Kenmare Bay / River
Kenmare Bay (An Ribhéar) is 30 miles long, 12 miles wide at its mouth and narrowing gradually as it separates the Beara and Iveragh peninsulas and their mountain ranges; at their junction the Roughty River (An Ruachtach) flows into the sea.
Due to its shape the bay is commonly called the Kenmare River, from which its modern Irish name comes. Contrary to widespread belief, it is not an estuary, but a ria (drowned river valley). On some maps, Kenmare Bay is the name given to the ocean mouth of the Kenmare River.
The bay used to be called Inbhear Scéine / Inver Sceine, recorded in the C11rh narrative Lebor Gabála Érenn as the arrival point of the mythological Irish ancestor Partholón. It has provided shelter for seafarers through the ages, whether in Viking longships, Spanish galleons, British men-of-war or the vast modern Irish Naval Fleet.
Kenmare Bay is very accessible along its length with many harbours, inlets and creeks. Of the various islands, the most attractive are probably Dinish, Scarriff and Horse Islands.
A few fishing boats still scrape the bottom of the bay for the last of the overexploited wild fish stocks. Aquaculture installations are increasingly common. Yachts visit the bay every summer, and sometimes a few very lucky souls have the bay to themselves, fishing, sailing or just exploring the beautiful and varied coast.
The River Sheen rises in Kerry’s Caha Mountains, and flows in a northerly direction for some 13 miles before entering the sea at Kenmare bay. The Sheen is a spate system and is subject to violent floods, which can disappear just as quickly as they arrived. Famous for its lovely cascades, the river is very popular for salmon fishing in season.
The Sheen River valley is exceptionally scenic and contains numerous sites of archaeological historical interest, including Ringforts, Standing Stones etc.
Dromanassig was the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher’s great-grandmother Catherine Sullivan (1811-1904), who emigrated to England c.1830, worked as a washerwoman and later married Thomas Smith, a farm labourer. Their daughter Ellen married Benjamin Roberts, whose son Albert, a grocer in Grantham, Lincolnshire, was the three-time British Prime Minister’s father. The Iron Lady once acknowledged her Kerry connection while at 10 Downing Street, but never visited the area, nor has she any known relatives there. Her ancestral home changed hands several times and was occupied into the early years of the C20th; according to local tradition, it was even used by the IRA during The Troubles, and since then has occasionally sheltered cows. Overlooked by a towering Scotch pine tree, the 200-year-old stone house is now a ruin; restoration proposals have met considerable opposition. An article with photos and video can be viewed here
The Sheen Fall Lodge is a very highly regarded luxury hotel complex with villas available for holiday rental.
Kenmare (Co. Kerry / Southwest)
Kenmare (Neidin – “little nest”) (winter pop. 2100), set at the head of narrow Kenmare River / Bay between the Caha Mountains and Ireland’s highest mountain range, the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, is an exceptionally attractive town, with excellent hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs, several superb restaurants and quite a few very good pubs. (Photo – www.snaphappyross.co.uk)
Kenmare is probably the prime example in the West of Ireland of an Anglo-Irish landlord’s “planned” community, with wide streets, limestone buildings and decorative plasterwork on its colourfully painted houses and shops – many of which sell quality artisan craftwork, but also “Oirish” tourist junk, as Kenmare is on the Ring of Kerry.
This part of Ireland has been inhabited since at least the Bronze Age (2,200 BC – 500 BC), as evidenced by local archaeological finds.
The area then known as Ceann Mhara (“head of the sea”) was raided by Vikings in the late C9th anf C10th.
Sir William Petty, the Cromwellian surveyor who had been granted 30,000 acres / 125km2 of land in the region, laid out the first town and invited 815 English Protestant immigrants to settle in 1670 to establish an Industrial Colony, but they fled in 1687.
His descendant William Petty-FitzMaurice, (1737 -1805), remembered locally as the Marquess of Lansdowne, but better known internationally as Lord Shelburne, British Prime Minister at the height of the American Revolutionary War, commissioned an American Loyalist, Henry Pelham, to design the town of Kenmare.
A traveller visiting Kenmare during the Great Famine wrote “The poor people came in from the rural districts in such numbers, in the hopes of getting some relief, that it was utterly impossible to meet their most urgent emergencies, and therefore they came in literally to die in the open streets, actually dying of starvation within a stone’s throw of the inn.”
William Steuart Trench first became associated with the Landsdowne estate in Kerry in 1849, when he compiled a detailed report on its distressed condition in the wake of the Great Famine for the proprietor, the 3rd Marquess of Landsdowne. As agent, he devised a scheme of assisted emigration which between 1850 and 1855 shipped some 4000 people from Kenmare to America.
The Kenmare Stone Circle, aka the Shrubberies and the Druid’s Circle, near Cromwell Bridge, within easy walking distance of the town centre, is an unusual oval / egg-shaped ring of 15 significant rocks, two now prostrate, around an impressive boulder burial with a capstone estimated to weigh some seven tonnes. This is believed to be the largest Stone Circle in SW Ireland.
Dunkerron Castle, on a rocky eminence in a leafy glen on the western outskirts of the town, was an O’Sullivan Mór stronghold; built in 1596, the now ruined complex incorporates an early Norman tower used by the clan chieftains for centuries. The O’Sullivans destroyed the castle themselves rather than allow Cromwellian troops to take it. The property was included in the land granted to William Petty, and the title Baron Dunkerron is still held by his descendants, the Marquesses of Lansdowne. The last Gaelic Prince of Dunkerron, Dónal O’Sullivan, died in 1754 without heir.
Famine Memorial in old Kenmare Cemetery. (Photo – Terryballard)
St Patrick’s church (CoI) dates from 1858. As the only Protestant place of worship remaining in Kenmare, the church also welcomes members of other denominations. (Local Methodists meet regularly in a hall in nearby Templenoe).
Holy Cross church (RC), designed by Charles Hansom and consecrated in 1864, has an ornate interior and beautiful stained glass windows. Behind the church is a Poor Clare Convent, founded in 1861, where nuns were responsible for introducing the art of lace making to the town.
Margaret Anna Cusack (1832-1899), aka “the Nun of Kenmare“, was a feisty Dublin-born Anglican Evangelist who converted to Roman Catholicism and wrote numerous popular pamphlets and pious books attacking landlordism (especially Lord Lansdowne) and supporting Irish Patriotic causes (but not, oddly, the Land League), launched several successful fund-raising campaigns in the USA and founded the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace to help homeless girls (still extant). Reverting to Protestantism, she spent her last years energetically attacking the Jesuits, and is buried in Leamington Spa.
Kenmare Heritage Centre, housed in a pleasant Victorian dwelling, provides exhibits on the history of the town, including the once-thriving local lace making industry. Demonstrations on the art are on view as well as displays of prize-winning lace.
The Kenmare Horse Show is a major equine, agricultural and social event held annually at the beginning of June.
August 15th, the Roman Catholic Feast of the Assumption, is a traditional Fair Day in Kenmare.
The Kenmare Park Hotel***** is internationally renowned as superb; our mother considered it the best hotel in Ireland.
The Lansdowne Arms***, a renovated C18th property with Victorian features, is a friendly and atmospheric hotel.
Seal watching cruises from Kenmare take 2-3 hours on a 65-passenger vessel, with a hilarious and informative commentary by the skipper.
Kenmare, west of Kilgarvan at the western end of ByRoute 5, is within easy reach of Tuosist, the Co. Kerry part of the Beara Peninsula; a tour of the whole region is extremely highly recommended. Kenmare is also close to Blackwater Bridge on the southern shore of the Iveragh Peninsula, a tour of which is equally recommended, especially outside the high tourist season.