 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan and top with cream cheese frosting or dust with confectioners’ sugar.


Margaret Johnson’s “Recipes” page expands this year to “Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink, and Travel.” For further details on her work or to order a signed cookbook, visit www.irishcook.com