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A DESCRIPTION OF COUNTY KERRY IN 1837

Extracts from A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis (London, 1837)

KERRY, a maritime county of the province of MUNSTER, bounded on the east by the counties of Limerick and Cork, on the north by the estuary of the Shannon (which seperates it from Clare), on the west by the Atlantic, and on the south by the same ocean and the county of Cork. It extends from 51º 40' to 52º 37' (North Lat.), and from 9º 8' to 10º 27' (West Lon.); and comprises an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 1,148,720 acres, of which 581,189 acres are cultivated land, 552,862 are unprofitable bog and mountain, and 14,669 are under water. The population, in 1821, amounted to 216,185; and in 1831, to 263,126.
This county is entirely within the diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe. For purposes of civil jurisdiction it is divided into the baronies of clanmaurice, Glanerough, Iraghticonnor, Iveragh, Magonihy, and Trughenackmy. It contains the borough market and assize town of Tralee; the incorporated market and post-town of Dingle; the market and post-towns of Cahirciveen and Killarney; the post-towns of Kenmare, Listowel, Milltown, tarbert, and Valencia; and the smaller towns of Ballylongford, Blennerville, Castlegregory, and Castleisland, which, with the ancient incorporated town of Ardfert, and the villages of Annescalle, Ballybrack, Ballyheigue, Killorglin, and Sneem, have a penny post.
The county is included in the Munster circuit: the assizes and general quarter sessions are held at Tralee, and quarter sessions are also held at Killarney, in the former of which towns are the county courthouse and the county gaol; and there are bridewells at Cahirciveen, Castleisland, Dingle, Kenmare, Killarney, Listowel, Milltown and Tarbert.
The local government is vested in a lieutenant, 17 deputy-lieutenants, and 122 magistrates, including the Provost of Tralee and the Sovereign of Dingle, who are magistrates of the county for the time being; besides whom there are the usual county officers, including three coroners. There are 30 constabulary police stations, having in the whole a force of 7 chief and 26 subordinate constables, and 130 men, with 11 horses.
Along the coast there are 15 coast-guard stations, 4 in the district of Valencia, having a force of 4 officers and 31 men; 6 in that of Dingle, with 7 officers and 36 men; and 5 in the district of Tralee, with 3 officers and 35 men; each district is under control of a resident inspecting commander.
The chief manufacture, that of coarse linens, is nearly confined to the barony of Corkaguiney, where it was formerly much more extensive than at present; and the word "Dingle", impressed upon the cloth, procured it a ready sale at foreign markets.
The fishery is carried on chiefly from the ports of Valencia and Dingle; the kinds taken are cod, ling, hake, glasson, and some haddock. Along the banks of the Kenmare river the fishery is carried on to some extent; and here that of pilchards was also a great source of profit, but the fish have quitted the coast many years since. Salmon is also abundant, though much thinned by seals, which frequent the shores in such numbers that the rocks are covered with them in Summer: these are killed sometimes with musket balls, and sometimes by moonlight in the caverns where they sleep. Dingle bay is famous for its crayfish, and for lobsters on its northern side; oysters and other shell fish are to be obtained in many places. A great disadvantage which the entire county labours under is the want of means for exporting its produce: there are but few quays, so that it loses nearly all the advantages of its maritime situation. Much might be done in this respect by opening the mouth of the Cashen, and by improving the harbour of Tarbert, which is capable of being made one of the most useful ports on the Shannon. A ship canal from Tralee to the bay of that name has been for some time in progress.
The mountainous parts are chiefly inhabited by herdsmen, who feed and clothe themselves from their own lands, consuming little of the produce of other places: their habitations are low smoky huts covered with coarse thatch. In some parts the women have a becoming dress, consisting of a jacket of cloth, with loose sleeves, made to fit close around the neck and bosom, and fastened in front with a row of buttons: this is considered to be a relic of the Spanish costume. They marry at a very early age. The peasants are generally well-proportioned, with swarthy complexions, dark eyes and long black hair, exhibiting, in the opinion of some, strong traces of their Spanish origin. They are a frank, honest race, of very independant spirit, acute in understanding, and friendly and hospitable to strangers. The Dingle mountains being dry and healthy, are very populous: those to the south are but thinly peopled. The state of the peasentry in the northern part of the county is much worse than that just described. In many places they are badly housed, the family and the cattle, including the pig, being inmates of the same apartment; the floors sunk below the level of the soil; the bedding, straw, hay or dry rushes; their clothing scanty; nearly two-thirds of the population bare-legged; the diet, potatoes and sour milk; the wages, tenpence a day in spring and harvest, and at other periods the labourers are wholly unemployed. Between Tarbert and Listowel many of the cabins are built of stone without cement, the doors being of wicker. The people in general, though superstitious, querulous, and, from want of regular employment, of an idle disposition, are inquisitive and extremely intelligent.