This year is the tenth anniversary of the appearance of my book about Judge Day, and it recalls O’Connell’s remark in his correspondence about the Judge, as ‘a mass of corruption’. Few know what O’Connell meant. A clue is to be found in the conflict of parties in the years before and after 1800 and the Judge’s opinion of Thomas Mullins, Lord Ventry, of Burnham (now Coláiste Íde), the first Lord Ventry.
The first Lord Ventry’s career as an estate magnate, an accumulator of other people’s broad acres, made him a legend. In 1801 Judge Day called him the ‘Mighty Thane of Corcaguiny’. Thirty-or-so years later, the antiquarian Windele, visiting Kerry in the 1830s, repeated the first Lord’s fame in this regard (cf. Journal KAHS, 1974, p. 95).
Perhaps Mullins’s most satisfying acquisition, from his own point of view, was his purchase of the Blennerhassett estate around Killorglin. Seller and purchaser were, in fact, cousins. To trace the relationship we need to go back to the Williamite-Jacobite War. Capt. John Blennerhassett, the owner of Killorglin, and other Kerry Williamite soldiers, including Raymond, Morris and Gun, were all captured in Galway and sentenced to death, but later released when William of Orange gained his victories over King James. The Blennerhassetts were Elizabethan settlers. The Guns and Mullinses settled in Kerry in the seventeenth century.
In spite of his involvement in the Williamite war, Black Jack was a political realist. He married his first daughter to McGillycuddy of the Reeks, a Jacobite family whose chief had paid in battle with his life for his support of the Earl of Desmond’s rebellion.
We are concerned with another of Black Jack’s daughters. This was Elizabeth, and she married Townshend Gunn of Rattoo. Their daughter, another Elizabeth (Elizabeth Gun), became the wife of the first Lord Ventry. The seller of the Killorglin estate was Harman Blennerhassett, a descendant of Black Jack’s son. Harman, a barrister, became associated with the United Irishmen of the 1790s; he escaped to America, but not before selling out to Mullins, Lord Ventry, his cousin.
By 1800 a great divide had opened in the Kerry elections between, on the one side the Blennerhassetts and Lord Ventry, and on the other the Geraldine and Jacobite families, which included Judge Day, the son of Lucy FitzGerald, one of the Knight of Kerry’s daughters. But it was Mullins’s land grabbing that provoked Judge Day’s caustic remark about Mullins as ‘the Mighty Thane of Corcaguiny’. O’Connell might be thought to admire Judge Day’s Geraldine party more than to the Blennerhassett/Ventry party because the Geraldines were Jacobite and Catholic in sympathy. O’Connell was no republican and so he was unlikely to support Harman Blennerhassett’s brand of activism. But during the Napoleonic War a court case concerning land, taken by the Blennerhassetts against Judge Day, damaged Judge Day’s relations with O’Connell when relations were already in decline over the Judge’s hard line on the Catholic issue. The Judge had presided in a case over land where the Blennerhassetts were one of the parties; and he was later accused by the Blennerhassetts of having appropriated for himself some of the property in question. A new court case was the upshot – one in which the Judge himself was the defendant! The charge did not stick, but the Judge’s reputation suffered irreparable damage. Hence O’Connell’s remark about Judge Day.