A visit to Kenmare, 17th May, 2014
It's not surprising that Kenmare was voted among the top 20 towns in the world for retirement by the US magazine Fortune. Cork Chapter members had a taste of what it has to offer on 17th May, from fine food and history to impressive buildings in a magnificent region.
In a sublime setting overlooking gardens and views of Kenmare Bay, the Park Hotel was our first stop for a well-deserved coffee break. While we sipped our coffee with delicious home made-scones, Mr. Rory O'Sullivan, General Manager, gave us an insightful talk on the history of the hotel, early tourism in Ireland and the important contribution, in this regard, that the Great Southern and Western Railway Company made. The Park Hotel was built in 1897 by the Great Southern and Western Railway Company to a design by James Franklin Fuller, in the Tudor Revival style. The limestone ashlar facade is finely embellished with details, such as cut stone chimney stacks, copings, sills and finials. The interior, which follows this high standard of design, is much enhanced by antique furnishings and some fine Dutch paintings, the latter collected by its owner, Mr. Francis Brennan (one of the renowned brothers). In earlier days the hotel provided accommodation to passengers en-route to Parknasilla, 17 miles away.
The Park Hotel's proximity to the town enabled a pleasant stroll to meet our guide, Donal Slater. Having given us a 'potted history', Donal led us on a stroll through some of Kenmare's most interesting sights.
The town is part of the lands granted to William Petty by Cromwell in 1657, as payment for the Down Survey. In his song, Jimmy MacCarthy refers to it as 'Neidín' and this was its name until 1775 when the First Marquis of Lansdowne created the attractive “X” shaped layout, that we see today, and renamed the town Kenmare. Henry Street was named in honour of the 3rd Marquis, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice (1780-1863), who oversaw a number of major stages in the development of Kenmare. Our Chairman, Kevin Hurley, was quick to acknowledge our committee member, Catherine Fitzmaurice, as a direct descendant of the Fitzmaurice family!
Donal's account gave a colourful overview of how the town developed. It had been a bustling hive of industry during the 19th century with, for example, herring fishing, quarrying, iron works and its own butter market. The effects of the Great Famine of 1845 were devastating throughout Ireland. Donal gave a vivid insight of Kenmare's sad history at this time, as we learnt that dead bodies were removed from the streets in the early hours before the town opened for business.
The Old Market House was designed in the classical style by Sir Charles Barry for the 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne. The nearby Emmet Place, formerly known as Pound Lane due to the location of cattle pound, features attractive one and a half story houses with painted timber bargeboards on the gabled half dormers. On the far side of 'The Green' is the Holy Cross Church, designed by Charles Hansom in the 1860s. Unfortunately, due to its current restoration programme, we were unable to view its interior. Fr. John O'Sullivan was responsible for the building and Donal revealed that folklore suggests he placed a cock on top of the spire to crow over the office of the landlord's agent in the square who refused him a site for the church. Hansom also designed the nearby convent of the Sisters of Poor Clare. The order is credited with starting the lace making industry that become world-renowned in the late 19th, early 20th century. Donal led us away from the busy streets to the intriguing Cromwell's Bridge, built of mud and stone, with its steep arch, that seems impossible to cross! The bridge had nothing to do with Cromwell, and is believed to have been built in the 11th century as a crossing for the local monks to Lady's Well. There were many more snippets of history, however, too numerous to mention here.
Lunch was at Dromquinna Boathouse Bistro, run by John Brennan. Our group have become well acquainted with each other over the years, and this was evident in the fun and conversation that took place while we enjoyed the delicious fare. We were well set up for the next leg of our journey.
Arriving at Dromore Castle was a breathtaking experience. This neo-gothic style castle was built in the early nineteenth century, by Sir Thomas Deane for Rev. Denis Mahony, and is two storeys over a basement. The entrance front is dominated by a machicolated round tower, turret and porch tower. John McCormick is said to have performed here in the great Hall. The impressive gatehouse was designed by Benjamin Woodward.
Since purchasing this exquisite building in the 1990s, Kevin O'Callaghan has invested copious resources with equal amounts of T.L.C into the remarkable restoration project. His relaxed attitude with regard to the monumental task of preserving the building, one of Kerry's most important historical gems, is truly admirable. Skillful decorative painting is everywhere to be seen, from the woodgraining of the faux coffered hall ceiling to its faux marbled fireplace. Timber work such as doors, shutters and the grand staircase have been restored to their original oak woodgrained finish. The interior and exterior walls of the enormous porch have had their trompe l'oeil ashlar stone effect meticulously repainted. The gardens and out-buildings are similarly extensive and a
work-in-progress of similar scale.
Our visit spotlighted Kenmare as not only an attractive tourist destination, but as a residents' paradise for the wealthy down through the years. It was a top residential and retirement spot long before Fortune conducted its survey, although as our excursion showed, there is no need to wait until retirement to enjoy the many treats in store at Kenmare.
The committee would like to thank the Brennan brothers for their excellent hospitality, Donal Slater for his enthusiastic and educational tour and Kevin O'Callaghan for his generosity of time and for allowing us the freedom to explore Dromore Castle and its splendid grounds.