KERRY, a maritime county of the province of MUNSTER, bounded on the east by the counties of Limerick and Cork, on the north by the estuary of the Shannon (which separates it from Clare), on the west by the Atlantic, and on the south by the same ocean and the county of Cork. It extends from 51° 40' to 52° 37' (North Lat.), and from 9° 8' to 10° 27' (West Lon.); and comprises an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 1,148,720 acres, of which 581,189 acres are cultivated land, 552,862 are unprofitable bog and mountain, and 14,669 are under water. The population, in 1821, amounted to 216,185; and in 1831, to 263,126.

The inhabitants of this tract, according to Ptolemy's chart, were in his time designated Velabri or Vellibori; "Hibernicè," says Dr. O'Connor, "Siol Ebir, obviously meaning Illiberi Iberiae."; They are supposed to have been descended from the Iberi of Spain, to which their country lies opposite; but Camden derives their name from the British Aber, signifying an estuary, thus making it descriptive of the nature of the country. The Lucanij, or "people of the maritime country," were placed by Richard of Cirencester in this county, near Dingle bay. Ptolemy calls them Luceni, and they appear to be the Lugadii of Irish writers, which in a general sense comprehended all the inhabitants on the southern coast, from the harbour of Waterford to the mouth of the Shannon, though sometimes confined to those of the county of Waterford.

The present name of the county is variously derived. Some trace it from Ciar, the eldest, son of Fergus, King of Ulster, from whom it was called Carruidhe, or Cair Reeght, that is, "the kingdom of Ciar." According to Ledwich, it was called Cerrigia, or "the rocky country," from Cerrig, or Carric, ";a rock." Ciaruidhe, or "the rocky district on the water," from ciar, or cer, ";a rock," and uidhe, or ui dha; "a district on the water," was the present barony of Iraghticonnor, on the south bank of the Shannon, and from which may be derived Cerrigia and Kerry.

The chiefs of this country were called Hy Cain air Ciaruidhe, by contraction O'Connor Kerry, whose descendants were in possession of their ancient patrimony in the beginning of the last century. This district was sometimes denominated Ciaruidhe Luachra, or "the rocky district on the great lake or water." By some ecclesiastical writers the whole is called the country of St. Brandon, to whom the principal cathedral in the county was dedicated, and from whom a very remarkable mountain on the western coast takes its name. Camden calls that part of the sea into which the Shannon discharges itself Mare Brendanicum. The great portion of the county lying to the south of the river Mang formed, with the whole county of Cork, the old native sovereignty of Desmond, or South Munster, granted by Henry II. to Robert Fitz-Stephen and Milo de Cogan, but of which these adventurers were able to make themselves masters only of the districts near the city of Cork.

On the arrival of the English, the O'Connors were in possession of the northern part; the middle parts were in the possession of the Moriartys: the southern portion was occupied by the O'Sullivans, from whom the district now named Dunkerron barony was called O'Sullivan's country; also by the O'Donoghoes, distinguished into the septs of O'Donoghoe More and O'Donoghoe Ross, and by the O'Mahonies. The McCarties, who had been the most powerful sept in the South of Ireland before the landing of the English, being subdued by the invaders, their chief took refuge in the fastnesses of Kerry, where he was afterwards compelled to have recourse to the aid of Raymond le Gros to put down a rebellion of his own son, and in recompense for this service he gave him the northern district, then called Lixnaw. Raymond here settled his son Maurice, who gave its present name to this part of the county, which was henceforward called Clan-Maurice, in like manner as the family bear to the present day the name of Fitzmaurice.

The ancestor of the Earls of Desmond, John Fitz-Thomas, also, soon after the arrival of Henry II., acquired large possessions in Kerry and the contiguous districts, including the country of Desmond, by marriage with the daughter of Thomas Fitz-Anthony, another Anglo-Norman leader; and these were augmented by Prince John, in 1199. Henceforward, the family of Fitz-Gerald exercised a predominant authority in this quarter of the kingdom. The county was made shire ground, with its present limits, by King John, in 1210. Desmond was included with the Decies in the confirmatory grant made, in 1260, by Prince Edward to Lord John Fitz-Thomas; but in the following year this family received from the native sept of the McCarties a complete overthrow in Glanerought, in this county, from which they did not recover for twelve years, when quarrels among the native chiefs again admitted the rise of their power.

Lord Thomas, towards the close of the thirteenth century, sat in parliament as Lord Offaly, and claimed, under the grant of Edward I., to be the king's sheriff of Kerry. In these early ages, therefore, the districts forming the present county were subject to the power of three great families, the Fitz-Geralds, lords of Desmond; the Fitz-Maurices, lords of Kerry in the north; and the McCarties, tanists of the elevated central and southern regions. Edward III., in 1329, granted to Maurice Fitz-Thomas the name and honour of Earl of Desmond, and all royal liberties within the county of Kerry; the church or cross lands thereof, and the four usual pleas of burnings, rape, forestal, and treasure trove alone excepted. In the following year, the earl deemed this sufficient authority for entirely excluding the king's sheriffs and other ordinary ministers of justice from the county. The extraordinary power of this nobleman, however, brought upon him for a time some jealous persecution by the officers of the crown.

In 1345, having presumed to summon a parliament in opposition to that called by the Lord Justice, Sir Ralph Ufford, the latter overran and seized upon the whole of his possessions, which were not restored to him until 1352. In 1388, Gerald, Earl of Desmond, was formally appointed keeper of the peace in the counties of Kerry and Limerick, with very extensive powers and authority, and in conjunction with Patrick Fox. In 1386, we find John Fitz-Gerald, Earl of Desmond, made sheriff of the Crosses of Kerry; being the lands of the church within its limits, in which the king's ordinary jurisdiction had course. James, Earl of Desmond, about 1425, as lord of the liberties of Kerry, entered into a deed with Patrick Fitz-Maurice Fitz-John, Lord Kerry, "captain or head of his nation," whereby the latter was bound to answer to the earl and his heirs at his assizes.

James, the 15th earl, surrendered, by his deed in the chancery of Ireland, his old family prerogative of exemption from attendance on a parliament summoned in any walled town, except at his pleasure; and covenanted that he would suffer the laws of England to be executed in his county, assist the king's judges in their circuits, and permit subsidies to be raised upon his followers; but these conditions were never fulfilled either by himself or his successors. Thomas, sixteenth Lord or Baron of Kerry, is styled, even in the 5th of Edward VI., "Captain of his nation," an extraordinary mark of the absence of English laws of property and society in this as well as the other old palatinates down to that period: he held his seat in parliament by the title of Baron of Lixnaw.

But a great change in thepolitical condition of the inhabitants soon afterwards took place. Gerald, sixteenth Earl of Desmond, restless, ambitious, and raised to a still higher rank among the most powerful subjects of Europe by the oppressions which his family had exercised over their weaker neighbours, united with these qualities and circumstances a great want of discretion, and disaffection to the English crown, which, in the reign of Elizabeth, arose by mutual jealousies between the government and such of the leading men as had not joined the Reformation. He was imprisoned for a short period in 1568, during which the government of this and of the two contiguous counties was vested in commissioners. The remote southern situation of Kerry rendered it, in the subsequent sanguinary periods, a principal medium of foreign correspondence maintained by the insurgents, whose first attempt was suppressed by Sir John Perrot, in 1572; and the leaders, heads of the native clans of the south, with a few of the old Anglo-Norman knights, submitted to mercy. Although a reward was offered for the apprehension of the Earl of Desmond, after his escape from Dublin in 1574, when he was declared a traitor, he remained quiet in his own territories until 1576, when Sir William Drury was made Lord-President of Munster, and the earl nominally appointed one of his council.

Sir William, with a view to the general reform of the province, resolved to break through Desmond's liberties, and hold assizes in the palatinate of Kerry, which he regarded as a sanctuary for rebels and disturbers of the peace. The earl endeavoured to dissuade him from his design, but without effect. He then, reserving himself for an appeal to the chief governor, assured Drury that he should be received in Kerry with all honour and submission, and invited him to reside at his castle of Tralee. This invitation was accepted, when, on the near approach of Sir William with 120 men, he observed at some distance a body of 700 of Desmond's followers advancing to meet him. The president at once concluded that he had been betrayed, and hastened to charge without waiting an attack. Desmond's followers dispersed at the first onset, and it was explained by the countess, who received the president at the castle, that they had been assembled by her lord merely to entertain him with hunting. Drury then proceeded to execute the laws without control or opposition, except in the unavailing complaints made to the government by the earl.

In 1579, a party of Spaniards and a few native insurgents having landed at Smerwick, in this county, with Saunders, the Pope's nuncio, Sir John of Desmond, the earl's brother, to ingratiate himself with them, procured the murder, at Tralee, of Henry Danvers, an English gentleman, and the two provincial judges sent there to execute justice in the queen's name, together with all their attendants. This transaction completed the determination of the government totally to abolish all the Earl of Desmond's powers of exclusive jurisdiction, which his subsequent rebellion gave an opportunity to effect. This wavering and indecisive conduct, in which he was joined by the Lord of Kerry, brought a protracted war of extermination on the whole province, and, his defection proving every day more certain, he was at length proclaimed a traitor, and his country entered with fire and sword.

The Earl of Ormond and Sir Warham St. Leger wasted his lands, slew numbers of his men, burned his towns, and took his castles (putting both Spaniards and natives to the sword) as far, with the aid of the lord-justice, as the mountains of Slievelogher. They then ravaged and destroyed the district of Corkaguiney from Tralee to Dingle, slaying many of the people. While this desultory warfare was proceeding, however, additional forces, with military stores, landed at Smerwick from Spain; but these troops, after a long siege, surrendered at discretion and were barbarously murdered, together with all who had joined them. Captain Zouch was then appointed, with 450 men, to govern the county and pursue the insurgents, which he did with the utmost rigour; but the English army being soon reduced to an insignificant force, the war again revived with all its horrors; and it was terminated only by the death of the earl, who was slain by a party of common soldiers in a wretched hovel in a wood, where he had taken refuge, a few miles east of Tralee.

Sir John Perrot shortly after gave the government of the palatinate to the queen's sheriff and the lord of Kerry, who had submitted and received pardon from the queen. In 1599, a fresh rebellion had broken out, headed in this county by the sugan or mock Earl of Desmond; his brother John; Patrick, the seventeenth Lord of Kerry; Pierce Lacy, the knight of the Glin or Valley; and Thomas Fitzmaurice, son of the late Baron of Lixnaw, or Kerry: Florence McCarty also took secret part with them. It was, however, suppressed prior to the landing of the Spaniards in 1601, when this event encouraged another general revolt, in which the most noted parties in this county were the McCarties, O'Sullivans, O'Connors, the Lord of Kerry, the Knight of Kerry, and all who had been pardoned for their previous acts of insurgency. They raised and maintained in active service a guerilla force of about one thousand men. A warfare of ravages, with a view to destroy all means of subsistence, conducted by Sir Charles Wilmot, at length forced the insurgents through absolute famine to surrender.

The lands forfeited by these successive rebellions, including the vast possessions of the Earl of Desmond, were portioned out to English adventurers, of whom the principal were Sir William Herbert, Sir Valentine Browne, Sir Edward Denny, Robert Blennerhassett, and Capt. Jenkins Conway, besides whom other settlers obtained grants, from whom the families of Spring Rice, Morris, and Gunn, descended. About this period it was considered to be the most flourishing part of the South of Ireland, abounding with com, and the best inhabited County of Munster. But the state of misery, depopulation, and ruin to which the whole was reduced by these wars was most appalling. The old custom of tanistry was formally abolished here by a judgment of the King's Bench, in 1605.

On the breaking out of the war in 1641, the old native families took part with the insurgents, appointed a governor of the county, and levied men, whose hostilities caused as many of the English gentlemen as were able to retire to join the Lord-President St. Leger, or to pass over into England, while others fortified themselves in places of strength. By the end of 1642 the Irish were masters of every place in the county, with the exception of Ballingarry castle. Rinuncini landed here in Kenmare bay in 1645, and died in a wood near Tulligaron, in the vicinity of Tralee; but the county was finally reduced in 1652, by General Ludlow, who took Ross castle and compelled Lord Muskerry to surrender his troops, amounting to about 5000 men. Extensive grants were now made to new English settlers out of the estates forfeited in these disastrous commotions; and a colony of English was planted on the Kenmare river in the south by Sir William Petty, who obtained large grants of land here, and carried on the iron trade with great activity so long as timber could be procured for smelting.

In 1689, the colony was attacked by the Irish in King James's interest, to whom, after some resistance, it was compelled to surrender on terms; and the Protestant settlers of the entire county were much harassed and plundered, and for the most part driven out. In a report made to King William's government, and now among the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum, this county is described to be "of large extent, almost surrounded by the sea, and in it the most and best harbours of any county in the kingdom; full of woods, bogs, and mountains, yet intermixed with pleasant valleys, full of people, and the most quiet and peaceable part of Ireland; the country full of cattle and great store of corn in the ground; and in the last wars, when all Ireland was reduced, this one county kept near 10,000 men almost two years in action; and hither came the Earl of Clancarty and all the officers of his army, and in Ross, a place by nature of great strength, made good terms and so went off. It may cost more men to reduce it than half Ireland, for the county is full of fastnesses and plenty of provision. The greatest advantage may be made of its harbours, that are for all winds, and near which all ships from the western seas must pass, and if in possession of the French might destroy more merchants of England than out of any parts in France or Ireland."

In 1691, a detachment of William's army tinder Brigadier Levison completely subdued the country, although the Irish inhabitants every where rose to oppose them, and burned Tralee. About 1710, the southern coast was greatly harassed by French privateers, to check whose inroads a redoubt was ordered by parliament to be erected on Valencia island.

Search Topographical Dictionary of Ireland »