ByRoute 1.4 Co. Kerry (NW) // Co. Galway (S)
These pages describe ByRoute 1 between Tralee (Co. Kerry) and Galway City.
Ardfert (Co. Kerry / Northwest)
Ardfert (Ard Fhearta -”a wonderful place on an eminence” / “the Hill of Miracles” / “The Height of the Burial Mounds” / “the high place of Ert” – in reference to Saint Ert / Erc, who founded a monastic community here and was made a bishop in 461 AD) (pop. 800) is nowadays effectively an outer suburb of Tralee, with a reasonable range of goods and services, including several attractive pubs and eateries. (pic: Steve Baker)
Located in the ancient land of the Ui Fearba / Hy Ferba, traditionally ruled by the Leanes, Ardfert was where Saint Brendan the Navigator was educated in the C6th and later founded a Cathedral church, destroyed by fires in 1089 and 1151. Under the Normans, Ardfert became part of the Barony of Clanmaurice, ruled by the FitzMaurice dynasty.
Ardfert’s Ecclesiastical Remains
The ruins of Ardfert Cathedral and two smaller churches form the historical centre of the village.
St Brendan’s Cathedral is a fortress-like structure built at various stages from the C12th to the C17th (with part of an older stone building incorporated into the north wall). It has a fine Romanesque west doorway and a spectacular row of nine lancets in the south wall, known as the “Nine Choirs of Angels”. Two late C13th or early C14th effigies of ecclesiastical figures are mounted on either side of the magnificent C13th east window. The battlements were added in the C15th. (Photo by Kglavin)
Temple na Hoe (“Church of the Maiden”) is a fine example of late Romanesque architecture, while Temple na Griffin is a plain C15th structure with an interesting carving of a wyvern on one of the windows.
Extended and converted to Protestant use, the Cathedral complex was reduced to something like its present state in 1641 at the outbreak of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, and partially restored c.1990.
There is an Ogham Stone in the grounds, together with a number of early Christian and medieval grave slabs. Several members of the Crosbie family are buried here.
One large tomb contains the bones of John O’Donnell (d.1879), a direct ancestor of the military historian Patrick Denis O’Donnell (d.2005), whose family still owns the summit overlooking Ardfert.
(A forebear from Tyrconnell had been made steward of Ardfert after Hugh Roe O’Donnell, on his way to the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, sent an expedition to recover the territory of his ally, Fitzmaurice, Lord of Kerry, who had lost it and his infant son to Sir Charles Wilmot. They captured Short Castle, of which no trace remains).
The C13th Franciscan Friary to the north east of the village is of equal merit. Founded c.1253 by Thomas FitzMaurice, 1st Baron of Kerry, the church and transept chapel are complete, as is the unusually positioned tower. A small section of the convent still stands, including a lovely cloister.
The complex was taken over as a barracks in 1584, but the friars returned in 1613, after which they came and went as circumstances permitted until at least as late as 1763.
The friary church should be visited in conjunction with the Cathedral, which it strongly resembles.
Ardfert’s Round Tower fell in a storm c.1771.
Saint Brendan’s church (RC) was consecrated in 1855. It claims to have been the first Roman Catholic church built in Kerry in 300 years.
Ardfert Abbey took its name from the Franciscan Friary, but was in fact a mansion, the seat of the Crosbie family from the appointment by Queen Elizabeth I of Dr. John Crosbie, of Maryborough, Queen’s County, to the bishopric of Ardfert in 1600.
His son, Col. David Crosbie, who distinguished himself in the service of King Charles I, wrote in 1653 that “the Irish” had burnt his house at Ardfert, which appears to have been first completed in 1635.
His descendants successively attained the titles of Baron Branden, Viscount Crosbie, and Earl of Glandore (extinct 1815). They controlled Ardfert’s two seats in the Irish House of Commons until the constituency was disenfranchised by the Act of Union in 1800 (and presumably received the customary huge solatium); and until the Borough was abolished by Westminster in 1840, effectively ran Ardfert Corporation with its burgesses, courts and bridewell (but judicial functions were performed from 1822 by a Seneschal of the 1st Earl of Listowel, who had bought certain feudal rights from the 25th Baron of Kerry, Henry Petty-FitzMaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne / 4th Earl of Kerry).
The exceptionally magnificent mansion is said to have had beautifully landscaped grounds, an housed an extensive library, family portraits, landscape paintings and beautiful furniture, fortunately mostly evacuated before the building was burned down by the IRA in 1922.
Abbeylands, the Crosbie agent’s house built in 1870, has been used by the Roman Catholic Diocesan authorities as the Ardfert Retreat Centre since 1983.
The Glandore Gate and surviving estate walls contribute to the character and identity of the village.
The Fountain, a 12ft high ornamental monument in the centre of the village, bears a plaque reading: 1901 / The Ardfert water-supply / was provided by / Lieut Colonel Talbot-Crosbie / and this fountain erected to his memory / and for the public good / by his brother Lindsey Talbot-Crosbie / of Ardfert Abbey. The structure has bullet marks from when the Black and Tans invaded the village in November 1920, and was the only local source of fresh water until 1970.
Brandonwell House is an attractive C19th farmhouse with a pretty garden close to the Cathedral ruins, and provides good B&B accommodation.
Ardfert is not far from Abbeydorney on ByRoute.
A nearby townland is called after Saint Aubin, much venerated by the Normans. The 1st Lord Kerry, Thomas FitzMaurice, founded a Franciscan friary there in 1253, and his son and successor Nicholas built a leper house there in 1312. It was a bishopric until 1660.
There are two fine Standing Stones at Liscahane and at The Gallán.
Kilmoyley (pop. 500), an unprepossessing crossroads village best known for its GAA club, is the location of the church of the Sacred Heart (RC), built in 1873 to a design by the leading Dublin architect George Ashlin, replacing a thatched mud-walled structure erected in 1806.
Ballyheigue Bay, between Fenit Island and Kerry Head, is lined by a virtually continuous sandy foreshore, with dunes rising up to 40ft in places.
Carrahane Strand, Banna Strand & Ballyheigue Beach swarm with thousands of Tralee residents on warm summer days. Watersports are popular, as the beaches are suitable for sailing, windsurfing and kitesurfing. There is very good rock fishing and shore angling for Bass and Flounder.
Sir Roger Casement recalled his doomed landing here on 21st April 1916 , at the height of WWI, when he tried to reach Ballyheigue from a German U-19 submarine but ended up on Banna Strand after his dinghy capsized. He spent the night waiting for help in an ancient Ring Fort near the beach, where he was eventually found by the British authorities and charged with treason, espionage and sabotage.
Convicted and sentenced to death, he wrote: “When I landed in Ireland that morning… Swamped and swimming ashore on an unknown strand, I was happy for the first time in over a year. Although I knew that this fate waited on me, I was, for one brief spell, happy and smiling once more. I cannot tell you what I felt. The sandhills were full of skylarks rising in the dawn, the first I had heard for years — the first sound I heard as I waded through the breakers, and they were rising all the time up to the old rath at Currahane… and all around were primroses and wild violets and the singing of the skylarks in the air, and I was back in Ireland again“.
The ballad Lonely Banna Strand tells the story of Casement’s arrest and subsequent execution.
Ballyheigue (Co. Kerry / Northwest)
Ballyheigue / Ballyheige (Baile Uí Thaidhg) (pop. 2050) is a scenic seaside resort.
The origin of the name is attributed by some to its location by a beach (“traigh” in old Irish), and by others to the Tadgh O’Connor clan of Fenit. The most widely accepted story attributes the etymlogical source to Thadhg Cantillon, a member of a Norman family that dominated the area from the early C13th, gradually becoming “more Irish than the Irish themselves“, until their lands were confiscated by Queen Elizabeth I; one of the Cantillon descendants who fled to France was recognised officially there as Baron de Ballyheigue. The town’s most influential son was the economist Richard Cantillon, who coined the term entrepeneur in 1735. The legend-enshrouded family lives on locally, but the manor was granted to a member of the Crosbie family.
The Golden Lion
On 28th October 1730 a Danish East Indiaman called Den Gylden Løve (The Golden Lion), en route from Copenhagen to Tranquebar in India, was driven ashore locally; the captain and crew were given shelter by Thomas Crosbie MP, and the cargo stored in al old tower on his property while legal proceedings were set in (very slow) motion.
On 4th June 1731 the tower was attacked and twelve chests of silver were stolen. The robbery and subsequent investigation became a major cause celebre; one commentator, writing in 1937, compared it to the Dreyfus Affair.
The focus of scandal was the role, if any, played by figures within the Kerry gentry in organising the heist and distributing the loot. Members of the notable families of Crosbie, Denny, Fitzmaurice, Blennerhasset and Fitzgerald had their names tarnished and their probity questioned in the course of proceedings of dubious legality.
In 1736, Arthur Crosbie of Tubrid was acquitted in Dublin after a long-delayed and sensational trial. Archdeacon Francis Lauder of Ardfert was also tried and acquitted, as were his wife and son. Among the known participants in the robbery, there was a hanging, a suicide and a possible death by poisoning.
According to Bryan MacMahon‘s excellent article on the subject, “The protracted legal proceedings were conducted in such a manner as to cause the Danes to lay charges of corruption and malpractice at the highest levels of the judiciary. King George II requested a full account of the affair from the Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Dorset. The Danish government, through its envoy in London, made its displeasure known in terms that gave great offence to the English king.”
While Lady Margaret Crosbie emerges both in folklore and from the known facts as the greatest villain, the case was never fully resolved.
Ballyheigue Castle, overlooking the village, was built by the Crosbie family in 1812 (reputedly with underground storage space for contraband), and pointlessly burnt down by the IRA during the War of Independence. (Photo by Kglavin). The castle was allegedly haunted, and a paranormal appearance of a cavalier was recorded in June 1962 by the military historian and writer Patrick Denis O’Donnell. The appearance was linked to the famous Golden Lion affair of 1731, as it occurred on the anniversary of the attack on the tower. The castle grounds have been turned into a golf course.
An impressive Coastguard Station was built c.1860 in order to stamp out smuggling. In May 1920, during the War of Independence, local IRA guerrillas set fire to it while the Coastguards were at sea. After briefly suspending operations to allow a woman to retrieve a ring, the arsonists chose not to raze the building; their leader Michael Pierce instructed his men to fill the water tanks with petrol and oil, and when the returning Coastguards trained hoses on the smouldering edifice, the results were spectacular. Fortunately, nobody was killed.
A statue of Sir Roger Casement, erected in 1984, commemorated his doomed 1916 beach landing.
Ballyheigue Maritime Centre houses the 63-foot mammoth skeleton of a 40 tonne Fin Whale, one the biggest of its kind, together with other interesting marine exhibits.
The church of the Blessed Virgin (RC), aka St Mary’s, was designed by Edwin Bradbury in 1908 and completed with the erection of the tower and spire in 1910. Set a little apart from the village, it contains some very impressive stained glass windows.
O’Neill’s B&B and Self-Catering apartments come highly recommended
Ballyheigue’s most famous recent resident was the handicapped writer and painter Christy Brown.
The Story of Ballyheigue by Bryan MacMahon is a good read, available from local and online outlets.
Kerry Head is the peninsula separating Tralee Bay from the Mouth of the Shannon, where the 400km-long River Shannon finally reaches the Atlantic Ocean.
Sparsely populated, this is an excellent place for walking, cycling, ship watching, dolphin and whale spotting.
Maulin Mountain (218m) command great views of Banna Strand. The summit is part of the Kerry Way walking route.
Kerryhead District Electoral Division (DED) includes the hamlet of of lendey and the townlands of Tiduff (not to be confused with Tiduff on the Dingle Peninsula) and Dreenagh.
The Cahercarbery Forts are ancient structures, much eroded by time, which are believed to have been used as refuges in time of war or during storms some 2000 years ago.
An Clai Rua (“the Red Ditch“), an earthen bank about 0.5m high and 2m wide that can be traced intermittently stretching across the headland and westwards into County Limerick, is thought to be thousands of years old. Its purpose is unknown.