Tralee antiquarian Rev. Arthur Blennerhassett Rowan and future bishop of Limerick Rev. Charles Graves were collaborators in archaeology and antiquarianism in Kerry from the 1840s. They also had a scholarly interest in the Irish language fifty years before Douglas Hyde founded the Gaelic League.
From the 1850s Graves leased a summer house for himself and his family at Parknasilla. It was Rowan who introduced Graves to the young Dingle antiquarian Richard Hitchcock, who assisted Graves in his work of collecting and deciphering the Ogham stones of Kerry, which abounded in West Kerry in particular but also in the south of the County.
Richard Hitchcock ignited a controversy with his assertion that the Milesians landed in Ireland at the bay of Dingle. In the extract published below, from an address before the Royal Irish Academy, Arthur B. Rowan uses the more accepted location of the Kenmare River in the south of Kerry as the Milesian landfall. It in turn has been superseded in recent research by the bay at Waterville.
The arrival of the Milesians is described in the Leabhar Gabhala (Book of Invasions), which is reproduced in the Foras Feasa ar Eireann by Geoffrey Keating in the seventeenth century. The people of Ireland are said to be descended from Míle Spáine, whose sons led the invasion. Such was the power of the legend that it gave the epithet Milesian to the jargon of ordinary discourse as well as the writing of history. In Tralee in the nineteenth century it was routine to hear the use of Milesian for the likes of O’Sullivan, MacCarthy, O’Connell and McGillicuddy to distinguish these Gaelic families from settlers like Hickson, Herbert, Blennerhassett and others who could not be included in Milesian. Excluded also were Old English (Anglo-Norman) settler names like FitzGerald and FitzMaurice (Geraldines) and Ferriter, eventhough these are inextricably linked with insurrection against English ruleduring the 1580s and later. The recurrence of intermarriage with the Gael overcame the problem, and in the end everybody seemed to claim the honour of Milesian ancestry. Significantly, this included the governing elite at the time of the handover to democratic rule in the nineteenth century. By then even such a key representative of the elite as the family of Denny could claime descent from the Gael (Elizabeth Day, who married the Denny heir in 1795, had in her veins the blood of the O’Briens, viscounts Clare).
Archdeacon Rowan lived at Belmont, in Ballyard, now a suburb of Tralee. Few of his papers survive, but his antiquarian pursuits immersed him in researches about the O’Connors of Iraghticonnor in North Kerry (Kerry Magazine, October 1855) and the MacCarthy Mór of Killarney, about whom he wrote extensively in Lake Lore and The Kerry Magazine. In politics Rowan was inextricably associated with Tralee’s old Corporation, becoming its last Provost before that body was abolished in 1840. But his Denny ancestry (his mother was a Denny, of Tralee Castle) conceals the fact that one of his ancestors was Jane O’Connor. She was the wife of Rev. Barry Denny, and they became the parents of Sir Barry Denny, created first Baronet in 1782. Sir Barry’s daughter married Rowan. Here is A. B. Rowan’s address to the RIA, Monday, November 8, 1858, PRIA vol. 7, 1858-1861.
“All who do not throw aside the remnants of Irish history which have come down to us as ‘bardic myths’ consent to the tradition that the first landing of the Milesians in Ireland took place on the south-west coast of Kerry, in Munster; and it may here be observed, that this landing is supposed to have been effected in the very locality upon which a world-wide attention is now fixed, as the European point from which it has been ascertained that the flashing of intelligence between the New and Old World continents is an accomplishable fact. It was here that, as is calculated, about thirty centuries since, a tribe of the Scythi, after a sojourn inSpain, are recorded as having first made good a landing in Iar, in that ‘Isle of the West’ indicated as their ultimate settlement; and the locality still retains in its nomenclature traces or memorials of the supposed events.
Dar Iri (the Oak Island of Ir) is still, in the mouth of the peasant, the familiary name of the “Island of Valentia”, derived, as is believed, from that son of Milesius, held, also, to have had his burial in the adjacent Skellig Rock, once dedicated to the Pagan Jove, but, under Christianity, consecrated, as all similar separated rocks were, by dedication to St. Michael, and thence known as Skellig-Mihil, or Skellig of St. Michael.
The actual landing is recorded as having taken place at Inbher Sceine, or the Kenmare Estuary, and the first encounter between the possessors of the soil and the invaders is placed “three days’ journey inwards”, in the very locality of which I write, namely, in the large and deep valley terminating on its western face the Sliab-Mis range of mountain which skirts the southern shore of Tralee Bay; and in this valley, on the very field of battle, lies the Ogham monument which furnishes my subject.”
Comment. Dairbhre /dariri/ is “place of oak”, Jove is never associated with Sceilg. The site of battle is “Gleann Scoithín” at the eastern end of the Sliabh Mis range. Inbhear Scéine is Bá na Scealg. Richard Hitchcock died tragically young in 1856, Archdeacon Rowan (b. 1800) passed away in 1861. Rev. Graves (b. 1812) died in 1899 after 22 years as Bishop of Limerick; his diocese included all of Kerry.