County Kerry

Kerry is the 5th largest of the 32 counties of Ireland by area and the 13th largest by population.

Uniquely, it is bordered by only two other counties: County Limerick to the east and County Cork to the south-east. The county town is Tralee. The diocesan see is Killarney, which is one of Ireland’s most famous tourist destinations. The Lakes of Killarney, an area of outstanding natural beauty, are located in Killarney National Park. The tip of the Dingle Peninsula is the most westerly point of Ireland.

Kerry (Irish: Ciarraí or more anciently Ciarraighe) means the “people of Ciar” which was the name of the pre-Gaelic tribe who lived in part of the present county. The legendary founder of the tribe was Ciar, son of Fergus mac Róich.

In Old Irish “Ciar” meant black or dark brown, and the word continues in use in modern Irish as an adjective describing a dark complexion.

The suffix raighe, meaning people/tribe, is found in various -ry place names in Ireland, such as Osry – Osraighe Deer-People/Tribe. The county’s nickname is the Kingdom.

Lordship of Ireland:

On August 27, 1329, by Letters Patent, Maurice FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond was confirmed in the feudal seniority of the entire county palatine of Kerry, to him and his heirs male, to hold of the Crown by the service of one knight’s fee. In the 15th century, the majority of the area now known as County Kerry was still part of the County Desmond, the west Munster seat of the Earl of Desmond, a branch of the Hiberno-Norman FitzGerald dynasty, known as the Geraldines.

Kingdom of Ireland:
In 1580, during the Second Desmond Rebellion, one of the most infamous massacres of the Sixteenth century, the Siege of Smerwick, took place at Dún an Óir near Ard na Caithne (Smerwick) at the tip of the Dingle Peninsula. The 600-strong Italian, Spanish and Irish papal invasion force of James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald was besieged by the English forces and massacred.

In 1588 when the fleet of the Spanish Armada in Ireland were returning to Spain during stormy weather, many of their ships sought shelter at the Blasket Islands and some were wrecked.

During the Nine Years War, Kerry was again the scene of conflict, as the O’Sullivan Beare clan joined the rebellion. In 1602, their castle at Dunboy was besieged and taken by English troops. Donal O’Sullivan Beare, in an effort to escape English retribution and to reach his allies in Ulster, marched all the clan’s members and dependents to the north of Ireland. Due to harassment by hostile forces and the freezing weather, very few of the 1,000 O’Sullivans who set out reached their destination.

In the aftermath of the War, much of the native owned land in Kerry was confiscated and given to English settlers or ‘planters’. The head of the MacCarthy Mor family, Florence MacCarthy was imprisoned in London and his lands were divided between his relatives and colonists from England, such as the Browne family.

In the 1640s, Kerry was engulfed by the Irish Rebellion of 1641, an attempt by Irish Catholics to take power in the Protestant Kingdom of Ireland. The rebellion in Kerry was led by Donagh McCarthy, 1st Viscount Muskerry. McCarthy held the county during the subsequent Irish Confederate Wars and his forces were some of the last to surrender to the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1652. The last stronghold to fall was Ross Castle, near Killarney.

United Kingdom:
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Kerry became increasingly populated by poor tenant farmers, who came to rely on the potato as their main food source. As a result, when the potato crop failed in 1845, Kerry was very hard hit by the Great Irish Famine of 1845–49. In the wake of the famine, many thousands of poor farmers emigrated to seek a better life in America and elsewhere. Kerry was to remain a source of emigration until recent times. Another long term consequence of the famine was the Land War of the 1870s and 1880s, in which tenant farmers agitated, sometimes violently for better terms from their landlords.

Modern times:
In the 20th century, Kerry was one of the counties most affected by the Irish War of Independence (1919–21) and Irish Civil War(1922–23). In the war of Independence, the Irish Republican Army fought a guerrilla war against the Royal Irish Constabulary, and British military. One of the more prominent incidents in the conflict in Kerry, were the “siege of Tralee” in November 1920. when theBlack and Tans placed Tralee under curfew for a week, burned many homes and shot dead a number of local people in retaliation for the IRA killing of five local policemen the night before. Another was the Headford Junction ambush in spring 1921, when IRA units ambushed a train carrying British soldiers outside Killarney. About twenty British soldiers, three civilians and two IRA men were killed in the ensuing gun battle. Violence between the IRA and the British was ended in July 1921, but nine men, four British soldiers and five IRA men, were killed in a shootout in Castleisland on the day of the truce itself, indicating the bitterness of the conflict in Kerry.

Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, most of the Kerry IRA units opposed the settlement. One exception existed in Listowel where a pro-Treaty garrison was established by local Flying Column commandant Thomas Kennelly in February 1922. This unit consisted of 200 regular soldiers along with officers and NCOs. A batch of rifles, machine guns and a Crosley Tender were sent from Dublin. Listowel would remain a base for those supporting the treaty throughout the conflict.

The town was eventually overcome by superior numbers of Anti-Treaty forces belonging to the Kerry No. 2 and 3 Brigades in June 1922. In the ensueing civil war between pro and anti-treaty elements, Kerry was perhaps the worst affected area of Ireland. Initially the county was held by the Anti-Treaty IRA but it was taken for the Irish Free State after seaborne landings by National Army troops at Fenit, Tarbert and Kenmare in August 1922.. Thereafter the county saw a bitter guerrilla war between men who had been comrades only a year previously. The republicans, or “irregulars” mounted a number of successful actions, for example attacking and briefly re-taking Kenmare in September 1922.

In March 1923, Kerry saw a series of massacres of republican prisoners by National Armysoldiers in reprisal for the ambush of their men—the most notorious being the killing of eight men with mines at Ballyseedy, near Tralee. The internecine conflict was brought to an end in May 1923 as the rule of law was re-established following the death of IRA Chief of Staff Liam Lynch, and the order by Frank Aiken to dump all arms.

Local government:
County council،
he principal local authority is Kerry County Council. The council provides a number of services including planning, roads maintenance, fire brigade, council housing, water supply, waste collection, recycling and landfill, higher education grants and funding for arts and culture.
Town councils:
An additional tier of local government exists in the three largest towns in the county, Killarney, Listowel and Tralee.
Elections to the town councils are held at the same time as those to the county council. Following the 2009 elections, the party strengths on each council is as follows:
Party          Killarney       Listowel       Tralee 
Fine Gael        1                   4                   3
Fianna Fáil      2                   3                   3
Labour Party   2                   0                   3
Sinn Féin        0                    2                  2
SKIA               1                    0                  0
Independents  3                   0                  1
Total seats     9                   9                 12

Parliamentary representation:
Kerry is represented in Dáil Éireann by six TDs returned from two parliamentary constituencies. Following boundary changes in 2011, County Kerry, along with western parts of County Limerick, returns six TDs to the Dáil. Each of the following constituencies returns three deputies to the Dáil: Kerry North–West Limerick and Kerry South. The TDs elected to the 31st Dáil Éireann at the 2011 general election were:
Kerry North West Limerick:

  • Jimmy Deenihan (Fine Gael)
  • Martin Ferris (Sinn Féin)
  • Arthur Spring (Labour Party)

Kerry South:

  • Brendan Griffin (Fine Gael)
  • Tom Fleming (Independent)
  • Michael Healy-Rae (Independent)

Dingle Peninsula

Physical geography:
Kerry faces the Atlantic Ocean and, typically for an Eastern-Atlantic coastal region, features many peninsulas and inlets, principally the Dingle Peninsula, the Iveragh Peninsula, and the Beara Peninsula. The county is bounded on the west by the Atlantic Ocean and on the north by the River Shannon. Kerry is one of the most mountainous regions of Ireland and contains two of its three highest mountains, Carrauntoohil, part of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks range, and Mount Brandon, part of the Slieve Mish range. Just off the coast are a number of islands, including the Blasket Islands, Valentia Island and the Skelligs. Skellig Michael is a World Heritage Site, famous for the medieval monastery clinging to the island’s cliffs. The county contains the extreme west point of Ireland, Dunmore Head on the Dingle Peninsula, or including islands, Tearaght Island, part of the Blaskets. The most westerly inhabited area of Ireland is Dún Chaoin, on the Dingle Peninsula. The River Feale, the River Laune and the Roughty River flow through Kerry, into the Atlantic.Climate:

  • The North Atlantic Current, part of the Gulf Stream, flows north by Kerry and the west coast of Ireland, resulting in milder temperatures than would otherwise be expected at the 52 North latitude. This means that subtropical plants such as the strawberry tree and tree ferns, not normally found in Northern Europe, thrive in the area.
  • Because of the mountainous area and the prevailing south-westerly winds, Kerry is among the regions with the highest rainfallin Ireland. Due to its location, the area is the site of a weather reporting station on Valentia for many centuries. The Irish record for one-day rain-fall is 243.5 mm (9.59 in), recorded at Cloore Lake, in Kerry in 1993.
  • In 1986, the remnants of Hurricane Charley crossed over Kerry as an extratropical storm causing extensive rainfall, flooding and damage.

Lakes of Killarney

As a region on the extremity of Ireland, culture of Kerry was less susceptible to outside influences and is associated with the Irish language, Irish traditional music, song and dance. Corca Dhuibhne and Uíbh Ráthach are considered Gaeltacht regions.Kerry is known for its senior Gaelic football team. Gaelic football is the dominant sport in the county, and Kerry has the most successful of all football teams; the Kerry footballers have won the Sam Maguire cup 36 times, with the next nearest team Dublin on 22 wins.
Hurling is popular at club level in north Kerry, although the county has only won one All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship, in 1891. The senior team currently compete in the Christy Ring Cup.

A move to further the growth of cricket in the county was underway following Ireland’s performance at the 2011 Cricket World Cup.Irish language:
There are 6,083 Irish language speakers in County Kerry, with 4,978 native speakers within the Kerry Gaeltacht. This doesn’t count the 1,105 attending the four Gaelscoils (Irish language primary schools) and two Gaelcholáiste (Irish language secondary schools) outside the Kerry Gaeltacht.

Places of Interest:
Kerry, with its mountains, lakes and Atlantic coastline is among the most scenic areas in Ireland and is among the most significant tourist destinations in Ireland. Killarney is the centre of the tourism industry, which is a significant element of the economy in Kerry. The Kerry Way, Dingle Way and Beara Way are walking routes in the county. The Ring of Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula is a popular route for tourists and cyclists. The pedestrian version is the scenic Kerry Way which follows ancient paths generally higher than that adopted by the Ring of Kerry.


  • Blasket Islands
  • Carrauntoohil
  • Ecclesiastical sites at Ardfert
  • Eightercua
  • Fenit Harbour
  • Gallarus Oratory
  • Lakes of Killarney
  • Mount Brandon
  • Muckross House
  • Rattoo Round Tower and Sheela na Gig
  • Ring of Kerry
  • Ross Castle
  • Scotia’s Grave
  • Skellig Michael
  • Uragh Stone Circle

County Kerry has three local newspapers, The Kerryman and The Kerry’s Eye, published in Tralee, and The Kingdom, published in Killarney.

The county has a commercial radio station, Radio Kerry, which commenced operations in 1990. RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta has a studio in Baile na nGall in the West Kerry gaeltacht.

The main National Primary Routes into Kerry are the N21 road from Limerick and the N22 road from Cork each terminating in Tralee. The N23 road from Castleisland to Farranfore also connects these roads. Within Kerry, the well-known Ring of Kerry follows the N70 road, a National Secondary Route which circles the Iveragh Peninsula and links at Kenmare with the N71 road to west Cork. Bus Eireann operates an extensive bus service network on routes throughout the county with connection hubs in Killarney and Tralee. Also in County Kerry, the N86 road connects Tralee with Dingle, from Dingle you can take the R559 ring road to reach Sybil Point, which is one of the most westernly fringes of County Kerry and indeed the south of Ireland. Kerry airport is situated on the N22 in Farranfore just south of Tralee and north of Killarney.

Kerry is served by rail at Tralee, Farranfore, Killarney and Rathmore which connect to Cork and Dublin, via Mallow.
Branch line services existed to each of the peninsula (Beara, Iveragh and Dingle) and also to the north of the county. They were closed during the rationalisations of the 1950s and 1960s.

  • Dingle via Tralee: a narrow-gauge railway, closed in July 1953.
  • Kenmare via Headford Junction: (8 miles outside Killarney), closed in February 1960.
  • Valentia via Farranfore: (the Gleesk Viaduct near Kellsis still exists), also closed in February 1960.
  • Listowel were served via the North-Kerry line, which extended from Tralee to Limerick. Passenger service ceased in 1963, freight in 1983 and the lines were pulled up in 1988.
  • Fenit was served via a branch off the North-Kerry line, the rails are still in place.

Listowel to Ballybunion had the distinction of operating experimental Lartigue Monorail services from 1882 to 1924. A 500m section was re-established in 2003. A road-car route, the Prince of Wales Route, was a link from Bantry to Killarney, operated by the Cork, Bandon and South Coast Railway as a service for tourists.
Kerry Airport is located at Farranfore in the centre of the county and has operated scheduled services since 1989. Destinations served as of 2010 are Dublin, London (Stansted & Luton), Frankfurt-Hahn Airport, Faro, Portugal and Alicante all operated by Ryanair. Aer Arann also operate an all year round service to Dublin.
Fenit harbour near Tralee is a regional harbour capable of handling ships of up to 17,000 tonnes. Large container cranes from Liebherrs in Killarney are regularly exported worldwide. A rail-link to the port was closed in the 1970s. The harbour at Dingle is one of Ireland’s secondary fishing ports.
In the north of the county, a ferry service operates from Tarbert, to Killimer in County Clare.

Septs, Families & Titles:
A number of Irish surnames are derived from septs who hail from the Kerry area, such as Falvey, Foley, McCarthy, Murphy, O’Connor, O’Moriarty, Clifford, Kennelly, McGrath, O’Carroll, O’Sullivan, O’Connell, O’Donoghue, O’Shea, Quill, Scannell, Stack, Sugrue and Tangney.
The area was also home to the Hiberno-Norman families, the FitzMaurices and the Desmonds, a branch of the FitzGeralds.
Titles in the British Peerage of Ireland with a family seat in Kerry are

  • the Knight of Kerry – a branch of Fitzgeralds who had lands at Valentia Island.
  • the Earl of Kenmare (also Viscount Castlerosse, Viscount Kenmare and Baron Castlerosse) – the descendants of Sir Valentine Browne who was awarded lands in Killarney.
  • the Earl of Desmond – the Fitzgeralds of Desmond who had lands in North Kerry until they were seized at the end of the Desmond Rebellions
  • the Marquess of Lansdowne (also Earl of Shelburne, Baron Dunkeron) – the descendants of Sir William Petty who was awarded lands in Kenmare and elsewhere.
  • the Earl of Kerry (also Baron Kerry, Viscount Clanmaurice) – the Fitzmaurice family.
  • the Earl of Listowel – the Hare family.
  • the Baron Ventry – the Mullins family who had lands in the Dingle Peninsula, including Ventry.

Viscount Valentia appears to have been associated with lands in County Armagh, rather than Kerry.

Places of Interest:
Kerry, with its mountains, lakes and Atlantic coastline is among the most scenic areas in Ireland and is among the most significant tourist destinations in Ireland. Killarney is the centre of the tourism industry, which is a significant element of the economy in Kerry. The Kerry Way, Dingle Way and Beara Way are walking routes in the county. The Ring of Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula is a popular route for tourists and cyclists. The pedestrian version is the scenic Kerry Way which follows ancient paths generally higher than that adopted by the Ring of Kerry.

  • Blasket Islands
  • Carrauntoohil
  • Ecclesiastical sites at Ardfert
  • Eightercua
  • Fenit Harbour
  • Gallarus Oratory
  • Lakes of Killarney
  • Mount Brandon
  • Muckross House
  • Rattoo Round Tower and Sheela na Gig
  • Ring of Kerry
  • Ross Castle
  • Scotia’s Grave
  • Skellig Michael
  • Uragh Stone Circle

There are nine historic baronies in the county. While baronies continue to be officially defined units, they are no longer used for many administrative purposes. Their official status is illustrated by Placenames Orders made since 2003, where official Irish names of baronies are listed under “Administrative units”.

  • Clanmaurice – Clann Mhuiris
  • Corkaguiny – Corca Dhuibhne
  • Dunkerron North – Dún Ciaráin Thuaidh
  • Dunkerron South – Dún Ciaráin Theas
  • Glanarought – Gleann na Ruachtaí
  • Iraghticonnor – Oireacht Uí Chonchúir
  • Iveragh Peninsula – Uíbh Ráthach
  • Magunihy – Maigh gCoinchinn
  • Trughanacmy – Triúcha an Aicme

Associated People:

  • Roger Casement
  • Michael Fassbender
  • Wolfe Tone
  • Richard Wall


  • Thomas Ashe
  • Tom Crean
  • Con Cremin
  • Horatio Kitchener
  • Jennifer Musa
  • Daniel O’Connell

Literary & Musical:

  • Jessie Buckley
  • Julia Clifford
  • Jerome Connor
  • Canon James Goodman
  • John B. Keane
  • Brendan Kennelly
  • Denis Murphy
  • Thomas MacGreevy
  • Tomás Ó Criomhthain
  • Padraig O’Keeffe
  • Muiris Ó Súilleabháin
  • Peig Sayers


  • Martin Ferris
  • Jackie Healy-Rae
  • Joe Higgins
  • Dick Spring


  • Colm Cooper
  • Mick Doyle
  • Maurice Fitzgerald
  • Paul Galvin
  • Tadhg Kennelly
  • Mick O’Connell
  • Pat Spillane