North Kerry

Tralee | Irish : Tra Li : the strand of the River Lee

Tralee is the capital of Kerry an expanding town of 20,000 people (and rising). It was founded in the 13th century by the Anglo – Normans and takes its name from the River Lee, which flows into Tralee Bay. By the 12th century it became the seat of the Earls of Desmond whose influence extended throughout Munster. The main features of the medieval townscape were the Great Castle, which stood on the site of present day Denny Street, and the Dominican Friary (now the Abbey car park) founded by John Fitz Thomas Fitzgerald. It was burnt in 1580 because of a revolt against policies of Queen Elizabeth 1st of England, and in 1587 she granted it to Edward Denny, this family association with the town continued for over 300 years. The town became a borough by Royal charter in 1613 (now held in the County Library), but was mainly destroyed during the wars of the 17th century. The incoming planters laid out new streets that were the basis for the modern town, which took shape in the 19th century. Day Place, Staughtons Row and Princess Quay were constructed in the early years of the century and the town’s most elegant street; Denny Street was completed in 1826 on the site of the Great Castle.

Pike Man Memorial – situated in Denny Street. Sculptured by Albert Power, RHA, commemorates the 1798 rebellion.

The Dominican Statue – Dominic Street commemorates the Dominicans long service to Tralee, despite persecution, standing near the site of the original Abbey.

Saint John’s Church – situated in Castle Street it dominates Tralee’s landscape from all approaches. Built in 1854- 1870. Designed by J.J. McCarthy, it is one of the great examples of Gothic-Revival Architecture in Ireland.

The Court House – designed by Richard Morrison, restored in recent years, was built in 1835. Its imposing portico of Ionic columns is flanked by two cannons in commeration of the Kerrymen, who died during the Crimean and Indian wars of 1854 and 1860.

Tralee Ship Canal – The port at Fenit for centuries served the towns of Tralee and Ardfert. By the middle of the 17th century the Port of Tralee and Blenerville became intertwined. The quay in Blennerville was built of cut limestone and today is still in good condition. It is only a short distance from the Blennerville Windmill. This quay was developed by the Blennerhassets, who were the local landlords. However as the years passed the build up of silt reduced the width of he channel and also its depth. It was a popular embarkation point for multitudes of people who emmigrated both during the famine and in later years.

A petition signed by the local merchant princes and the gentry on the 15th February 1828 sought the aid of Parliament to undertake the buiding of a canal linking Tralee town to the sea. In the 1830s work began on the Tralee Ship Canal stretching from Prince’s Quay at the edge of Tralee town to approximately half a mile beyond Blennerville Quay. A lock was built at Blennerville to let the ships through and it worked like a wooden drawbridge. The canal is 2km long. It opened in 1846 and when a deep water quay was opened in Fenit this was the reason for its closure in the 1930s.

It was restored in 2002 by the Office of Public Works and is now fully operational for use by small yachts and pleasure boats.

Ashe Memorial Hall in Denny Street now houses the Kerry Museum, which is an ideal starting point for tours of County Kerry. It consists of 3 superb attractions, which tell the story of Kerry and Ireland over 8,000 years:

  • Kerry in Colour – a panoramic multi-image audio- visual tour of County Kerry.
  • Kerry County Museum – a museum with a difference. Interactive media and reconstructions stand side-by-side with priceless treasures dating from the Stone and Bronze Age to the Present Day. The Museum also hosts major international temporary exhibitions.
  • Geraldine Tralee – This is well worth a detour on its own! Imagine being transported 600 years back in time to the Middle Ages and experiencing a day in the life of an Irish medieval town. Visitors are seated in time cars and brought on a fascinating journey through the reconstructed streets, houses,Abbey and Castles of Geraldine Tralee complete with sounds and smells.
  • Commentaries are in 7 languages.The Tourism office is also situated in the Ashe Memorial Hall. Named after Thomas Ashe, a dashing hero of Ireland’s fight for Independence. Handsome and Cultured Ashe died on hunger strike in prison in 1917. Siamsa Tire, the national folk theatre also makes its home in Tralee and Duchas, the headquarters of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, fosters Irish culture and present Irish traditional music,song and dance in a beautiful informal atmosphere.

The Aquadome – This is one of the largest indoor waterworld tourist attractions in Ireland. It has children’s pools, gushers and waves combined with tropical temperatures. No matter how inclement the weather becomes its features guarantee fun for the whole family, whether its plunging down the outdoor falls, riding the sky high flume, surfing the waves, wrestling the river rapids or swimming with the currents. Adults can use the ultra modern gym or spend time in the adult only sauna- relaxing. Persons wishing to stay dry may use the 18 hole Aqua Golf course. Also considered fun are the outdoor remote controlled boats and trucks. While some outdoor activities are dependant on fine weather aka the bouncing castle, the bungee trampoline and the giant slide. See There is a 20% discount for families and an extra 50% discount when a double family visit ticket is purchased.

Tralee also has its own  greyhound racing track and a Gaelic Football Stadium.

In Tralee there are two 9-hole Golf Courses.

During the first week in October Tralee hosts it’s own Film Festival.

Ballyseede Castle:

There is an imposing gateway entrance with block granite pillars. A long winding carriage driveway takes one to the front entrance to the castle. The castle stands in its own grounds.

It is an elegant castle which has been lived in, loved and fought over for hundreds of years and its ancient grandeur can be admired to this day. Ballyseede Castle is a large 3 storey edifice built over a basement. It has battlement parapets. On the front entrance it has two curved bows and another bow at the south side. When you step into the foyer the Doric columns lead to a beautiful timber Bifurcating staircase of exquisite fine oak joinery, this being quite unique to Ireland. On the ground floor are two magnificent drawing rooms with corniced plasterwork and also adorned by Marble fireplaces. The amazing dining room looks out at the front lawn where many ancient oak trees flourish. A great carved oak chimney piece with a 1627 over mantle can be seen in the Library bar.

The castle also boasts a splendid Banqueting Hall.

The Earl’s of Desmond aka the Fitzgerald family, who in the main refused to swear allegiance to the crown used Ballyseede Castle as their main stronghold. The rift caused by them, with the crown, by not swearing allegiance started the Geraldine Wars, which continued for 300 years. These wars concluded in 1584 with the defeat of the Desmond Clan and the beheading of Gerald the 16th Earl. His head was displayed in a cage on London Bridge.

The castle, with 3000 acres, was then leased on a Perpetual Lease to Robert Blennerhasset for the paltry sum of a red rose to be presented each year on Midsummer’s Day. Robert Blennerhasset and his descendants occupied Ballyseede Castle until 1966, when it was sold and turned into a hotel.

Ghosts of landlords past are said to walk the rambling corridors of the basement. The ghosts are known to make their presence felt especially on the 24th March. This appearance was reported to have happened on that date in 1998 when all the residents of the hotel were spooked and left the cattle during the night, this being the first time anyone was actually scared by the resident spirits. Past residents of the castle referred to one of the ghosts as “Hilda”.

Ballyseedy Monument – Breton artist, Yann Renard-Goulet, who did the memorial at Customs House Dublin and also cast the relief of Austin Stack outside Tralee Sportsfield, created the sculpture here. The work depicts a mortally wounded man being attended by women, while another member of the family purposefully strides away to take the place of the fallen man.
After the Treaty was signed with England in 1922, Sinn Fein and the I.R.A. split and civil war broke out. One side feeling that the best deal was negotiated, while the other saw it as a betrayal of the ideals, which had been the motivating force of the Volunteers. It was at this site on 7th March 1923 that nine Republican prisoners were bound and tied to a log. Beneath which Irish Free State soldiers had placed a mine. Eight were blown to bits; their remains were released to their relatives in nine coffins. The conditions of the bodies was such that there was no way of knowing that one of the nine had been blown clear with only minor injuries. His name was Stephen Fuller of Fahavane, Kilflynn, and his name was on one of the coffins.

The History of the Earls of Desmond -In 910 a branch of the Geraldine family left Florence and went to live in Normandy, France. When William the Conqueror went to England in 1066 they went with him. In 1169 Maurice Fitzgerald came to Ireland with the Normans. A branch of the family got some lands in Munster. The first Earl of Desmond was created in the year 1329. By the time the last Earl of Desmond assumed office in 1559, the territory of Desmond stretched from Kerry to Youghal in County Cork and encompassing Limerick and Tipperary. By the 16th century the Earl of Desmond had adopted many Gaelic Laws and Customs and had become “more Irish than the Irish themselves”. Unfortunately Queen Elizabeth 1st of England was not very happy to see such a powerful family in control of Munster as she would see them as a threat to her crown. By 1569 she had laid claim to their lands. The Desmonds revolted and fought desperately to save them. By 1583 Elizabethan forces had captured all the Desmond strongholds and Gerald the Earl of Desmond became an outlaw and hid with a small band of loyal followers at a remote Glen in Glenaneenty Wood. The Desmonds had an old castle there and the remains of it are on the farm of Willie Lenihan.
A few of Desmond’s followers went to Castlegregory in search of food on the 9th November 1583. Some cows and horses were taken from the Moriartys who appear to have been hostile to the Earl. The Moriartys immediately sent for help to Lieutenant Stanley of Dingle. Having been reinforced by four English soldiers and with 18 kern (lightly armed Irish foot soldiers), the Moriartys tracked the thieves and about five miles east of Tralee, entering late in the evening the Vale of Glenaneenty, they observed a fire in the Glen below. After having reconnoitred the place Donnell Moriarty reported that the party they sought was there. They decided they would wait for the dawn to attack. At first light, Owen and Donnell Moriarty, with Donie O’Kelly, on of the soldiers, attacked the cabin where the Earl slept. The Earl’s followers fled but an old man with a beard, a woman and a boy remained. Donie O’Kelly, who entered first, aimed a blow at the old man with his sword and almost cut off his arm. The old man said “I am the Earl of Desmond, do not kill me”. The Earl was not killed at first but because he was wounded so severely that he could not walk, one of the Moriartys carried him along the Glen on his back. The soldiers feared that the Earl’s followers would return, and decided to kill him. Donie O’Kelly cut off his head and sent it to Queen Elizabeth 1st in London, for which he received a pension from her of £20 per annum. The Earl’s body was buried temporarily on this spot. Desmond’s Grave was on a ledge about 120 feet down and three feet above the level of the present roadway on the left hand side. The Earl’s body was eventually brought to the little graveyard at Killnamana near Codral, about 4 miles east of Castleisland. This was the family cemetery of the Fitzgerald’s.
It was popular belief that the place where he was slain, long after the Earl’s death, was stained with his blood. The spot in Irish is called Bothar an Iarla (Road of the Earl). The Irish name for Glenaneenty is Gleann na gCaointe: meaning the Glen of the Mourning, and the wind wailing through it is said to mourn the last Earl of Desmond.

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