The Rise and Fall of Orpen’s Fort, Killowen, Kenmare

Less than a mile outside the town of Kenmare, on the road that leads to Kilgarvan, the passer-by might glimpse the ruin of a building set low in a field close to the river.  It was built by Sir William Petty as a residence for his agent, and was known as The White House.


Soon after the death of Sir William Petty in 1687, a crisis occurred:


The Officers of the new raised Levies, being Persons of broken and desperate Fortunes, not able to maintain themselves or their Souldiers, were forced to filch and steal black Cattle and Sheep all over the Kingdom for the Subsistence; and more especially in the County of Kerry.


In the beginning of January 1689, the Protestants in ‘Killmare’ (Kenmare) found themselves bereft of all their cattle and haggards of corn, their barns and granaries stripped and robbed.  Rev Thomas Palmer (1644-1702), ‘minister of the scattered Protestants in the parish of Kenmare and many surrounding parishes,’ and his son-in-law, Richard Orpen (1652-1716), agent for the Pettys, complained to Lieutenant-General Justin McCarthy, governor of the province, and to Sir Valentine Browne, governor of the County of Kerry.[1]


Cattle and Corn Plundered: Depiction of General Justin McCarthy (centre) from The MacCarthys of Munster (1922) by Samuel Trant McCarthy


Meanwhile, the plundering continued, and the Protestant community, which then numbered 180 persons, began to fear for their lives.[2]   They approached Rev Thomas Palmer and Richard Orpen, who learned from Sir Richard Aldworth that an army was expected to come from England to assist them.[3]  They were advised to go to the garrison in Bandon, Co Cork, for protection but as almost all their horses had been stolen, it was not practical.  It was therefore decided that their best if not only option was to defend themselves on the spot and wait for help.


Making of Orpen’s Fort


The White House stood upon a rock near the river, and the tide flowed almost around it making a peninsula capable of fortification.  The house was 44 ft in length, 22 ft in breadth, and two storeys and a half high.  It contained four large rooms and a garret.


In Ruin (left and right): The White House, Killowen Images © Castleisland District Heritage.  The photograph in the centre was taken by Mary McCarthy, Killowen, for her research entitled History of The White House and all the Connections (2002) which she generously made available to Castleisland District Heritage


The White House was selected as a stronghold, and into it went the 180 persons, seventy-five of whom were fighting men armed with such things as blunderbusses, pistols, swords, pikes, scythes.  The accommodation was much over-crowded, and between 16 and 24 January 1689, they built a clod-wall round half an acre of land about the house.  It was 14 ft in height and 12 in thickness, in the shape of an irregular pentagon within which they built temporary wooden huts for some of the families.  They all took oath ‘in defence of our Lives and Religion’ against the enemies of the Protestant Church.


On 25th February, Irish soldiers numbering 3,000 commanded by Captain Phelim McCarthy came to the gates of the garrison in the early hours of the morning hoping to surprise the occupants.[4]  However, the efficient Watch fired a shot and the soldiers stood off.


When daylight dawned, an Irish captain was admitted who informed them his errand was to have them disarmed.  They refused to surrender, but entered into negotiations which were not honoured, and the soldiers filled the garrison with their men, plundered all the provisions and goods, and turned them out in a starving condition.


Escape from Orpen’s Fort


Fortunately, James Waller, Lady Shelburne’s brother, had left for their use two small 30-ton barques and into these two vessels they all packed except eight families who were forced to stay behind to carry on the ironworks.  However, the soldiers removed the sails from the ships for fear they would go to England, and those aboard were kept for eight days on rough water.  Eventually, Captain Lieutenant Maurice Hussey allowed them to depart on condition they went to Cork.[5]


They left on 10th March and sailed immediately for Bristol.  After an arduous journey, they arrived in Bristol on 25 March the worse for wear, where the Mayor of that city caused a collection to be made for their relief.  Three died from exposure during the journey, and most were affected by some form of disease.


Richard Orpen, known as ‘Richard of the White House,’ died on 21 August 1716.[6]  It is worth noting that his eldest son, Rev Thomas Orpen (1696-1767) married Agnes, daughter of Arthur Herbert of Currans, Castleisland.  The year of death of Rev Thomas Palmer is unclear, though generally recorded as 1701-1702.[7]


An account of this episode is vividly and thoroughly told by lawyer and historian, Goddard Henry Orpen (1852-1932) in ‘The Siege of Killowen: 1688/9.’[8]


[1] Elizabeth Waller (c1636-1708), Lady Petty, bereaved in 1687, was created Baroness Shelburne on 13 December 1688 at the same time as her eldest son, Charles Petty, became Baron Shelburne.

Justin MacCarthy, Lord Viscount of Mountcashel, was appointed Muster-Master General in the Irish Army and Lord Lieutenant of County Cork in 1688 or early 1689.  Justin married Arabella, second daughter of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, and had issue Margaret, married to Luke, Earl of Fingal, who died in 1693; and Ellen, who married William de Burgh, Earl of Clanrickarde, by whom she had a daughter Honoria (Nora), who married twice, first to Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan and secondly in 1695 to James Fitzjames (Stuart), Duke of Berwick, natural son of King James II.

Sir Valentine Browne (1638-1694), Governor of Kerry, 1st Viscount Kenmare and 3rd Baronet Browne of Molahiffe.

[2] The colony planted in 1670 by Sir William Petty (1623-1687) consisted at one time of ‘815 souls of English Protestants.’  The fall in population may have been actuated by ‘the disturbed state of the country in the two years preceding the Siege of Killowen.’  In 1694, when Richard Orpen’s The London-Master: or, The Few Detected was published, the number of Protestants had fallen to ‘not above 75’ (The Orpen Family, pp75-76).  The 180 persons in 1688/9 comprised 42 families.

[3] Sir Richard Aldworth (1618-c1692), son of William Aldworth, seems to have been the brother-in-law of Rev Thomas Palmer, his wife being Jane Mary Palmer.  His g-g-g-great grandson, Lt Col William Aldworth, DSO, of the 2nd Battalion Duke of Cornwalls Light Infantry, who fell at Paardeberg, South Africa, on 17 February 1900, was described as a descendant of Sir Richard Aldworth who founded Aldworth Chapel at Windsor. 

It is worth noting that Frogmore House, designed by James Wyatt in 1809 for Queen Charlotte, Consort of George III, replaced a house built by William Aldworth in 1697.

The following extract is taken from ‘Aldworth of Newmarket Court’ by Nicholas Kingsley ( ‘Richard Aldworth (d. 1629), a younger son of Richard Aldworth (d. 1608) the verderer of Stow Wood (Oxon), emigrated to Ireland, became Provost-Marshal of Munster in 1610 and was knighted in 1612.  He settled at Short Castle, Mallow (Cork) and between 1610 and 1620 he obtained several grants of confiscated lands for the creation of a new settlement of Englishmen.  By 1620 he had established the town of Newmarket (Cork), which received a market charter in that year.  At his death he had no children and left his Irish estate to his nephew Richard (b. 1596; fl. 1638), who also died without issue. His heir was his brother William, whose son Sir Richard Aldworth (1618-92), kt., eventually succeeded to the estates.’

With regard to the Sir Richard Aldworth knighted in 1612, who died in 1629, the following is of interest: ‘On 1st March 1621 a patent for the manor of Newmarket was granted by King James to Sir Richard Aldworth, who was Provost-Mareschal of Munster from 1610 to 1629.  In 1624 he was Commissioner in Munster for Martial affairs and in 1626 he was also Chief Leader of the Army in Munster.  He died at Dublin on 21st June 1629 and was buried in Christ Church, Newmarket’ (Letter to the Editor from Henry A O’Riordan, Lorrha, Roscrea, Co Tipperary, Cork Daily Herald, 8 November 1877).. 

[4] ‘Felim, the son of Jeremy, had no inheritance but the sword.  He was a Captain in the Irish army, fought on the side of James II both before and after the King’s arrival in Ireland in March, 1689, and left Ireland with the ‘Wild Geese.’ He was in France at the time of his sister’s marriage, upon hearing of which he hurried back, but was shot dead before he reached his native glen.  It is not improbable, considering his near relationship to the Commander-in-Chief of the Munster Forces, that he was the Captain Phelim MacCarthy who led the Irish force, who in 1688 compelled the party of English colonists shut up in Killowen House to capitulate to them, as described by O’Callaghan in his History of the Irish Brigade’ (The MacCarthys of Munster (1922) by Samuel Trant McCarthy, pp139-140).  This Felim left three sons, Dermod, Owen and Cormac (or Charles); see The MacCarthy’s of Munster for genealogy.

[5]  Member for Tralee in King James’s Parliament in 1689, Captain Lieutenant to Governor Browne, Lieutenant-Colonel of McElligott’s Regiment.  ‘This family is descended from Sir Hugh Hussey who came to Ireland temp Henry II and settled in the county Meath … Lieutenant-Colonel Maurice Hussey’s military career is not recorded in the Archdeacon’s Memoir [Lake Lore by Archdeacon Rowan] but he gives a portion of his Will from the Consistorial Registry of the diocese which shows that Hussey died in 1714 and directs that he shall be buried in his vault at Kilugus, clothed in the habit of St Francis, ‘at night, if torches, lights, and lanthorns may be had’ … The Archdeacon adds that he could never find out to which of the once numerous branches of the Hussey family this Colonel belonged’ (Irish Pedigrees (1892) by John O’Hart). 

Colonel Maurice Hussey was buried in the chapel of Killegy at Muckross where an inscription to his memory on the inside wall is still legible. An article with references to Colonel Maurice Hussey and his correspondence can be read on this website,

[6] His wife was Isabella, daughter of Rev Thomas Palmer (‘Preaching Pastor Palmer’) minister of Kenmare and many surrounding parishes. 

[7] The following is from King’s History of Kerry: ‘Thomas and James Palmer were in the English garrison of Castlemaine in 1574.  The Rev Thomas Palmer was given Crown livings at Kilmare (Kenmare), Kilgarvan, Templenoe, Kilcrohan, and Caherciveen in 1702.  His son-in-law, Richard Orpen, was leader of the Protestant settlement in Kenmare, 1688-9.  Thos Palmer left a son, Thomas, whose son was Abraham, whose son was Caleb of Milltown, who married Dorcas Twiss of Ballybeg in 1782 and died 1794.  His son was Abraham of Ashgrove, who married Margaret Orpen of Killowen, whose son was Edward Orpen Palmer of Killowen, b1807, d 1883, leaving Rev Abraham Henry Herbert Orpen Palmer, Vicar of St Peter’s Cheltenham, b 1843.’

See ‘Palmer of Kilmare’ in Burke’s genealogical records.  Rev Thomas Palmer married first Jane, daughter of William Aldworth of Duhallow, Co Cork and secondly Shelah, daughter of the O’Sullivan More.  By his first wife he had issue Rev Thomas Palmer, his heir, who married Sarah, daughter of Caleb Colclough Esq of Tintern Abbey, Co Wexford; Rev George Palmer, Rector of Kiltallagh, Co Kerry; Mary Palmer, who married Joseph Taylor Esq of Dunkerron Castle, Co Kerry; Margaret Palmer, who married Robert Harman Esq of Carbery Co Cork; Cecilia Palmer, who married Richard Allen Esq; Isabella Palmer, who married Richard Orpen Esq of Killowen.

[8] Chapter contained in The Orpen Family being an account of the Life and Writings of Richard Orpen of Killowen, Co Kerry, together with some Researches into his Forbears in England and Brief Notices of the Various Branches of the Orpen Family Descended from him (1930) by Goddard Henry Orpen, pp72-82.