An Overview of the McMorran Collection

Castleisland District Heritage has recently acquired a selection of papers from the collection of the late historian, Russell McMorran, courtesy his brothers, Chris and Clare McMorran.  The material, which has been added to the Castleisland District Heritage archive, includes photographs, journals, Financial Reports of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (1957) and a copy of the rare booklet, The Chestnut Tree.


The McMorran Collection:  Illustration of material donated to Castleisland District Heritage by the brothers of the late Russell McMorran.  Photograph in the centre shows Chris McMorran (seated left), who travelled from the UK to Ireland with his nephew, David (seated right), and attended the offices of Castleisland District Heritage with the donation.  On the right (standing) is Tomo Burke, Treasurer of Castleisland District Heritage


The material also includes a copy of A Pictorial History of Tralee, produced by Russell McMorran and Maurice O’Keeffe in 2005, a wonderful source of reference to the capital town of Kerry.  The publication covers the prehistoric landscape to the founding of Tralee in the thirteenth century, and continues to modern times wherein lies an intimate portrait of streets, buildings, businesses and associated families.  One good example is an illustrated account of Revingtons drapery store, which operated in the heart of Tralee for over a century until it was sold to Brown Thomas in 1965.[1]


Revingtons had premises in Denny Street and The Mall (above left).  In the centre, a portrait of Georgina Martha Benner née Revington, which hangs above the fireplace of Benner’s Hotel, Dingle, image courtesy Gordon Revington


A set of scrapbooks, one dating to the early 1900s, is also included in the McMorran Collection, containing photographs, postcards and newspaper cuttings.  By way of illustration, one page of the latter relates to the ‘Valentia Astrolabe,’ and provides a colourful account of a rare sixteenth century nautical instrument found on Valencia Island in the nineteenth century.


This adds another link to the relationship between Castleisland and Valencia – as recent articles on this website show, Castleisland man Peter Browne is the owner of the historic Telegraph Field on the island.[2]


The scrapbook reveals that the late Caherciveen-born, Dublin-based teacher Sean O’Shea, who ‘persistently unearthed old documents’ from which he created ‘new-style large-scale maps full of out-of-the-way information,’ tried to discover the whereabouts of the astrolabe, found by a boy on an overhanging rock on the north side of Coombe Hill in 1845.


His enquiries led him to the London Science Museum:[3]


O’Shea reminded the London Science Museum, where, according to an old document he had probed out, it had been sent.  They have dug it out, cleaned it and sent him pictures of the astrolabe, a beautiful brass instrument of about seven inches in diameter.  The museum had done research on it and it appears that it belonged to the Spanish Armada vessel, Rosario, which foundered near Valencia’s Bay.[4]


‘The Valentia Astrolabe’ remains in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.[5]


Above left: The Valentia Astrolabe from the McMorran Scrapbooks.  In the centre, Coombe Hill near Glanleam where the astrolabe was discovered by a boy (whose name does not come down to us) in 1845.  On the right, the astrolabe depicted in The Mariner’s Astrolabe An Exhibition at the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh 1972 by R G W Anderson, Department of Technology


The late Russell McMorran was a keen photographer, and a number of his photographs dating to circa 1960s form part of the collection.  Their subject matter, as shown below, testify to his interest in the history of the county.


Depictions of Dromore Castle, Templenoe, Kenmare.  Russell’s photograph on the far right, which probably dates to circa 1960s, offers, with the illustration beside it, a ‘then and now’ view of the castle


In the photographs below, we are left to wonder if the vehicle parked outside Killowen Church of Ireland belonged to Russell or perhaps a friend who joined in his researches.  His depiction of Derrynane House was undoubtedly the result of an enjoyable day out visiting the ancestral home of the Liberator.  The image on the right, which dates to the late 1970s, shows a ruined castle atop of which stand two young men – the man on the right identified as Noel McMorran – in pre-health and safety times.


Russell McMorran’s photographs of Derrynane House (left), Killowen Church of Ireland (centre) and an unidentified ruin (right)


Postcards and newspaper illustrations, such as those shown below of Ballyheigue Castle, Cahernane House and Killarney Manse, have their own particular value, while the extraordinary photograph of Ardtully House, Kilgarvan (right) shows the house – which is now in ruin – in its glory.



The McMorran Collection will be digitised and available to view on this website in the near future.


[1] A Pictorial History of Tralee, pp150-151.  See also ‘Revington’s of Tralee’ in the Irish Independent, 18 September 1957 which includes a number of images of the Revington family, and ‘The Revingtons of Tralee’ by Joe and Gordon Revington in The Old Kerry Journal, Volume 6, Winter 2019-2020.

Thomas Revington, a Limerick draper, opened a branch of his firm in Denny Street, Tralee, in 1857.  Two years later he sent his relative, Joseph Revington, to manage the enterprise.  Joseph Revington Esq of Prince’s Street, Tralee, married Georgina Martha Revington (born 1834) and they had a large family including sons (1) John Revington (1860-1931) who married Emma Letitia (1864-1941) daughter of Robert Taylor White and had issue Captain Thomas Le Blanc Revington (1887-1927) of the South African Forces who died at Perth, Dr Georgina Revington (1889-1961), Elise Marjorie Revington (born c1892) and Second Lieutenant John Huleatt Revington (1894-1916), Devonshire Regiment, who was Killed in Action in France on 4 September 1916 during the First World War; (2) Joseph Huleatt Revington (1862-1930), who married into the Watson family and had Joseph Revington (1903-1954) – journalist and writer Gordon Revington, co-author of A Century of Politics in the Kingdom (2018) descends from this branch of the family; (3) William Revington (1873-1934) who married and had William J Revington (born 1904, Chairman of Board of Revingtons in 1957) and (4) Henry Revington (1875-1951) who died in South Africa.  The daughters of Joseph and Georgina were (5) Mary Elizabeth Revington (born 1868) who married Philip J MacKim Esq, of Rooske House, Dunboyne, Co Meath, eldest son of (late) P G MacKim Esq, Branchfield House, Co Sligo on 5 February 1896 St George’s Church Dublin; (6) Georgina Martha Revington who married Robert Ainslie Benner (1867-1901) in Tralee in 1896.  Georgina Martha Benner died at her residence, Benner’s Hotel, Dingle, on 22 November 1950.  A portrait of her hangs over the fireplace there; (7) Alice Huleatt Revington, who died unmarried in 1893 and (8) Hettie V Revington, who married American artist, Henry Shriner.


[3]  Sean O’Shea (1916-1992).

[4] Reference: Scrapbook (undated), McMorran Papers, Castleisland District Heritage.  Cuttings probably date to the 1950s/1960s.  The scrapbook also contains a number of letters to the editor from Desmond Brannigan, Director of Marine Research, 37 Mellowes Avenue, Finglas, Dublin 11, and Sean O’Shea, 13 Clyde Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin, in relation to the Armada.  Mr Brannigan wrote: ‘While these instruments were in use on ships of the period 1588 and some of the Armada vessels came to grief on the Kerry coast, there is no foundation for the belief that the ship from which the astrolabe came was named Rosario.  In fact, there was no ship of that name in the Armada.  The only vessel coming near to that title was Flagship of the Andalusian Squadron, Nuestra Senora del Rosario.  This, the first casualty of the campaign, was lost off Plymouth.  The Santa Maria de la Rosa, a merchant vessel of the fleet, sank in the Blasket Sound just north of Valentia.  Mr Spotswood Green wrongly calls this ship the Nuestra Senora de la Rosa in his well-known lecture give to the Royal Graphical Society in 1906.  To those, like myself, who have sought the remains of the Santa Maria de la Rosa by exhaustive research and vigorous diving, in the Blasket Sound, the possibility that at some stage parts of it were washing up in Valentia Island many miles to the south, contains little encouragement.  The ship carried a large quantity of gold and silver.  Of course, this instrument could have come from another ship of the fleet, as Caoimhin O Danachair wrote in the Journal of the Military History Society, ‘there is some very slight tradition of an Armada wreck about Valentia Island.’  I have in my possession a book, Ships and Ways of Other Days by E Kebble Chatterton, which gives an excellent picture and description of the Kensington astrolobe which, by the way, he describes as being 15” diameter, not 7”, as mentioned by Mr O’Shea ... by way of coincidence, this book belonged to the late Mr Ring, of Valentia Island, and was given to me by his son, Diarmuid Ring.’ 

Mr O’Shea responded: ‘I am sorry to say that Chatterton’s Astrolabe is not the Valentia one reproduced in the Irish Times, and I shall show why.  I am doing an historical and archaeological mural map of Valentia Island, working mainly in the National Library.  Some weeks back, I encountered a very lengthy letter from one John Lecky in the Kerry Archaeological Magazine (1913) on the Valentia Astrolabe.  It appears that Lecky’s father, the Robert John Lecky, FRAS, was a consultant engineer to the Valentia Slate and Slab Co.  The Astrolabe was found by a young Valentia boy, who gave it to Bewick Blackburn, who was resident managing director of the Slate Co in 1845.  He passed it on to Robert John Lecky, who used to commute a lot between Valentia and London.  He deposited it in the South Kensington Museum.’

O’Shea quoted from the legend supplied with the photograph he received from the South Kensington Museum: ‘This instrument was used by the earlier mariners for determining latitude, by observations of the sun or of a star.  The example shown, which was at one time the property of Robert John Lecky, FRAS, was found in 1845 under a rock on the north side of Coombe Hill, Valentia, Co Kerry.  This spot is within view of the place where three vessels of the Spanish Armada were wrecked, and it is supposed that the instrument may have belonged to them.  The instrument is 7” in diameter, and a little over five pounds in weight.  The divisions are not figured, suggesting that the instrument was in an unfinished state.  The small circles on the lower part may have been intended to enclose the maker’s name, or to be reserved for a compass to be placed there.’

O’Shea continued: ‘This alone should prove that E Kebble Chatterton’s description of the Astrolabe with numerals cannot refer to the Valentia one’ adding, ‘Congratulations to Mr Desmond Brannigan and to my old friend, Dermot Ring of Valentia, for dedicated diving in the Blasket Sound in search of the wreck of the Santa Maria de la Rosa.’

The article referred to above, ‘The Valencia Astrolabe’ by John Lecky, was published in the Kerry Archaeological Magazine, Vol 2 No 10 (Mar 1913), pp75-79.