North Kerry

Fenit | Irish : An Fhianait : The Wild place

Situated 8 miles outside Tralee, reputed to be the birthplace of Saint Brendan.  Whatever else Fenit is, it is not a wild place. It is a sheltered, fertile place, warmed by the waters of the Gulf Stream, a haven by the sea to refresh the tired spirit. Another explanation to the meaning of Fenit is “a place frequented by the Fianna”. Na Fianna: in ancient Ireland we had a band of legendary warriors known as The Fianna. Under their leader, Fionn McCool, the Fianna were charged with the defence of Ireland against invading tribes and hostile warrior chieftains. They rested from their battles in selected pleasant surroundings, and attended to their battle-wounds. The healing properties of seawater and aquatic plants are recognized by the medical profession, and were well known to our ancestors. The favourite pastime of the Fianna was the deer-hunt.

Close by Fenit is Knockanish, the Hill of the Deer, from the Old Gaelic. The fact that venison and the fruits of the sea were readily available in the Fenit area, is significant. The hunting lodges of the Fianna were known by the name, “Fian-bhotha”, and always the prefix “Fian” indicated the presence of the Fianna. For all these reasons and from its Gaelic spelling, “Fian-ait”, the name Fenit could mean nothing else but “a place frequented by the Fianna”. The road runs to Churchill and Barrow, presenting lovely views of Barrow Harbour. At Barrow Point is a 13th century castle, while opposite, on Fenit Island, is an Anglo-Norman Fitzmaurice castle. Tralee Golf Club with an 18-hole course is sited at Barrow.

The harbour at Fenit has a mixed function, ie. as a sea port importing and exporting, as a fishing port and housing a 136 berth marina, these generate an income for the port. The harbour and the marina cater for commercial traffic, leisure craft and fishing boats.

A park has opened on Fenit pier dedicated to Saint Brendan the navigator. St. Brendan was born on Fenit island circa 484AD. A large bronze statue erected on Great Samphire island in 2004 is central to the park. Great Samphire island around which the port is built is linked to the mainland by a viaduct. While it has not been proven it is suggested that Brendan discovered America long before Christopher Columbus. Tim Severin, an English sailor, reconstructed a leather boat as described in Navigato Sancti Brendani Abbatis and sailed successfully to America between 1976 and 1977.

During the Spanish Armada in Ireland, in 1583 the Spanish sloop “Nuestra Senora del Socorro (Our Lady of the Socorro) berthed at Fenit, where it was surrendered to British forces. Having instantly been arrested they were subsequently marched to Tralee castle, where Lady Margaret Denny ordered them to be hanged from a gibbet.

On August 8th 1922 a major seaborne landing took place during the Irish Civil War. The Lady Wicklow sailed into the harbour and disgorged 450 Free State Troops as part of a plan to re take Kerry and the Republican held province of Munster. The Republican forces had in place charges to blow up the pier in case of this event happening. However it seems some person or persons unknown made the charges inoperable so as not to inflict damage to the port.

There is a small island offshore called little Samphire island. In 1851 a lighthouse was built on this island. A small flowering plant used in cookery called Samphire links its name to the twin islands in the bay.

Notable buildings in Fenit are the redbrick R.I.C. (Royal Irish Constabulary) barracks, converted into private houses, the stone built lifeboat house now disused and a derelict customs house.

Angling is a popular activity with many visitors fishing from the viaduct. The largest angling club in Ireland is Tralee Bay Sea Angling Club, having their clubhouse on the marina breakwater in the harbour.

Tralee Bay Sailing Club having their own slipway with their clubhouse sited in a prominent position on a height overlooking the port and Tralee Bay.

In the village there are a few pubs and restaurants.

A railway once served Fenit linking it to Tralee. It was used for transporting goods and passengers. It closed in June 1978. Where the station and sidings once were is now sited a playground and car park.

The old railway tracks are now being converted into a walkway and cycleway following on the lines of the Great Southern Trail in west Limerick.


On the coast of County Kerry enclosing Barrow Harbour is a populated island. In historical terms it was known as “Fenit Within”referring to walls that surrounded part of the island to protect from invaders from the landward side. This island is connected to the mainland by a sandbar. Access by foot is possible most of the time via the sandbar and at low tide by car driving on the beach.

There exists many ruins on the island including a castle. The castle was built by the Fitzmaurice family in the 17th century. In that century iron or steel chains were stretched across the narrow channel between the island near the castle and the mainland to prevent seaborne attacks.

Tralee golf club was originally situated on Fenit island at the end of the 18th century.

Leave a Reply