Spotlight on Reineen: An Outline of Con Houlihan’s Ancestry

A number of folkloric compositions collected by Con Houlihan during his national schooldays in Castleisland survive in a school exercise book held among his papers, recently acquired by Castleisland District Heritage.  They were contributed to what is now known as The Schools’ Collection, and illustrate the value of the 1930s project in the teaching of language, history and heritage.[1]  Con collected a dozen stories, half of them from 89-year-old Mrs Ellen Daly, Ahaneboy, Castleisland.


One of his compositions relates to Reineen, his home district:


I live in Reineen in the townland of Mulloghmarkey and the barony of Truchenacmy. There are fourteen families in the townland and between fifty and sixty inhabitants. There are seven farms in the townland and five of the other families are tenants with small holdings. The other families live in cottages, The ground is good and suitable for tillage. The farmers till about a quarter of the land, and grow hay in more and use the rest in grazing. Every farmer has about fifteen cows and a pony and working horse.


Con, about twelve years old at the time of this composition, touched on the history and topography of Reineen:


The houses are both thatched and slated. The ruins of some houses can be seen as there were more houses there long ago than there are at present. In the olden times many of the inhabitants emigrated to America. There are many glens in the district, and one river which is formed by the joining of the glens. There are no woods in the townland but there is a big stretch of land covered with a growth of furze and other bushes.


Images from the Con Houlihan Collection held by Castleisland District Heritage


Reineen is a district which lies a few miles north of the town of Castleisland. Its meaning in Irish is given as ‘a little row or drill for small seeds.’[2]  Cornelius ‘Con’ Houlihan was born there in 1925, the middle of three children of Michael Houlihan and Ellen (Nellie) Cronin.  His siblings were Jeremiah ‘Gerry’ (otherwise Diarmuid ‘Derry’) and Marie.[3]


According to the Dictionary of Irish Biography, Con’s parents farmed a small holding of about five acres at Reineen.[4]  It would seem however, that the neighbouring townland of Tullagubbeen was (historically) more closely identified with the Houlihan family.[5]


Reineen, Con Houlihan’s birthplace on the Limerick Road has been purchased and stands ready for development in his memory.  On the left, ‘Con’ by J R Harvey and on the right, trophy engraved: ‘NNI Journalism Awards 2012 The Supreme Wordsmith Con Houlihan,’ both items held in the archive of Castleisland District Heritage


Genealogy of the Houlihan Family


Michael Houlihan, Con’s father, was born at Fahaduff, a townland to the north of Mullaghmarky, on 19 December 1897, one of at least six children of Jeremiah Houlihan and Mary Gallivan.  At the time of the Census of Ireland 1911, Michael, in his early teens, was employed as a servant in the household of the Prendiville family of Kilcusnan.  By the time of his marriage to Nellie, daughter of labourer Cornelius Cronin, on 19 November 1922, Michael was resident at Reineen.[6]


Con recalled how his parents met:


My parents met when they were working for the same farmer and, even on the day they were married, they still had to hand-milk thirty cows before they went to the church.  I was very close of my parents, maybe too close at times.  My mother left school at thirteen and, in a certain sense, she felt that life had passed her by.  This made her very academically ambitious for her children.  She educated herself and it’s from her I got my great interest in literature.  My father was altogether more easy-going.  I remember a neighbour telling me that, while I was in Argentina for the ’78 World Cup, he asked my father where I was.  ‘I’m not sure’ said my father, ‘I think he might be in Argentina’ – the same as if I was just out the road.  And he wasn’t being funny![7]


Michael Houlihan of Reineen died at St Anne’s District Hospital, Killarney on 1 June 1984 aged 86.  Nellie, who predeceased him, died at St Catherine’s Hospital, Tralee on 4 May 1977 aged 80. They were laid to rest in the cemetery at Kilbannivane where the headstone is inscribed:


In Loving Memory of
Ellen Houlihan
Died May 4 1977 Aged 80 Yrs
Husband Michael Houlihan
Died June 1 1984 Aged 86 Yrs
Their Daughter Marie Durham
Died Nov 4 1998 Aged 62 Yrs
Peter Durham
Died 12th Feb. 2007
Aged 70 Years
Con Houlihan
Writer, Scholar, Journalist
Died 4th August 2012

Life Ends – Life Begins

Rest In Peace


Kilbannivane Cemetery Castleisland: Con Houlihan, who died on 4 August 2012, was cremated at Mount Jerome after funeral mass at St Kevin’s Church, Dublin, his ashes returned for burial with his parents, sister and brother-in-law at Kilbannivane, Castleisland.  A plaque at the grave is inscribed: ‘Con Houlihan/Portabello Dublin/&/Reaineen Castle Island/August 4th 2012.’  Other memorials to Con Houlihan in Castleisland include a bust at Lower Main Street and the Con Houlihan Trail, recently digitalised with voice-over by his cousin Tommy Martin


Jeremiah Houlihan, Michael’s father and Con’s grandfather, was born at Tullagubbeen on 21 April 1875, son of Michael ‘Holohan’ and Ellen Prendiville. Jeremiah married Mary, daughter of James Gallivan and Mary Geaney (or Greany) in Castleisland on 16 February 1897.  At least seven children were born to them at Fahaduff, Tullig and Kilbannivane.[8]


Jeremiah Houlihan died on 21 October 1946 aged 71.  His residence at the time of his death was Main Street, Castleisland.  His widow Mary died on 29 January 1955 aged 81.


In a Quiet Corner: The grave of Con’s grandparents at Kilbannivane Cemetery.  On the left, Con at a gathering and on the right, his sister, Marie Durham from images held in the Con Houlihan Collection


Michael ‘Holohan,’ Con’s great grandfather, son of Jeremiah Houlihan and Maria Curran, was born in about 1821.[9]  Michael was twice married, the first marriage took place in 1865 to Margaret Broder (or Bruder), daughter of Patrick Brosnan (Firies).  Margaret Houlihan died, following the birth of a daughter, on 24 May 1872 at age 35.[10]


Michael’s second marriage took place in Castleisland on 1 July 1874 to widow Ellen, daughter of Maurice Prendiville. Her address was given as Kilcusnan.[11]  Besides Jeremiah, Michael and Ellen had a daughter, Nora, who married James Pembrook.[12]


In the Census of Ireland of 1901, the status of 70-year-old Michael of Tullagubbeen, whose surname was taken down as ‘Hulighan,’ was ‘widowed.’[13]


Houlihan of Tullagubbeen


In the late nineteenth century, the lands of Tullagubbeen were in the ownership of Stephen Edward Collis under Fee-Farm Grant dated 11 March 1856.  Part of the lands was put up for sale in 1894, the petitioners Stephen Edward Collis and Falkiner Sandes Collis Sandes.[14]


William Anderton Golby who had an estate at Ballynahulla, Kingwilliamstown, subsequently appears in the record as landlord, the holding at Tulligabeen 117 acres, valuation £40, the tenant Edmond Nolan [15]


In 1908, Michael Houlihan was ejected (for the second time) from his home at Tullagubbeen, where he had lived for forty-one years, by Edmond Nolan.  Edmond’s father had evidently held a working arrangement with Michael but after Mr Nolan senior’s death, the arrangement fell into difficulties.[16]


A few years later, however, at the Tralee Quarter Sessions of 1910, Michael Houlihan successfully obtained a decree for possession of his quarter acre at Tullagubbeen.[17] It was a short-lived result. In July 1911, the thatched house, built 44 years earlier and in which nobody had been living for ten months, was maliciously thrown down.[18]


Michael Houlihan sought compensation of £20, and it was argued in court that the house had fallen from age.  Barrister B Roche BL, instructed by solicitor Mr D Roche for Michael Houlihan, asked Mr Huggard, solicitor for the Rural District Council, ‘Would you not be glad to get rid of this old man, and have his house and the two acres of land?’ Michael Houlihan was awarded £10 to be levied off the townland of Tullagabbeen.


Michael Houlihan died from ‘old age’ on 15 April 1912.[19]


The lands of Tullagubbeen and Muingvautia were sold under the Land Purchase Acts in 1916.[20]


In June 1924, Edmond Nolan instructed auctioneer Denis J Reidy in the sale of Tullagubbeen and lands which included Mullaghmarkey and Laccabawn.  ‘These lands are well-known for their high class fattening and dairying qualities and contain a never failing supply of fresh water.’[21]


Sincere thanks to Martine Brennan for genealogical research.


[1] The corrected compositions, neatly transcribed in the hand of teacher Tadhg Ó Céin, Scoil Oileán Ciarraí, appear in The Schools’ Collection at this link[2] Spellings vary, and include Reaineen, Rinnín, Reinin, Rayneen and Reaneen.  In 1931, Con Brosnan with his wife, Nora Cronin, and niece, were on an annual visit from America to ‘Reaneen.’

[3] Jeremiah Houlihan, Creamery Manager at Castleisland for Kerry Co-op Creameries, was born in 1923.  He married Kathleen, daughter of Nicholas F Farnan, ‘Knockroe,’ Bernadette Way, Cork in July 1956.  Jeremiah later lived in Tralee where he worked as a Director of Kerry Group.  He retired to Cork where he died about twenty years ago.  Marie Houlihan married Peter Durham, and lived at Clonough, Limerick. Marie died on 4 November 1998, and was buried with her parents at Kilbannivane Cemetery.

[4]  Michael Houlihan also worked as a fitter’s apprentice in a coal mine in South Wales, and in Castleisland was a founder of the first Labour party branch in Kerry.  In Kerry County Council’s death records Michael was described as a ‘creamery worker.’

[5] Spelling variations of Tullagubbeen at

[6] The marriage, which took place in Castleisland, was witnessed by Jack and Ita Laide. 

[7] ‘The Bard of Castleisland’ by Edna Sheppard Kerryman, 13 January 1989. 

[8] Children born to Jeremiah and Mary Houlihan at Fahaduff were Michael (Con’s father) on 19 December 1897; James, born on 26 December 1899 (appears to have died in infancy); Ellen, born on 16 October 1902; James, born on 9 February 1904; a son (unnamed on the birth certificate) on 4 March 1905.  A son, Jeremiah, was born at Tullig on 20 February 1907 and a daughter Mary was born at Kilbannivane on 18 October 1908. 

[9] In the Census of Ireland 1911 his age is given as 90. 

[10] Irish Genealogy records the birth of three children at ‘Tullagabeen’ to Michael Houlihan (or Holohan) and Margaret Broder in 1867, 1870 and 1872, viz, Mary Houlihan on 1 November 1867, John Houlihan on 13 June 1870 and Nano Houlihan on 17 May 1872.  

[11] The spelling of Ellen is given as Ellard on the original marriage certificate.  Ellen’s first marriage may have been to William Horan.

[12] Nora Houlihan, daughter of Michael Houlihan of Tullagabeen, was 33-years-old when she married 30-year-old James Pembrook, son of James Pembrook of Fahaduff. The marriage took place on 18 February 1909 in Castleisland.

[13] In 1992, a correspondent of the Limerick Leader (8 August), William J Hulihan of Guithersburg, MD, USA, seeking information on his Irish ancestry, illustrated the difficulty with the spelling of names, ‘My great grandfather, Patrick Hulihan, also known as Hohelihan, Houlehan, Holoyhan and Hulighan, immigrated to America in the 1840s with his brother John.’

[14] Kerry Sentinel, 23 September 1893 and Irish Daily Independent, 6 March 1894.  ‘In the Matter of the Estate of Stephen Edward Collis, Owner; and another, Petitioners.  By direction of the Right Honourable Mr Justice Monroe, sealed offers will be received by the Registrar, Land Judges Court, Four Courts, Inn’s Quay, Dublin up to but not later than 2pm on Saturday 10th March 1894 for the purchase of part of the lands of Tullygabeen now known on the Ordnance Survey as the lands of Tullagubbeen and Muingvautia.’

In 1897, John Nolan, Tullagubbeen, applied for a loan of £45 under the Land Law (Ireland) Act of 1881. Notice published in the Kerry Evening Post, 18 September 1897.

[15] Kerry Evening Post, 21 November 1900.  Spelling also given as Golley and Colby. 

[16] Kerry Sentinel, 11 January 1908, Kerry Weekly Reporter, 21 March 1908.  When Edmond’s father died, Michael ‘refused to work for his son, and was evicted for a year’ until a new letting was made to him.’ The agreement was 75 days work on the house and after that 10d a day for labour on the farm.  It was claimed that Michael Houlihan brought his son on the land and sublet it to which Nolan objected, and sought to have him ejected.  At an unsuccessful appeal, Houlihan’s defence claimed it was an agricultural holding and that Houlihan as occupier for years could not be disturbed. 

In 1885, Edmond Nolan of Tulligabeen was placed under arrest on suspicion of stealing four cows belonging to Thomas Gallivan, the meat discovered in an outhouse (Kerry Evening Post, 9 December 1885).

Thomas Nolan of Tulligabeen contributed to the Poff and Barrett fund in February 1883.  Other spellings include Tulligibeen.

[17] Kerry Sentinel, 5 November 1910.

[18] Killarney Echo, 11 November 1911.  The size of the house was 21 ft in length and 11 ft to the rafters, thatched by Houlihan.

[19] In the Census of Ireland of 1911, 90-year-old Michael Houlihan was living with his 37-year-old daughter Nora Pembroke and her husband James and family at 75 Main Street, Castleisland. 

[20] Irish Examiner, 22 May 1916.

[21] Kerryman, 28 June 1924.  The same lands were still for sale in 1927.