Tralee was burned a number of times in modern, recorded history and usually by the Irish who perceived the place as a bastion of the New English. This was so at the time of Pierce Ferriter who laid siege to Tralee Castle for many months in 1642 and again when the Jacobites burnt it in 1691.
In the sixteenth century, before the town became a bastion of the New English, Tralee stood in the way of the Queen’s forces preparing to march west along the Dingle Peninsula to confront the anticipated Spanish and Italian invading force. The leader of the Queen’s forces was ‘Black Tom’ Butler, the current earl of Ormond. In Corca Dhuibhne he is remembered as An t’Iarla Dubh. ‘Black Tom’ had a domestic and personal interest in the campaign to subjugate the earl of Desmond, because he had an inherited claim to the Desmond title and estates. His mother was a Geraldine: Lady Joan FitzGerald was the daughter and only child of earl James who had signed the Treaty of Dingle in 1529. As we can see from his portrait, ‘Black Tom’ quartered the Desmond coat of arms on his shield, the same shield we see above the entrance to Kilkenny Castle, his family stronghold. (We learn from Gerard Crotty, Journal of the Butler Society vol. 2, no. 1, that the inclusion of the Desmond coat of arms begins with him.) His job as commander of the Queen’s forces was made easy by the dire straits in which his enemy Desmond found himself. Incidentally, his widowed mother had remarried to – of all people – the current earl of Desmond, her son ‘Black Tom’s leading enemy. The Desmonds were in league with the Queen’s great international enemy, Catholic Spain. In addition, the Desmonds, who lived in the much less urbanised mid-west and south of the country, had at best an ambivalent attitude to towns and cities. What a contrast with the urbanised Butler lordship centred on Kilkenny! Some coastal settlements like Youghal and Kinsale were contested by Butler and FitzGerald for the revenues on imported wine. The wine was a long running dispute over the centuries.
When ‘Black Tom’ arrived in Tralee in April 1580 he reported that ‘the rebels’, meaning the Desmond enemy, or a faction of the Desmonds, had burned Tralee.