The Origins of Gleninchaquin


In general terms, the Gleninchiquin Valley shares the same historical and geographical origins as the rest of that part of Kerry.  The very early geography is well researched and documented.  Land movement, land bridges, the ice age, rising & falling sea levels, great rock movements over & under the sea etc etc, all over millions of years, contributed to the present formation of the county.  The Gulf Stream and the very temperate climate help maintain some of the area’s unique flora species

The drowned river valleys that are Kerry’s huge estuaries, resulted in the creation  of three large peninsulas with an extremely long indented coastline.   These peninsulas run roughly east to west (NEE to SWW), and are habitable mainly along the coastal strip and in the occasional valley that runs up into the mountain ridges that can be found along the center of each.  Most movement of people and goods – travel, trade, invasion – was done on the water, utilising not only the sea but also the many rivers which enabled access to the interior of the county.

Kerry’s historical development has, perhaps, not proved quite as easy to research.  The absolute facts regarding the very early days are difficult to establish, and much of our early history is dependent on legendary lore handed down from generation to generation before the written word was widely available.  Even for the later years, written records are often scarce or even non-existent.

With its vast coastline, and it’s location on the South West corner of Ireland, Kerry was frequently the first place that the next wave of “Invaders” landed. This was as true in the thousands of years Before Christ (the Phoenicians, FirBolgs and Milesians) as it was in the time after (AD), when Spanish Armada, the French, the Norwegian & Danish Vikings, the Anglo-Normans and the English came calling.

Many parts of Ireland have their own tales to tell of the legendary Fionn and the Fianna, who reputedly roamed the country about 200 or 300 AD.  Kerry – possibly because of it’s unique location, excellent climate, abundance of food to hunt and, of course, the spectacular scenery – would appear to have enticed the Fianna to spend most of their time here, if the number of stories connecting their exploits and adventures to various parts of the county are anything to go by.  Naturally Gleninchiquin is not without it’s own tale.  Beside Lough Inchiquin is a field known as the ‘Bulls’s Inch’.  Inch means flat meadow – local legend has it that when Queen Medb stole the Brown Bull of Cooley, she fled south, bringing him to Kerry.  Once there, the only place with a field large enough or grand enough for this very special animal was – you guessed it – Gleninchiquin!

In addition to the legends, proof of an ancient, nomadic, hunting people is to be found in the archaeological sites, such as the Fulacht Fiadh.  These Fulachta Fiadh, or ancient cooking places, have long been associated with wandering tribes such as the Fianna.  Fulachta Fiadh are common in South Kerry, particularly in those areas rich in legend and folklore of Fionn MacCumhaill.  The farm at Gleninchiquin has several Fulachta Fiadh, mainly along the path of the ancient stream  which has now taken itself underground.

400 to 600 AD was the time when Christianity came to Ireland.  The years 600 to 800 AD saw the growth and consolidation of a Gaelic and Christian nation. Kerry was one of the major centres of the eremitical movement, and much evidence of this survives to this day.  From 400 to 800 AD, Kerry enjoyed a period of relative peace.  In this calm, the arts – literature, metal-work, illuminated manuscripts, celtic sculpture, poetry and music – flourished in a hotbed of cultural activity.

Then in the 9th century, the peaceful times came to an end – brought about both by marauding bands of Vikings and home grown political fighting.  The Vikings concentrated their attacks on those settlements where they believed valuables were stored, such as the monasteries.  In 812, 120 Viking vessels attacked the South West coast, including Valentia and Smerwick, near Dingle.  Skelligs was raided in 823, Inisfallen in about 840.  It is unlikely that the monastic settlements of the Beara Peninsula next door escaped the attentions of these Northern invaders.  It would be another hundred years, however, before the Vikings established a strong presence in Munster.

Kerry was at this time divided into a number of petty kingdoms, each with it’s own ruler.  It is not clear exactly who ruled the barony of Glanerought throughout this period, but this system survived until the invasions of the 12th and 13th centuries by the Eoganacht families from Cashel, the most senior and numerous of whom were The O’Sullivans.  Ardea Castle, an important defense fortification since the seventh century, became the seat of the Tainist of the O’Sullivan Beare around 1250 AD, and remained their power base until the coming of Cromwell some four hundred years later.

Ardea Castle (Aed’s Height), just along the coast from Gleninchiquin, was named after Aed Bennan, an earlier King of West Munster.  His nephew, Faithliu, founded the monastery at Inisfallen, an island on Loch Lein, Killarney, where the Annals of Inisfallen (recording a thousand years of Irish history) would later be   written, illuminated and stored.  Prior to Ardea Castle being occupied by the O’Sullivan Beare, it had been the seat of the O’Moriarty clan.

Many pre-gaelic ruling clans, like the O’Moriarty’s, were ousted from their lands by the Eoganacht Invasions of the 13th century.  These included the O’Falveys, who were driven out of the Dingle region by the Anglo Normans, and the O’Sheas, who had been the rulers in Iveragh.  So completely were this clan routed by the McCarthys that by 1656, at the time of the Down Survey, – “Petty’s surveyors could find plenty of O’Sheas, but not a single landowner amongst them”.

The Anglo Normans began their attempt to subjugate Kerry about 1200 AD, but were never really successful, especially in the south of the county.  Eventually a truce of sorts divided the county in two.  The northern part plus the Dingle Peninsula came under the rule and influence of the Normans.  In South Kerry, the Gaelic way of life continued almost undisturbed right up until about 1650.

On the Beara Peninsula, the O’Sullivan Beare ruled supreme.  This family came to Kerry and West Cork sometime around 1200 AD.  Previously they had been established in Tipperary, not far from the river Suir.  After 1192, they were forced south by the twin attacks of both the native Irish and the invading anglo-normans, where they occupied West Cork and Dunkerron South along the Kenmare river.

Life in Kerry continued like this until 1649.  Then came the Cromwell Era – from 1649 to 1660 – possibly one of the worst decades in Irish history.  Cromwell’s campaigns in Ireland in 1649 & 50 were horrific and notorious for their brutality.  They resulted in wholesale confiscation of lands and the forced deportation of many destitute Irish to the West Indies.

To apportion the confiscated lands, they first needed to know what was there.  To this end, Dr William Petty undertook a survey of almost the entire island.  Confiscated land was duly handed over to the conquerors, but not everyone was happy to settle down in their assigned place.  Petty, who had done pretty well for himself out of the transaction to date, now solved the problem of many of the cromwellian soldiers who really wanted to be anywhere but in Ireland.  He bought it from them for a song.  Add this to the lands that had already been assigned to him, and you have one of the greatest landowners in the whole country.  In Kerry alone, Petty owned some 270,000 acres incliding all of Glanerought and Dunkerron South.

Petty had a major supporter in Limerick in Sir Hardress  Waller.  Petty would later marry his daughter.  Their daughter Ann Petty in turn married Fitzmaurice, Lord Lixnaw, who would become the Marquis of Lansdowne, and it was this family who physically owned most of the Barony of Glanarought from then right up until the Land Act of the late 19th century.  Some of the lands around Derreen and other parts of Tuosist, many of the fishing and hunting rights in the area and so on are still the property of the descendents of Petty & Fitzmaurice.

The Lansdownes were, in the main, absentee landlords, relying on their appointed Agent to oversee their properties, collect rents, ensure that letting agreements were complied with etc etc.  The Agent often acted as a Justice of the Peace in court.  The Lansdownes in Kerry have been extensively written about elsewhere.  The latest work, by local man Gerard Lyne,  published in 2001  is very comprehensive.  I  will not attempt to compete here!

One of the best descriptions I have found of the area around Gleninchiquin, comes straight from the pen of Gerard Lyne in his massive work ‘The Lansdowne Estate in Kerry under W.S.Trench 1849-72’ (2001), and reads thus:  “Following the coastal strip eastwards along the Kenmare road past Lehid harbour, one reaches the centre of Tuosist parish.  Here the dominant feature is the chain of large freshwater lakes at Cloonee and in the adjoining valleys of Uragh and Glaninchiquin, which push southeastwards through the Cahas to the foot of Knocknagorraveela (1,600’).

At the head of Glaninchiquin, a spectacular waterfall marks the source of the Glaninchiquin river, which flows northwestwards into the lakes from which it emerges as the Cloonee river, flowing due west into the eastern end of Lehid harbour.  There is an ancient oak wood and some arable land in Uragh, with still more arable land in Glaninchiquin, along the Cloonee Lakes and especially round the mouth of the Cloonee river.  Here also are two pre-historic stone circles and the ruins of Ardea Castle.”