Voices from the Great Houses are heard once more

The descendants of the great houses of the South-West, whose social life once revolved around each other, gathered for the first time in more than 100 years at Muckross House in Killarney over the weekend.

The gathering of the former gentry, whose ancestors arrived here in the 16th and 17th centuries under land grants from the crown, or who were allowed to keep their lands because of strategic alliances, came about due to a new book, arising from an oral history project.

Voices from the Great Houses records memories of living in houses such as Castle Townshend, Cahernane, The Reeks, Muckross, Cahernane, and The Lake Hotel.

Thomas Denny, a descendant of the Denny family who gave their name to Tralee’s grandest street, now lives in Dorset where he is a stained glass artist. He has renewed acquaintance with Tralee historians in recent years, allowing access to the family archive.

“In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in Co Kerry there were around a dozen families who inter-married — Kerry gentry was notorious for all being cousins,” he said.

It was 100 years since his family “were properly here”, he added.

Brigitte Shelswell- White of Bantry House said the Whites arrived before the Plantations and had bought their lands.

Her husband Egerton was interviewed about his early memories, but passed away before the book was published.

“I am here for the two of us,” she said.

Stawell St Leger Heard, formerly of Kilbrittain, Co Cork, left Ireland in the 1950s but said he was always more of an Irishman and always donned the Irish scarf at rugby matches.

Local Kerry gentry included the Hilliard and the MacCarthy-O’Leary and O’Connell families — the latter relatives of the Liberator — while among the guests was the British ambassador to Ireland.

Jimmy Deenihan, the minister for arts, heritage and the Gaeltacht, launched the book, which is published by Mercier Press and co-written by oral historians Maurice and Jane O’Keeffe of Irish Life and Lore.



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