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O’Connell Trail 1

The Heritage Centre came about following the defeat of the Fenians in 1867. The English government was anxious about the safety of the Valentia Atlantic cable station. A new constabulary barracks was built on the banks of the River Fertha and it was occupied by the R.I.C in 1877. It continued as a barracks until the R.I.C were disbanded in 1922. During the civil war the building was burnt down by the republican forces and it remained derelict for the next 70 years, a grim reminder of the unhappy past times. The building was restored to its present condition by ACARD in 1992 as a Heritage Centre for the town and
surrounding area. The Heritage Centre was officially opened in September 1996.

Two floors of the centre are devoted to the career of Daniel O’Connell especially his fight for Catholic Emancipation and repeal of the Union. O’Connell’s career greatly influenced the public, social and economic issues of the day. These included various aspects of public and social reform. He took a keen interest in world affairs such as the abolition of slavery and full civil rights for all citizens
Leaving the Heritage Centre the bridge across the river Fertha comes into view. In 1840 O’Connell subscribed £4000 towards its construction and it was named after local Doctor Barry. It was a timber structure and it was replaced in 1930 with the present concrete bridge.


O’Connell Trail 2

Early in the 1830’s the bringing of the Railway to South Kerry was discussed. O’Connell’s idea was to see the railway touching the southern coastline and to continue from Cahersiveen to Cork via Kenmare. The line between Farranfore and Killorglin came into existence in 1885 and passengers for South Kerry were transported by Leslie’s Coaches from Killorglin. The dynamic Parish Priest Canon Brosnan was authorised to go to Dublin and then London where he succeeded in getting a grant of £85,000 to continue the Railway line from Killorglin to Valentia Harbour. The Great Southern and Western Railway undertook the building of the line.

The total cost was £243,627 and due to the difficult terrain it cost £9000 per mile. On November 28th 1891, Canon Brosnan laid the foundation stone for the Railway bridge. The completed iron bridge spans 940 feet which has 7 spans of 100 feet and 4 spans of 60 feet. The Railway line was sanctioned to open on September 11th, 1893 and a large crowd gathered to witness the historic event.

For 67 years the Railway line to Farranfore saw passenger and cargo trains travel on a daily basis. The cargo trains were vital for the transport of fish and turf during World War II. The number of tunnels and the majestic Viaduct provided a magnificent panorama of the mountains, Dingle bay and the Blasket Islands.

Despite the frustration and anger of the local people, C.I.E. closed the branch line between Farranfore and Valentia Harbour on January 30th, 1960. Its closure had a detrimental effect on the social and economic life of South West Kerry.,

O’Connell Trail 3

Moving away from the Railway Bridge and the River Fertha the town park comes into view. Here was the original site of the fort of Sive which gives its name to the town of Cahersiveen. At one time there was a small village in the vicinity but very little is known of Sive, except that she was the daughter of a chieftain named Airt.
With the building of the Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks in the 1870’s much of the stone of Sive’s fort was used in its construction. At present the local development organisation ACARD are reconstructing the fort with dry stone. It has a perimeter of
24 metres; is 2 metres high and the walls have a thickness of 2 metres.
The park is beautifully landscaped with trees of oak, birch, larch, hazel and sycamore. It offers a beautiful view of Cnoc na dTobar and the River Fertha. Looking down on the Park is the old Cahersiveen hospital. It housed the Atlantic wireless station in the early 1900’s and it was here that Con Keating, one of the first casualties of the 1916 Rising, studied to become a radio operator.

O’Connell Trail 4

Leaving the town park the trail proceeds to Reenrusheen road. Locally this road is known as Primrose walk. John Primrose was married to a cousin of Daniel O’Connell and he appointed Primrose as his agent in the area. O’Connell was finding it difficult to manage his tenants and they were frequently forgotten and so O’Connell appointed Primrose as his representative in South Kerry on a salary of £100 a year. Primrose’s dealings with tenants were acrimonious and he was feared and disliked by the locals.

Following Primrose’s walk eastwards, Carraig Na gConaill is visible along the banks of the river Fertha. Legend has it that it was the favourite bathing area of Daniel O’Connell and his family. Land to the east of the town was under control of the O’Connell family and in the 1840’s Daniel donated a site for horse racing to the townspeople. He also stipulated that entrance to all race meetings would be free of charge and the races have an unbroken tradition since 1852. The circular course crosses the Reenrusheen road and runs parallel to the river Fertha providing a panoramic view. Its natural embankment commands a perfect view of every part of the course and of the historic countryside for miles around.

In 1833 a school under the National Board was built on a site within the racecourse and the O’Connell’s subscribed to the upkeep of the school. By 1866 the Carhan School was solely a boy’s school due to the opening of the Presentation Convent for girls in 1840. O’Connell also hoped to build a new Catholic Church on the racecourse and the building was actually constructed to window level before it was abandoned. The school and the church were part of a plan by O’Connell to move the town to the racecourse and away from the property of Trinity College lands.

O’Connell Trail 5


At Carhan Bridge O’Connell’s home comes into view on the banks of Carhan River. He was born on August 6th 1775 at Carhan House. His parents were Morgan O’Connell and Catherine Mullane who hailed from north Cork. There were10 siblings in the family 4 boys and 6 girls. The O’Connell’s farmed 600 acres and lived in a 2 storey house with slate from Valentia on the roof and the home comprised of 5 bedrooms. Morgan was a farmer, shopkeeper and smuggler, and they sold lace, wines, silk and brandy. The O’Connell’s also had salt-pans and a tannery.

As was customary in the early 19th century Daniel was fostered out to a Moran family in Teeromoyle. He experienced the life of a peasant and saw first hand the treatment of Catholics during the Penal Laws. When he returned home he could only speak Irish and he received his first taste of Education under a local hedge-school teacher by the name of David O’Mahony. It’s reported that he learned the alphabet in 11/2 hours. His wealthy uncle Maurice ‘Hunting Cap’ O’Connell was controlling Derrynane and he had no family. He therefore paid for Daniel’s education in France and later in London.
O’Connell’s mother Catherine died in 1836 and shortly afterwards Carhan House was sold to local Dr. Barry who lived at Villa Nova. Both O’Connell’s parents are buried in Holy Cross abbey in Old Market Street.

O’Connell Trail 6

Prior to the establishment of the new road between Mountain Stage and Cahersiveen by Alexander Nimmo in 1823, the Main Road from Waterville went along Barr na Sráide, Old Road and the Rocky Road. It was this route that Daniel O’Connell used on his many journeys to Dublin and to attend to his busy schedule as a lawyer throughout the country. Along this road was the residence of John Primrose, a man O’Connell appointed as his agent in the area in 1822. O’Connell, due to his political demands frequently forgot his obligations to his tenants and so John Primrose took care of the estate on O’Connells absence; and he received a salary of £100 a year. Primrose showed little passion for the tenants and was feared and hated in the community. The residence of Primrose adjacent to the Rocky Road was a rectangular building of two wings, all of two storeys high and in a very good condition. Primrose was also a lessor in the Parish and his home was known as a house where the local gentry were lavishly entertained on numerous occasions. Primrose was under
instruction from O’Connell not to lease any of his lands at Carhan as it was the intended site for the town of Cahersiveen which he contemplated moving to his lands in Carhan. On his journeys along the Rocky Road, O’Connell was able to admire the exquisite view from Valentia Island along the River Fertha to Cnoc na dTobar and the mountains of Fermoyle.


O’Connell Trail 7

The Fair Green was a gift from Daniel O’Connell to the people of Cahersiveen. It was to be used as a trading area on market days in the town for animals and agricultural produce. There were some 14 fair days in the year. Many farmers walked their livestock long distances to the fair and it was customary to bring the animals the day before the market. The animals were housed locally and much of the buying and selling took place the evening before the fair. The railway played an important part on fair days as the majority of the purchased livestock were transported out of Cahersiveen on the goods trains. Fair days also brought many traders to the town creating a great buzz along the main street. However with the establishment of the Iveragh Mart in 1988 fair days lost much of their importance. The fair green was also the site for visiting circus’s and fun fairs. It also was the centre for dog shows, agricultural shows and many other social amenities.

In 1865 the lease on the Trinity College lands by the O’Connells and Knight of Kerry came to an end. The College took direct control of the estate and appointed Captain Henry Needham as their agent. Needham felt that the potato and milk markets were situated in the wrong part of town and a new market house was build at the entrance to the Fair Green. The building is still in existence.

O’Conell Trail 9

In 1879 Rev. Timothy Brosnon was appointed Parish Priest of Cahersiveen and as a great admirer of Daniel O’Connell, he hoped to erect a Church that would suitably mark the centenary of his birth in 1775. Having received an audience with Pope Leo XIII, he got permission to proceed with the Church and the Pope gave him a 4cwt Slab of Marble for the corner stone of the Church. The architect, George Ashlin, was invited to prepare the plans for the building and to raise much needed funds for the Church, Priests were sent to America, Australia and Great Britain for this purpose.

A contract was signed with John Devlin of Glasgow in May 1886 for the sum of €23,885 and out of his generosity, the contractor offered to use best Irish granite, instead of the local old Red Sandstone. The granite was brought from Newry in Co. Down. The Archbishop of Cashel, Dr Croke, laid the Corner Stone on August 1st 1888. A balance sheet dated, March 31st 1893, showed that expenditure amounted to €19,370, but only €17,685 had been collected. The work on the Church had ceased for two years due to the lack of funds. Canon Brosnan’s health deteriorated and despite his best efforts, the Church was not completed in his lifetime. The Canon died on December 21st 1898 at the age of 76. His remains were interred in the Great Church, which he erected to commemorate the services of Daniel O’Connell in the cause of Catholic Emancipation. Fr Riordan became Parish Priest and he succeed in paying the monies owed to the Architect and Contractor. Four years after the Canon’s death on Sunday December 14th 1902, the first Mass was celebrated in the Memorial Church by Rev. J O’Sullivan, a native of Foilmore. The O’Connell Memorial Church is the only Church in Ireland dedicated to a layman.

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