The man who built America is to be honoured in Killarney.
KillarneyToday.com can reveal that a committee is currently working to determine how best to celebrate the life and times of John McShain, who donated the magnificent Killarney House and Gardens to the town, in addition to Innisfallen Island, Ross Castle and 8,000 acres of parkland, mountains and lake to the State.
It is anticipated that the memorial will take the form of a statue, a plaque or an appropriate piece of artwork and it is likely be located close to Killarney House and Gardens where the McShain family resided for a number of years.
The McShain memorial committee comprises Mayor of Killarney Cllr Niall Kelleher, Cllr Marie Moloney, Killarney Chamber of Tourism and Commerce Joint President Johnny McGuire, National Parks and Wildlife Service officials Eamonn Meskell and Pat Dawson, John C O’Shea, Damien Switzer and Mary G O’Sullivan.
“Given his incredible legacy and his remarkable generosity to Killarney, it is right and fitting that we remember John McShain and his family in this way,” said Mayor Kelleher.
“This proposal has been in the pipeline for some time but the Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to it. Now we will press ahead with the project and we will bring it to its fruition,” he added.
The magnificent Killarney House and Gardens, the former home of the Earls of Kenmare and now a stunning visitor attraction and interpretative centre, has become the sparkling urban jewel in Killarney’s constantly expanding tourism crown.
The early 18th century classical French-style chateau, previously the stable block of a residence built by Valentine Browne in the mid-1720s, was reopened in 2016, following years of dereliction, and it is now the beating heart of Killarney urban tourism.
The house and gardens were previously home to John McShain and his wife Mary who enjoyed regular visits from their US based only daughter Sr Pauline. During their lifetime, in a remarkable act of generosity, the family had made arrangements to gift the priceless town centre property to Killarney and its people.
A native of Philadelphia and the youngest son of Derry-born Catholic immigrants, construction tycoon John McShain was known as the man who built America and he was the main contractor in the $4.25 million reconstruction of the White House during the Truman years from 1949-1952.
He was also responsible for the construction of the Pentagon, the Jefferson Memorial, the Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, the JFK Centre for Performing Arts, Washington National Airport and many other notable US landmarks.
John McShain wife, Mary Horstmann was a member of a large Philadelphia Catholic family of wool merchants and her pioneering community and charity work later saw her become a Lady of the Grand Cross of the Holy Sepulchre and a Dame of Malta.
A regular visitor to Killarney, in the late 1950s, John McShain acquired Killarney House and its sprawling 25,000 estate and he spent the twilight of his life there until his death.
In 1973, the McShains gifted the priceless Innisfallen Island, Ross Castle and 8,000 acres of parkland, mountains and lake to the State and an agreement was reached that, when they passed on, Killarney House and Gardens would be given to the Irish Government for a nominal sum.
John McShain died in 1989 and when his wife, Mary, passed away in 1998, their daughter Pauline, a US based nun, carried out her father’s wishes and handed the keys and the deeds of the property to the people.
Sr Pauline, a Philadelphia based member of the Society of the Child Jesus Order, passed away in March 2019.
At John McShain’s Requiem Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral on Monday, 11 September 1989, then Bishop of Kerry, Dr Diarmaid Ó Suilleabháin, remarked: “He was a hardworking man whose energy and dedication brought him rich, material rewards but he retained a true perspective on life because he was a very religious man.
The bishop added: “He was a generous benefactor of all good causes, social, cultural and religious”.
Bishop Ó Suilleabháin also informed the congregation that the striking tabernacle at the rear of the altar in St Mary’s Cathedral was donated by John McShain.
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