Tralee & Environs (Co. Kerry)

Ratass (Co. Kerry / West)

Ratass / Rathass, an area southeast of Tralee town centre, features some of the oldest local landmarks.

Ratass Cemetery

 

Ratass / Rathass cemetery, the largest graveyard in Kerry and the main burial place for Tralee,  dates from the early medieval Christian period, and the  Ogham Stone in the church suggests the area had significance from an even earlier period.

 

The C11th stone church is unusual. (Photo – laurence dunne)

 

Ratass  was briefly important after it was included in the list of Sees drawn up by the Synod of Rathbreasail in 1111, which marked the transition of the Irish Church from a monastic to a diocesan and parish-based organisation: however, its jurisdiction was transferred to Ardfert in 1117.

Tralee Workhouse, where thousands perished during the Great Famine, (and where on 5th November 1847 a crowd of destitute people marched carrying a black “flag of distress“, broke down the entrance gate and only departed after a struggle with police and troops), continued in use as St Catherine’s County Hospital until the 1980s. The surviving buildings have been renovated and are now used as County Council offices.

Ballymullan / Ballymullin Castle, built by the Geraldines of the barony of Trughmackncy, was once a fortress of considerable importance. It was renamed Castle Morris by an English Cromwellian adventurer who also acquired Ballybeggan Castle and  whose largely military descendants plated a prominent and at times flamboyant role locally for almost two centuries; the last, Samuel Morris (1772 – 1838), Captain of the Kerry Militia and High Provost of Tralee for many years, whose financial affairs were the subject of two Acts of Parliament, had 19 children by his second wife Sarah (née Stoughton, 1759 – 1850), the eldest of whom became a Baronet in Dublin (but eight siblings died young). Samuel was compelled to sell his estates c. 1837 to Sir James O’Connell, a brother of Daniel “the Liberator”, and on his death was buried in the family vault in the ruined church at Ratass, where he was joined in due course by his spouse. His ancestral home was recalled in a song: “Ballymullan’s old castle stands lonely and hoary, / Silently glassing its shades in the Lee, / Telling in eloquent silence the story, / That hangs round its walls in the Vale of Tralee.”

Castlemorris House was built in 1790 by Caleb Chute, using parts of  Ballymullen Castle. In the 1830s the house passed to a namesake relative of Daniel  O’Connell, whose wife Frances (née Shine Lawler) bore him 10 children; locals say that it was later occupied by the OC of Ballymullen Barracks. Since 1996 it has been run as a highly rated B&B.

Ballymullen Barracks

 

Ballymullen Barracks, completed in 1815, was home to many well known British Army units over the years, but the regiment that is perhaps best associated with it was the Royal Munster Fusiliers, who had their depot and Regimental Headquarters here. Tralee and district provided many recruits, and their Regimental History shows quite a number of soldiers with home addresses in Kerry.

 

The Fusiliers fought with distinction in India, South Africa and France. A former Depot Commander, Major P Charrier, was one of several Kerrymen killed in a heroic rearguard action during the retreat from Mons shortly after the outbreak of WWIin 1914, commemorated by a Celtic Cross in the village of Etreux near Oise.

 

The British Army vacated the barracks at the end of the War of Independence, on 22nd February. 1922, when it was occupied by the local IRA. During the subsequent Civil War, the barracks was captured by Irish Free State troops on 22nd August, 1922, following a landing at Fenit two weeks earlier.

 

The barracks is still occupied on a part time basis by the Irish Defence Forces, with most of the original buildings are more or less intact.

The Munster Bar was opened in 1875 and derived its name from its proximity to the home to the Royal Munster Fusiliers.

Clogher’s House, near the River Lee, was the home of the composer of The Rose of Tralee, William Pembroke Mulchinock (1820 — 1864), whose  family had by the C19th come down in the world. Having written poems for The Nation and other Irish journals, William left for New York in 1849 and gained a reputation there as a lyricist, but returned to Tralee in 1855 and died young. The house, now sub-divided into 13 units, is in poor condition.

Ballinorig House was leased in the mid-C19th to Jonathon Walpole by Colthurst Bateman, known to have served in 1839 as  High Sheriff of Monmouthshire in Wales, where he lived. It late became the home of John Richard Blennerhassett (b.1930), a Fine Gael politician. Active in the trade union movement, he was elected to serve on various local authorities and sat as a Senator 1973-1982, and was also a successful breeder & racer of greyhounds. Ballinorig House is still extant.

Ballyseedy (Co. Kerry / West)

Ballyseedy (pronounced “Ballysheedy” or “Ballyshidy”),  a district east of Tralee, was long identified with its landlords, the descendants of  Thomas Blennerhassett of Flimby Hall,  Cumberland, Mayor and MP for Carlisle 1584 – 1611, who was granted the forfeited Desmond estate of Ballycarty Castle by Sir Edward Denny, Knt., Governor of Kerry and Desmond in 1586, and apparently visited Ireland “at an advanced age” in 1588, but returned to England, while his son Robert settled on the new estate.

Ballyseedy Wood

 

Ballyseedy Wood, an ancient woodland beside the River Lee, was mapped by Sir Edward Denny in the late C16th. Long a habitat for wildlife ranging from butterflies and birds to badgers and bats. it also contains several ruins.

 

Old Ballyseedy Castle, a C15th Geraldine stronghold, was granted c.1620 under a perpetual lease of “Ballyshiddy Castle, town, and lands” to Robert Blennerhassett of Ballycarty; local legend claims that the the annual rent was one red rose, to be presented each year on Midsummer’s Day.

 

The adjacent second Ballyseedy Castle  (built c.1627) was the home of Col. John Blennerhassett (c.1691 -1775), aka “The Great Colonel John”, for many years “Father of the Irish House of Commons” as the senior & the oldest member, having represented either County Kerry (succeeding his father as  “Knight of the Shire”, i.e. MP) or the Borough of Tralee continuously from 1709 until his death, a period spanning the reigns of four sovereigns. His two sons and a grandson were also MPs. Abandoned c.1775, the castle ruin is locally aka Puck’s House, as it is next to a natural spring called Puck’s Well.

 

A 1997 local authority plan to build a major road junction here was opposed by the Ballyseedy Woods Action Group and  altered as a result of a European Court ruling, forcing the re-routing of the N21.

 

Extending over nearly 80 acres, the The mixed forest, featuring native species and exotics planted in the early C18th by “The Great Colonel John”, is now run as a recreational amenity with several looped walkways and a riverside path intended to form part of the North Kerry Way.

Ballyseedy church (CoI), a Victorian edifice standing next to the ruin of its medieval predecessor, was  erected as a place of worship  for people living and working on the Blennerhassett estate.

Ballyseede Castle

 

Ballyseede Castle is a splendid pile with an interesting history.

 

Originally constructed in 1721 as Elm Grove / Elmgrove by Col. John Blennerhassett as a residence for his young brother William, who had it rebuilt c. 1760, the house was re-modelled by William Blennerhassett junior c.1788. Two Arthur Blennerhassetts in turn inherited the old castle in 1775 and 1799, but apparently did not live there, and the Ballyseedy estates passed  to Arthur Blennerhassett of Elmgrove (1799-1843) in 1815.

 

Young Arthur and his mother had their residence re-modelled 1816-21 with the addition of the lower, castellated north wing with round and square turrets, probably the work of Sir Richard Morrison, and evidently renamed it Ballyseedy House.

 

Arthur famously fought a pistol duel at “the manor” with Maurice O’Connell during the 1932 general election, when the latter was running for MP for Tralee on the Liberal / Repeal ticket against the Conservative candidate Sir Edward Denny, 4th Bart. Nobody was hurt, and O’Connell went on to win the seat, representing Tralee at Westminster  until 1853. Arthur, whose wife Frances (née Grady) died in 1834 giving birth to their ninth child, was himself elected Conservative MP for Co. Kerry 1837-41 (when Sir Edward occupied the house), and died from brain fever while sojourning in Nantes . His 15-year-old son Henry inherited the property, but died in 1850, when the estate passed to his younger brother Charles, who died in 1859, leaving the property to his infant son.

 

In 1880 Major Arthur Blennerhassett (1856 – 1939) had the main block re-modelled in medieval-revival style by James Franklin Fuller, adding battlements and the curved medieval tower look.

 

When the Ballyseedy line of the Blennerhassetts died out in 1965, the house passed to Sir Adrian Blennerhassett, 7th Baronet of Blennerville, who sold it in 1967 to Arthur and Eileen Sheraton. They restored and opened it as a luxury hotel, presumably changing the spelling because they didn’t like “seedy” in the name.

 

The hotel is set in 30 acres of gardens and woodland, making it a popular wedding venue. Inside the impressive lobby, Doric columns frame an elegant bifurcating staircase of fine oak joinery, believed to be unique in Ireland. In the Library Bar there is a great-carved oak wainscot dated 1627, presumably removed from the previous Ballyseedy Castle. There is also a stone plaque dated 1721 in the splendid Banqueting Hall.

 

The rambling mansion is widely believed to be haunted by the ghosts of Landlords past, said to walk the long corridors in the basement level. One, identified by castle habitués as Hilda Blennerhassett (1864 – 1965), makes her presence felt on 24th March each year.

Monument Wood, southwest of  Ballyseede Castle, was named for an obelisk bearing an inscription to Arthur Blennerhassett (d.1815), long in ruins.

The Ballyseedy Memorial commemorates an atrocity carried out by Irish Free State troops in March 1923 when nine IRA prisoners were taken from the prison in Tralee, tied to a land mine and and blown up. The sculpture is by Yann “Renard” Goulet, a Breton nationalist and WWII Nazi collaborator. There is also a small monument just outside the Ballyseede Castke hotel gates to a Republican who died nearby in September 1922.

Ballycarty Bridge, spanning  the River Lee, is close to the shell of  the C15th Geraldine stronghold of Ballycarty Castle (surrendered by John Blennerhassett to insurgents during the 1641 Rebellion), and the ruin of  Ballycarty House (built c.1765 by Rev. Edward Nash, occupied by his descendants until  sold in 1887 by Col. Leahy Nash, who leased it back a few years later, and owned by a Col. Quill in 1922, when it was burned by the IRA, allegedly to prevent its use as a garrison during the Civil War), both currently due to be incorporated into a new development.

Ballymacelligott (Co. Kerry / West)

Ballymacelligott (know locally as Ballymac), a rural district east of  Tralee, is named after the McElligott clan who had strongholds at Carrignafeela, Arabella and Bealagrellagh. The Archaeological Survey of Ireland lists well over a hundred sites in this area, including fulachta fiadh, Ringforts, souterrains,  quern stones, ogham stones, churches and castles.

The Flemby Ring Forts, two well-preserved Bronze Age structures, stand on land named after the Blennerhassetts’ ancestral English home, now pertaining to  Ivy House, the residence of  Nan and Paddy O’Sullivan, healers who use traditional techniques and also work with Geopathic Stress. During work at Flemby on the new  N22 Tralee / Killarney road in 2000, archaeologists made what they described as one of the most exciting finds ever made in Kerry, including a Bronze Age house, a burial tomb, a large collection of  Beaker pottery and an axe head, currently on display in Kerry County Museum, Tralee.

Arabella House, a Georgian country house incorporating parts of Ballymacelligott Castle, which stood nearby, was built c. 1760 – 1770 by Arthur Blennerhasset, and named for his wife. Later occupants included William Rowan, Provost of Tralee, who married his cousin Letitia Denny of Tralee Castle, and it is believed to be the birthplace of their only son, the leading local historian and antiquarian Arthur Blennerhasset Rowan (1800–1861), Archdeacon of Ardfert. The house was occupied from 1830 onwards by several generations of the Peet family. The façade was extensively remodelled in 1833, when both bays were added. Open to the public from April to June, or by appointment.

Chute Hall, aka Tullygarran House, was the seat of the powerful Chute family (several with curious names, e.g. Falkiner,Theophilus etc.), descendants of George Chute, an English soldier in the  forces sent to subdue the countryside after the rebellion of the Earl of Desmond in the late C16th.  Francis Blennerhassett Chute (1837 – 1902), erstwhile High Sheriff of County Kerry, owned over 10,000 acres of land when he married Cherry (née Herbert D’Esterre Roberts) whose youngest son, Lieut. Challoner Francis Trevor Chute, was killed along with many other Royal Munster Fusiliers in France during the retreat from Mons shortly after the outbreak of WWI in 1914, while his elder brother,  Richard Aremberg Blennerhasset Chute, the last of the family to live here, died in 1936, aged 66, and his sister Cherry Herbert Ada Chute survived until 1963.  The house has been demolished but the substantial gateway remains. The grounds contain an impressive collection of Ogham Stones.

Edenburn / Magh House was the residence of the Sealy family in 1839. In the mid-C19th it was leased by Colthurst Bateman to Edward Fitzgerald Day and was later occupied by Samuel Murray Hussey (1824 – 1913), land agent, staunch enemy of the Land League and controversial author, during whose residence at least one attempt was made to dynamite the house, considerably affecting his enthusiasm for the fray. The building was used for some years by the Southern Health Board as a hospital / sanatorium / nursing home, and is still extant.

Ballymacelligott church (CoI) was built in 1824 in an ancient burial ground.

The church of the Immaculate Conception (RC) is an attractive C19th building with a belfty.

Glanageenty Forest Trail takes its name from Gleann na Caointe –  “the Valley of Tears”, so called because it was here that the rebellious Gerald FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond, was beheaded in 1583 after months of hiding out in this ancient woodland, once notorious for bandits. Ravens, hen harriers, kestrels, pheasants and cranes are all regular sightings, bats abound, and feral goats roam. Three looped walks take in glorious vistas of Carrantuohill, the Gap of Dunloe and Mount Brandon.

Glenduff House (1848) is a friendly family run Guesthouse / pub set in attractive grounds.

Ballymacelligott is not far from Castleisland and Farranfore, both on ByRoute 6.

 

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