The Spa, Fenit & Barrow (Co. Kerry / West)
Fenit Harbour & Island (Photo by Fenitharbour)
The Spa, so named for a once celebrated chalybeate spring, is a formerly quaint village and district west of Tralee town proper, adjacent to the Fenit Peninsula and Burrow Harbour on Tralee Bay.
Nowadays mainly residential, it was long regarded as a recreational area; the Tralee Races were held here regularly in the C19th.
The Fenit oyster beds (where poor people were allowed to gather molluscs for free) gave the area a reputation for succulent seafood that has survived to this day amongst local fishmongers, restaurants and bars (e.g. The Oyster Tavern, Spa Delicatessen).
The old disused railway line between Tralee town and Fenit has been converted into a walkway / cycleway to link up with the Great Southern Trail.
Fenit (An Fhianait – “The Wild Place”) (pop. 450) is a former fishing village on Tralee Bay with a Blue Flag beach and a rather quaint seaside holiday resort ambience, catering mainly for local sailing enthusiasts, speedboat freaks, sea anglers, horse riders, golfers and day trippers
In the disastrous aftermath of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the sloop Nuestra Señora del Socorro (75 tons) anchored at Fenit, where it surrendered to Crown officers. The 24 men on board were taken into custody and marched to Tralee castle where, on the orders of Lady Margaret Denny, they were all hanged from a gibbet.
In April 1916, in an ill-fated plan arranged by Sir Roger Casement, the village was the intended landing place for arms and ammunition from Germany. The ship Aud was scuttled in Cork Harbour by the captain to prevent the British forces from seizing the cache.
On 8th August 1922, during the Irish Civil War, Fenit was the scene of a major military landing operation by 450 Free State troops from the Lady Wicklow, as part of an offensive to re-take Republican held Tralee. The republicans had intended to blow-up the pier if an attack was launched but the charges were rendered inoperable by unknown persons in an attempt to minimise damage to the port. The government forces captured Ballymullen Barracks, which had been vacated by the British Army in late February, on 22nd August 1922.
In 1984, a Fenit registered boat, the Marita-Ann, attempted to import arms bought clandestinely in the USA on behalf of the IRA, but was intercepted by the Irish Navy vessels LE Emer and LE Aisling along with members of the Garda Síochána and its crew arrested. The present Sinn Fein TD for North Kerry, Martin Ferris was one of several convicted of possession of explosive substances for unlawful purposes and possession of firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life. He served 10 years in prison.
The local fishing industry has all but ceased due to EU quota limits and competition from larger fleets from Spain and France. Until 2006, French companies still used the port to land fish, which was then transported directly to the European mainland. There are plans to further increase the size of the marina and develope the pier.
Fenit House / Lodge and its grounds dominate the village on the shore-side of the main road into the village. Though mostly associated with the Hurley family, this C19th residence later came into the Fuller family through marriage. It was sold in the 1970s but is still occupied as a private home.
The Fenit Coastguard Station took over the duties of its Kilfenora predecessor in 1848, when a neat row of terraced houses was built for the crew and a bigger house constructed for the head boatman. In 1922 , this station became the Garda Barracks.
Fenit’s first lifeboat, the Admiral Buthcher (1879), crewed by local men using only oars and sail, was initially moored off Great Samphire Island. A splendid cut stone lifeboat house was built to store the gear needed to run the lifeboat, but the service was withdrawn from Fenit in 1969 because of lack of rescue calls and so the lifeboat house reverted to the Fuller family and used as a storehouse. In 1994 the service returned to Fenit and a beautiful new boat , the Ralph and Bonella Farrant was moored off the head of the pier. The old lifeboat house is no longer used by the RNLI and is now in private ownership.
Other notable buildings in Fenit include the Customs House, now derelict, and the redbrick RIC Barracks, now private houses.
The West End Bar & Restaurant is reputedly one of the best restaurants in
Fenit Sea World displays living specimens of the hundreds of species of fish and other creatures to be found in Atlantic waters.
Fenit Harbour includes Fenit Pier and the 130-berth Fenit Marina, and is connected to the land by a long causeway and viaduct, where many locals and visitors like to fish. Freight import and export and leisure craft / tourism are the main areas of business.
Great Samphire Island, the rock around which the harbour was built, has been utilised as part of the port development. Samphire is a small flowering plant used in cookery.
Saint Brendan the Navigator, believed to have been born on Fenit Island c. 484 AD, is depicted by a large bronze sculpture, erected in 2004.
Tralee Bay Sea Angling Club, the largest angling club in Ireland, have their clubhouse on the marina breakwater in the harbour.
Little Samphire Island, largely occupied by a a lighthouse erected in 1851, lies few hundred meters west of Fenit Pier. (Photo by Den Donovan)
Fenit Seabreeze Festival is an annual event held in early June, featuring powerboat races, the Irish Open Aqua Golf Championships, the All-Ireland Stone Skimming Championships, maritime heritage talks and seminars, the Grand National Donkey Derby. a Tug o’ War, a barbecue, a fun fair, a farmers’ market, a dog show, terrier races, hamster runs / balls, kid zones, bouncy castles, a puppet show and a spectacular fireworks display over Tralee Bay.
Fenit Island, a populated island in Tralee Bay, connected to the mainland by a sandbar, is accessible by foot at most times, and by car at low tide, by driving on the beach. The island is of significant scenic beauty and some of it has been designated a Special Area of Conservation.
Fenit Island measures an area of approximately 440 acres that is owned by nine different landowners. Several sections of the path around the perimeter are currently blocked by industrial scale electric fences, the subject of dispute between landowners and the Fenit Island Access Campaign. A number of protest walks saw over 200 people assert what they claimed was an age- old right- of- way to a coastal pathway on the historic island.
Fenit Within was the name of the part of the island historically protected against attack from the landward side by a medieval wall, known to have surrounded several houses, two churches and a graveyard. (The full name of the peninsular village is actually Fenit Without).
Fenit Castle, a late 16th / early C17th Tower House, is the only ruin now visible on the island. It was built by the FitzMaurice family the to guard the entrance to Barrow Harbour.
Barrow Harbour, a tidal inlet off Tralee Bay, was the major medieval port for the region, servicing the monastic settlement of Ardfert and the general area of Tralee. It used to be protected from seaborne attackers by an iron chain stretched across the neck of water between the mainland and Fenit Island.
Barrow House, located at the old quayside, was built in the C18th by Captain William Collis, whose descendants owned some steam ships, one of which sank at the mouth of the harbour. Said to have once been occupied by a Knight of Kerry, the house was later owned by an aunt of Martin Ferris, whose father Patie was the caretaker for a time. Until recently a stylish Guesthouse, the building currently appears to be vacant.
Tralee Golf Club
Tralee Golf Club was established in 1896 by British Army officers and long remained the preserve of members of the security forces – an RIC Auxiliary officer called Major McKinnon was shot dead while playing golf in March 1921. Over the years the Club has had courses at Fenit, Oakpark and Mounthawk.
Barrow was chosen as the location for the Club’s spectacular new links, the first championship course in Europe to be designed by US superstar Arnold Palmer, inaugurated in 1984.
The beach at the back of the 1st hole and to the right of the 2nd was used for location filming in the1970 epic movie Ryan’s Daughter.
The tower at the back of the 3rd green dates back to c.1190.
The big sandstone rock at the end of the wall running diagonally between the fourth and fifth fairways was legendarily hurled there by Cuchullain from the top of the Sliabh Mish. It is said that the imprint of his giant fingers can be seen on the boulder.
The Randy, a small harbour behind the 7th tee box, was a haven for smugglers in earlier centuries.
The stretch of beach just north of the 15th tee box is the lonely part of Banna Strand where Roger Casement was landed from a U-boat on Good Friday 1916. He was arrested a short distance away, tried for treason in London, and executed.
The beach behind the 16th green and off the right of the 17th hole was where many ships ran aground, including one vessel from the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Churchill House was built in 1741 by Rev. Barry Denny, and has been reconstructed several times since.
Churchill Cemetery is the location of a ruined Anglican church, still in use until 1912, when the roof collapsed. The burial ground contains the graves of two unnamed sailors washed up at Fenit in 1918.
Churchill Forge, still in operation until 1996, has recently been renovated by Fred Kreibhel of Churchill House.
The church of the Purification (RC) aka The Spa church, was built in 1858 on land donated by Lord Listowel at Lisodigue to replace a thatched church that stood on the site of pre-Reformation church in Chapeltown. The Victorian building contains a baptismal font dated 1802.
Seafeild House, the family home of Sir Henry Donovan, owner of the Jeanie Johnston, later belonged to the Mercy nuns, but is now derelict.
The Spa, Fenit & Barrow are near Ardfert on ByRoute 1.