When Charles Smith arrived in Kerry in the early 1750s to write his famous history of the county, he relied on ‘Black Jack’ Blennerhassett to disentangle the Blennerhassett family tree. The Blennerhassetts proliferated from two locations: first Ballyseedy, then Castle Conway (Killorglin) where Robert Blennerhassett of Tralee, ‘Black Jack’s’ father, married Avice Conway. She had no brothers and as a consequence the Conway name disappeared from Killorglin. The historian Richard Hitchcock claimed, with justification, that other historians tended to let the Geraldine family tree overshadow the importance of the Blennerhassetts. Nationalist historians inherited the mantle of the Jacobites and were happy with this prejudice because the Blennerhassetts, including ‘Black Jack’ were, in political allegiance, Cromwellian and then Williamite: this was particularly true of ‘Black Jack’ who was one of the famous ‘Galway Prisoners of (16)88’, the group that tried to link up with the Williamite forces in Sligo before being captured by the Jacobites.
‘Black Jack’ died ten or fifteen years before Smith arrived, but his legacy was his famous family genealogies. In the writings of Archdeacon Rowan (d. 1861) they are known as ‘Black Jack’s Book’. Mary Hickson (d. 1899), a constant critic of inaccurate genealogies, championed the accuracy of ‘Black Jack’. She constantly underlined the Blennerhassett legacy as she did the Geraldine legacy. It might be argued that her descent from ‘Black Jack’ ensured the first, while her research on all branches of the Geraldines, including the Knight of Kerry pedigree during the 1870s, ensured the second. Mary Hickson’s father, John James Hickson (friend of, and collaborator with, Rowan), was no mean historian; he owned a copy of Smith, to which he added many notes . An image of one of the pages, with his notes, accompanies this article.