Topographical Survey of Castleisland in 1942

In 1942, John J Quinlan carried out a number of topographical surveys in Kerry for the Irish Tourist Association.[1]  It included topography, geology, historic houses, churches, holy wells, mass rocks and burial places, spas and mineral springs, customs and patterns.[2]


The survey, a very useful source for the social historian, included pastimes like angling (and kinds of fish), golfing, hunting, coursing, greyhound racing, clay pigeon shooting, athletics and cycling, rowing and sailing, sports – Castleisland GAA Club Captain was Con Gainey NT; Patrick McElligott was Captain of the Rugby Club, and T H Murphy was chairman of the Boxing Club (and of the Carnival Committee).  There was one billiard table at ‘The Club’ in Church Street.


Shooting was described as follows:


The shooting in the parish of Castleisland is particularly good and is free in every district.  In the east, grouse, cock and snipe.  In the north and west, cock and pheasant, in the west duck, pheasant and snipe.


There were four annual events, Castleisland Races in September or October, Castleisland Carnival, Castleisland Aerdheact in June and Scartaglin Athletic Races.  Other pastimes noted were cinema, theatre and dancing.  Church services times were given, as were postal and banking facilities, photo supplies, social clubs and cultural societies.


Mr Sean Prenderville was Chairman of the Castleisland Gaelic League, Redmond Lane was secretary.  The Castleisland Dramatic Society had as its chair D D Moriarty, with Ed Keeffe Secretary.  Under the heading ‘Industries and Handcrafts’ was written: ‘Previous to the war a thriving industry was carried on in the preparation of a special pig food ‘Rhyno.’  The proprietor of the mill is W H O’Connor, Main Street, about 30 hands were employed.’[3]


The comprehensive survey also covered public monuments, important public buildings, schools and colleges, hospitals, fairs and markets, garages and petrol stations, conveyances for hire, camping sites and the names of those on the Local Improvements Committee: Ven Archdeacon Browne PP, M J McElligott MCC, Rev C Moriarty CC, John R Shanahan, D D Buckley, M O’Connor, J Tangney, J J Kearney, Cors E Walsh, James Maher and T H Murphy.


There were three hotels in the town, S L Knight’s Crown Hotel, John O’Grady’s Central Hotel and Mrs J Flynn’s Star Hotel as well as four guest houses operated by Mrs McCarthy, Mrs Browne, Miss Roche and Mrs Harrington, and one restaurant run by Miss Minnie O’Sullivan.




The history of the town was given in summary from the foundation of Castleisland Castle by Geoffrey de Marisco in 1175 to its destruction in 1600, the ruin ‘hardly worth a visit’:[4]


Some fairly considerable remains of a 15th century tower, similar in plan and in some details to Bunratty Castle, Co Clare, remain and access to them can be gained through a lane way from the Killarney road.  So little architectural detail has survived that the ruin is hardly worth a visit.


Other castles in the district were also described, the first two of which nothing now remains:


Ballymacadam Castle.  Little remains of this castle which was an outpost of the bigger Kilmurry Castle.  The remaining walls are an outline of where the castle stood and are on the lands of David Herlihy, about a mile on the Castleisland-Brosna road.


Ardnagragh Castle.  Very little of this castle is to be seen, the remaining walls outline where the castle once stood.  They bound the farms James O’Sullivan and Patrick Sullivan, Ardnagragh, and are about five miles east from Castleisland.[5]


Ballyplymouth Castle, the ruin of which does remain, contained ‘a perfect example of a chute’:


The west end of this castle still remains.  It was built on a limestone elevation and in the vicinity are many water-worn caves.  In the remaining wall there is a perfect example of a chute.  The ruins are on the lands of M. Roche, Ballyplymouth and are about two miles east from Castleisland town.  Many years ago this ruin and elevation served as a grandstand for the once famous Ballyplymouth races.  Entries from all over Ireland took part.[6]


It was observed that Ballymacadam, Ballyplymouth, and Ardnagragh Castles were built around the bigger castle of Kilmurry and about an equal distance from it – half a mile:


These castles were inhabited by three brothers named Fitzgerald of the Desmond Clan.  A continuous warfare was carried on by the three brothers so that none of themselves or their servants could pass over each other’s land without being assaulted.  The castles are not under the Office of Public Works, and are on private property but the owners of the lands will show visitors around at any time.


The ‘11th or 12th century’ Kilmurry Castle was described as ‘important’ and still contained ‘a very beautiful example of a stone carved fireplace’:


The remains of this important castle are in a good state of preservation.  The west end is 60’ high with lancet windows in perfect state of repair.  On the south end a perfect example of the window protected by a corrible can be seen about 40’ from the ground.  The arched doorway still remains.  The walls are 9′ thick and the stone and mortar work is still perfect in parts.  In the inside on the north wall a very beautiful example of a stone carved fireplace is still intact.  The castle is four and a half miles east from Castleisland and about 200 yards from Kilmurry Cross.  The building is reckoned to be 11th or 12th century work.  The remains are not under the Office of Public Works and are on the lands of John Walsh, Kilmurry.  No public right of way exists but Mr Walsh will act as guide to tourists at any time.[7]


The surveyor alluded to a story about Kilmurry which may have its origin in the Irish Crown Jewels mystery:


Right inside the doorway of the castle a hole can be seen in the wall where a local dug for gold about forty years ago.  This man named Thomas Fitzgerald dreamt three nights in succession of seeing boxes of gold in this spot inside the castle door.  With the aid of a few helpers work was commenced.  The excavations were continued for a few days and finally given up after an unsuccessful venture.[8]


The survey extended to Scartaglin where the grave of Diarmuid Don was noted:


After passing Scartaglin village on the road to Kingwilliamstown, a traveller comes to a cross (Sean Mors Cross) half a mile from the village.  Turning to the left Glountane schoolhouse is passed and three miles further on in the lands of Thomas Jones, Knockdown, a huge mound with stone is pointed out as the grave of Diarmuid Don.  Here Fiann Mac Cumal is supposed to have overtaken the runaways Diarmuid and Grainne.[9]


The survey which covered the county of Kerry has been made available by Kerry County Library for viewing online.[10]


[1] CDH Reference IE CDH 151.

[2] Topography: There are no unusual topographical features in Castleisland.  An outstanding scenic view can be got from Mount Eagle or Croghane about five miles east from Castleisland town.  From the mountain top here the winding river Maine can be seen from its source at Tobermaing to where it enters the sea at Castlemaine Bay.  Long stretches of river, mountain and rich pasture can be seen in all directions.  Killarney mountains to the south and the bays of Dingle and Tralee to the west separated by the lordly Sliabh Mis mountain. 

Geology: A large number of caves stretch from Castleisland to Croghane mountain five miles away.  Less than a mile from the town the Maine rises at Tobermaing in a hollow depression about 50 ft deep.  After flowing about 20 yards it disappears again underground and reappears a quarter mile further on by the roadside about half-mile from the town.  Water diviners on innumerable occasions have failed to find any trace of water in the vicinity or immediately beyond the spot in where the river rises.  A second instance of this unusual geological phenomena occurs in Kilmurry where a small river ‘the Caol’ rises from a water worn cave a short distance from Kilmurry House then disappears underground flowing under Kilmurry House and reappearing again about half a mile away.

[3] A biography of William Hugh O’Connor of Castleisland (1878-1949) written by his brother, Michael O’Connor (Brother Francis of the Presentation Brothers, Cork) in 1957 exists in manuscript.  Some pages are held in IE CDH 128.

[4] Two dates are given for the foundation of the castle in this survey, 1175 and 1226. 

‘It is from the Castleisland Castle building which was founded in 1226 by Geoffrey de Marisco that the town gets its name.  In 1365 it was held for the Earl of Desmond but was taken by Sir Ralph Ufford, Lord Justiciary of Ireland, who ordered the whole garrison to be executed.  Queen Elizabeth granted the castle, town and adjoining lands to the Herbert family under the designation of ‘the Manor of Mounteagle.’  The castle was finally destroyed by the Irish in 1600 … Not in charge of OPW.’

‘Castleisland Castle.  The remains of this once famous castle are at the western end of the town and on the roadside on the Killarney road.  The tower wall is still in a fairly good state of preservation.  The remains of other walls of the castle still standing show it to have extended on a square of about 200 yards.  It was built by Geofrrey de Marisco in 1175.  The building is not in charge of Office of Public Works and is gradually crumbling away.  The ruins are at the back lane of a row of houses on Killarney road.’

[5] Further reference

[6] Further reference

[7] Further reference

[8] Further reference

[9] The legend of this burial place is described in Castleisland man, John Cotter’s recently published King William Brown. a copy of which is held in the archive of Castleisland District Heritage IE CDH 103.  See