Tralee Courthouse, designed by Sir Richard Morrison and built in 1835, is used for regular District and Circuit Court sittings. Two cannons commemorate those Kerrymen who died in the Crimean War (1854-1856) and the Indian Rebellion (1857). (Photo by Kglavin)
Writing in 1854, the antiquarian Rev. Arthur Blennerhassett Rowan observed: “If ever there was a new town, Tralee is one. There are in it men old enough to remember the building of almost every house now standing. Everything in it is new. There is a new court house – and a new jail – and the new barracks and the new poor house – new houses – new scouts hall – new shops on all sides of the street – new plate glass fronts in their windows – new flagway underfoot – new lights (gas light) overhead – the new canal – and we soon hope to see the new railway station.”
Tralee’s Mainline Railways
Tralee’s economic prospects improved dramatically when the GSWR extended their 1852 Mallow / Killarney line to the town in July 1859. The Waterford & Limerick Railway then extended their tracks west of Tralee to places in north County Kerry such as Listowel and Newcastle West, this becoming known as the North Kerry Line. Tralee was also a starting point for trains to Fenit, which ran parallel to the North Kerry Line for a 1½ miles outside Tralee before diverging southwest to the fishing village.
Tralee Casement station, originally named Tralee South, was opened in July 1859, and still retains its Victorian buildings. Renamed in Aptil 1966 in commemoration of Roger Casement, executed for his failed role the 1916 Easter Rising, it is currently served by about seven trains a day during the week. Passengers can avail of a limited number of direct Dublin and Cork trains, but usually have to change at Mallow for services to those cities.
On 24th April 1901 the 02:30 Mallow to Tralee mail goods train failed to stop, and ran into the buffer stops at a speed estimated at between 25 and 30 mph. The driver of the train and a guard who had been travelling on the footplate were killed instantly. The fireman died a few hours later.
Passenger services from Tralee to Limerick had ceased in 1963, but the line remained in use for goods until 1977, it was eventually lifted in 1988. The Great Southern Railway Preservation Society planned to reopen the Fenit branch as a heritage railway, but their plans came to naught.
Tralee’s population was recorded for the first time in 1861 as slightly over 10,000 people.
St John’s church
St John’s church (RC), a Gothic Revival edifice designed by JJ McCarthy, standing on the site of a chapel dating from 1780 (described in 1837 as “a spacious and handsome edifice, the entrance to which from the High street is through a fine avenue bordered with trees“), was built between 1854 and 1861 with the addition in 1870 of the sandstone tower and splendid 200 ft limestone spire that dominates Tralee’s skyline. The church was enlarged in 1960 and liturgically re-ordered in 1990.
The exceptionally fine Sanctuary Window (1860) is by Michael O’Connor, and the Stations of the Cross are by Sean Keating, There are also sculptures by Baldacchino and Gabriel Hayes, stained glass windows by Earley, and an impressive organ. The Old Baptistry contains several interesting pieces, including C13th effigies said to be of the twins of Thomas, 12th Earl of Desmond.
Two Italian marble angels, each holding a holy water font, were installed in 1918 and survived the 1990s modernisation programme. Positioned at the end of the main aisle, the left one smiles sweetly while the right one looks dour. A non-Catholic Hong Kong woman visiting a sick relative in hospital in Tralee in 2011 was inspired by these angels to make an anonymous gift of €100,000 to the church in 2013.
The Dominican Priory & church of the Holy Cross (RC) in Day Place, designed by George Ashlin and EW Pugin, was inaugurated in 1871, and is still home to a community of friars. The church is incomplete, as the expected donations to build a spire did not materialise. The interior has a lovely wooden roof supported by tall arches on marble shaft columns. The east end has fine stained glass and mosaic decoration. Lots of the original fixtures and fitting remain intact.
The Dominican Statue erected in 1987 on Dominic St. was moved to Staughton’s Row in 2005, but still stands near the site of the medieval foundation, now the Abbey Car Park. Designed by Noel Fitzgibbon and Paddy O’Donnell, the monument commemorates the Order’s service in Tralee during the Penal Law years, when individual friars lived and ministered among the people, regarded by the government of the day as treasonable activity punishable by death.
The church of Our Lady & St Brendan (RC) on Upper Rock St is a striking modern edifice containing several fine works of art.
Ashe Memorial Hall
The Ashe Memorial Hall, an imposing sandstone building at one end of Denny St, was erected in 1928 and dedicated to the memory of Thomas Ashe (1885- 1917), a 1916 Easter Rising leader who was born in Lispole on the Dingle Peninsula and died on hunger strike in Dublin. (Photo – Kglavin)
The Hall housed local authority offices until 1992, when the current TC moved to new offices on Prince’s Quay,
The Kerry County Museum now occupies the Hall, incorporating an entertaining inter-active reconstruction of medieval Geraldine Tralee and a colourful presentation of County Kerry’s seasonal changes.
Tralee Town Park, the former Denny demesne extending over 76 rolling acres on three sides of the Hall , contains a number of sculptures. William Pembroke Mulchinock (1820 — 1864), who wrote The Rose of Tralee, is honoured by a fountain and is also depicted in a bronze statue installed in 2009 in the recently created Garden of the Senses, while Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (1890 — 1995) is commemorated by a stone unveiled by her daughter, Jean Kennedy Smith, US ambassador to Ireland. The attractive park is particularly fragrant in summer when the Rose Garden, one of the most extensive collections in Ireland, is in full bloom. It also has surprising quantity of subtropical plants; even bananas grow here.
The Siamsa National Folk Theatre of Ireland, also located in the Park, was founded in 1974 to celebrate Ireland’s Gaelic cultural heritage through expert performances including music, song, dance and drama.The shows can range from traditional Irish theatre to productions of well-known American and British plays to Stand-Up Comedy acts. An art gallery located within the theatre showcases the work of local artists.
The Dúchas Theatre on Edward St provides an atmospheric setting for traditional song, dance and céilis. Tralee also has an Omniplex Cinema on Dan Spring Road
Ashe St (formerly Nelson St), recently restored and partially pedestrianised, features other historic landmarks such as the old Mill and the Market, unfortunately currently disused. The Mall is another architecturally impressive thoroughfare with interesting shops etc. Bridge St. and some of the less obvious streets and lanes also repay browsing.
Prince’s Quay, originally built beside the Big River, was redeveloped in the C19th for the Tralee Ship Canal linking the town to the nearby port of Blennerville. The canal silted up and fell into disuse for many years, but has recently been dredged. Prince’s Quay has now been remodelled as a Marina.
Kerry General Hospital, Tralee, opened as Tralee General Hospital in 1984, is the second largest in the HSE South Region. The Bon Secours Hospital, owned by the Roman Catholic Bon Secours Sisters, offers healthcare to privately insured patients.
Tralee’s Institute of Technology, based on two futuristic campuses (one shared since 2001 with the Kerry Technology Park enterprise incubation centre), has over 3,500 students at any one time enrolled on courses ranging from Hotel, Culinary & Tourism, Creative Media & Information Technology and Agricultural & Manufacturing Engineering to Biological & Pharmaceutical Sciences, Nursing & Health Care Studies and Social Sciences.
Tralee has seven secondary schools, five explicitly Roman Catholic, including Mercy School, Mounthawk, the second largest of its kind in Ireland, and St Mary’s CBS, aka “The Green”, housed in a fine old building with an interesting modern extension, plus the Irish language Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí and the Vocational Tralee Community College. Tralee’s primary schools number nine explicitly Roman Catholic establishments, including the Irish language Gaelscoil Mhic Easmainn, plus one Church of Ireland establishment and the non-denominational Tralee Educate Together.
The Kerryman weekly local newspaper was founded in 1904 and became Ireland’s first dual format newspaper in 2006. It had an average circulation of 19,886 during the first half of 2011. The main office is on Denny St.
Kerry’s Eye, a weekly local newspaper founded by Pádraig Kennelly in 1974 and published every Thursday, with a circulation of c. 25,000, is still owned and run by the Kennelly family.
The Austin Stack GAA ground, popular with players and supporters for its great facilities, is named after a local hero.
Tralee’s sporting politicians
Austin Stack (1879 – 1929) who captained Kerry’s Gaelic football team to All-Ireland victory in 1904, played an active role in the IRB and the Irish Volunteers, including preparations for Sir Roger Casement‘s landing (but did not attempt to rescue him from police custody). He was sentenced to death for his involvement in the 1916 Easter Rising, but had his sentence commuted and was released under general amnesty in June 1917. He was elected as an abstentionist Sinn Féin MP for Kerry West in the 1918 Westminster election, becoming a member of the First Dáil.
He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, took part in the subsequent Civil War, was captured in 1923 and went on hunger strike for 41 days before being released in July 1924.
He was elected to the 3rd Dáil at the 1922 general election and subsequent elections as an Anti-Treaty Sinn Féin TD for the Kerry constituency. When Éamon de Valera founded Fianna Fáil in 1926, Stack remained with Sinn Féin, being re-elected to the Dáil at the June 1927 general election. His health never recovered after his hunger strike and he died in a Dublin hospital, aged 49.
John Joe Sheehy (1897–1980), whose brother Jimmy was killed in the British Army in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, participated in the War of Independence as commander of the Boherbee company of the IRA. In the Civil War, when Free State troops landed in Kerry as part of a seaborne offensive, he was in command of the Anti-Treaty garrison in Tralee. After the Army took the town, Sheehy retreated, burning the barracks. As the conflict became a guerrilla affair, he found himself in charge of three ‘columns’ in the Ballymacthomas area. He and Tom McEllistrim were in charge of an attack on Castlemaine in January 1923.
Later, although was still on the run, he managed to play football for Kerry, as the team captain Con Brosnan, though a member of the Free State army, guaranteed his safe passage, so Sheehy paid into Munster and All Ireland finals, slipped off his street clothes, played, and then disappeared back into the crowd. He also played hurling with Tralee Parnells. Sheehy captained Kerry to the All-Ireland title in 1930. Three of his sons – Seán Óg, Niall and Paudie – all won All-Ireland titles with Kerry in the 1960s.
Sheehy remained active in Provisional Sinn Féin until his death, supporting the IRA campaign. John Joe Sheehy Road is named after him on the north side of Tralee town.
Daniel “Dan” Spring (1910 – 1998),in whose honour Dan Spring Road south of Tralee’s town centre is named, was a local trade union official who captained the Kerry Gaelic football side to win the All-Ireland final in 1940 and also played rugby for Munster. In 1943 he was elected as the first ever Labour Party TD in Kerry and though he never held any significant post on a national level, concentrated on his constituency work and was returned in every election he stood until he retired in 1981, when his son Dick, a leading Munster rugby player, successfully contested the seat and went on to become head of the Labour Party and Tánaiste (deputy Prime Minister) of Ireland. Dan Spring Road is on the south side of Tralee town.
The Tralee Sports Centre has an impressive gym, pool, and sport fields.
Although the Kerry Cricket Club can trace its origins to 1872, its claim to being Tralee’s oldest sports association has a historical continuity problem. The town has an exceptionally strong GAA tradition, with several local clubs producing outstanding Gaelic footballers over the years. Other groups cater for rugby, soccer, basketball, handball, hockey, golf, pitch & putt, tennis, badminton, cycling, horse riding, swimming, scuba diving, rowing, sailing, kayaking, surfing, athletics, triathlon and various martial arts.
The Kingdom Greyhound Stadium offers dog racing several times a week.
Ballybeggan Park Race Course, laid out in 1898 on the former estate of Ballybeggan Castle (held by the Hussey family until 1641, when it withstood a long rebel siege, and subsequently owned by the powerful Morris family until they sold the land c. 1837 to Sir James O’Connell, a brother of Daniel “the Liberator”), was long the venue for the Tralee Races, first recorded nearby in 1767. The course was closed in 2008, but there is some talk of reopening it soon.
Oakpark, a house built by John Bateman c. 1822, replaced Killeen, a late C17th country house recorded in 1786 as the seat of Rowland Bateman. The estate was purchased in the late 1840s by Maurice Sandes, who built Oakpark House c.1857. Later owned by Falkiner Sandes, and aka Collis-Sandes House, this building was sold in 1922, and is now used as offices. The grounds, described by Lewis in 1837 as “well wooded with oak, among which are some trees of singular size and beauty, and open to the public“, are now the mainly residential Oakpark district.
The Rose of Tralee
The Rose of Tralee is a song composed by William Pembroke Mulchinock (1820 — 1864), whose family owned a drapery shop in the town. According to local tradition, he fell deeply in love with Mary, the daughter of a domestic servant. To prevent him “marrying beneath his station,” young William was quickly packed off to France, from where he made his way to India and was wounded in a local war. On arriving back in Tralee he saw a funeral coming down the street and was told that it was Mary’s. He joined the cortège and, as soon as he reached home, composed the famous ditty.
The Rose of Tralee festival has its origins in the local Carnival Queen, once an annual town event, fallen by the wayside due to post-war emigration. In 1957, the Race Week Carnival was resurrected in Tralee, and it featured a Carnival Queen. The idea for the Rose of Tralee festival to bring more tourists to the town during the horse racing meeting and to encourage ex-pats back to their native Tralee is credited to Dan Nolan, then owner and managing director of The Kerryman newspaper, and the competition started in 1959.
Originally, only women from Tralee were eligible to compete; in the early 1960s it was extended to include any women from Kerry, and in 1967 it was further extended to include any women of Irish birth or ancestry. In 2008 unmarried mothers were allowed to enter the contest for the first time.
The winning Rose is the woman deemed to best match the attributes relayed in the song: “lovely and fair”. In contrast to beauty pageants, there is no swimwear section in the Rose of Tralee contest and the contestants are not judged on their appearances but rather their over-all personality. The festival bills itself as celebration of the “aspirations, ambitions, intellect, social responsibility and Irish heritage” of modern young women.
The International Rose of Tralee Festival, held every August, is nowadays a cringe-inducing celebration of Auld Ire-land aimed at sentimental Irish Diaspora descendants in the USA and elsewhere, hosted by smarmy smirking RTE TV presenters at their most fatuous and inane. Many think this national embarrassment should have been exterminated tears ago.
The Festival Dome is occasionally used for concerts etc.
Tralee Set Dancing & Traditional Music Festival takes place in mid-May.
Féile na mBláth / Tralee Garden Festival, held in mid-June since 2006, features various horticultural contests and events plus an Arts & Crafts exhibition, a Dog Show, Jazz in the Park, a Teddy Bear Picnic, tours of the park, Kerry Poetry Circle recitals in the Garden of the Senses, an organic cook up in the Community Garden, a display of vintage cars and tractors around the Ashe Hall, police, fire brigade and civil defence demonstrations, lunchtime Army Band concerts in The Square and the Munster Pipe Band Competition.
Tralee & Evirons, conveniently close to the wonderful Dingle Peninsula, form part of ByRoute 1, while Tralee town is due south of Listellick on ByRoute 7