When we looked back into the pages of The Kerryman for this week’s extract from 100 years ago, we found that there was little reference to Glenbeigh for this particular week. Perhaps the sun was shining in the last week in August back then! There were a couple of follow-ups to articles previously reported, such as the letter explaining why a number of Justices of the Peace had recently resigned, to which Thomas Evans of the Towers Hotel was a signatory, and a report of a rejected compensation claim after the RIC barracks in Glencar was destroyed by fire.

The rest of the selection below are from wider afield across Kerry, and show the impact of the escalating military activity during the War of Independence on the local population. The fire in Tralee mentioned in the extract was the burning by the ‘Black and Tans’ of the printing press used to publish The Kerryman, amongst other journals. This was the precursor to what became known as the Siege of Tralee in November 1920, when the town was subject to severe reprisals after the assassination of several police constables in the area.

In our ongoing series of extracts from the pages of The Kerryman from 100 years ago, we have a really mixed bag of stories this week, ranging from the mundane to the sad and serious matters of the ongoing War of Independence, including the tragic death of a Kells man, apparently from fright, after his house was invaded by a group of masked men. This week’s Glenbeigh notes shows the owner of the Towers Hotel, Thomas Evans, resigning as a magistrate. The paper reports that several other magistrates also resigned that week, and we can only guess that this was probably related to the military situation. It is also reported that the Glencar house of John Taylor, reported last week to have been damaged in recent disturbances, has been restored with the help of local volunteers. Alongside these stories, we can see that “normal” life still carried on, with the circus due to arrive shortly in Tralee. It’s also interesting to see that John Ross Jeweller in Tralee was operating then as it still does today, as can be seen in its advertisement for the latest technology in its “Traly” watch.

Notes. The Irish Newspaper Archive (https://www.irishnewsarchive.com/) contains a vast database of newspapers and journals. The Local History and Archives Department in Tralee Library, although closed at the moment due to the current health situation, also holds an extensive range of historic Kerry newspapers and journals, including The Kerryman, on microfilm

This week we have again been looking back into the archives of The Kerryman from a century ago, when the country was embroiled in the War of Independence against the British*. As it still does to this day, the paper carried small articles from many towns and villages in the county, including Glenbeigh. Below are the “Glenbeigh Notes” from the edition printed on July 31 1920, and a further small cutting from the same edition. Both articles appear to refer to the same or linked events.

You will see that military activities were to the fore this week. The first cutting has an account of the evacuation of the RIC barracks in Glencar after constables had been attacked. The longer article below describes attacks by the RIC and/or British military on the houses of known or suspected republican supporters. Houses were set alight and presumably the inhabitants rendered homeless. It is unclear from these two cuttings which came first, but it is highly likely that the events described are linked.

In the coming weeks, we will continue to review historic editions of The Kerryman from a century ago and will publish any items which we think may be of interest.

* The Irish Newspaper Archive (https://www.irishnewsarchive.com/) contains a vast database of newspapers and journals. The Local History and Archives Department in Tralee Library, although closed at the moment due to the current health situation, also holds an extensive range of historic Kerry newspapers and journals, including The Kerryman, on microfilm.

Back in 1896 two Irishmen were creating sporting history in the world of Lawn Tennis. One, a Dublin man by the name of John Mary Pius Boland, and another, a Kerryman Harold Segerson Mahony. Both came from very wealthy backgrounds and  were about the same age. and they both had indirect association with Glenbeigh.

If anyone has anything to add to these stories, please do not hesitate to leave us a message!

We will first focus on Harold Segerson Mahony’s background, sporting achievements and his untimely death in Glenbeigh. He was born on 13 February 1867, son of  Richard John Mahony, a barrister, prominent land owner and an aristocrat. They lived the majority of their time in elegant tranquility at Dromore Castle, overlooking the Kenmare River near Templenoe. Harold’s father had another home and business interests in Edinburgh Scotland, where Harold was born in 1867. Harold wanted to be a tennis player from a very young age and trained on his own private tennis court at Dromore Castle. He made his Wimbledon debut unsuccessfully in 1890 but improved his ratings over the next number of years.

The 1896 Wimbledon tournament was to be the Kerryman’s greatest achievement by winning the Wimbledon singles, the third – and most recent – Irishman to win this coveted prize. While he was raised in Kerry, he was born in Scotland and was the last Scottish- born player to win the Wimbledon singles until Andy Murray did so in 2013. In the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris, Harold enjoyed further success when winning a silver medal in the singles event, a bronze in the doubles,  and a silver in the mixed doubles, while representing Great Britan and Ireland. He also won many other major tournaments in different countries and was very popular player with his fans wherever he played.

Harold inherited the family homestead at Dromore Castle when he retired from the tennis circuit in 1904. But tragedy struck in the following year while he was on a visit to Glenbeigh. While negotiating a steep hill near Caragh Lake, Harold was killed in a cycling accident. It’s not known exactly where but it may be near St Finnan’s Well coming down from Treanmanagh. He was killed on 25 June 1905 at the young age of thirty eight.

The next world champion lawn tennis player with connections to Glenbeigh was John Pius Boland. Before looking at his sporting achievements, there were many other facets to his life. Born in Dublin in 1870, he attained a BA in 1892 and a law degree in 1896.  He was called to the Bar in 1897. 

He became an Irish Nationalist Politician and a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, MP for South Kerry from 1900 to 1918. He was succeeded by Cahirsiveen born Fionán Lynch, whose brother had been priest in Glenbeigh around 1905. As a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Pius was a staunch advocate of Home Rule.

While his tennis career was short lived, it was most impressive as he won a gold medal in the inaugural modern Olympic Games in Athens 1896. The story goes that it was only while he was visiting a friend in Athens during the games that he decided to enter the tournament. In those days there was no process of qualification only turn up on the day, and he was therefore able to enter the men’s singles tournament. To his surprise he won the tournament and became the first Olympic champion in Lawn Tennis for Great Britain and Ireland. For good measure, he also won a gold medal  in the doubles event partnering a German player! As he was being presented with his gold medals, he insisted that the Irish flag be raised so the organisers had to quickly prepare an Irish flag which he held with pride.

As an MP for South Kerry he was very concerned with the lack of literacy among the Irish population and had a keen interest in the promotion of Irish language and Irish culture. He visited Glenbeigh in the early 1900s and with the enthusiastic help from local priest Fr. Scollard they organised an Irish college and were instrumental in the building of the old hall now derelict at the rear of the church. This hall was used for many years afterwards for educational and recreational purposes relating to Irish culture. John Pius Boland, Fr. Scollard and the previously mentioned Fr. Lynch had great confidence in establishing Glenbeigh as an educational centre.

This great Irishman died on St. Patrick’s Day 1958, and the article below is an extract from a letter that John Pius wrote in 1944 about his foundation of an Irish Summer School in Glenbeigh.

Footnote 1. Boland’s daughter Honor Crowley was the first Kerry-born female TD to be elected to Dáil Éireann, in a by-election held on the death of the sitting TD, her husband Fred Crowley. She served as Fianna Fáil TD for South Kerry from 1945 to 1966. Only five Kerry women have been elected to Dáil Èireann since the formation of the state. The other four are Kathleen O’Connnor  (C na P 1956-57), Kit Ahern an aunt of Eoin “Bomber” Liston (FF 1977-81), Breda Moynihan Cronin (Labour) and present incumbent Norma Foley (FF) elected in 2020 and recently appointed Minister of Education.

Footnote 2. Ireland has had a total of four winners at Wimbledon. The only Irish lady was  Tipperary born Lena Rice in 1890 followed by three men: the first was Kildare born Willough Hamilton also in 1890, followed by Wicklow native Joshua Pim in 1893, and finally three years later our own Kerryman Harold Segerson Mahony.

Between them, Mahony and Boland won two gold, two silver, one bronze in the Olympic Games of 1896 and 1900, in addition to Mahony’s 1896 Wimbledon title.

The Killorglin to Valentia Railway

Prior to the arrival of the Railway ( Killorglin to Valentia Harbour 1893) South West Kerry was then an impoverished and isolated region with little or no infrastructure, massive poverty, hunger and disease. No opportunities other than immigration. In 1893 the government offered five pounds per person to immigrate and as a result two ships containing fifteen hundred local people left Valentia harbour for an unknown future. Landlords owned almost all the land at that time which they rented at very high  prices each plot of land too small to be viable. Rowland Winn was the infamous landlord in Glenbeigh at that time who had built a castle on the outskirts of Glenbeigh in 1869 subsequently rising the rent an extra fifty per cent to defray costs. This the tenant could not afford so leading to the Glenbeigh Evictions in the 1880s which were reported to be the worst in Ireland. This was only a short number of years after the Great Famine 1845-50 where one million people died of hunger in Ireland and one million more immigrated. The blight of the potato which was the staple diet of the Irish peasant was the main cause of the famine as all potato crops died. But despite all this hardship and misery the resilient people of Ireland fought to survive. At this time only small amounts of work was available with over eight hundred distressed families living in the barony of Iveragh.

The biggest move in the economy of South Kerry came around 1890s with the extension of the railway line from Killorglin to Valentia Harbour. The first railway line was built in Ireland in  the 1830s then establishing a network of railway lines through the country reaching Tralee and Killarney in mid 1850s. The railway lines connecting cities and major towns were known as trunk lines and from these line connecting smaller towns were known as branch lines. There were four branch lines to Kerry: Headford Junction to Kenmare, Tralee to Dingle, Farranfore to Valentia Harbour and Limerick to Listowel which in turn was connected to Ballybunion by a monorail. This monorail was unique as it was the only one of is type in the world. It was designed by Frenchman Charles Lartigue hence the moniker. The Lartigue Line opened in 1888.

Work first began on the Farranfore to Killorglin line in 1882, The contract was carried out by Falkiner & Frazier taking three years to complete. It covered a distance of 12.5 miles using the standard gauge of 5ft 3in costing 7000 pounds per mile. The line left Farranfore passing through Molahiffe, Castlemaine, Milltown arriving at Killorglin. The only major engineering work  undertaken was the 340ft bridge over the Laune river in Killorglin. The line was officially opened on 15 January 1885, with the plan of extending this line to Valentia Harbour still only a dream. Passengers intending to travel to Cahirsiveen were transferred by stage coach which Charles Bianconni had operated for many years prior to the arrival of the Railway line.

Two men that worked tirelessly to ensure that the railway line would be extended a further 27 miles to the South Kerry capital were Fr Tim Brosnan PP of Cahirsiveen and The Knight of Kerry Lord Fitzgerald, a landlord who resided on Valentia Island. Their efforts were rewarded after a long campaign of canvassing the politicians of the day and the higher echelons of the Great Southern and Western Railways. It was eventually sanctioned and the building of a line to the point of Renard known as Valentia Harbour commenced. This was not just a railway line; it was a life line as well, as the contractor Mr Falkiner promised that every able bodied man in the region would be needed to work on this project. A total of 1500 men (300 skilled and 1200 unskilled) were employed at the peak: some were also paid to supply horse and cart. This was a major undertaking as they encountered some challenging territory in the laying of this line. They just did not go around mountains: they went through them instead, boring two tunnels at the base of Drung Hill and building a covered way adjacent. Three rivers had to be bridged: the Caragh, Behy and  Fertha, along with over ninety culverts and bridges built. The most incredible  piece of engineering was the building of the magnificent viaduct crossing the gorge at Gleesk, Kells. Up to fifty stone masons were engaged in the construction of this viaduct, which required twelve piers some 74 ft high to support this railway line. It took over three years to complete this railway at a cost of 9000 pounds per mile officially opening on 12th September 1893. A number of railway stations were built on the route from Killorglin, along with level  crossings and workers cottages. Caragh Lake was the first railway station on this new line which was used a lot by English tourists holidaying in the now demolished Caragh Lake hotel. Then came Dooks Halt which was used mainly for visiting golfers to the new golf links which had first opened in 1889. Then crossing the viaduct over The Caragh river onto Glenbeigh station all on level terrain. Glenbeigh was an important station as it catered for goods and passengers both local and visitors as Glenbeigh was establishing itself as a popular tourist resort. Also here were two large water tanks for top up purposes for the steam engines.

As the train left Glenbeigh – the exact mid point of the line, 20 miles from both Farranfore and Valentia – it began its first climb to Mountain Stage and then on to Kells, both 400ft above sea level. Both railway stations at Mountain Stage and Kells were busy stops on this line. The line passed through areas of great natural beauty and breathtaking scenery, with awe inspiring views of Dingle Bay and peninsula, Rossbeigh Beach, Inch Strand and the Blasket Islands. The line meandered along a high vantage position near the foot of Drung Hill through tunnels over viaducts and bridges before it reached the most westerly railhead in Europe at Valentia Harbour. Some people found the journey a little frightening due to its high elevation with the Atlantic Ocean 400ft below. As a lady passenger once  remarked, “iron rails to Glenbeigh, iron nerves from there on”. That about  summed up the trip.

The greatest benefit of this railway was that it opened up South and Mid Kerry to the rest of the world. Up to now the only means of transport was horse and coach both slow and uncomfortable and could only transport small number of passengers and goods. The economy immediately improved with large amounts of livestock and fish being exported to the Irish and English markets on a regular basis. Huge amounts of herring and mackerel transported, by train to Dublin then by boat to Holyhead, could be in the English market within twenty four hours. Livestock specials were usually on a monthly basis, with cattle sheep and pigs the back bone of the local  economy. People traveled to and from the region daily, and tourism flourished. Essential food products and building material were some of the products that arrived by train. During the ‘Economic War’ with Britain in the 1930s and during World War 2, large quantities of turf by special trains to supply the Irish market as coal was not available. The most famous of all special trains was the “Ghost Train” which travelled  on the eve of the All Ireland carrying Kerry football followers to Croke Park. This train left Valentia Harbour at midnight stopping at many Kerry stations and halts along the way arriving in Dublin early Sunday morning on the day of the match. It left Dublin again that evening for the ten hour return,  arriving home early Monday morning. Both journeys were throughout the night hence the name the ghost train. Sigerson Clifford immortalises this excursion in his poem “The Ghost Train for Croke Park”.

Special excursion trains were also laid on for special occasions trips and visits. Huge numbers traveled by rail to events such as GAA matches, Puck Fair and to Cahirsiveen for the very popular annual Races usually held in September. On Tuesday 31st August 1897 the Duke and Duchess of York traveled by train from Dublin to Valentia Harbour and then crossed by boat to Valentia Island for lunch with the Knight of Kerry, returning that evening to spend the night with the Earl of Dunraven in Adare. The Duke of York later went on to become King George V of England. Trains were also laid on for the transport of the British Army, who before Irish Independence had one of the finest artillery ranges at Glenbeigh Castle in the early 1900s. The castle was burnt down in 1920 but the Irish Army continued to use it for similar purposes and also had a camp at Incharee for army training purposes up to the 1940s. Other famous names who traveled by train was the writer John Millington Synge who lodged at Mountain Stage during the summer months between 1906 and 1908; also Monsignor Hugh Flaherty an Irishman who saved 6000 prisoners of war during the second world war while based in the Vatican.The body of the first casualty of the 1916 rising, Con Keating, who drowned at Ballykissane Pier was returned to his home and family by train for burial.

For sixty seven years 1893 to 1960 this line remained open and provided a wonderful service to Mid and South Kerry helping it through a period of economic depression. The J15 steam engine was used for the first fifty years and then replaced by the Diesel engine which moved at a much faster speed reducing the time of travel. In the late 1950s, the motor car became the popular mode of transport through out Ireland replacing the train. The number of railway commuters declined as well as goods been transported as a result the railway began to lose money. Word came from head office “Close the branch lines and the trunk line will make money”. The chairman of CIE, a man called Todd Andrews grandfather of present day Late Late Show presenter Ryan Tubridy, announced that this iconic line from Farranfore to Valentia Harbour was to close. So on the 31 January 1960 the train left Cahirsiveen for the last time bringing an end to a memorable era of railroad transport in South Kerry.

Puck Fair is over and now everyone in Mid Kerry is eagerly awaiting the Glenbeigh festival and races which run from the 23rd to the 25th of August 2019. The dates and times of the races are controlled by the tides on Rossbeigh beach. All races must be run between the tides and gives only about four hours to get racing done. But when did these races begin? There are no written records available, only anecdotal evidence. Local historians believe that the running of the races on the beach goes back as far as the end of the 1800s. It is almost certain that the races were held in 1903. The great Irish writer, John Millington Synge while holidaying at Mountain Stage mentions he spent the day at the Glenbeigh races in his writing. Cahirsiveen race meetings can be traced back to 1852 when the race course was donated to South Kerry by Daniel O’Connell. Horse racing was common in the mid 1800’s and every farmer owned at least one horse for working and transportation.

The Glenbeigh races must have died out for some period of time because we know that in 1924 that four local men came together to revive the meeting. This was short lived as on the same day they were issued with a court summons for not having a valid permit. Another successful attempt was made in 1957 which incorporated the races with a dance and the selection of the first dance queen in the Emir ballroom. It then went on to become a two day event and introduced jump racing and sulky racing. The festival encountered more problems in 1978 due to high insurance costs and it brought an end to the event. After a lapse of almost twenty years a new committee formed in 1996. They adopted a professional approach and after securing adequate sponsorship the white flag was raised and to this present day the races and festival have gone from strength to strength. In 2008 a new vibrant committee replaced the retiring 1996 team and now with their experience and professionalism the future of the festival looks certain to continue. It is now up to the people of the surrounding area to attend, support and ensure the future of this festival, now in its third century.