The Pound, Castleisland: A survey of the era

The pound, an enclosure used to impound straying or seized (confiscated) animals, was once a common feature of the towns and villages of Ireland.[1]  The practice of impounding animals dates back to at least the fourteenth century.[2]


Inevitably, many streets took their name from the structure, and Pound Lanes and Pound Roads became part of the Irish landscape.


Killarney had a ‘Pound Row’ described in 1935 as ‘a series of dilapidated houses, unsightly and an eyesore to visitors and residents.’ The imposing two story house to the right of Pound Row is the Church of Ireland Killarney Parochial School[3]

The pound in Castleisland, containing a small shed, was situated about 100 yards up Pound Road (or, as it was styled earlier, Pound Lane).  Stories of the pound, and of those who kept it, are found in local folklore.


The Schools’ Collection of the 1930s contains a tale from the nineteenth century about the pound in Cordal:


The old fashioned archway in the very old, but well-kept bohereen leading into Peter Kearney’s house is the only evidence left of Cordal Great House which was inhabited about 100 years ago.  The Twishes [Twiss] a protestant family lived there. They were land agents over Cordal and Brehig. They served Lord Ventry. Thomas Walsh, a tenant, coming home late one night found his cattle seized by Twish [Twiss].  He found them in the pound which was about half a mile east of Cordal chapel.  The landlord on discovering his attempt to recover the cattle pursued him, and hit him a blow of a stick.  Walsh broke it in his hand, and took Twish under his arm to the pound gate which he opened with a bang of the knee, and let the cows walk out over the prostrate figure of Twish.  Meantime, Foster, Twishes right hand man, gave Walsh a blow of a backhand in the head thus stunning him.  Nevertheless Walsh brought home the cattle but died three months after this.  This man’s death occurred in 1837 and shortly afterwards the Twishes left the great house.[4]


Mid Nineteenth Century reports on impounding


Many cases of grievances against the practices of the pound or pound keepers (or pound masters) were heard in the local assizes.  In 1884, Tralee auctioneer Michael O’Flaherty Slattery (1826-1900) supported the argument for the abolition of the law of distress, citing a case in which 24 sheep were impounded in Tralee Pound for the sum of £36, but after 14 days there, ‘famished and reducing,’ were sold for £12 which after costs left net proceeds of £5.[5]


Occasionally pound keepers were summonsed for poor husbandry or allowing animals to stray.  They also came under threat.  In 1893, two men from Abbeyfeale were charged with attempting to break into the pound in Tralee.  The pound keeper, John Burchell, on asking the men what they wanted, was told to back off or they would ‘blow out his brains.’[6]


Pound Lane / Pound Road


The pound also served to record the economic conditions of the places it gave name to.  In 1871, Pound Lane, Castleisland, was described as being ‘full to the brim and overflowing at the back in the form of a square called the cooleen.’[7]


Twenty years on, Dr Browne, a sanitary inspector, reported ‘a row of wretched hovels unfit for human habitation.’[8]  Later in the same year (1891), a series of evictions took place there.  A journalist described the harrowing conditions as they then existed:


The population of this open lane is about 500, most of whom have no back door, no pane of glass, a bed, or a chimney in their wigwams.  The smoke is made to go through a hole in the thatch or out the door.  Immediately after putting down the fire the poor must adjourn to the street till the fire is red or the smoke would suffocate them.  The food is of the poorest kind; the beds are a few sacks or canvas covering, with dried rushes for a bed, the whole establishment supported with props of sticks and stones.[9]


Nonetheless, the inhabitants of Pound Road were ‘the very best stock in Ireland’:


They were the sons and daughters of farmers evicted by landlords and grabbers and it was those people who gave Castleisland the title of the Home of the Moonlighters.[10]


Indeed, this part of Castleisland town had ‘a character and culture all of its own’:


At the beginning of this century [20th], the old houses on Pound Road were mud and stone buildings, neatly thatched and whitewashed with wispy smoke curling from turf fires.  This part of town had a character and culture all its own.  Oh! to remember the days of the fine, happy people who lived there.  Women in shawls leaning on half doors, while children played with boulies, and the menfolk went about their daily toil.  Those days are long gone, but will be forever remembered in the folklore of Castleisland.[11]


Depictions of Pound Road by Peter Robin Hill, and from Fr Kieran O’Shea’s book, Castleisland Church and People


In 1957, living conditions in Pound Road remained dire, described as ‘shocking … the worst in the country.’[12]  By 1960, a new housing scheme had been proposed and in the years that followed, the area was developed.[13]


Castleisland Pound Today


The old practice of the pound died with the era of its utility, and the structure itself has now also disappeared.  It was developed for housing in recent years.[14]


History in the Sign


Memories of this enclosure and the communities that grew up around it are held now in the road after which it was named.


[1] ‘A pound or pinfold is a small enclosure in which to pen stray animals.  If your cattle or sheep strayed and were caught and penned, they could only be reclaimed on payment of a fee, as is the case today with wrongly parked vehicles: they are impounded. The person in charge of the cattle and the fees was known as the Pinner or pinder’ (Lichfield Mercury, 29 October 1998).

[2] ‘Pounds and Pinfolds’ by Nigel Mills, author of Pounds and Pinfolds of Cumbria The History and Mystery of the Pinfold (2015).

[3] St Mary’s Parochial School, Killarney, or Killarney Parochial School, as engraved on a plaque on the building, is entered on College Street.  The school building, which survives, and which appears from the Ordnance Survey maps to have been redeveloped, holds a wealth of history.  For example, on 16 February 1899, Canadian Minister, the Hon John Webster (1856-1928), delivered a lecture in the school house about his country, illustrated by magic lanterns.  The school appears to have closed in about the 1960s.

[4] The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0449, pp 080-082.

[5] M O’F Slattery, auctioneer and county valuation office, Tralee, to the editor of the Kerry Weekly Reporter, 22 March 1884. 

[6] Kerry Sentinel, 15 February 1893.  In 1894, Timothy Murphy was pound keeper of Castleisland.

[7] Divane’s Calendar (1996); O’Donohoe Collection reference IE MOD/C19.  A report of the poor condition of Pound Lane was made by Dr William Nolan, Medical Officer, to the Tralee Union in 1878.

[8] Report of Dr Browne, Inspector, to the Tralee Board, 1891.

[9] Kerry Weekly Reporter, 19 September 1891.  ‘For this property there was a big lawsuit.  Eventually a Dr Myles, Limerick, and a Mr Twiss, near here, claimed ownership.  More than once the poor offered the old rent of 7s a year and upwards, but it would not be taken.  For several days the bellman was out announcing the sheriff was coming; the people armed themselves with pitchforks when the day of battle came, the sheriff announced he would reinstate every one of them – he only wanted possession.  By this clever manoeuvre he carried the day.  Mr T W Russell declared Pound Lane, Castleisland, to be the worst spot in Europe, and promised to get Mr Balfour to spend some of the £40,000 he had in his own gift in pulling down those plague dens and building habitable homes for those very poor people.  Both Mr Balfour and Mr Russell when appealed to refused to do anything for them.  Mr Russell at one time answered he would move the local government board in their behalf, but it is like every other act of the Tory government in Ireland.  Here, when the poor ask bread they get a stone.  Even a blanket or a loaf of bread out of Miss Balfour’s fund they don’t get, though Mr Drummond, a local land proprietor, gave £100 towards the fund.  Mr Maurice Murphy appealed to the sheriff to advise the landlord to settle with these poor people at a few shillings yearly, and to put the place in a sanitary state.  This he promised to do, and so ended the day’s proceedings.  Mr Murphy frequently brought tourists to Pound Lane.  One and all that ever saw it, threw up their hands, saying the state of Ireland was a disgrace to England.’

Despite the concerns, some of the dwellings were still inhabited in the 1930s and 1940s. See and

[10] ‘The Worst Houses in the Country,’ Kerryman, 21 December 1957.

[11] Description of Pound Road from Divane’s Calendar (1996), with accompanying artistic impression by artist Peter Robin Hill.  Hill illustrated a series of calendars for Volkswagen car dealers Divane’s Castleisland in the 1990s and 2000s.  See O’Donohoe Collection reference IE MOD/C19.

[12] Report of P J McElligott at a meeting of the County Council Housing Committee in Tralee in December 1957 (Kerryman, 21 December 1957). 

[13] Herr Erwin Meyer of Bavaria proposed to establish a button factory in Pound Road in 1960, to produce mother-of-pearl buttons (Kerryman, 19 November 1960).

[14] Generally speaking, the pound died out with the demise of the fair day in about the 1960s.