The Twiss Family of Ballahantouragh, Co Kerry

Has justice been done? Well, a day shall come
When a different judge shall try ...

Ballahantouragh, a townland in Kerry, lies near the village of Scartaglen, a few miles outside Castleisland.[1]  John Twiss of Cordal, Castleisland, hanged in 1895 for the murder, in 1894, of James Donovan, was descended from a branch of Twiss of Ballahantouragh.[2]


His ancestors had three residences in this place, Summerhill, Haremount and Rockbrook, all occupied by members of the Twiss family.


Cluster of former Twiss residences near Scartaglen: (l-r) Entrance to Summerhill House, now residence of the Connor family; Rockbrook, on the farm of Tom Culloty (pictured) and the ruined Haremount, covered by overgrowth


As the outcome of the application for the Presidential Pardon of John Twiss is awaited, we present a cursory glance at the Twiss family of Ballahantouragh.[3]


Summerhill House


Summerhill House was the oldest of the properties, dating to the early eighteenth century.[4]  It was associated with William Twiss who in 1856, was on the committee of the Castleisland District Dispensary.[5]


The known children of William were Frances Jane, born 1840;[6] George (1843-1899) who settled in Australia[7] and William, born in 1849.


In 1882, the house of William Twiss, Summerhill, was attacked by moonlighters.[8]  Some years later, in December 1885, two policemen were attacked at Ballahantouragh hut and Caungilla protection post.


William Twiss married Jane, daughter of William Marshall Saunders of nearby Carker House, Scartaglin.[9]  The wedding took place on 2 June 1874 at Killeentierna Church, Currow.  William Twiss was described as third son of the ‘late’ William Twiss Esq of ‘Ballinatragh.’


William and Jane had a large family including Robert Dudley Twiss, commemorated on the Canadian Vimy Memorial in France.[10]


In 1901, the family lived at Curragraigue, Blennerville.  In 1910, William Twiss attended the funeral of his son-in-law, Edward William Hickson.  In 1911, William and Jane Twiss were living at 18 Cowper Road, Rathmines, Dublin with daughters Elizabeth Frances Twiss, Marion Ellen Twiss and the widowed Letitia Lucinda Hickson.[11]


It would seem that the family retained Summerhill until about 1919 when it was bought by the O’Connor family.[12]


Rockbrook House


Rockbrook was built by Francis Twiss in 1837.  His sister, Frances, died at Rockbrook on 1 July 1865 aged 72.[13]


On 31 July 1865, Edward Day Twiss (1839-1925), son of Edward, married Ellen, daughter of James Thompson of Crag, Castleisland.  A daughter, Sarah Helena, was born at Rockbrook on 11 May 1866.[14]  More children followed.[15]


During the period of the Land War, the family emigrated to Canada.[16]


Haremount House


Haremount was built by John Twiss in 1838.  In 1847, John Twiss of Ballintauraugh applied, as a freeholder, to vote.[17]


John Twiss of Haremount married, in 1840, Mary Anne Wellstead.[18]  A son, John Richard Twiss, was born in 1848.[19]  Two daughters were also born, one of whom married into the Powell family of Sandville.[20]


Mrs Twiss was known throughout the district as a charitable lady who dispensed herbal remedies to the poor people.[21]  She died in 1900.[22]


John Richard Twiss did not marry.  He died at Haremount on 4 December 1924 aged 76, which severed the association of Twiss of Ballahantouragh.


Stand By!


When Twiss was hanged in 1895, the following verse appeared in the United Irishman.[23] It was written by his namesake, John Twiss, Castleisland and asked, ‘Has justice been done?’


It is hoped that this question may be answered, to some degree, in the near future.


It rings through the crowded courthouse,
The badge of a conquered race;
It tries to imprint on each heart and brow
The brand of a deep disgrace.
It tells of a powerless people,
Of a creed proscribed and banned,
Of men whom the laws hold alien
In their own and their fathers’ land.

And as each steps up to be sworn
Again is heard that cry
Which rises from ’neath the judgment seat,
The ominous words, ‘Stand by.’
‘Stand by,’ tho’ the very last challenge
Of the captive has long since gone.
‘Stand by’ all Irish Papists,
Each True Blue Brother, ‘On.’

The pale-faced prisoner sadly
Looks on in dull despair;
Well he knows the end is coming,
No justice expects he there.
He looks at the jury sworn
His fate forthwith to try;
But the faces of merciless foemen prove
How well worked the words, ‘Stand by.’

Now the worst is known.  With form erect 
Forward he stands to hear
His doom decreed by the English law,
But his face betrays no fear.
He says farewell with a last long glance
To those of his race who are nigh –
Mere Irish Celts who were thrust aside
By the packers’ stern ‘Stand by!’

The end has come in the cold gray dawn,
Ringed around by his foreign foes;
From the prison cell the man steps out,
To the gallows tree he goes.
And soon his stiff and blackened corse
Swings idly in the air,
Mere carrion flesh, for the Christian soul
Has winged its flight from there.

Has justice been done?  Well, a day shall come,
Then a different Judge will try,
And each packer will hear with terror and fear,
His Creator’s dread ‘Stand by!’



[1] Spelling variations abound.  They include Ballinahantouragh, Ballinteragh, Ballyantauragh, Ballytrantaurogh, Ballintouragh, Ballintragh, Ballintaureugh.  See for variations. The townland lies in the parish of Dysert.

[2] John Twiss was son of Robert Twiss, descended from John of Ballahantouragh, who married the daughter of Arthur Bastable of Molahiffe Castle.

[3] The application was made by the Michael O’Donohoe Memorial Heritage Project on behalf of the descendants of John Twiss. 

[4] Research of Valerie Bary, Houses of Kerry.  On the early OS map, Summerhill is marked ‘Lodge.’

[5] William was, in all probability, son of William Twiss (who married Catherine Chute), son of John Twiss of Ballahantouragh, whose wife was a daughter of Arthur Bastable of Molahiffe Castle. 

William Twiss and William Twiss jr were recorded at Ballahantouragh in Griffith’s Valuation.

John Twiss of Castleisland descended from Robert Twiss, son of William, a gentleman farmer who farmed in Glounthane. ‘His grandfather was William Twiss, a gentleman farmer who lived near Castleisland and was connected by blood with the Herberts and Blennerhassets and other families of high social standing in Kerry.  His father was Robert Twiss, also a gentleman farmer, and a protestant, who lived on the income left him by his father, William Twiss’ (Skibbereen Eagle, 11 March 1905).

In 1797, William Sewell or Suell of Milltown married Elizabeth Twiss of Ballahantouragh.

[6] Frances Jane Twiss married on 30 November 1858 to George Grogan son of John of Currawn, Mohill, Co Leitrim.  George Grogan appears to have remarried on 19 February 1879 to Anna, daughter of William Twiss of Kerry and in c1898 to Violet, in Canada.  George Grogan died in California in 1919.

[7] George Twiss, who married Margaret Murray, emigrated to Wodonga, Australia.  ‘On September 5th intelligence reached Ireland of the death of the above gentleman, which took place at the end of August at Wodonga, Australia.  The deceased was much beloved by all who knew him for his amiable nature and sterling good qualities and is much regretted by a large circle of friends to whom he has endeared himself during his many years of life in Greater Britain.  He was the son of the late W Twiss Esq of Summerhill, Scartaglin, Co Kerry and brother of Mr W Twiss of Blennerville, Tralee’ (Kerry Evening Post, 23 September 1899).

The children of George Twiss were William Henry Ballantyne Twiss (1869-1946), railway worker, who married Anna Digby Smith.  Executrices of his will were his widow, and Dorothy Ballantyne Twiss; Francis Robert Twiss (born 1874) who married Edith May Plunkett, parents of Noel Arthur Twiss; George Arthur Twiss (1876-1905); Murray (Jack) Twiss; Ethel Twiss; Annie Lilian Twiss (1872-1894) and Herbert Gordon Twiss (1886-1929), born at Ballarat, Victoria, married on 18th April 1923 to Ada May Alcorn, formerly district nurse (sons George and Peter were born 24 January 1924 at Moorook and 30 October 1925 at Quambi respectively).

‘Australian newspaper exchanges to hand contain the announcement of the death suddenly at Pinneroo, Australia, of Gordon H, son of the late Mr George Twiss and grandson of the late Mr William Twiss, Summerhill, Co Kerry.  Mr Twiss was brother of the late John Twiss’ (Irish Examiner, 28 June 1929).

Mr Gordon Twiss, whose death at Pinnaroo was reported in last week’s papers, was a cousin of Mrs A H Roberts and was associated for some years with Mr Roberts in business at Moorook, both before and after his service with the AIF.  He married the district trained nurse at Moorook, Miss Alcorn, and was very highly thought of throughout the district.  After leaving Moorook Mr Twiss settled at Pinnaroo, first in association with Mr McNamara, auctioneer, and latterly as clerk of the District Council.  He was also secretary for the district hospital and an active worker in local public affairs.  Death followed a brief illness that rapidly developed into pneumonia and ended in meningitis.  The esteem in which he was held was demonstrated by the largest funeral ever seen in Pinnaroo.  His wife is left with two young children.  Mr Twiss came from Melbourne and enlisted in the AIF from that centre (Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record, 24 May 1929).

In Loving Memory of Herbert Gordon Twiss Dearly Beloved Husband of Ada May Twiss and Loving Father of George and Peter Twiss Departed this Life 14 May 1929 Aged 43 Years  At Rest – Grave in Pinnaroo Cemetery, Chandos, South Australia.

Corporal (11935) 3 Divisional Supply Column, MT (Mechanical Transport) 26 ASC (Army Service Vorps) June 1916 First World War – From the Australian War Memorial.

On Sunday October 6th 1929 a beautiful brass Altar Cross and pair of brass candlesticks in memory of the late Herbert Gordon Twiss will be dedicated at the 11 o’clock morning service in All Saints’ Church, Pinnaroo.  The Altar Cross of plain brass, stands 25.1/2 inches high on a base of three steps. It bears the inscription ‘In Memoriam, Herbert Gordon Twiss (Priest’s Warden) d May 14th 1929.  Aged 43 years.’  This inscription is on the base of the Cross.  The candlesticks stand 15 inches high and have plain stems and the base of each bears the first part only of the above inscription (Pinnaroo and Border Times, 4 October 1929).

With the death of Mr H G Twiss the Pinnaroo district lost a prominent resident.  Mr Twiss had been a resident of Pinnaroo for three and a half years and had been actively associated with many of the town’s movements. He was born in Victoria in 1886.  In his younger days he was an active worker and vice-president of the Try Society.  For health reasons he came to South Australia in 1911 and took up his residence in Loxton.  While in that district he joined with Mr O Polkinghorne, who was conducting a store.  Later he moved to Moorook, where he became an assistant in the Moorook store.  He went to Melbourne and enlisted for the Great War and reached commissioned rank.  On his return he joined with Mr A H Roberts at Moorook.  While in that district he was secretary to the local DTNA and the Moorook Masonic Lodge.  He was also a member of the local branch of the RSL and Progress Association and was an active worker in the Anglican Church.  His first position in Pinnaroo was secretary to Messrs John McNamara, auctioneers.  Among other secretarial position were that of the Pinnaroo and Border District Football Association, Institute, Hospital, Traders’ Association and Masonic Lodge.  Mr Twiss held the position of clerk to the Pinnaroo District Council at the time of his death.  He leaves a widow and two sons, George aged 6 and Peter aged 4 (Adelaide Chronicle, 23 May 1929).

[8] ‘A report from Tralee states that the house of William Twiss of Summerhill near Castleisland was visited a few evenings ago by a Moonlight gang.  He became aware of their approach and discharged a gun through the window at them.  They thereupon retreated without giving further trouble’ (Dublin Daily Express, 20 November 1882).

In 1888, William Twiss was a Guardian of the Tralee union. 

[9] Carker House lies in the adjoining townland of Carker.  The house is said to have been built by Cornelius O’Connor Esq in 1826.  On 4 February 1858, Rev Charles Fenton, youngest son of Robert Fenton of Newcastle, married Susan Saunders, only daughter of late Cornelius O’Connor Esq of Carker House.

William Marshall Saunders of Carker House married Letitia Crosbie Forster, daughter of William Hunt Forster Esq (and Marion Twiss), and granddaughter of George Twiss of Cordal.  Mr Saunders died in 1883 leaving issue Henry, who died unmarried in 1866; Frances, who died unmarried in 1882; Marion who married George Myles MD Limerick; William, Cpt 66th Reg who married on 16 September 1868 Elizabeth Martha Sanford (dsp) only daughter of Thomas Nicholas Barbenson Esq, Queen’s Procureur at Alderney; Jane, who married William Twiss of Ballintouragh. 

[10] William Henry Twiss (born 1876) bank officer, living in Clonmel in 1910.  He was married on 17 March 1915 at Clough Church by Rev William McCay, assisted by Rev James McCay (uncles of the bride) and Rev Richard Hall to Maud Whitley (Gypsy) youngest daughter of John McCay Esq MD and Mrs McCay, Larchfield, Clough, Co Antrim.  At that time he was of the Provincial Bank of Ireland, Ballymena. 

Elizabeth Frances Twiss (born 1877)

Letitia Lucinda (Tisha) Twiss (1880) second daughter William Twiss of Blennerville and Summerhill married Edward William Hickson of Blennerville, son of William Hickson, at Castleisland Church on 26 November 1903.  Edward William Hickson died in April 1910.  H Twiss, brother-in-law, was among the mourners.

Francis J (1882) age 19 on census of 1901

George (1883) age 18 on census of 1901

Marion Ellen Twiss (1886)

Helena F (1889) age 12 on census of 1901

Robert Dudley Twiss (1890-1916) 43rd Battalion Canadian Infantry Manitoba Regiment; listed on the Vimy Memorial, Departement du Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France.  Lieutenant R D Twiss, assistant engineer of Public Works at Prince Albert, Canada, was a member of the Saskatchewan Timber Wolves which trained in Winnipeg under Lieut Col R M Dennistoun.  ‘He came from Prince Albert, where his brother is manager of the Kelvin Lumber yards.  Nothing has been heard from him since October 8 when he was listed as missing.’   He went overseas with the 146th Battalion.  He was an officer of the 52nd Regiment. 

[11] Mrs Hickson, widow, and mother of one child, William S E Hickson, born 14 May 1908.

[12] Valerie Bary, Houses of Kerry[13] Griffith’s Valuation of the 1850s record Francis, Robert (MD), William and William jr Twiss at Ballahantouragh. It is worth noting here one Francis Twiss (1784-1855), second son of George Twiss of Cordal House.   He was described as ‘Francis Twiss Esq of Castleisland’ in a notice about the death of his six-year-old daughter Arabella, who was accidentally burned in a fire at the home of her uncle, Captain Collis, in Dingle, in February 1821.  This Francis Twiss Esq married Margaret Collis (1786-1831); his other children were George (1810-1829), Cherry, Elizabeth, Margaret and Marion.  He died at his lodgings in Castle Street, Tralee on 4 June 1855 aged 76, described as formerly an officer in the Kerry Regiment and for many years one of the coroners of the county.   In the Incumbered Estates Court, in the matter of the estate of Francis Twiss Esq, the lands of ‘Ballinturragh’ otherwise ‘Ballintruragh’ and part of the lands of Knockahorrin in Trughanacmy Kerry which included an excellent dwelling house were offered for sale.

[14] Sarah Helena married twice, first to Nash and secondly, on 14 February 1893, to Civil Engineer John Keen of Victoria, British Columbia.  

[15] Mildred Jemima (1868); William James (1869-1953) born at Annascaul, married in 1906 Sadie Jewell Brenton; Edward (1872); Marcella Ellen (1875) married Walter Moodie.

[16] In 1881, notice of evictions in the Brosna district against tenants John Cotter and William Cotter, David Browne, Margaret Fitzpatrick, Denis Downey, John Cotter, Nicholas Cotter, William Doody, Timothy Doody, James Cotter on land of Knockbrack; estate of Eliza Thompson, Edward Day Twiss, Ellen Twiss (his wife), and Marcella Moriarty. Edward Day Twiss supported the Great Demonstration of Irish Landowners which took place in the Exhibition Palace, Dublin on 3 January 1882.  However, in 1884, the Estate of Edward Twiss was in the land court.  The family emigrated c1888.

[17] He held lands at Knockeenahonin and Ballintaureugh (Ballahantauragh).

[18] Wellstead (otherwise Welstead, Welsted, Wellsted, etc) is an unusual name in Co Kerry.  The family descended from Major Thomas Welstead, a Cromwellian officer granted lands in the times of Charles II.  The estate of Castle Gregory in 1667 belonged to Thomas Welsted ‘from him it passed to Shiercliffe who bequeathed it to Rowan who sold it to Mullins’ (Bary, Houses of Kerry, p69).

‘Amongst those who came into Kerry at this time [Penal] were the Shiercliffes, a soldier of that name securing lands at Castlegregory.  These were the lands of that Maurice Hussey who so bravely defended and lost his life at Minard Castle.  His lands were forfeited and granted by the Crown to Thomas Welsted and his wife Mary from whom Shiercliffe either received the land as portion with his wife or by purchase …’ (Miss A M Rowan’s Notes on Ardfert and Aghadoe Diocese, XIV, Kerry Evening Post, 19 October 1898).

The following may be of interest:

Sarah, daughter of John Welstead Esq of Ballywalter, Co Cork, married Samuel, son of Samuel Penrose Esq of Shandongan, Co Cork c1827.  See Penrose of Shandongan in Burke’s.

John, youngest son of late John Welstead Esq of His Majesty’s Customs, married Jane, third daughter of George Stevelly Esq of Cork in 1834. 

‘We regret to learn, from the Indian journals, the death of Lieut J R Wellsted, Indian Navy, at the early age of 37.  Attached to the surveying expedition in the Red Sea, he volunteered to explore the Island of Socotra, a laborious undertaking ... He subsequently made a tour in the interior of Oman passing over ground whereon our Anglo-Indian troops were defeated in 1808 ... Previous to his travels in Arabia and the Red Sea he had discharged the duties of secretary to Sir C Malcolm, Governor of Bombay’ (Kerry Evening Post, 16 November 1842).

‘The unreserved dispersion of the celebrated Ardfert herd by auction will take place on Thursday 23 August.  The late Mr W T Talbot-Crosbie founded the Ardfert herd soon after he inherited the estate in 1838 ... The White Duchess by Favour 9114 tribe was brought into Ireland by the late Mr Richard Welsted from Yorkshire and purchased by Mr Talbot-Crosbie from him after’ (Kerry Evening Post, 1 August 1900). 

Thomas Welstead Esq JP of Ballywalter, Co Cork was alive in 1909.

[19] It was suggested that John Twiss also had an illegitimate son, born c1840, who died in the Castleisland Fever Hospital in 1848.  It came to light during a correspondence between John Twiss of Haremount and the Rev Thomas Herbert, Rector of Killeentierna, conducted in the columns of the press.  John Twiss complained that Rev Thomas Herbert failed to tend to the sick child because the child had not been baptised.  Rev Thomas Herbert, Killeentierna Glebe, responded with allegations of illegitimacy.  See Kerry Examiner, 24 November 1848 & 1 December 1848.

[20] The daughters of John Twiss were Helena Frances, who married in 1874 James Francis Powell, third son of John Powell Esq of Sandville, and Anna Mariah, who does not appear to have married. 

[21] Bary, Houses of Kerry, p210.

[22] Mary Anne Wellstead, widow of John Twiss, died on 22 January 1900 at Haremount, aged 87.   Mary Anne Wellstead appears to have been a sister of Richard Wellstead (1806-1891) of Ballywalter, Castletownroche, son of John Welstead and Bridget, daughter of John Hawkes Esq of Sirmount (Surmount), Co Cork.  Richard married on 28 May 1835 Honoria Sarah Sandes (1816-1880), eldest daughter of George Sandes Esq (1794-1876) of Dunowen House, Cork, and Mary Anne Croker.

[23] Reproduced in the Kerry Sentinel, 5 December 1900.  It appeared under title, 'Stand By.'  It was introduced as follows: ‘Utterly unlike England and Scotland, juries in Ireland, especially in all cases of a political and agrarian character, are invariably ‘packed.’  That is to say that each Catholic Irish juror is told to stand-by by the Crown, and a jury composed of Protestants, Freemasons, Orangemen, Englishmen and Scotchmen invariably sworn.  Messrs Gladstone, Morley, and other Statesmen have scathingly denounced this travesty on trial by jury.’