In October 1895 Annie Rowan, daughter of antiquarian Rev. Arthur B. Rowan, ignited a friendly controversy in the Kerry Evening Post about the location of the Great Castle of Tralee. She believed that the Desmond and Denny castles were distinct entities, the first standing at Lohercannon, the second on the site of the later Denny Street. Mary Hickson disagreed and referred to the map that she had seen in the Public Record Office and which she reproduced in copy in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland of 1878-9.
Whether or not the Desmond Castle stood on the site of today’s Denny street, both Mary Hickson and Annie Rowan were agreed that it was not always a Desmond Castle. It was transferred to James, Earl of Desmond, only in 1462. This appears in the Carew papers at LambethPalace, where it is stated that until then it belonged to Sabina FitzHenry’s family. Sabina transferred it to the great Earl James.
In the Desmond Survey, taken in the 1580s after the subjugation of the Earl of Desmond, it is stated that a great assembly of the Earl was held once a year at Tralee. This is consistent with Kerry being the Earl’s liberty jurisdiction. But what structure was the centre of official activity?
Two castles, neither of them in Tralee, were of primary strategic importance. Castleisland was the key to Kerry and the Earl’s favourite castle. The Castle on the Maine (Castlemaine) guarded Kerry from the wild MacCarthy and O’Sullivan septs of the south.