25 August 2020

The summer ‘Road Trip’
begins in Kenmare
on the Ring of Kerry

Henry Street in colourful Kenmare … many of street names recall members of the Petty Fitzmaurice family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

This week’s ‘Road Trip’ began at Kenmare in south Co Kerry, at the beginning of the Ring of Kerry, at the junction of the Iveragh Peninsula and the Beara Peninsula.

Kenmare’s name in Irish is An Neidín, meaning ‘the little nest,’ and gives its name Jimmy McCarthy’s song ‘As I leave behind Neidín,’ best known for its recoding by Mary Black. But the name Kenmare is also Irish in origin, and is the anglicised form of Ceann Mara, meaning ‘Head of the Sea,’ a reference to the head of Kenmare Bay.

The area was granted to Sir William Petty in 1656 as his payment for completing the Down Survey, mapping Ireland.

Although various rectors and vicars are named in the late mediaeval period, the modern town only truly came into existence when Sir William Petty laid out a new town in Kenmare in 1670, inviting English settlers to live there.

The town was attacked in 1685, but Kenmare was re-established soon again and became a thriving coaching town on the route between Killarney and Bantry.

The names of the main streets that form a triangle at the centre of the town reflect the formative role played in Kenmare by the Petty-Fitzmaurice family. Their family titles include Marquess of Lansdowne, Earl of Shelburne and Earl of Kerry, and they have given those names to many places in Dublin, including Lansdowne Road, Shelbourne Road and the Shelbourne Hotel. In a similar way, they have given names to many streets and places in Calne in Wiltshire.

In Kenmare, Main Street was originally known as William Street, names after William Petty-Fitzmaurice (1737-1805), 1st Marquis of Lansdowne; as Lord Shelburne, he was the British Prime Minister in 1782-1783. Henry Street in Kenmare was named after his second son, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice (1780-1863), 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne and British Chancellor and Home Secretary. Shelburne Street also takes its name from one of the family titles, although the title originated in Co Wexford.

Saint Patrick’s Church, Kenmare … rebuilt in 1856 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The first notable Rector of Kenmare in the late 17th century was the Revd Thomas Palmer, who had been a page of honour to Anne Hyde, wife of the future King James II. Palmer settled in Kenmare when he received a grant of land at Kenmare in 1652, and he became Rector of Kenmare in 1673.

Palmer was also a magistrate for Co Kerry, a Judge of the Admiralty Court of Munster, and a Judge of the Consistorial Court in the Diocese of Ardfert. He was twice married, and his second wife Shelah was a daughter of one of the most important local Gaelic chieftains, The O’Sullivan More.

During the Williamite Wars at the end of the 17th century, Palmer’s house in Killowen was attacked and burnt. The rector would have been killed but for the fact that his wife Shelah spoke Irish and managed to bargain with the attackers.

Palmer’s grandson, the Revd Thomas Orpen, was Rector of Kenmare for 40 years from 1727 to 1767 and was the ancestor of a well-known clerical and artistic family.

The Revd Fitzgerald Tisdall, who was Rector of Kenmare for a short time in 1808-1809, had commanded a Yeomanry corps against the French invasion at Crookhaven, Co Cork, during the 1798 Rising. He was in Kenmare only a few months when he was murdered at Priest’s Leap, near Kenmare, on Easter Day, 26 March 1809.

The old church in Kenmare was rebuilt in 1814 at a cost of £658, of which £400 came as a loan from the Board of First Fruits, and the rest was raised by subscription.

The church built in 1814 was replaced by Saint Patrick’s Church, built in 1856 and consecrated on 31 August 1858.

The Poor Clare convent in Kenmare was founded in 1861 by five nuns, including Sister Mary Frances Cusack (‘the Nun of Kenmare’), who was the author of many books.

The Lansdowne estate was one of the principal proprietors in the Kenmare area, and did much to promote the progress of the town, building schools and a suspension bridge that was replaced in 1932.

Dean Charles Maurice Gray-Stack, a former curate in Rathkeale and Nantenan (1949-1953), later became Rector of Kenmare (1961-1985), and during his time there he was also Precentor of Limerick (1963-1966) and Dean of Ardfert (1966-1985).

The Revd Michael Cavanagh has been the priest-in-charge of Kenmare, Kilcrohane, Dromod and Valentia since 2010.

We left Kenmare and Neidín behind as we continued west along the Ring of Kerry towards Sneem, with Waterville ahead of us.

The Lansdowne Hotel recalls the town’s principal proprietors (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

As I leave behind Neidín
It’s like purple splashed on green
My soul is strangely fed
Through the winding hills ahead
And she plays a melody
On wind and streams for me

Won’t you remember?
Won’t you remember?
Won't you remember me?

And we wind and climb and fall
Like the greatest waltz of all
Float across the floor
Her sweet breath outside the door
And it’s time that I was gone
Cross the silver tear

Won’t you remember?
Won’t you remember?
Won’t you remember me?

Won’t you remember?
Won’t you remember?
Won’t you remember me?

As I leave behind Neidín
In the hall where we have been
Rhododendrons in your hair
In the mountain scented air
I still feel her spirit song
Cross the silver tear

Won’t you remember?
Won’t you remember?
Won’t you remember me?

Won’t you remember?
Won’t you remember?
Won’t you remember me?

I leave behind Neidín

Shelbourne Road … one of the street names recalling the Petty-Fitzmaurice family in Kenmare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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