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  Kerry History   



"Kingdom of Kerry" Explanation 1

Kerry Coat of Arms

The origin of the expression "The Kingdom" Ciar raige anglicised Kerry means Ciar's Kingdom or Kingdom of Ciar. Ciar was the progenitor of the O'Connor Kerry Clan. Around 65 AD Ciar took possession of an area of land stretching from the river Maine in the south and the Shannon estuary in the north and included the peninsula of Corca Duibhne or Dingle Peninsula. This territory at the time was known as Clar na Cliabh or The Plain of Swords.

By the 6th century it was known as Ciarraige or Ciar's Kingdom. It is mentioned in a 6th Century Manuscript as Ciarraige of the Plain Swords a combination of the old and the new name at the time.

The river known by the anglicised name Cashen in Gaelic is known as Casan Ciarraige Luachra or The Pathway to The Kingdom of Ciar of the Rushes. It was one of the important petty kingdoms of ancient Ireland and the only one of incorporate the word Kingdom as part of its name."  Bertie O'Connor (Thanks to Rocono@aol.com for acquiring this for us)

The Ciarrai, from whom the name of the county derives, invaded and occupied the region in early historical times. They claimed descent from Ciar, son of Fergus, a legendary king of Ulster. In the middle ages Kerry was divided between the kingdoms of Thomond in the north and Desmond in the south, dominated by the O'Briens and the McCarthys respectively. It was later dominated by the Norman Fitzgeralds.

"Kingdom of Kerry" Explanation 2

The following article is taken from; M.P.Ryle, The Kingdom of Kerry: Historical And Descriptive Articles, Dublin: The Irish Associated Press, 1899 (80pp). Contributor John O'Gorman shares this information.

In the preface the author stated that the articles were collected from different publications and attributed this article to The New Ireland Review of May 1898.

The Kingdom of Kerry

A GOOD deal of doubt exists in many minds as to the genesis of this phrase. It is used every other day both in speeches and in writings. The orator who addresses a Kerry multitude, and who wants to round a glowing sentence with effect, refers for a certainty to the "Old Kingdom"; while the writer who is describing the scenic charms of the historic county, or is sympathetically portraying the life and manners of its people, is also sure to introduce the expression. Yet those who constantly refer with familiarity to the “Kingdom of Kerry" know very little, and in most cases perhaps nothing at all, of the origin of the title.

Ignorance on the question is not, however, confined to our own day. Some of the writers and speakers of the past have fallen into most absurd errors regarding it. Thomas Davis evidently thought that John Philpot Curran had originated it, for in the volume of the speeches of the great lawyer which he edited, we find that he introduces portion of a speech delivered by Curran in the Irish House of Commons on the 23rd January, 1787, in these words: The following fragment of a speech on the 23rd of January seems to have originated the phrase, ` Kingdom of Kerry.'" In order to show the absurdity of Davis's idea, I shall quote and examine the fragment to which he refers. Curran said;

"I admit that there maybe local circumstances which would justify the withholding of a writ of election, but they should be of notoriety and well ascertained. I know of no Whiteboys at present impeding the freedom of election. Since disturbances have been spoken of, I declare that I sincerely wish the offenders may be punished, but I sincerely wish that the cause of those disturbances may be removed. For my part, I have done everything, as a magistrate and as a man, to restore order. The low and contemptible state of your magistracy is the cause of much evil, particularly in the Kingdom of Kerry--I say Kingdom, for it seems absolutely no part of the same country. Sir, I will relate to you a circumstance that will give you an idea of the vigilance of the magistrates in that quarter. One Seely, a notorious offender, for whom a reward had been offered by the Government, appeared in the county. A poor cottager was met by a person one morning when going to pay his rent. The person asked him was he not distressed to make up the money. The poor cottager innocently replied, ‘Why should I want money, when I can get fifty pounds for informing against Seely?' For having dropped this expression the wretch's cabin was that night broken open by six armed men, and as himself and his wife and children sat round a little table at their tasteless and scanty meal of dry potatoes, a blunderbuss was discharged on them. Scarcely one of the children escaped being wounded, and the father died on the spot. In Tralee another fellow broke out of gaol, and they are both walking about the country, not skulking or hiding, but in the face of day. To my own knowledge informations 'were laid before a magistrate--a very respectable person--but no step was taken to apprehend them, and the murderer and the outlaw stalk about the land, laughing at the sleeping laws. And I say, sir, to suffer these men again to return into the mass of the people is the severest reproach upon your magistracy."

Now, it is quite possible that Curran may never have heard previously of the expression, and that the words, "Kingdom of Kerry," came unbidden to his lips; but it seems, indeed, strange that Davis, who was so great a lover of the past, and so devoted a student of the old annals of Ireland, should have fallen into the error of believing that Curran, in the speech I have quoted, had originated the phrase. If we examine Curran's speech, we find that the grounds on which he created Kerry a Kingdom were very slight and flimsy indeed. “The low and contemptible state of the magistracy is the cause of much evil, particularly in the Kingdom of Kerry--I say Kingdom, for it seems no part of the same country." Plainly, Curran had a very poor opinion of the magistrates, not only of Kerry, but of the entire country; and the records of the time undoubtedly confirm the correctness of the views which he so forcibly expressed. But the corrupt state of the magistracy would scarcely have supplied a reason for dignifying Kerry by the title of "Kingdom.” We have, therefore, to dismiss Davis's statement that Curran "seems to have originated the phrase," as being very unlikely; and to go back--very far back, indeed--into history to find the origin of it.

The Very Rev. Father Jarlath, a member of the Franciscan Order in Killarney, has written several very learned and interesting papers on the old families of Kerry, and on the historic ruins in the county. These papers display great research, and, may be relied on, to contain the most trustworthy information that can be had in reference to Kerry. The Franciscans have, for many a decade, been identified with the fortunes of Ireland. In dark and evil days, they withstood the tide of persecution that was surging strongly against them, particularly in Kerry. In happier times they are still beloved of the people, and it is gratifying to know that a distinguished member of their distinguished Order is, and has been, devoting his energies and his talents to the rather difficult task of unravelling, the tangled web of Kerry history. In a paper contributed to the Franciscan Annals on the O'Connor Kerry, Father Jarlath traces the title, "Kingdom of Kerry," to Ciar, who was son of Fergus McRoy, King of Ulster, by Meave, the famous Queen of Connaught. Ciar having settled in Munster in the first century, became possessed of the greater part of the territory afterwards called Kerry, from the word Ciarraidhe, or Ciar's Kingdom. Father Jarlath quotes the following verses from a poem by O'Heerin:

"Let us leave the race of Conary of battles,

The Princes of Erna of golden shields;

We come to our friends, the race of Fergus,

They are entitled to demand our attention:

The Kings of Kerry over the clans of Ciar,

O'Connor rules that land by right--

Chief of the plain of fertile fields,

From the strand to the Shannon of clear streams”

"The name or misnomer of the `Kingdom,' given to Kerry, is derived," says Father Jarlath, "from the kingly power possessed by the O'Connors or Ciars in this county long before the English invasion.” According to the same authority, "this Ciar and his posterity possessed West Munster, which comprised the north-western half of the present County of Kerry from the mountain of Sliabh (Slieve) Luachra, to Tarbert, and from the harbour of Tralee, to the mouth of the Shannon, and extending to Upper and Lower Connello in the County of Limerick." This information is practically confirmed in Miss Cusack's "History of the Kingdom of Kerry," which states that "Kerry has obtained its name from Ciar. He and his descendants possessed the territory north of Abbeyfeale and lying between Tralee and the Shannon." Notwithstanding the fact that some of the chieftains in Kerry were called kings before the English invasion, Miss Cusack has a curious theory of her own as to the origin of the title "Kingdom." In a note to her history she writes:--

"The origin of the appellation, `Kingdom of Kerry,' is doubtful. We find Curran using it in a speech made in the Irish House of Commons on the 23rd of January, 1787. He is complaining of the inefficiency of the Irish magistrates in general, and, must I add, of the Kerry magistrates in particular. Their inefficiency, however, would appear to have consisted in too great a leniency towards the guilty which certainly was not discreditable to their kindness in days when the slightest offence was punished with the severest sentence. The term, ` Kingdom of Kerry,' was probably used colloquially before Curran's time, and may have originated when the name of Kerry was substituted for the Kingdom of Desmond."

It is, however, quite evident that the phrase having originated with Ciar was used ever afterwards, and that many of the native chieftains were, as I have already stated, also called kings. According to Miss Cusack, during the reign of Feacha, Cormac MacArt invaded Munster to collect tribute. The "Kings of Loch Lein" were, however, exempt from it.

"There are three kings in great Munster

Whose tribute to Caiseal is not due--

The King of Gabhran, whose hostages are not to be seized on,

The King of Rathleann, the King of Loch Lein."

The Loch Lein referred to is Killarney, and the O'Carrolls were the original lords of it, but they were dispossessed at an early period of Irish history by the warlike O'Donoghues. If the King of Cashel exacted tribute from the Chieftains or the "Kings" of his territory, he also made them some return; and the King of Loch Lein was included in his list. Miss Cusack quotes as follows:--

“Seven steeds to the King of Lein,

Seven drinking horns; seven swords from afar,

Seven shields at the smallest reckoning,

Seven beautiful hounds at Irrluachairr;

Seven mantles with clasps of gold,

And seven horses for careering--

Seven steeds not used to fatten

To the King of Ciarraidhe of combats."

Again, we find that Scannlan, son of Cathal, King of the Eoghanacht, of Loch Lein, and Baedon, son of Muirchertach, King of Ciarraidhe-Luchra, were killed at the battle of Clontarf fighting against the Danes. Surely a county that had so many kings deserved the title of "Kingdom."

I shall now pass to a much later period in Irish, and particularly in Kerry history, to show that this title, "Kingdom," continued to be applied to that county: In 1612 great preparations were made to wall Tralee, the capital then and now of Kerry. The following extract is taken from the petition -- published fully in Miss Cusack's book:--

."To the Right Honorable ye Lord Deputy Governor of Ireland," praying that Tralee might be fortified by the erection of a wall. “Humbly maketh petition unto the Governor, Arthur Denny, of the county of Kerry, Esquire. When the gentry and freeholders of that county perceived by your Honor's care concerning the fortifying of Bandon Bridge how much your Honor tendered and countenanced the effortinge of that work, being already guarded with the propinquitee of two stronge neigboring fortresses, Cork and Kinsale; considering the remoteness of this their own countie, their great distance from anie forte or stronge place of refuge, their disability thereby either to defend their owne or offend their adversaries in time of hostilitie, as to their irretrievable losse, late experience hath taught them, and conceiving great hope how much more serviceable it may be to his Majesty, to your Honor, and the state of this Kingdom, to the common goode of the whole countrie available, and how much more material for defence of all the English there planted already, or to come, and what great movement for continuing alle the malicious or wavering subjects in their duties, that there were a place fortified with a wall in Traley."

The word "Kingdom" is, I think, plainly enough applied here to Kerry. The words that follow it"-- “to the common goode of the whole available countrie" -- make the fact quite manifest.

In a report on the state of Kerry made on May the 27th, 1763, by Lord Herbert and others, I find the following:--

"From the year 1657 to 1688 it is manifest that there had been a strange destruction of woods, and vast number of pipe hhd. and barrel staves exported, yet such was the universal confederacie of the Irish in this particular that though they were probably guilty, yet not one man could be convicted of what he indeed must be guilty of; besides, many malefactors have fled into the countrie, either to hide or ship themselves away. Nor do the countrie people, for fear of their lives or burning of their houses, dare refuse to entertain such persons and other soldiers against whom are exprest statues in that Kingdom; nor are their justices of the peace here able to do what is fitting in the matter for one cause or another."

Here we have a state of things similar to that described by Curran. Yet, from the quotation which I have given, it will be seen that the title "Kingdom" was applied to Kerry even in Government State papers many years before.

In the appendix to Miss Cusack's book I find that one of the McCarthy Mores was in the year 1565 created by Elizabeth "Earl of Glencare in the Kingdom of Kerry, and Viscount of Valentia in. the same county."

I think it is unnecessary to quote further extracts from old Irish annals to prove the antiquity of the appellation “Kingdom of Kerry." Other Irish territories were called Kingdoms also, and Father Jarlath, in one of his interesting papers,, refers to several of them. However, the titles in their cases have not proved adhesive, for Kerry is the only county which to this day enjoys the distinction of being called a "Kingdom.

We know, of course, that Dalkey Island is called a "Kingdom," but the title is a mock one, and dates back only to the 18th century, when a "King" was elected annually with the title of " His facetious Majestie, King of Dalkey, Emperor of Muglins, Defender of his own faith and respecter of all others, and Sovereign of the Illustrious Order of the Lobster and Periwinkles." This king had his "court," and many of the wits and notabilities of the day were attached to it. It is indeed said that Curran was Attorney-General, so that we may lawfully come to the conclusion that the "Illustrious Order of the Lobster and Periwinkles" was a similar institution to the " Monks of the Screw." The Government began to grow suspicious of the Order, and believing that, conspiracies were hatched by its members, suppressed it.

Kerry's title, however, is a genuine one; it bears the imprimatur of History, and all who desire to see old titles and traditions preserved by the people, will continue to refer to the historic southern county as the "Kingdom of Kerry."

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Modern History Time Line

1172-  Clans surrender to Henry II
1210-  King John, the one disliked by Robin Hood,
            creates the boundaries of the county.
1580-  Ill-fated rebellion of the Earl of Desmond,
            the end of Irish Rule, the coming of "Adventurers" like Sir Walter Raleigh, given land for their service to the King.
1695-  The Penal Laws (must read!), In the Penal Days
1780-  Rural Rioting throughout the decade
1793-  The Dingle Massacre
1821-  Rural Rioting, Tithe Wars, Martial law declared
1820's-  Daniel O'Connell of Kerry Catholic Emancipation Movement
1845-7-  Potato Famine Kerry
1867-  Caherciveen Fenians lead futile Rebellion
1880-9-  Rural Rioting associated with the Land League Movement


North Kerry in the Irish Civil War (and a bit before)
Photo of  I.R.A. Officers - Tralee
Photo of "A" (Boherbee) Company 1st (Tralee) Battalion
Thomas Ashe - Kerry Patriot
In the Penal Days
1824 Survey of Irish Schools
Dingle Hospital During the Famine
Lord Ventry - landowner, Corkaquiny Barony (Dingle Peninsula
Why wasn't fishing a solution during the famine years?
Daniel of Dunloe
Cherishing the Irish Diaspora - by President of Ireland