Charles Graves, many years Bishop of Limerick, was an expert on the Ogham stones of Corca Dhuibhne. He visited Parknasilla, near Sneem in South Kerry, where he kept a home and fished in the surrounding rivers with his children. It is all to be found in the book of his son, schools inspector and song writer Alfred Percival Graves: A Return to All That. Showing an evident awareness of An Leabhar Gabhala (the Book of Invasions), the poet Robert Graves, son of the schools inspector, stated that English literature begins not with the Canterbury Tales but with Amergin, the son of Milesius, whose people came ashore near Ballinaskelligs. The schools inspector tells us of the great friendship of his bishop father with James Francis Fuller, the architect-historian. They would have been summer neighbours at Sneem. Graves died in 1899, the same year as historians Mary Agnes Hickson and Mary Frances Cusack, the “Nun of Kenmare”.
Sources must have been difficult to access in those days, yet scholars still draw heavily on Old Kerry Records (Hickson) and the Cusack’s History of Kerry, where much is saved that would have been lost forever in the burning of the Public Records Office in 1922.
The appearance of Rev. Grossart’s Lismore Papers (the papers of Sir Richard Boyle) greatly excited Mary Hickson, for in them the full extent of Richard Boyle’s landed interests in Kerry became clear, especially in Corca Dhuibhne. Less well known was the extent of the first Duke of Ormond’s interests in Corca Dhuibhne from the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, and it took an excellent article from Conleth Manning in one of the Kerry Society journals in recent years to draw attention to these. The Duke’s ancestor, Thomas Butler, tenth Earl of Ormond, found Dingle in a state of ruin when he accompanied Pelham there in 1580 during the campaign to subjugate the Earl of Desmond. The last Earl of Desmond was an unstable individual and either he or his ungoverned forces had a habit of destroying towns which we would have imagined were looking to him for their defence. When the Earl of Cumberland (Clifford, of Skipton Castle, Yorkshire) set foot on dry land in Dingle in 1589 on his return journey from the Azores he found the place still bearing the signs of the ravages of war; he heard that the Earl of Desmond was responsible.
In the first decades of the new century it proved easy for Sir Richard Boyle to buy up lands there. The Old English, like Pierse Ferriter, were in dire financial straits after the Desmond wars (there were two Desmond rebellions), so they took out mortgages from Boyle, created first Earl of Cork . We find Lord Cork’s agent still collecting rents there at the end of the nineteenth century. In the novel An tOileanach (The Islandman) there is a memorable episode where the islanders beat off the agent as he attempts to land on the Blasket .
The FitzGeralds, Knights of Kerry, were the principal family of Dingle and controllers of the Corporation set up after the grant of a charter to the town in 1585. They were a branch of the earls of Desmond and they participated prominently in the Desmond Rebellions. They and their estates survived as it was the policy of James I to forgive and forget: he had no choice, unless he wanted to lock up half of Ireland. The Knights took the wrong side again in the Glorious Revolution which brought William of Orange to the throne in 1688. The new reign was less forgiving this time and dozens of Dingle men went overseas to join the defeated King James II in Europe, from where they would contemplate invasion. The Knights avoided forfeiture by intermarriage with the Protestant family of Crosbie of Ardfert. This was Maurice, 14th Knight, who had fought in the Jacobite campaign; in 1703 he married Elizabeth Crosbie. By then a new force was settled in Dingle: Mullins, future Lord Ventry, who built his mansion on what is now the site of Colaiste Íde.
Poet Aogán O Rathaille mentions Mullins and other New English of this time, the remaining life-time of Aogán. Aogán had to move west himself, to the district of the great wave, Tonn Tóime, somewhere near Castlemaine Harbour. He hated the move; Sean O’Tuama believed he made it when Nicholas Browne, his patron, was forced into exile. Browne died in Ghent in 1720: “Is fada liom oíche fhírfhliuch gan suan, gan srann,/gan ceathra, gan maoin, caoire ná buaibh na mbeann;/anfa ar toinn taobh liom do bhuair mo cheann,/is nár chleachtas im naíon fiogaigh na ruachain abhann.” (Tonn Tóime, le Aogán O Rathaille) Dinneen translates: “The truly wet night seems long to me, without sleep, without snore,/ Without cattle, or wealth, or sheep, or horned cows;/The storm on the wave beside me has troubled my head,/And I was unused I my childhood to dogfish and periwinkles.”
Families like Blennerhassett and Mullins, and converts like FitzMaurice, filled the parliamentary representation of Dingle. Elsewhere in Kerry there were Rowan and Leslie. Petty rebuilt his settlement in the South of the county. On Dingle’s MPs Hickson wrote the following: “…after the Boyne, and Husseys, Trants, and Rices vanish from the parliamentary representation of the place which had known them for five hundred years and held them in honour. Exile, with a fair chance of distinction in foreign service, or the cottier’s cabin and petty trade at home was the only alternative left to them.” (Hickson, Old Kerry Records) The convert families made a difference. That William FitzMaurice MP was the owner of Springfield (Gort an Tiobraid) Castle in Co. Limerick, which used to be a Jacobite stronghold: he was the brother of the Lord of Lixnaw who married Petty’s daughter. So we suspect the sympathetic work of the convert in the Irish Parliament, forever working to lessen the burden of the penal laws then in force. The biggest influence was undoubtedly the family of the Knights, and from the 1740s Robert FitzGerald MP was a tireless advocate of the Catholics and a faithful correspondent of their representatives in Europe, like Jean Baptiste MacMahon of Dooradoyle, and O’Brien, colonel of the famous regiment of Clare.
A real threat to the continuity in Catholic influence in Dingle came from a faction of the Knight’s own family. By the 1770s Robert FitzGerald (not yet Knight of Kerry) was a recognised promoter of Catholic rights in the exclusively Protestant Irish House of Commons. But there was an intensification of Protestation reaction following the Whiteboy insurrection in Munster. A sister of the current Knight, having married Townshend of Castletownshend, gave the Townshends the right of succession to Dingle when the Knight proved unable to provide an heir, and this situation eventually excluded Robert FitzGerald in Dingle.
In 1793 “the elegant mansion of W.T. (William Townsend) Mullins, Esq. was totally demolished” (Limerick Chronicle, 26 June 1793). The violence arose from the filling of the new militia under the legislation of that year – that and the old argument about tithes. Tithes and their collection convulsed Kerry during the 1780s. How well were the Ventries respected as landlords? Their estate was in receivership after a decision of the court of Chancery in 1827. They supported the famous Protestant mission. Thomas Townsend Aremberg Mullins (de Moleyns from 1841 onwards), was the third Lord Ventry (1786-1868). Protestant colonies and school houses were put in Dunquin, the Great Blasket Island, Dunurlin, Kilmalkedar and Ventry. It took a big effort to defeat the mission, whose successes included the defection of the local priest Fr. Denis Leyne Brasbie. The Vincentian Fathers held a seven-week mission in Dingle in 1848, and then the Christian Brothers established a school in the town. During the Famine Lady Ventry played a positive role, running a famous soup kitchen. She was one of the Blakes of Menlough, in Galway and wife of the third Lord Ventry (Thomas T. Aremberg, above), whom she survived. When she died the Kerry Evening Post, 5 November 1879, remembered “The late Dowager Lady Ventry” and her “soup kitchen”.
Archdeacon Arthur B. Rowan always favoured a workhouse alternative to the calls for an introduction of the English Poor Law. In this he was prescient. His ancestors had settled the Castlegregory district, but his mother was a Denny. He was Kerry’s greatest antiquarian. He lived at Belmont in Tralee, though before the Famine he served in parishes in Corca Dhuibhne. His wife was a daughter of Peter Thompson, solicitor to the Ventry estate. Rev. Rowan was the face of the old Tralee Corporation replaced by a commission in 1840. He was its last Provost. Rowan produced the Kerry Magazine from 1854 to 1856. He died in 1861.
The famous county by-election of 1872 brought violence to Corca Dhuibhne. This tumultuous election is covered in Patrick Foley’s book, History of the County Kerry, Corkaguiny, published in 1907. The by-election was recalled in the play The Magic Glasses by George FitzMaurice, in which a character gives a boy’s age when he learns that he was born the year Dease was defeated by Ponsonby amid election violence. Bishop David Moriarty, a unionist, favoured Dease. Moriarty had seen the revolution in Europe in 1848 while a seminarian. More recently he had condemned the Kerry Fenians: “Eternity is not long enough, nor Hell hot enough”, he told his flock in a pastoral. The local press carried every word. In the 1872 election the popular and Home Rule candidate was Rowland Ponsonby Blennerhassett, of Kells. Violence erupted in Corca Dhuibhne when Lord Ventry’s voters crossed the Connor Pass on their way to Tralee to call out their votes for Dease. The people defied the Bishop. Even his priests defied him and stood with the people. Dease lost and the Home Ruler was elected. It was the last election when this practice was used. Only a few stragglers reached Tralee, the Irish Times of 10 February 1872 reporting: “The Constabulary have succeeded in bringing into Tralee only 13 voters for Mr. Dease out of 180 who left Castlegregory and neighbourhood with them.”
During the middle-1880s the Boyle (Lord Cork) estate around Ballyferriter felt the effects of the Plan of Campaign. Was it then that Cork’s agent failed to collect the rent on the Great Blasket? The Great Blasket became the property of the Congested Districts Board. James Anthony Froude wrote some of his great book The English in Ireland in the Eighteenth Century while the guest of the Lansdownes at Dirreen, below of Neidin, in South Kerry. Did Froude befriend his neighbours the Graveses over at Sneem?