The Market House, Castleisland, and its Associations

A plaque on the Market House in Castleisland is inscribed: Built 1747 / Rebuilt 1825 / Reconstructed by J K O’Connor Esq JP 1914.  The considerable history of this building is rooted in the Earl of Desmond’s lands, the confiscation and subsequent division of which was known, in feudal terms, as the Seigniory of Castleisland.[1]


A rough outline of this division was given during a court hearing about rights to land at Killeentierna:


It appeared the Seignory of Castleisland originally belonged to Lord Powis who assigned to Henry Arthur Herbert Esq and he, in the year 1733, conveyed the Seignory to five gentlemen, who, in the year 1734, by deed explaining the last deed, granted one-sixth to Mr Meredith’s ancestor, and by a subsequent partition the lands of Killeentierna were conveyed to him.[2]


In 1738, the names of those who had an interest in the Earl’s land were Edward Herbert, Richard Meredith, John Blennerhassett, William Crosbie, Sir Maurice Crosbie and John Fitzgerald (Knight of Kerry).  Each of the six had a share in the Market House.  The walls of the new building, completed soon after, were appropriate to its history:


They built a market house with an assembly room out of the debris of the great Castle.[3]


Altered States: The Market House in 2016 and a recent view of the town from outside


With such a consortium of owners, it was perhaps inevitable that disagreements would arise. Less than sixty years after its construction, the Market House was in ruin and the town described as in ‘rapid decay.’  The observations came from travel writer, John Carr, who remarked that ‘only the shell of the market-house and assembly-rooms remains,’ the cause of which he attributed to a dispute among the proprietors regarding their respective interests.[4]


Carr’s visit to Castleisland took place in 1805, just short years after the Rebellion of 1798.  He questioned two old women about whether the rebellion had raged much in Castleisland:  ‘No, your honour, we had only a little blasht of it.’[5]


The ‘little blasht’ included a number of heads being spiked on the metal gates of the old Market House, as recorded on a plaque on the building:


1798-1804 This Plaque is erected to the Memory of the United Irishmen from this district who were hanged drawn and quartered and beheaded in Tralee and whose heads were spiked and displayed on this building Erin Go Bragh Erected by the National Graves Association of Ireland Unveiled on 3rd October 2004 by Michael Culloty[6]


Memorials on the wall of the Market House, photographs © John Reidy, Castleisland


Castleisland in 1812 was ‘wholly un-progressive,’ the finger of blame pointed firmly at the plethora of proprietors and their dispute over 600 undivided acres.[7]   At this period, Lord Powis is credited with having offered to take the undivided 600 acres in lieu of his rent and establish a woollen mill in the town.  Indeed, it is believed the Wren family of Castleisland came to the town in the early 1800s to work in a woollen mill known as Fleming’s Mill.[8]


However, Rev Thomas Radcliff’s Agricultural Survey of Castleisland in 1814 shows that the desires of Lord Powis had not then been brought to fruition.[9]


Reconstruction of the Market House


A road building project under civil engineer Richard Griffith in the early 1820s boosted the economy and almost certainly brought about the rebuilding of the Market House.


The Market House was rebuilt in 1825 of stone and lime and slated with rooms for an agent’s office, school and reading room, petty sessions and caretakers’ apartment.  The middle under part was the market House.[10]


In line with this, Michael O’Donohoe’s detailed research shows the changes that had occurred in the original six proprietors, continued in the names of their representatives.


Michael’s Chart shows the original six proprietors and documents changes in 1824, 1837, 1852, 1870 and 1903


Too Many Cooks


With such a number of proprietors, improvements came about as the nineteenth century progressed, albeit slowly.  Fifty years after the Market House was rebuilt, Main Street, once divided by rock, had been opened up:


The long broad street has been metamorphosed from thatched fohoroghs, in some instances, to uniform rows of slated houses substantially comfortable.  The great way once a Gehenna of malignant sinks, deep enough to drown young puppies, reminding us of the stables of Augeas, have been expurgated without help of the river Alpheus and macadamised and the jugged and pointed rocks that once projected and sentinelled those Barathre have been torn up and cleared off, and the street made open and smooth as the Appian Way.[11]


Nonetheless, the improvements were regarded by some as inadequate for a town with such vested interest.  One writer compared Castleisland to other towns, and was not impressed: ‘Look at the houses in the Main Street – in some parts as irregular as ancient Rome when it was burnt by Nero’ – and advanced the theory of neglect caused by absenteeism:


A slight impulse of only equivocal encouragement in a couple of isolated cases (Lords Ventry and Headley) has propelled an advancement in prosperity and happiness in a very short lapse of time.  In the case of other proprietors (the late Major Fairfield’s love of improving Castleisland commemorates itself) is it to the indifference appropriate to absenteeism, or to indolence, pride or hard-selfishness we are to ascribe the fact of their taking much and giving nothing – nothing in word or deed?[12]


The other landlords were encouraged to do like:


If the other proprietors co-operated this town with all its enriching appliances now on the eve of a railroad at their doors and illuminated by the press, schools and religion, and telegraphic communication, could, by an effort of their own, and Town Commissioners and other organisations, such as promote populous inhabitation and prosperity in places of far fewer claims and recommendations.


Michael O’Donohoe’s map of the division of the town shows that the Market House occupied a site on the Herbert share of land


The Baron of Castleisland


With so many activities going on in the Market House and so many with a financial interest in it, it is difficult to determine who was responsible for what.  Michael O’Donohoe’s research reveals that after the streets in Castleisland were made, the Market House was allotted to Lady Headley.[13]


Lady Headley duly handed the lease of the Market House to one Daniel Reidy on whose death it passed to his son, Maurice Spring Reidy, JP, otherwise known as ‘The Baron’ or ‘Baron Reidy.’[14]


In 1846, Daniel Pembroke of Woodview, under-agent to the Headley estate, challenged the Baron’s right to the lease and induced Lady Headley to transfer it to him.[15]  Baron Reidy, however, successfully proved his title.[16] According to the research of Michael O’Donohoe, the tolls, customs and the Market House were in the possession of Baron Reidy and his forefathers for centuries.[17]


The Baron was clearly held in high regard by the family of Winn (Lords Headley).  In 1877, the Baron acted as pall bearer at the funeral of the Right Hon Charles Allanson Winn, 3rd Baron Headley, who died 30 July 1877 aged 67.[18]  The other pall bearers, tenants of the Headley estate, were John C Talbot, W Dobbins, Denis O’Leary, Martin Nolan and John F Powell of Ballynahown.[19]


The duties of Baron Reidy were remarked on in the following year, during the St Patrick’s Day Fair in Castleisland:


There was one feature connected with the fair which would remind one of the old times.  Disputes will arise, more especially at fairs, and Castleisland is not infallible.  Everywhere might owners and dealers in cattle be seen looking for Mr M S Reidy, the descendant of the ancient Barons of Castleisland, to arrange their disputes, which he invariably did in a most judicial style – his verdicts not being subject to appeal.[20]


However, times move on, and twenty years later, the Baron’s authority was being challenged.  At a meeting of Tralee Rural District Council in the summer of 1899, a bill for maintenance of the streets of Castleisland was presented, and remarks made about difficulties in keeping the streets clean.


Chairman Jeremiah Roche, JP, stated that Baron Reidy claimed the right of all manure taken from the streets and that the contractor had no title or power to remove it.  The authority of the Baron was overruled; it was determined that the town was under a sanitary authority and that if the Baron did not remove the heaps in 48 hours, then the contractor could do so.[21]


Crag House


At this period, Baron Reidy’s address was Crag House, his family home for about thirty years.[22] The Baron married Ann Attridge and they had three daughters, Margaret, Ann and Nora.[23]  Ann, the Baron’s wife, died in October 1871 at Lee View Place, Sunday’s Well, Cork.[24]


On 29 April 1897, youngest daughter Nora was married in the cathedral of St Mary’s, Killarney to John Kerry O’Connor, son of John Kerry O’Connor and Mary Murphy.[25]  The Baron assigned the tithes and interests of the Market House to his son-in-law.  On the 6 April 1905, 89-year-old Baron Reidy died at his residence, Crag House:


The deceased gentleman was more popularly known throughout this and the neighbouring counties as Baron Reidy or ‘the Baron’ and his ready wit and humour will long be remembered by his legion of friends.  He had reached an age beyond the allotted span allowed to man and his funeral which took place today to Kilmurry amply bore testimony to his popularity with all classes of the community.[26]


He was buried in Kilmurry churchyard.[27]


Kerry O’Connor


In January 1905, John Kerry O’Connor Esq of Crag House was appointed to the Commission of the Peace for Kerry on the recommendation of the Rt Hon Earl of Kenmare, KP, HM, Lieutenant for the County.  In 1914, the Market House was remodelled and took on a new form as the Emporium.[28]


John Kerry O’Connor, Baron of Castleisland Fairs


John Kerry O’Connor died on 12 March 1920 at Crag House and was laid to rest in Kilbannivane churchyard.[29]  Tribute was paid to his business acumen:


John Kerry O’Connor built up a lucrative business in the drapery, flour, meal and general wholesale and retail trade.  Some years ago he acquired the Old Market House at the lower end of the street and remodelled and fitted up the place most elaborately on most modern principles at a very large outlay.  His fine mart could rank with any city establishment in Ireland.  He was a clever horseman, and always took a keen interest in sport particularly in the annual race meetings at Castleisland.[30]


John Kerry O’Connor was succeeded by his son, Maurice Joseph Kerry O’Connor, who continued the business up to his retirement.  Maurice died on 12 December 1980. His nephew, Conor O’Mahony, continued the thriving business with his son, Cormac.


In 1997, the Market House was renovated and extended and in 1998, it was recorded that ‘For five generations, J K’s has been to the forefront of commercial activity in Castleisland.’[31]


In 2014, however, economic downturn saw the closure of J K O’Connors, and thus was another layer added to the rich history of the Market House.[32]


In January 2018, Kingdom Furniture Revamp, then eight years in business, relocated to the Market House and the famous old Market House doors were reopened.[33]


Above left: A rare traffic-free view of the Market House taken in the current (April 2020) Covid19 lockdown.  Right, a 1975 painting of The Market House / J.K. O’Connor & Sons by Co. Clare born, then Castleisland based artist and art teacher, Leo Hogan.  Photographs courtesy John Reidy Photography, Castleisland



[1] ‘The Seigniory of Castleisland’
See also ‘Baron de Monte Marisco, Lord of Castle Island’ at  

[2] Kerry Evening Post, 23 July 1836, ‘Rev Thomas Herbert against William Meredith Esq.’

Michael O’Donohoe’s study of the Church of Ireland in Castleisland begins with land changes following the death of the Earl of Desmond.  He wrote: ‘From c1587 onwards, the seigniory of Castleisland was owned by the Herbert family, apart from a large tract of land which had been sold to Patrick Trant in 1683-4.  In 1733, the Herberts sold out the lease of the remainder.  The new owners or proprietors were Sir Maurice Crosbie, William Crosbie, Edward Herbert, a cousin; John Fitzgerald, John Blennerhasset. A sixth, Richard Meredith, was added in 1734. The number 6 is interesting, it almost certainly resulted from the fact that, at that time, the town was located at the convergence of six townlands, Bawnluskaha, Tonbwee, Chapel Quarter, Cahereen East, Castleview and Moanmore’ (

Further reference, see ‘Herbert family and the Seigniory of Castleisland’ and ‘The Seignory of Castle Island’ by Mary Agnes Hickson, Selections from Old Kerry Records (1872), pp185-190.

[3] Tralee Chronicle and KIllarney Echo, 5 December 1873. ‘Each of the six had a share in the Market House,’ reference: ‘Castleisland’ (O’Donohoe notes) IE MOD 1/1.1/1.1.1.

[4] The Stranger in Ireland (1806) by John Carr Esq, later Sir John Carr, pp222-223.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Further reference, ‘Rebellion of 1798’

[7] History of Kerry by Jeremiah King, Vol II, p150 (note 385).  ‘Castleisland Woollen Mill: In 1812, Castleisland, the capital of Kerry, under the Geraldines, had become wholly unprogressive.  This was caused by the district being the undivided property of six proprietors, Lord Glandore, Lord Headly, H A Herbert, W J Crosbie, R Chute and W Merydith who held by lease from Lord Powis the Seignory of Mount Eagle Loyal at £1800 a year and then sub-let for £18,000.   Lord Powis offered to take the 600 undivided acres at Castleisland in lieu of his head rent, as he desired to improve the town and erect machinery for a woollen manufacture on a mill site close to the town with a good fall and regular supply of water.  The establishment of a woollen factory would be the means of covering the adjacent hills with fine flocks.  In 1908, the project is being revived.’

[8] ‘Wrens an intriguing family history’ by John Reidy, The Kerryman, 6 April 2006. ‘Thomas Wren from Killarney and his wife, Hannah Sullivan, from Kenmare came to Castleisland in the early 1800s. They had been prosperous business people in Killarney but unfortunately had fallen on hard times. It is believed that they came to Castleisland to work in a woollen mill known as Fleming’s Mill.’

Michael O’Donohoe’s extracts from Griffith’s Valuation of the 1850s record four flour and corn mills located at Tobermaing (the early ordnance survey map shows there was also a carding mill here), Beheenagh, Ballahantouragh and Tonleagh Lower and one tuck mill at Knocknaboul, ‘Tucking or fulling was the art of scouring and beating woollens as a means of thickening’ (


[10] IE MOD 45/45.1/45.1.6.

[11] Tralee Chronicle and KIllarney Echo, 5 December 1873.  It is worth noting that Mary Agnes Hickson, writing at this time, described Castleisland as ‘one of the most prosperous and peaceful districts in the south-west of Ireland’ (Old Kerry Records, 1872).

[12] Tralee Chronicle and KIllarney Echo, 5 December 1873. ‘Effects spring from causes.  Neglect plays practical oppression.  To illustrate this look at all other towns and those I have exemplified, and then look at the preposterous dealing about the flagging of Castleisland.  Look at the footways, swampy and muddy, or rugged and stoney, except in favoured strips of street that browbeat their neighbours like impudent little oligarchies.  Look at the houses in the Main Street – in some parts as irregular as ancient Rome when it was burnt by Nero on presenting through raged chasms fugitive views of the distant heights.  But as to the lanes …’

[13] In a discussion about payment of rates at a meeting of the Tralee Union in 1843, it was remarked that ‘a general change of the boundaries’ had taken place on Lady Headley’s estate, ‘as well as that of Henry Arthur Herbert Esq in the same district’ (Kerry Evening Post, 8 July 1843).

[14] From notes on Maurice Spring Reidy and J K O’Connor, O’Donohoe Collection Ref: IE MOD 55/55.1/55.1.68 (7).  See also notes on the Market House in IE MOD 73/73.12.

Information recorded on Divane’s Calendar, 1998, identified Baron Reidy with Knocknagoshel.

M S Reidy’s noble title was used from at least 1856, when he was witness in a disputed will case, Herbert v Ledmon. 

[15] In 1850, Daniel Pembroke numbered among signatures to a declaration to Lady Headley which refuted a rumour that tenants on her estate (the Plowland and Castleisland property) were threatened with ‘the auctioneer and extermination’  (Kerry Evening Post, 27 November 1850). 

[16] ‘A memorable day for the Baron and his friends; no further contest from Pembroke.’  From notes on Maurice Spring Reidy and J K O’Connor, O’Donohoe Collection Ref: IE MOD 55/55.1/55.1.68 (7).  See also notes on the Market House in IE MOD 73/73.12.

In 1898, County Councillors raised the question of the Baron’s right to tolls etc; see IE MOD/55/55.1.68.

[17] Ibid. ‘For nearly 300 years the tolls, customs and Market House in the possession of my late father-in-law M S Reidy and his forefathers.’   The information appears to be taken from an address ‘To the Electors of County Kerry’ dated 9 May 1908.

[18] Chief mourners: Lord Headley, successor to title (Charles Mark Allanson-Winn 4th Lord Headley (1845-1913); Laurence McTighe, son-in-law of deceased; Captain A F Powell, son-in-law of deceased; and Arthur Blennerhassett.  Rev Livingstone, son-in-law to deceased, assisted by Rev Richard Madden, rector of Aghadoe, officiated.  

Lord Headley’s daughters were Hon Laura Jane Allanson-Winn who married St Lawrence Robert Morgan Tighe in 1874; Hon Millicent Julia Allanson-Winn married Rev Richard John Livingston in 1876; and Hon Marion Sybil Allanson-Winn married Captain Alexander Francis Powell, JP, in 1875.

The last named, Captain Alexander Francis Powell, was son of Alexander Pitts Elliot Powell of Hurdcott House, Wilts, JP DL (RIP 31 Oct 1882), eldest son of Alexander Powell MP of Hurdcott House by Joanna, his wife, second daughter of Right Rev George Henry Law, Bishop of Bath and Wells and niece of the first Lord Ellenborough.  Alexander Pitts Elliot Powell married in 1839 Mary Elizabeth Vere Booth, daughter of William Tyndale of Bathford, Somerset.

[19] In 1901, John F Powell was recorded as tenant of landlord, J T R Lucas (perhaps John Thomas Rashleigh Lucas, JP, The Manor House, Dunmanway; of Lucas of Rathealy in the peerage).  John F Powell of Ballynahown (otherwise Ballinahown or Riverstown) married Lydia, fourth daughter of Humphry Bolster Esq of Lombardstown, Co Cork, in Kilshannig Church on 26 January 1860.  Lydia died at Ballinahown, Castleisland on 28 July 1892.  John F Powell died on 14 February 1912.  In 1913, Ballinahown was up for sale instructed by Charles Talbot Esq, executor of John F Powell.

John F Powell changed the name of Riverstown to Ballinahown House in about 1853.  It was subsequently changed back to Riverstown.  See sketch of the history of Riverstown House in Kerryman, 27 April 2006, ‘Calendar Drawings prove Huge Hit’ by John Reidy. 

[20] Kerry Evening Post, 20 March 1878.

[21] Kerry Evening Post, 15 July 1899.

[22] Crag House (sometimes Craig, Cragg or Cragge House) was known earlier as Rockville.  Maurice S Reidy had been in occupation since at least 1872.  The estate of Maurice Spring Reidy included holdings on the northern shore of Ballinskelligs Bay. Tenants there in 1884 were Thomas Harty, Thomas Fitzpatrick, John Garrett Reilly, Michael Donnelly.

Note on Crag House

In 1846, John Miles (or Myles) Esq was resident at Rockville.  In 1848, Rockville, consisting of 106 acres, house and land, was up for lease, application to William Miles Esq, Callinafercy, Milltown.

Richard Magrath Fitzgerald appears next in residence at which time the property was referred to as Crag House.  He appears to have been the son of Rev Wyndham Magrath Fitzgerald of Limerick (the accidental death of Henry Brady Esq, eldest son of Luke Brady Esq, described him as nephew of Richard Magrath Fitzgerald and of Lady William Somerset.  In 1838, Luke Brady Esq of Kilebeg, Co Wicklow, was married to Anne, daughter of Rev Wyndham Magrath Fitzgerald of Limerick). 

On 27 March 1856, Richard Magrath Fitzgerald married Letitia, youngest daughter of late John Hurly Esq of Bridge House, Tralee, Clerk of the Crown for the county of Kerry, in Tralee church.   A son was born at Craig House, Castleisland, on 10 June 1861.  The following year, in August, it was reported that Major-General E R Hill had arrived at Crag House, residence of R Magrath Fitzgerald Esq.

In 1863, Richard Fitzgerald Esq of Crag House was seriously hurt by a fall from his horse while hunting in the neighbourhood of Castleisland.  ‘One foot remained in his stirrup when he fell and he was dragged by his horse a considerable distance before rescue from his perilous position’ (Irish Examiner, 30 March 1863).  The following year, Crag House and demesne, 18 acres, was advertised to be let, application to William Miles Esq, Caragh Lake.

See’ Some Historic Houses of the Castleisland District’

[23] Margaret Reidy was baptised 11 January 1865, sponsors John Reidy and Esther Reidy.  She was married on 26 November 1892 at the Cathedral Killarney by Rev M D Allman, Castleisland, to Nicholas D O’Riordan, Tralee.   Ann Reidy was married to William McSweeney of Killarney on 26 February 1895.

See also message of John Finn on

[24] West End House (4 Lee View Place, Sunday’s Well) was the lodgings of Mrs Attridge in 1862.

[25] In the same year, on 7 August 1897, Maurice Reidy’s 60-year-old sister, Esther ‘Ettie’ Reidy died at Crag House. 

[26] Kerry Evening Post, 8 April 1905. Chief mourners were his daughters, Mrs J K O’Connor, Mrs Dr McSweeney, Mrs N W O’Riordan.  Cousins included Lt W J Meredith RMF, R Meredith JP, and R C Meredith solicitor.

Michael O’Donohoe’s notes on Maurice Spring Reidy held in Collection Ref IE MOD/55/55.1/55.1.236.

[27] To the Memory of Maurice Spring Reidy JP/Craig House/Castleisland/Who Died 6th April 1905/His Wife Ann,/Who Died October 1871/Also his Sister Esther/Who Died August 1879 [sic]. 

[28] IE MOD/14/14.2.  J K O’Connor numbered among those awarded compensation for damage caused to stock during the Civil War.

[29] Memorial inscribed: Erected by/John Kerry O’Connor JP/Craig House, Castleisland/In Memory of His Father/& Mother, who died 1886/Also his Grandfather &/Grandmother, who died 1866/J K O’Connor/Died 1920/Nora O’Connor/Died 1945/Maurice J K O’Connor/Died 11 December 1980

[30] Irish Examiner, 17 March 1920.

[31] Reference IE MOD/14/14.2 and Divane’s Calendar, 1998.

[32] See sketch of its history in the Maine Valley Post, 26 July 2014, 'The Market House 1747-2014.’

[33] ‘Revamp Manager Sold a Saddle for a Camel – in Castleisland’ (The Maine Valley Post, 2 February 2018).