John Twiss of Castleisland: Family Links to the ‘New World’

Castleisland District Heritage awaits the outcome of its application for the Presidential Pardon of John Twiss of Castleisland, wrongfully hanged in 1895 for a murder he did not commit.[1]  In the meantime, research into the family of John Twiss is ongoing.  Research shows that many in his extended family left Ireland for the ‘New World,’ as indeed did his brother, and technology is aiding the progress of genealogical research, re-connecting families long separated by time, distance and events.


The Brothers of John Twiss of Castleisland

John Twiss had two brothers, George, who died in Manhattan on 22 September 1903[2] and William, who lived in New Zealand.  William was anxious to return to Ireland to support his brother during his trial in Cork in 1894.  However, William was advised against such a move by Rev Marnane, his parish priest.  William Twiss died in Christchurch on 14 February 1919 and was buried in Sydenham Cemetery, Christchurch on 17 February 1919.[3]


William Twiss was described as a labouring man.  Nothing more is known about his life in New Zealand.[4]


The Extended Family of John Twiss of Castleisland

In 1955, a notice appeared in a newspaper.  A lady named Lillian Twiss from Brisbane was on a visit to Ireland, the purpose of her round-the-world trip to seek information about her Kerry ancestors.  She described how her parents, Edward Twiss of Kerry, and Delia Folan of Galway, were ‘fresh from Ireland’ when they married in what she called ‘the wild and woolly west of Queensland.’


Edward and Delia Twiss never returned to Ireland but they never lost their love of their country of birth and its language.  Lillian, taking six months’ leave of absence from her job at the Commonwealth Bank of Brisbane, hoped to bridge the years and take back news of the old country.


Lillian first travelled to Connemara where she stayed with her cousin, Dr Martin Enda Folan.[5]  From there she went to Kerry to look up her father’s relatives.  She was particularly interested in seeking information about ‘Captain Twiss’ who was ‘hanged in Kanturk for a crime he did not commit’ – which suggests a family link to John Twiss.[6]  Unfortunately, no other details were given about the particular part of Kerry she planned to visit.[7]


However, research has revealed that her father, Edward Twiss, was born in Callinafercy, Co Kerry in July 1880, and so it is likely she took up her enquiries there.  Edward was the son of Francis Twiss (1843-1925) and Ellen Heffernan (1846-1927).[8]  Edward married Delia Bridget Folan (sometimes Foley) in Cairns, North Queensland, on 16 April 1909.[9]  The couple had nine children.[10]  Edward Twiss of Callinafercy died in Queensland on 19 April 1971.


Sons of Martin Twiss of Killeentierna

John Twiss of Castleisland descended from John Twiss of Ballahantouragh, Co Kerry, youngest of the six sons of Martin Twiss of Killeentierna, Co Kerry, who were Francis Twiss (1705-1743 unmarried), Robert Twiss (died 1777, married Dorcas Godfrey, from whom descends Twiss of Cordal House), William Twiss of Ballybeg (married Avice Godfrey), George Twiss (married Eliza Day) and Richard Twiss (married Eliza Radley).[11]


The name Edward does not appear to have been common in the branch of John Twiss of Ballahantouragh, who married Elizabeth Bastable.  However, many by this name are found in the branch of his older brother, George.


George Twiss of Kerry

This George Twiss, fourth son of Martin of Killeentierna, married Elizabeth, daughter of John Day of The Manor, Kerry.  They had two sons and two daughters.  The sons were Francis Twiss of Thornhill, Milltown, Co Kerry and Edward Twiss of Stealroe, Killorglin, Co Kerry.[12]  The name Edward is found in their descendants, though in the first named, Francis of Thornhill, the name appears to have died out.


Francis Twiss of Thornhill

Francis Twiss of Thornhill, son of George, married Frances, daughter of John Curry, in 1791.[13]  Francis and Frances had six sons and two daughters, George, John, Francis, Edward, Robert, William, Frances and Elizabeth.[14]


Eldest son, George Twiss, died at Blennerville on 19 November 1819 after ‘a fowling piece went off’ and lacerated his hand.  Second son John Twiss, born in 1797, was of Haremount, Ballahantouragh.  He married Mary Anne Wellstead.[15] Third son, Francis Twiss (1799-1871), married in Tralee on 25 May 1820 to Barbara, daughter of (late) Christopher Hilliard Esq of Tralee.[16]  Fourth son Edward Twiss, born in 1805, married twice, producing six sons and three daughters – his eldest son, also Edward, married Ellen Thompson.[17] Fifth son Robert Twiss MD, also born in 1805, married Priscilla Wellstead (no issue).   Sixth and youngest son was William Twiss (1807-1860), sometimes given as William Keep Twiss, of Summerhill, Ballahantouragh, Co Kerry.


William Twiss of Summerhill married in 1839 to Anne, daughter of John M Corneille (Corneil) (1778-1865) of Rower House, Adare, Co Limerick and Jane Eaton.  They had four sons and three daughters, including William (born c1849), George (1843-1899) who emigrated to Wodonga, Australia where he settled and raised a family[18] and Robert Corneille Twiss (1850-1934) who seems to have settled in Canada.[19]


William Twiss, born c1849, remained in Kerry.  He married in 1874 to Jane, daughter of William Marshall Saunders of Carker House, Scartaglen, Co Kerry.  William and Jane had four sons and four daughters, some of whom also domiciled abroad.  Third son Francis John Twiss (1883-1975) was living in Christchurch, New Zealand, when he was baptised at age 28 on 31 January 1911, the same year in which he married Eliza Jane Costello.[20]  His younger brother, Robert Dudley Twiss (1890-1916) served in the Canadian Infantry and is remembered on the Vimy Memorial.[21]


Francis Twiss of Thornhill died on 8 May 1817.  His widow, Frances Twiss (née Curry) died on 4 December 1835.


Edward Twiss of Stealroe

Edward Twiss of Stealroe married Mary Newton on 13 April 1799.[22]  They had seven children, four sons and three daughters.[23]  Their fourth son, Edward Twiss (1814-1877), had Australian connections, and was described as of Killorglin and of Darriwell, Victoria.  He married in 1860 at Buninyong, Victoria, to Mary Jane (Minnie), eldest daughter of late Rev P S Newman, incumbent of Dunlewey, Co Donegal.  They had seven children, four sons and three daughters, including an Edward.[24]


The Twiss family of Stealroe, who seem to have been established there since at least the 1820s, appear to have lost association with the area in about the 1860s.[25]


Above left: Old building at Stealroe and (right) Milltown, Co Kerry.  In the Centre, Evelyn Josephine Twiss, one of the children of Edward and Delia Twiss, on her marriage to Dr Peter Bede English


Puzzling the Twiss Family Tree

Clearly, there is much work to be done in putting together the complex family tree of John Twiss of Castleisland.  But it is clear from the information to hand that John Twiss spoke in earnest when he declared from the dock in 1894 that he belonged ‘to the blood of gentlemen.’[26]


[1] Application was submitted to government in June 2019. 

[2] An account of George Twiss is in preparation and will be published shortly on this website.

[3] Information courtesy Diocesan Archives, Christchurch.

[4] If anyone can add biography, we would be delighted to hear from you:  

[5] Dr Martin Enda Folan of ‘Sancta Clara,’ Threadneedle Road, Salthill, Galway, was Professor of Bacteriology at Galway University for twenty-five years and bacteriologist at Galway Regional Hospital.  His family originated from the Spiddal area of Co Galway and he graduated in medicine at University College Dublin.  He was assistant pathologist at University College Cork with an address of Mount Carmel, Wilton Road, Cork before he went to Galway in the late 1940s.   He was President of Galway Flying Club and an amateur radio enthusiast, chairman of the Irish Radio Transmitters Society in which role he organised a meeting of radio fans on the Aran Islands.  He married Jane (Jeannie) Christina Lynch of Co Wicklow.  Dr Folan died suddenly on 1 June 1972 in his late 50s.  He was survived by his widow and sons Peter, assistant librarian UCG, Enda, a student of UCG and Ian, a student and daughters Mrs Ann Quinn, Dublin and Jean, a student at UCG.

[6] Irish Independent, 17 August 1955. 

[7] It is worth noting here the marriage, at Dromtariff Church, Co Cork, by Rev Bevan, of Edward Twiss Esq of Scartaglen to Sarah, daughter of James Bond Esq of Elmville, Co Cork, announced in the Kerry Evening Post, 12 September 1832.

[8] Edward’s siblings were Richard (b1871) George (b1874) Jeremiah (1884-1926) and Ellen (b1889).  Edward’s father, Francis Twiss (1843-1925) was son of Richard Twiss (1806-1862) of Currow and Bridget Clifford (O Clumhain) (1820-1895) of Cahersiveen.  Richard’s older brother was William Twiss, baptised in Killeentierna in 1804.  The parents of Richard and William were Francis Twiss (died 1817 Kerry) and Susan Boyle.    

[9] Delia Bridget (Biddy) Folan was born in Spiddal in August 1883, eighth child of six boys and five girls of Martin Folan (1843-1909) and Margaret Geraghty (1847-1909).   Delia Bridget (Biddy) Twiss died in Brisbane on 15 November 1966.

[10] The children were Edward Francis Twiss (b1906) may have studied at the Christian Brothers’ College (now St Joseph’s College) Brisbane; Thomas Joseph (1908-1970), Mary Ellen (1910-2002) married Basil John Birgan; Evelyn Josephine (1912-1961) married, as his second wife, Dr Peter Bede English (1904-1984); David Patrick (1915-1989) married Beryl Catherine James; Margaret Constance (Nancy) (1917-2004) married Alfred John (Jack) Monro; Gerard Martin (1919-1997) married Armyne Hooper; Lilian Agnes (1922), Veronica Sabina (1925-2004).  Sincere thanks to Marie Huxtable Wilson, Tralee for assistance with genealogical research.

[11] The two daughters were Ellen, who married John Marshall, and Mary, who married Williams. 

[12] It is not clear where Stealroe was situate, it was not marked on the early Ordnance Survey map.  Many of the dwellings illustrated on the early map were demolished possibly to make way for the Great Southern & Western Railway.  A few old dwellings remain near the fort of Farranmacwilliam upon which site today stands a farm.  In 1853, the lands of Farran Macwilliam, part of the ordnance townland of Stealroe, were in the sale of Incumbered Estates in Ireland (though subsequently withdrawn), the Estate of Rev Edward Day and Edward John Day Esq, owners and petitioners (also the lands of Beaufort, Coolnagort, lands of Tinnehally, the tenements ‘Joy’s Tenement’ and premises known as the new ‘Corn Exchange’ in Tralee).  The family of Foulue (Timothy, Charles and John) was associated with Farranmacwilliam in Tithe records.

[13] Francis Twiss Esq was recorded at Wood Lodge, Milltown, in 1814. Thornhill was described as near Milltown.  It is worth noting a Thornhill House situated in a small townland adjoining Birdhill.

[14] IE MOD/C100.

[15] Further reference,

[16] They had three daughters, Frances, Ellen and Elizabeth.

[17] Edward and Ellen Twiss had one son, William, and four daughters, Sarah, Mildred, Mariella and Helena.

[18] See ‘The Twiss Family of Ballahantouragh, Co Kerry’ on this website.

[19] As far as can be established, the children of William Twiss and Anne Corneille were Francis, John (or George) (1849-1918) who married Edith Byer in 1890, William who married Jane Saunders, Robert who married Jane Shoubler, Frances, Elizabeth and Ann.  Ann married on 19 February 1879 to George Grogan, widower, farmer, Co Leitrim, son of John Grogan and Margaret Kerman.  See note 6,

[20] Reference courtesy Diocesan Archives, Christchurch.  Francis John Twiss (1883-1975) married to Eliza Jane Costello (1890-1940) had issue Dudley (b1928), Valerie, Godfrey (killed at Alamein), Brian Leonard Twiss (1922-2002) who married Dawn Bliss; Margaret and Joan Maureen Twiss (1927-2000) also Frederick James Twiss (died 1916).

[21] The two older sons were William, who married McCoy, and George, who also married.  The daughters were Elizabeth (died 1922), Letitia (married Hickson, died 1910), Marion, and Helena, who died young.

[22] Stealroe, otherwise Steelroe, see for spelling variations.   It is given as Stealrooagh in Tithe records.  The property was situated near Killorglin.

[23] As far as can be established, the children were Francis (1809-1852), George (1807-1879) Richard (1816-1881) Edward (1814-1877), Lucy (1803-1873) married Talbot, Eliza (1805-1884), Honoria (born 1811).
Francis Twiss (1809-1852) died in an accident at the mill at Stealroe on 19 January 1852. 

George Twiss (1807-1879) of Killorglin and Richard Twiss (1816-1881) of Curra House, Glenbeigh (Rossbeigh) married sisters, Eleanor and Frances, daughters of Andrew McCarthy Esq of Caherciveen, grandnieces of Colonel William McCarthy (97th), in 1860 and 1858 respectively.  Both marriages produced ‘Edwards’ – see below.

George and Eleanor Twiss had seven children, four sons and three daughters.  Their eldest son Edward married Mary May and had four sons George, John, William and Edward (the last named (1895-1960) married E M Wallis and had George and Leslie). George and Eleanor’s second son, George, married Mary Watson and had Edward, who married Kathleen O’Keeffe.  One of George and Eleanor’s daughters, Jane, married in 1901 to Dingle-born artist Richard Henry Albert Willis (1853-1905) whose biography is given in A Dictionary of Irish Artists (1913).   An account of their son Oscar (1903-1969) otherwise Oscar D Mac Carthaigh Uileas is given at

Richard and Frances Twiss had six children, five sons and one daughter.  Eldest son was Francis (who had Edward, Lily, Annie and Fanny – the first named Edward married twice with no issue) and second son was Edward, born 1862.  Third son Richard born 20 June 1865 in Australia.  Fourth son Frances born 1867 died in Canada. Fifth son George died young as did daughter Elizabeth.

[24] As far as can be established, the children were George, Frances, Edward (who had Edward), William, Sarah, Eleanor, Leonora (1873-1953) married Oswald Polkinghorne (1884-1961).

[25] Edward Twiss of Stealroe applied to register the freehold lands of Stealroe and Fishery on the River Laune in 1830.  In 1843, an investigation took place into an attack made on the weir of Messrs Twiss on the River Laune when an attempt was made to demolish it.  In this respect, it is worth noting that the year before, in a report about the state of the Irish Fisheries, remarks were made about Lord Eliot’s new Bill, and a petition by nine persons named Foley for exemption under same.  ‘What a precious gang of Foulues, are these nine Foleys, with their law-protected weirs and nets, and ice-houses, catching and sweeping the devoted salmon into their stores for exportation from the midst of a starving population.  The river Maine at Killorglin affords another melancholy illustration of the same iniquitous system.  A Scotch company hold there also the dominion of the deep, and haul on shore the salmon in hundreds, which are packed in ice and under the eyes of the people of the town, thence exported to the English markets so that a salmon in Killorglin is as difficult to be had and as dear in purchase as if the river Maine flowed one hundred miles distant from the town’ (Kerry Examiner, 3 June 1842). In 1865, the Fishery commissioners held an inquiry into fishing weirs of the Killarney district at Killarney courthouse.  The weirs inquired into were those of Mr Butler’s Currane Weir at Waterville and the Caragh Weir.  In the former, it was shown that the stone weir was granted by letters patent in 1604 to Dominick McCarthy, son of the Earl of Clancarthy of that day.  In 1641 the lands were forfeited and by patent 25th of Charles II, they were granted to Robert Redding (or Reading), ‘lands of Kirrane, otherwise Currane, together with the fishing thereunto belonging.’  Mr Reading, afterwards Sir Robert Reading, sold the property to the Brewster family of Kerry in which family it remained until it fell to Miss Lucy Brewster, last of that family.  She married Mr Arthur Herbert, and in 1738, Miss Brewster and her husband executed to Mr Theobald Butler a lease of Currane.  In 1768, a lease was executed between the children of Theobald Butler and by this deed, Whitewell Butler purchased the whole estate from his siblings.  Mr Whitewell Butler left the property to his son, James Butler who settled it on his son, the then owner, on his marriage in 1849, coming into possession of it in 1863 on the death of his father.  In the case of the Caragh Weir, Mr M J Foley and others stated their title which was a lease made in 1798 from Richard Blennerhassett to James Foulue, ancestor of the present owners, for 999 years.  The title was proved.  Philip Michael Foley murdered his cousin, Philip James Foley at Caragh Weir on 25 April 1862.  He was sentenced to death but it was commuted by the Lord Lieutenant in August.  An account of the Foleys given in ‘Big Mick and the Foley Faction’ Days of the Blackthorn (2020) by Séan Moraghan. 

In 1860, George Twiss Esq of Stealroe married Eleanor, youngest daughter of the late Andrew McCarthy Esq of Cahirciveen.  R Twiss of Killorglin attended the funeral of Lady Headley to Aghadoe in February 1863.