As those of us lucky enough to live here know, Kenmare is one of Kerry’s finest towns, and the district’s complex and sometimes violent past is an intrinsic part of Ireland’s history. In a new book Colum Kenny tells the story of Gaelic chieftains, English settlers and determined local people who have made Kenmare what it is today. The story features a cast of notable characters including Sir William Petty, the ‘souper’ Yellow Kate and even Oscar Wilde.
At Kenmare’s heart is the story of a remarkable man’s efforts to help starving people during the Great Irish Famine. John O’Sullivan (1807-1874) was an independent-minded priest who clashed with bishops and landlords. He kept journals that have not been published, which reveal the poor’s terrible experiences inside and outside one of the national workhouses and throws new light on the relationship between class, religion and poverty in Ireland before independence. The author mines these and other sources, including eyewitness accounts, UK archives and Kerry’s workhouse minutes, for new insights into aspects of Irish society, including politics, proselytism and the status of women.
This book would not have been written if not for a lucky find. Annette Murphy, born at Tralee in 1885, was Kenny’s grandmother and, years before her death, she transcribed a letter that O’Sullivan wrote during the great famine. Kenny found the letter in a box of family papers, where it had lain forgotten. The chance copying of a letter and the chance discovery of it sparked an interest in Kenny.
Dr Colum Kenny is a well-known contributor to Irish media, Professor Emeritus at Dublin City University, and an honorary bencher of King’s Inns. Awarded the Irish Legal History Society’s Gold Medal, his books include King’s Inns and the Kingdom of Ireland 1541-1800 and The Enigma of Arthur Griffith: ‘Father of Us All’.
Kenmare: History and Survival Fr John O’Sullivan and The Famine Poor by Colum Kenny is available nationwide and locally in Kenmare Book Shop and is priced at €20. There will be a presentation by Dr Colum Kenny at the Carnegie Arts Centre on Friday 8th October at 7pm with a book signing in the foyer afterwards. All welcome!