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A DESCRIPTION OF COUNTY KERRY IN 1754

Extract from The Ancient and Present State of the County of Kerry by Charles Smith (Dublin, 1756)

Of the Bounds, Extent, Latitude, and Longitude of this County, number of Inhabitants, its Products and Civil Division.

The county of Kerry is bounded on the north by the mouth of the River Shannon, which divides it from the County of Clare or Thomond, on the south and west by the Atlantic Ocean; and on the east by the counties of Cork and limerick. It is from north to south near 60 English, or above 47 Irish miles in length; its greatest breadth from cast to west from the bounds of Co. Cork to the western extremity of the Barony of Corckaguiny is about 54 English, or 43 Irish miles; that barony being no other than a long neck of land running westerly near 30 English miles into the Atlantic Ocean; but the county is in no other part so broad.
The northern extremity lies in the latitude of 52 d. 24 m. and the southern, in 51 d. 30 in. It is situate under the same parallel of latitude as the English Counties of Worcester, Gloucester, Warwick, Oxford, Cambridge, Essex, and Suffolk.
The longitude of the mouth of Kenmare River is 10 d. 35 m. west from London, or 42 m. 20 s. difference of time. Kerry is the fourth county, as to extent, in Ireland, and the second in this province, Cork, Galway, and Mayo being larger; but in respect of inhabitants and culture, it does not equal many smaller counties in Ireland, particularly in the north.
Dingle is the only walled town, but is at present a very inconsiderable place: Tralee is the county of assizes town; these places, with Ardfert, an ancient bishoprick and decayed borough, send each 2 members to parliament. Besides these 6 members, there are 2 others to represent the county. The other towns are those of Killarney, and Castle-Island.
The happy situation of this county might afford its inhabitants a great advantage and profit by fishing, which might employ a great number of people. But they are less industrious in this county, than in those of Waterford and Cork, nor have they near an equal number of fishing vessels as the people of those two counties; Dungarvan, Kinsale, and other single towns, having a greater number of seamen than are to be found in all Kerry. The pilchard fishery was some years ago carried on, in the River Kenmare, with good success, in which river are several fishing boats, as,there are also in Dingle bay; but the pilchards having quitted this coast, these boats are employed in the herring, cod, hake, and other fisheries.
As the sea is rougher and more turbulent on this coast, which lies exposed to the vast western ocean, than on the shores of Cork and Waterford counties, stronger and larger vessels are more required here than there, but the timber which this county once abounded with, being all consumed chiefly in smelting iron ore, the building of large boats is now impracticable.
The principal products of this county are butter, beef, hides and tallow. The northern parts of the country produce chiefly fat cattle for the markets of Cork; and the southern parts support vast quantities of small cattle, and young flock. The linen manufacture has made no great progress as yet in this part of Ireland, it being here only in its infancy; and it is but of late years that the women and girls of the lower fort, have begun to spin bay woollen yarn, which is sent them from Cork, where the wool combers chiefly reside. There is very little corn in this ,county, beside what is consumed by its inhabitants, who, some years, are put to great, straits for want of bread; notwithstanding, the soil is in many places abundantly fertile, and proper for tillage; and might produce sufficient even for a large exportation, besides enough to support its inhabitants. It is well known, that there are prodigious quantities of corn exported to Spain and Portugal, yearly from Great Britain, and even from Dantzig. Does not the mouth of our River Shannon, lie fairer and vastly nearer for exporting grain to Spain and Protugal, than Dantzig? And is it not amazing that the most fertile part of Ireland, washed by so noble a river as the Shannon, cannot support its people with bread?
Although this county is not so well planted with apple trees, as others in Munster, yet it produces excellent fruit and cyder, in considerable quantities; for these plantations of fruit trees are greatly increased of late years. But I cannot say as much for timber trees, there being but very few plantations of them in this county either for use or ornament.
Few places in Ireland are better furnished than some parts of this county, with all sorts of game, for hunting, fishing and fowling, and in many places there are airies of excellent hawks; but the art of shooting flying, taught us by the French refugees, has almost caused hawking to be quite neglected.
The whole country is well watered with a great number of rivers, though few of them are navigable; besides many rivulets, brooks, springs, and fountains, and with several medicinal waters, of which I shall give a particular account in the course of this work.
This county is estimated to contain 636,905 Irish plantation acres, or 1,030,193 English statute acres. By a return made in 1733 by the collectors of the hearth-money tax, the Protestant families were in proportion to the Roman Catholics nearly as one to twelve. At that time there were 14,346 families in this county, who paid the said tax. In the year 1744, the number of houses returned were only 9,372, in which space of time, the inhabitants decreased nearly one third part, which was occasioned by the dreadful calamity of the great frost in 1739-40; and the great scarcity of the succeeding years of 1741, 1742, which were years of drought, death and sickness all over Ireland, and would have been probably so in a great measure, though the before-mentioned frost had not happened, for in the preceding years of 1738 and 1739, there was an uncommon plenty of all sorts of provisions for man and beast, which if, well managed, would have been sufficient to supply the wants of the four succeeding years; and by these luxurious crops, the earth was in a manner impoverished and exhausted by vegetation.
If we allow four and a half, or five persons to each house in this county, which by the very accurate Dr Short in his observations on the English bills of mortality, seems to be nearest the truth; we shall find that as in this present year 1754, there are by the said returns but 10,228 houses in this county, there can be but 51,140 people in it; a number considerably less than the City of Cork contains, and very few for an extent of 1,030,193 English acres of land, viz. upwards of 20 acres to each person.
In laying a tax to support the necessary charges of the country, the applotment is made in each barony, by what is here called, reduced plowlands, each being divided into 60 parts, which are called, reduced acres. But these plowlands are determined rather by their proportionable quality, and value to each other, than by their quantity, area, or extent, some being several times larger than others; for the larger they are, they are the coarser and less fertile in proportion, and the smallest on the contrary, are the most fruitful.
By this estimation, the county is divided into 8 baronies, answerable to the hundreds in England, viz.
1. Iraghticonnor, 2. Truchanackny, 3. Magunihy, 4 Clanmaurice, 5. Dunkerron, 6. Iveragh, 7. Glanerought, and 8. Corkaguiny.