Bricks and Breeding: A Sketch of Ballymacadam House, Castleisland

Ballymacadam House belongs to the eighteenth century, described as the mansion house of the Marshall Estate ‘built and inhabited by the celebrated Ralf Marshal.’  In 1799, Ralph Marshall of Ballymacadam, known also as Don Radolph Marshall, married into the Markham family of Callinafercy, Milltown, Co Kerry where he took up residence soon after his marriage.


Ralph Marshall died of wounds in the Peninsular War in 1809 where he had joined the Spanish patriots against Napoleon.[1]  Until 1824, when his eldest son, John Markham Marshall, came of age, the Marshall Estate was managed by Trustees.[2]


Ballymacadam House photographed by Noel Nash, Castleisland District Heritage


In 1829, John Markham Marshall Esq of Kilburn, Milltown, put the house and demesne up for lease.[3]  Malachy Donelan Esq, stipendiary magistrate, appears next in occupation.  In February 1838,  ‘during the height of the hurricane on Thursday last, a guard of the 85th Depot with two officers from Tralee marched for Castleisland by order of Malachi Donnellan Esq, stipendiary magistrate, to prevent a riot of a most dangerous nature from a difference of opinion where a corpse should be interred.’


Donelan’s son was born at Ballymacadam in August 1838. In October of that year Donelan was transferred to Sligo but died soon after: ‘Mr Macdermott attorney and Mr Donelan Stipendiary Magistrate suddenly expired in Sligo last week.’[4]


The house was subsequently in the occupation of the Roche family (from about the 1840s to 1860).  The mother of John Roche Esq of Ballymacadam was ‘a near relative of Dr Nicholas Madgett, Bishop of Ardfert 1753-1774’ and it may have been at about this period that Ballymacadam was associated with dog breeder, Robert Madgett.[5]


Castleisland historian T M Donovan described Madgett as ‘a great sportsman’:


At Ballymacadam lived a Mr Robert Madgett, a great sportsman and the man who by careful selection and breeding first originated the now famous Kerry Blues.  When circumstances forced him to leave the lovely groves of Ballymacadam, Mr Madgett left his newly-formed stud of Kerry Blues to his old friend and neighbour, ‘Goss’ Murphy.[6]


The emergence of the Kerry Blue in Castleisland was dated to about 1850 by a newspaper correspondent who signed himself ‘Kerry Sportsman’ (and who also enclosed a photograph of a Kerry Blue Terrier shown on the right of the image below):


The old blue terrier bred in Castleisland sixty years ago had tan points on legs and face.  This tan marking is still quite correct.  The modern coat is longer than the old one was and not so hard.  The dog’s colour is either blue all over or blue with tan points.  This tan blends with the blue and the blue colour grows down over the tan and through it so that the adult dog has always the appearance of being almost of a single colour.[7]


Depictions of the Kerry Blue bred in Castleisland.  The painting (centre) is the work of Margaret Kenny, a relation of the late Francie Kenny and Mike Kenny, Castleisland[8]
The above illustrations from cigarette cards, some (if not all) by artist Arthur Wardle (1864-1949), are held in the New York Public Library


In late 1857, John Roche of Ballymacadam canvassed and won the position of District Coroner, ‘having discharged other public duties for the last eighteen years, my habits of business are well known to most of you.’[9]  In the early 1860s, he suffered financial difficulties and Ballymacadam House, consisting of parlour, drawing room, hall, five bedrooms, three servants’ rooms, kitchen, scullery, pantry, cellar and store room and demesne was advertised for lease.  In 1863, ‘Bally-M’Adam’ was up for sale ‘for the payment of incumbrances.’[10]


In 1864, in the Landed Estates Court, the following notice appeared:


In the matter of the estate of Michael Murphy and Charles Henry James, assignees of John Roche, an insolvent, owners; the Norfolk Farmers’ Cattle Insurance Company, petitioners.  Property situate in the barony of Trughenacmy held under lease for three lives.  Lot 1.  Ballymacadam, containing 61 acres plantation measure of which five acres are let at a rent of £17 2s 4d.  Mr J White purchased, in trust, for Mr Richard Harold of Castleisland, county of Kerry at £500.[11]


By the 1870s, Richard and Ellen O’Connor were in occupation.  In a letter to a local newspaper in 1885, Mrs O’Connor responded to what she described as a libellous attack on her.[12]  In 1901, 34-year-old John R O’Connor and his 67-year-old uncle, Cornelius Dillon, were in residence.[13]  John R O’Connor contributed to a fund set up in 1904 to alleviate the debt of £1,200 expended in the erection of the new convent schools in Castleisland and the preparation of an address to Rev Mother Ignatius O’Connell on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee at the Presentation Convent Castleisland.


Ballymacadam farm and demesne comprising 103 acres was advertised for sale in 1911 by the ‘Misses O’Connor’ after ‘many years in their possession.’   It included a ‘two storied slated residence with avenue approach from the public road, stabling, cow-houses, and newly built iron hay shed 60ft by 22ft erected at a cost of £70.’[14]


By February 1914, Thomas Costello was in residence.[15]  In July 1915, he advertised the sale by auction of the 104 acre farm at Ballymacadam with ‘a charming gentleman’s residence and newly built slated out-offices.’  In 1918, a clearance auction took place on his instructions.


John M Leahy had an association with the house for the following notice appeared in 1925, ‘Louis Roche will sell by public auction for Mr John M Leahy the magnificent residential holding comprising Ballymacadam House and lands.’  In 1928, John Curtin of Springmount purchased from John Leahy, and the property went into the Curtin family.[16]


The Curtin sisters, Mary and Eily, lived at Ballymacadam until about fifteen years ago.  Margaret O’Connor, Manager of Craggeen Employment Ltd, was raised in the vicinity of Ballymacadam House and has fond memories of the Curtin sisters and the great house in her youth:


My abiding memory is the sweet aroma of burning timber as I passed by the house.  Eilly and Mary had a huge big open fireplace with a big Hearth. I loved the painted outbuildings they were always beautifully maintained. A Collie dog was always on guard and could appear from anywhere so you had to be cautious.  Eilly and Mary were industrious and hardworking and always around the house, constantly on the go.  As one approached the White Gates a beautiful array of Spring daffodils which lined the driveway to the main entrance of the house would brighten any Spring day. The house always appeared to me unchanged untouched by time.  A calm rural haven of peace and contentment.


Aspects of Ballymacadam House photographed (left) by Margaret O’Connor and (far right) Davy O’Connor. In the centre, Ballymacadam House by artist Peter Robin Hill from Divane’s Calendar 2001


In 2000, artist Peter Robin Hill illustrated Ballymacadam House for a series of calendars produced by Divane Volkswagen Castleisland.  It was published in 2001 with the following description, reproduced with the kind permission of Denis Divane:


As you pass through the stately gates of Ballymacadam you find yourself in a beautifully secluded part of old Castleisland.  Little has changed over the centuries.  Fine old trees flank the meandering avenue, while the surrounding 104 acre estate is a model of pastoral bliss.  The striking grounds compliment the great old house.  It faces a 21 acres lawn field which is banked all around and was used to view the stock, by horse and sidecar, in bygone days.  Ballymacadam House is a five bay, three storey over basement building, with a service wing, probably built in the 18th century.  It still retains its great charm to this day.  As you enter through the front door you arrive in an elegant square hall, with doors leading to the graceful reception rooms.  Both feature original window shutters and beamed ceilings.  All the rooms in Ballymacadam have similar features, evoking the era in which this house was built.  It is a house best described as a house of stairs.  To the left of the hall the first stairs lead down to basement rooms, one of which is the large flagstone kitchen with its welcoming open hearth.  Several steps up from the kitchen, a great timber door leads to the cobbled courtyard and the beautiful stone outbuildings with slated roofs.  From the kitchen the backstairs ascend to a large room which was the servant’s quarters at one time.  The second stairs lead to the bathroom and second landing where three bedrooms face the great lawn.  The third stairs lead to the third floor with its three spacious attic rooms.  In the 1820s, Robert Madgett bred the famous Kerry Blue Terrier at Ballymacadam.  The Kerry Blue is a versatile breed of working terrier that is used as a hunter, retriever and herder of cattle and sheep.  Kerry is the only county in Ireland to have a registered breed called after it.  Ballymacadam House has many other family names associated with it; Bailey, Roche, O’Connor, Costelloe and Leahy.  In the late 1920s, John Curtin of Springmount purchased the house and land from John Leahy.  The property passed to Patrick and Helen Curtin in 1932 and today, this large old regal house, rich in heritage, is owned and lovingly cared for by Mary and Eileen Curtin.


Billy O’Leary currently farms at Ballymacadam.


[1] An obituary to Marshall, who left a widow and young children, was published in Saunders News Letter, 16 December 1809.  The following extract is taken from ‘The Leeson Marshalls of Callinafercy House, Milltown, Co Kerry’ by John Knightly (The Big House in Kerry (2022) pp117-200): ‘The Leeson Marshalls were descended from the Elizabethan adventurer, Tristram Marshall, who arrived in Kerry in 1602.  In 1799, aged twenty-nine, Ralph Marshall of Ballymacadam (Tristram’s direct descendant) married Jane Markham, heiress of Callinafercy.  Ralph, trained as a barrister, served as High Sheriff of Kerry in 1799 … According to family tradition he was opposed to the Act of Union, was a liberal, and moved in the same circles as Daniel O’Connell and Robert Emmet … Soon after his marriage Ralph took up residence in Callinafercy House … the couple also kept a small lodge at Glenbeigh which they would visit every summer for sea bathing … On his grand tour of Europe in 1794, Ralph had witnessed sea embankments being built in Holland and in 1800, built an embankment at Callinafercy … Ralph was an unpredictable character … in 1806, tired of improving Callinafercy, he moved to Tralee where he established a bank, ‘Marshall and Purcell’ whose notes had little circulation beyond the town.  In 1808, inspired by Spanish resistance to the French, Ralph closed the bank, bid farewell to his wife and children, and joined the anti-Napoleonic crusade.  He died in the Siege of Girona in 1809 leaving his wife and children almost destitute.’  The fortunes of his widow, who remarried to Captain Francis Martelli, and children are related in this chapter.  His eldest daughter and heiress, Elizabeth, married Robert Leeson Esq, eldest son of Hon Robert Lesson, uncle and presumptive heir to the Earl of Milltown, at Marseilles in 1820.  Elizabeth Marshall Leeson died at 2 Almorah-crescent, St Helier's, Jersey on 7 October 1878 in her 79th year.

Marshall genealogy discussed in Killaha Ancestral Home of The O'Donoghue of the Glens: A Correspondence (2016).

[2] In 1814, William Bailey was in residence.  Reference Valerie Bary (Houses of Kerry).

[3] John Markham Marshall Esq died from tuberculosis in Exeter in 1832.  He never married and the estate passed to his nephew, Richard Leeson.

[4] Freeman's Journal, 11 May 1839.  Donelan would seem to have been associated with the Donelans of Ballydonelan Castle. The history of this mansion was described in 1862: Ballydonelan Castle once surpassed in the magnificence of its internal arrangements and furniture any other in the west of Ireland was partially destroyed by fire last week. It was one of the most ancient seats in Galway, the O'Donelans occupying it in the 14th century when they lived in all the style of Irish princes. The estate of the Donelans of Ballydonelan like many another in this country became heavily encumbered and a few years ago changed owners in the great Land Mart of Henrietta-street. Mr James Donelan, the collector of customs at the Port of Exeter ... is a lineal descendant of the O'Donelans (Exeter Flying Post, 17 December 1862). The following might be of use: In 1830 the marriage took place of John Justice Cooper Esq to Frances, eldest daughter of M Donolan Esq and niece to Malachy Donelan of Ballydonelan Co Galway. In 1835, the Countess of Fingall died in her 62nd year, her remains buried at Killeen Castle, Co Meath, the vault of the Plunkett family. She was a sister of Malachy Donelan Esq of Ballydonelan, Co Galway (who predeceased her).

[5] The following from ‘Rice of Abbeydorney,’ Kerry Evening Post, 4 February 1914: ‘Thomas Rice married Catherine, sister of John Roche of Ballymacadam, Castleisland (their mother’s maiden name was Madgett, a near relative of Dr Nicholas Madgett, Bishop of Ardfert, 1753-1774).  They had 8 children, seven sons and one daughter, Eleanor (1822-1911) who married her cousin, William Roche of Ballymacadam and had issue Kate, Margaret, John, Tom.  After the death of William Roche, his widow and children went to San Francisco.’  The following marriage notice applies: On 11 November 1845, William, only child of John Roche Esq, was married at Bally-M'Elligott Church to Eleanor, only daughter of Thomas Rice of Abbey O'Dorney Esq.  A daughter was born at Ballymacadam the following year. 

Madgett Family: In 1907, historian Jeremiah King, who attributed the name to settlers from Devon, sought information about the Madgett family of Kerry.  He wrote, ‘Nicholas Madgett was translated on exchange from Killaloe See on February 23rd 1753 to be bishop (RC) of Kerry.  He built a residence in a narrow lane off Strand Street, Tralee for the sum of £16 3s 10½d and lived a very retired life there until his death in 1774 when he was buried at Ardfert in the same tomb with Bishops Moriarty and O’Sullivan …[another] Nicholas Madgett was a French-Irish official known to Wolfe Tone.  Another Madgett was an officer in the Spanish or American navy and was some connection with the Daltons of North Kerry.  I cannot trace the name in O’Hart, Four Masters or Army or Navy Lists of France, Spain, America or England’ (Kerry People, 9 November 1907).   Notes on Dr Madgett’s House Book relating to the building of his house in Tralee was published in the Kerryman, 1 June 1963 (‘A Rare Collection’). 

Bishop Madgett: ‘Nicholas Madgett resided in a small house in Chapel Street and his cathedral was a small church built on the site now occupied by Messrs Kellihers’ Mill.  Later a more commodious building was opened in a lane off Castle Street, replaced in 1870 by the present St John’s’ (Kerryman, 1 June 1940). ‘According to local tradition, Dr Madgett was either a first cousin or an uncle of Dr Nicholas Nelan, who was parish priest of Causeway from 1782 until 1806  when he (Dr Nelan) retired and went to live at Sandford House which had been built by his father, John Nelan, when he came from County Clare and settled in the district … Most Rev Dr Madgett whose father, Sheon Madgett, is said to have come from Limerick and settled in the Causeway district, built a palace at Strand House’ (Kerryman, 1 June 1963).  See Dictionary of Irish Biography for further information about Bishop Madgett.

Madgett: A notice of the death at Tralee of Rev John Madget, a Clergyman of the Church of Rome, was published in Finns Leinster Journal on 18 April 1778.  The following is also of interest: ‘A friend, rummaging among old papers, found the following form of spirit licence granted in Tralee:  Curious Publican’s Bond endorsed – Tralee Walk – Francis Connolly and Andrew Madgett – Bond and Certificate for X Water Lycence £1 10s.  Be it Remembered, That on the 23rd Day of August in the Year of our Lord, one Thousand seven Hundred and Sixty-four, Francis Connolly and Andrew Madgett, both of Tralee and on the County of Kerry, came before me, Collector of His Majesty’s Excise for the District of Tralee, and acknowledged themselves jointly and severally to be indebted to our Sovereign Lord King George the Third, in the sum of Thirty Pounds sterling, good and lawful Money of Great-Britain, to be paid to our said Sovereign Lord the King, his Heirs and Successors; for the true payment whereof they bind themselves and each of them, their, and each of their Heirs, Executors and Administrators jointly and severally by these Presents, to be levied of their and each of their Lands, Tenements, Goods, and Chattels, to the Use of our said Sovereign Lord the King, His Heirs and Successors.  The Condition of the above Recognizance is such That whereas the above named Francis Connolly is Licenced by the collector of the above District to sell X Waters according to Act of Parliament.  If therefore the said Francis Connoly shall sell X Waters at reasonable Rates, and shall not make or utter any unwholesome Bread, Beer, Ale, Wine, Strong-waters or Victuals, and shall not use or suffer any Drunkenness or excessive Gameing, or any Diceing or Gameing; and shall keep good Order and Rule in his House, and shall not willingly harbour any suspected Persons, or any of ill Behaviour, or any of the Neighbours’ Servants during the time of his Licence.  Then the above Recognizance to be void and of no effect, otherwise to remain in full Force and Virtue in Law.  Taken and acknowledged before me the Day and Year above written. Signed Andrew Madgett.  Francis Connellie.’

[6] ‘English Settlers in East Kerry’ by T M Donovan, Kerryman, 4 October 1930.  ‘When the Goss in his old age used to visit our town, he often went home nice and sugac, and now and again a little quarrelsome.  On the occasions of a tiff with top-o-the-street folk he was often heard to mutter, ‘Ah, if the dogs o’ Castleisland knew who I am they would fight to the last for Goss Murphy.’ 

[7] Irish Independent, 4 September 1911.  Further reference, see Egerton Clarke’s  The Popular Kerry Blue Terrier (1927).

[8] London born artist Margaret Kenny, who has lived in Ireland since about 1969 and resides in Killarney, painted the Kerry Blue for her mother (whose dog it was) from a photograph taken in Dingle.  Margaret took an ICA course in painting with Diane Lavery of Castlemaine in the early 1980s.  Up until then she was unaware of her talent.  She staged her first exhibition at the Gleneagle Hotel Killarney in 1986, with depictions of such landmarks as Ross Castle, the Gap of Dunloe and Torc Waterfall.  She subsequently opened a studio at her home, ‘Sliabh Luachra,’ Loreto Road, Killarney.  She was a founder member of the Killarney Art Club and painted murals in St Finan’s Hospital Killarney.  She was involved with the Kerry Parents and Friends of the Mentally Handicapped and utilised her art work to aid this and other organisations such as the Cancer Society, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, St Finan’s Mentally Handicapped, the Gleneagle Concert Band and the Irish Wheelchair Association Lourdes Fund.  She married William Kenny, Scartaglen, brother of the late Frank (Francie) Kenny of Castleisland and first cousin of the late Mike Kenny, Castleisland. 

[9] Kerry Evening Post, 5 February 1858.  In February 1862, John Roche held an inquest following the wreck of the Success of Liverpool, laden with ‘green heart’ timber from Demarara, at Ventry harbour.  The captain and one sailor survived, nine sailors drowned.  A few years later, in February 1865, he held an inquest on the body of a sailor washed ashore near Inch.  It was supposed that the deceased was one of the crew of an Italian vessel wrecked in a storm the previous week. 

[10] John Roche, whose address in 1872 was Sandville, resigned from the coronership in 1876 and Thomas F Spring of Riverville put his name forward for the post (in January 1893, Thomas J Lamie, Solicitor, Castleisland, put his name forward for the coronership upon the death of Captain Spring).  John Roche, 'late District Coroner for 25 years' died in Castleisland on 12 December 1881 in his 89th year.

[11] Cork Constitution, 2 May 1864.  In 1898, Dr Harold mooted his resignation in a letter to the Tralee Board of Guardians about his pension: ‘Feeling that I can no longer efficiently discharge the laborious work of my dispensary [I] beg respectfully to ask you to grant me the small measure of full superannuation …I am justly entitled after a trying and worrying service of nearly fifty years during which time I am proud to say no serious charge of neglect of duty has ever been made against me.  I worked, as some of you may know, the entire of the Brosna district, numbers 1 and 2 alone, for a period of 25 years, what now takes two doctors to perform the duties … I ask your Board to generously allow me the sum stated for the short time I expect to enjoy it with a shattered constitution’ (Kerry Reporter, 23 April 1898).  Dr Harold died in September 1904.  The Census of Ireland 1901 recorded 80-year-old Dr Harold at Knockananlig with wife Ellen C Harold, and children Joan and Daisy Harold and son St John Harold.  Richard Foster Newland, grandson age 7, was also present.  See Michael O’Donohoe Collection Catalogue (2018) on this website (pp363-364 and pp402-403) for genealogical notes on the Harold family.

[12] Her letter addressed the subjects of eviction and boycotting including the expulsion from schools in Listowel and Lixnaw of children named Browne, whose father had taken an evicted farm (Kerry Weekly Reporter, 13 June 1885 & Kerry Evening Post, 13 June 1885).

[13] Mrs H Dillon, wife of John Dillon, Church Street, Listowel died in March 1907.  She was the daughter of Cornelius Keane of Ballygrennan and Mrs Bessie Moloney of Duagh, esteemed and old families of North Kerry.  John O’Connor, Ballymacadam, her nephew, was among the mourners.

[14] Kerry People, 8 July 1911.  Sister Mary Agatha, who died at the Presentation Convent, Castleisland in April 1923, was a daughter of ‘the late Richard O’Connor of Bally McAdam House, Castleisland’ (Freeman’s Journal, 12 April 1923).

[15] In that year a wedding took place: James, son of John D Allman, Rockfield, Beaufort, nephew of Rev M Allman, PP Ballyheigue and Rev John Larkin PP Lixnaw, was married to Miss Nonie McCarthy, youngest daughter of Daniel McCarthy, Moloughmarky, Castleisland.  Among the gifts was one from Mr Thomas Costello, Ballymacadam House.

[16] In February 1928, Miss Curtin of Ballymacadam was married in Castleisland to Matthew Wren.  They had one son, also Matthew Wren, who married into the family of Costello from Cordal, with descendants.  Another daughter married into the O’Leary family.