A Tale of Two Fountains

A mid-nineteenth century altercation between two civil engineers casts an historic light on one of Castleisland’s famous landmarks.  In the Famine year of 1846, the construction of two fountains – one in Tralee and one in Castleisland – to supply a ‘sufficient and unfailing supply of water to the poorer classes of townsfolk’ was being debated.[1]


In August of that year, Rev Francis Richard Maunsell, rector of the parish of Castleisland, and treasurer to the Castleisland Relief Committee, received a donation towards the proposed fountain for Castleisland from surveyor, John Wiggins Esq, land agent of Sir Thomas Hare.[2]


The following month, at a meeting of Tralee Town Commissioners, Civil Engineer Daniel Edward Knox Maunsell, eldest son of Rev Maunsell, exhibited some drawings and sections of the Castleisland fountain being erected by subscription.  It was reported that ‘this work will be most useful, and was much wanted by the inhabitants of the town; it will also be a very nice architectural ornament to Castleisland, and being erected at an inconsiderable expense, only eighty pounds.’[3]


The actions of Mr Knox Maunsell caused the consternation of Civil Engineer, Frederick P H Malcolmson, who complained that Mr Maunsell had ‘gone to work’ on his project.[4]  Writing from Stephens’s Terrace, Tralee, on 18 September 1846, Mr Malcolmson vented his concerns in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper:


Dear Sir – Mr Maunsell did not act toward me as I did to him.  I went at considerable inconvenience to Castleisland, at his request, and ran a line of levels for him – showed him how to make his section and the proper gradients for the pipes for his intended fountain in Castleisland, at the same time telling him I had a plan nearly ready for a fountain in Tralee, and requesting of him to let me have a tracing of the transverse section of his intended fountain, which he promised but never gave to me; but came at once to the Commissioners and at their next meeting submitted the plans of his Castleisland fountain, thinking that by being first in the field he might succeed.  This is an act I could not be guilty of.  I even told him that I intended to connect the water of three fine springs, and form one general reservoir; still having a more than sufficient quantity of water for the population of the surrounding districts.[5]


In reply, Mr Knox Maunsell, writing from The Spa Lodge on 18 September 1846, said that he regretted that his remarks caused the upset of Mr Malcolmson:


Mr Maunsell is not aware of having ‘gone to work’ on a project of any other person whatever; he is, he presumes, the original projector of the proposed fountain in Castleisland.  He never borrowed either a thought, hint, or idea from the gentleman who is pleased to indulge in ‘such strong language’ … Mr Maunsell submitted no plans to the Commissioners of Tralee for the bringing of spring water to that town; he was merely requested to exhibit the drawings of the fountain to be erected in Castleisland, and subsequently to examine and report upon the different springs in the locality, with a view to preparing plans for carrying a similar project into effect in Tralee.[6]


It may be surmised that the dispute ended there.  Both men went on to pursue careers abroad, and both suffered premature deaths.  Mr Knox Maunsell worked as an engineer on the Panama Railroad where he died from fever, after five days illness, at Gatun, on the Chagres River, on 20th December 1850.[7]  Mr Malcolmson left Tralee in 1863 and was employed by the Provisional Government and City Board of Commissioners in New Zealand.  He died at Ngahinapouri, Waipa River, on 28th March 1865 from disease of the heart,   He was aged 46 years.[8]


Departure of Malcolmson


When Mr Malcolmson left Tralee in January 1863, the Tralee Young Men’s Christian Association presented him with an address.  Writing from Clounalour Lodge, he responded:


The most earnest desire of my soul was gratified on Friday last when I had the honour and privilege of being present at the laying of the foundation stone (by my worthy friend, Captain Rowan) of the Tralee Young Men’s Christian Association Hall and Lecture Room; this was a moment I had almost hourly wished to see and, thank God, I  have seen it before I take my departure for the Antipodes, where, if the Great Architect of the Universe permits me to reach, I hope to be not an unsuccessful advocate for the Tralee Young Men’s Christian Association.[9]


Almost immediately after his arrival in New Zealand, Mr Malcolmson once again utilised the press to voice his concerns.  On this occasion, remarks made by James Edward Fitzgerald (1818-1896), Member of the House of Representatives for Ellesmere, Canterbury, New Zealand, about the destruction, at Waikato, of the newspaper establishment of John Eldon Gorst (1835-1916), caused him to put pen to paper.[10]  Fitzgerald had, it appears, spoken disparagingly about the town of Tralee.  Malcolmson, under the signature Kerryensis, tried to put the record straight in the columns of a New Zealand journal:


A Geraldine!  A Geraldine!  Sir, In your issue of Saturday last Mr Fitzgerald is reported to have made use of the following language in the House of Representatives on the 5th instant: ‘Let him take a printing-press to the town of Tralee, and start an Orange newspaper there, and write some articles about the Roman Catholic religion, why he would not have his printing-press taken away with a light warning that it would be desirable for him to leave the country in a certain time, but, the probability is he would have his head broken in 24 hours.’


‘Mr Fitzgerald,’ wrote Malcolmson, ‘seems to me to know nothing whatever about Tralee’:


There is an Orange press in Tralee, which has been in existence for the last 60 years, and I have seen articles in the old Kerry Evening Post in reference to the Roman Catholic religion that would have done credit to the late Remmy Sheehan himself.[11]  I wonder very much what Peter Fitzgerald, the Knight of Kerry, will say when he reads the paragraph and finds a namesake of his at the Antipodes comparing the inhabitants of the chief town of his county to the tattooed savages of New Zealand.


‘A man bearing the name of Fitzgerald to compare these cannibals to the people of the county of the great O’Connell, to the very descendants of the noble Desmonds!’ exclaimed Malcolmson, ‘shame upon him’:


Oh, shades of the Geraldine, look down upon us!  Thy grave, noble Desmond, is only three miles from Tralee, in the wood of Glanaginty.  Any other man but a Fitzgerald making such a comparison might not be taken notice of.  Hide thy face, Fitzgerald, and never look an Irishman – especially a Fitzgerald – in the face.  The inhabitants of Kerry are the most peaceable, hospitable, and industrious people in the South of Ireland and when every other county in it showed all sorts of disaffection towards the British government, Kerry never did – they were always true loyal subjects.  Shade of O’Connell, if you heard thy county thus maligned![12]


There seems little doubt that more would have been heard from Malcolmson had he been spared.


Fountain of News: Many a story was shared at the fountain in past times when people queued for water.  Black and white image on left © John Reidy, Castleisland


Michael Reidy, Knocknagore


Another name, closer to home, appends to the Castleisland fountain.  It is that of Michael Reidy (1927-2012) of Knocknagore, whose composition about the nineteenth century landmark came about when its existence was under threat in the 1970s.


His son, John Reidy, Editor of The Maine Valley Post, recalls the incident:


Ironically, it was during the blasting for and laying of waterpipes in the Lower Main Street area that broke the supply pipe to ‘The Fountain’ in the early 1970s.  The pipe came down from a spring in the field at the back of the houses on Main Street – now the green at the centre of St. Stephen’s Park – and out from under the archway between Hogan’s and Wren’s.


The Fountain was a tried and trusted stand-by in times when the Kerry County Council supply was deemed undrinkable, discoloured or smelly and there were times when all three applied.  It stood there through all emergencies. People flocked to it with sweet-gallons and jugs of all shapes and sizes.


Before Monny McGillicuddy opened the vertical half doors of The Market Bar any evening, he took the short trip around the Market House corner to fill his square Paddy Whiskey jug for his customers to add to their half-ones.


The Fountain and the area around it became the Dáil of the locality and its accidental ‘drying up’ became a political hot topic for a while.  This included a deputation from the town being heard at a Kerry County Council meeting in Tralee.


The context in which my father wrote the poem below to the power of The Fountain came later in the 1970s.  The men mentioned in heroic light in the concluding lines, Tom and Jim were Barrack Street neighbours, Tommy John A. O’Connor and Jim O’Connor.  They were more likely to be found on the other side of the Latin Quarter – in their local, Paddy Hussey’s.  There too the water of The Fountain was revered and for the same reason as in the Market Bar.


As a young building worker and apprentice carpenter, I was sent on a free transfer by Gene McGillicuddy to help the two men in their work later in the 1970s when Hogan’s Hardware lorry broke from its moorings one night with a load of timber on board.  It veered out into the centre of the street and had enough damage causing momentum built up by the time it came to a shuddering halt against our beloved fountain.


That particular incident made it onto the stage one night during the local tops of the town competition.  In Castleisland’s Market Square, there still stands a landmark rich and rare …


The Fountain

In Castleisland’s Market Square

There stands a landmark rich and rare,

In beauty far beyond compare,

Our own beloved Fountain.

It stands a sentinel of old

It’s ever-flowing sweet and cold

In summer days it’s liquid gold

The water of the Fountain.

A place where posters were displayed,

A stand for sign-posts it was made,

And every horse that ever strayed

Was anchored to the Fountain.

But many’s the romantic tale

Of boy and girl with jug and pail

Who were to join at Altar’s rail

Through meeting at the Fountain.

And so it served, a willing slave

Ignored, except for what it gave,

But all began to rant and rave

The day they lost the Fountain.

Some men of wisdom paid their rounds,

The Council uttered dreadful sounds

They said, “’Twill take a fortune now

To rectify your Fountain”.

But ‘Island men were not outdone

Though many feared, “’Twill be no fun”,

A braver few explored the run

That used to feed the Fountain.

And just like Moses with his rod

We thought of him, inspired by God,

And prayed that He might only nod,

And so, restore the Fountain.

Yes! Miracles can happen still,

There’s always way where there is will,

For swiftly water, pure and chill,

Came gushing from the Fountain.

To all concerned thanks and praise,

To Tom and Jim, the men who raised

To glory of its former days

Our own beloved Fountain.


[1] Kerry Evening Post, 16 September 1846.  ‘At this moment Tralee is very badly circumstanced as regards its supply of spring water … the inhabitants procure water from two pumps, and those are not very central.  There are some wells a little beyond the extremities of the town but they are most inconvenient, and are never resorted to unless when the pumps fail … Mr Maunsell has promised the Commissioners to report fully on this subject at their next meeting … for a present expenditure of two or three hundred pounds, it would free the rate-payers from an annual tax of forty pounds, besides the other great advantages that must be anticipated from the change of system.  Thus have we not only the comfort and healthfulness of the town involved in the substitution of fountains for pumps, but we have also a question of economy connected with the subject … the amount of employment that the prosecution of such works would afford, no trifling consideration at this momentous crisis.’

Further reference, http://www.mainevalleypost.com/2019/07/20/castleisland-its-fountain-and-its-face-lift/.

[2] ‘Rev F R Maunsell, Treasurer to the Castleisland Relief Committee, has received from John Wiggins Esq, ten pounds in aid of the funds for erecting a water fountain in Castleisland’ (Limerick Chronicle, 19 August 1846).  The donor was land agent and surveyor, John Wiggins Esq (1782-1863) of 30 Tavistock Place, London and Tyndale, Danbury (and Woodham Mortimer), Essex.  He was described as English Agent to Estates in the South and North of Ireland (of 30 years duration in 1844).  ‘He travelled annually to Ireland for thirty years to manage the estates he was in charge of … Wiggins was an absentee land agent and did not actually live on the estates’ (Why Ireland Starved (1983) by Joel Mokyr, p209). 

Wiggins Published a number of books as an ‘observer’ of Ireland, including (anonymously) A Letter to the Absentee Landlords of the South of Ireland: On the Means of Tranquillizing their Tenantry and Improving their Estates (1822), in which he described conditions in Munster thus: ‘The dwellings of the people, or cottars, as they are called, inhabiting the mountainous regions above described, and forming the immediate occupying tenantry of many immense estates, are well known to be wretched in the extreme.  These cabins are often built in clusters, forming small villages, without the slightest regard to regularity or convenience.  One must see these miserable huts, and witness their interior economy, and the daily habits of their inmates, to form any adequate idea of their deplorable condition … the parents, children, servants, lodgers, cattle, pigs, and poultry, have but one and the same miserable room for shelter and repose … I address you anonymously, since the hope of being instrumental in bettering, even in one single instance, the condition of a people whom I love for their warmth of heart, and admire for their energy of character, is the chief object of the author’; Monster Misery of Ireland (1844) and (co-author) of Ireland and Its Rulers since 1829 (3 volumes, 1843).  The latter contains an account of O’Connell. 

John Wiggins Esq, for over fifty years authorized agent to Sir Thomas Hare, Bart (1st Baronet (1747-1834 / 2nd Baronet 1807-1880)) on the Stow Hall Estate, Norfolk, died at 30 Tavistock Place, London, on 21 November 1863 aged 81.  In 1867, Mr G H Wiggins, Land Agent, could be contacted at 30 Tavistock Place, London.

[3] Kerry Evening Post, 16 September 1846.

[4] ‘We have received a communication in reference to this matter from Mr Frederick Malcolmson, CE, complaining of Mr Maunsell’s having ‘gone to work’ on ‘a project of his, of which he had told Mr Maunsell.’  We must decline publishing Mr Malcolmson’s letter, as its language is much too strong’ (Kerry Evening Post, 16 September 1846).

[5] Kerry Evening Post, 19 September 1846.

[6] Kerry Evening Post, 19 September 1846.

[7] ‘Mr Maunsell left New York on the 13th of November to join the Engineer Corps on the Panama Railroad’ (Limerick and Clare Examiner, 1 February 1851).

[8] ‘F P H Malcolmson Esq, Civil Engineer, formerly of Tralee, County of Kerry, Ireland, aged 46 years.  His remains were deposited on the 31st in the cemetery of Te Rori’ (The New Zealander, 6 April 1865).  F P H Malcolmson Esq left a widow.

[9] Kerry Evening Post, 17 January 1863.

[10] Kerry Evening Post, 20 February 1864. ‘Some time in July last the Maoris of the Waikato broke into the newspaper establishment of a Mr Gorst and demolished it, in consequence of some articles having been published in that gentleman’s paper which were not in accordance with their views.  A Mr Fitzgerald, member of the General Assembly for Ellesmere, when speaking in the House of Representatives in reference to this matter, made some allusions to Tralee that were over complimentary to the inhabitants.  Our late fellow townsman, Mr F P H Malcolmson, CE, has, under the signature of Kerryensis, addressed the following warm reply to a New Zealand journal in defence of Tralee and Traleemen.’

John Eldon Gorst, author of The Maori King (1864).  Gorst afterwards returned to England. The newspaper was evidently Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke. ‘It was thought desirable by Sir George Grey to have a newspaper published in the Waikato to answer the arguments of the Te Hokioi.  For this purpose it was determined that a printing-office should be established at Te Awamuta.  The newspaper published was called Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke (The Sparrow that sitteth alone upon the House-top) … On the 24th of March, at three o’clock in the afternoon, a party of eighty Ngatimaniapotos, armed with guns, arrived at Te Awamutu, headed by Aporo … Aporo led his men to the front of the printing-office which was close to the public road … The office was broken open and they began to remove the contents …’ Reference: The Maori King (1864).

[11] Remigius (Remy) H Sheehan Esq of Mespil House, Dublin, one of the proprietors and for twenty-five years editor of the Dublin Evening Mail, who died on 18 May 1847 at Shanklin, Isle of Wight, to where he had travelled for the benefit of his health.  His brother was journalist Thomas Sheehan who died at Mespil House, Dublin on 25 March 1880 in his 89th year.

[12] Kerry Evening Post, 20 February 1864.  The editor added, ‘Though we are in our own person a living protest against the allegations of this Mr Fitzgerald, still we are not prepared to run into such raptures about the mob of Tralee as Mr Malcolmson, nor are we quite sure that our county is so free from disaffection as he would persuade the New Zealanders it has been.  We do not forget the Phoenix trials, nor some more recent occasions when the windows of many loyal men in Tralee, including ourselves, were wantonly and violently broken against the peace, nor can Mr Malcolmson have forgotten the incidents to which we allude’ (Kerry Evening Post, 20 February 1864).