Local Area History
Tralee, population 23,000, lies on the south west coast of Ireland at the gateway to the Dingle, Fenit and Barrow Peninsulas; it is almost 800 years old. The town takes its name from the river Lee, which flows into Tralee Bay, and is the capital town and administrative centre of Co. Kerry, Ireland’s premier tourism county. (Tra means strand.) The town grew up around the major Geraldine Castle of John Fitzthomas Fitzgerald from the 13th century onwards. During this century, the Earls of Desmond used the town as a base from which to build up the greatest Anglo Norman lordship in Munster.
Lord John Fitzthomas, who had built the Great Castle, obtained a grant of borough status for the town; this was accompanied by a charter which conferred various privileges on the town, including the right to hold animal fairs and weekly markets. In a remarkably short space of time Tralee developed as a market town and trading port, with an economy based on the agriculture of the Lee Valley.
Medieval Tralee was burnt in March, 1580, shortly after Garrett Fitzgerald, 15th Earl of Desmond, was forced into revolt by the relentless policy of centralisation pursued by the Elizabethan Government. In 1557 the newly-created 600 acre “signory of Tralee” was granted by Queen Elizabeth to Sir Edward Denny (son of Sir Anthony Denny of the privy chamber of Henry VIII); the family was to be closely linked to Tralee and surrounding areas for the next 300 years. (More on the Denny family and its connections with Churchill and Barrow in a book on the local area entitled “Links: Barrow & Hinterland.”)* Edward brought over a number of English settlers, among them the Blennerhassett, Chute and Morris families. The burnt castle was rebuilt by the Denny family in the 1620’s.
From 1613 until 1800 there was never a time when the county was not represented by a Blennerhasset, a Crosbie or a Denny in the English Parliament. The town’s most elegant street, Denny Street, was completed in 1826 on the site of the Great Castle. Stones from the Castle were used in the construction of the houses on both sides. At the end of this street is the Ashe Memorial Hall, built in 1928 of local red sandstone and named after the patriot Thomas Ashe (1885-1917). It houses the Administration Offices of Kerry County Council, the Tralee Tourist Office, Kerry, the Kingdom Museum and the ‘Geraldine Experience’. Next to the Hall is the SIAMSA TIRE THEATRE (the National Folk Theatre of Ireland). Among other events, the famous Irish Folk Pageant is regularly staged. “A joyful evocation of music, mime, song and dance of the traditional life of the Irish countryside.”) Early in the 17th century the road network began to be built, linking the major towns in Munster which enabled the great Italian Bianconi to open up passenger coach routes to Tralee and other towns in Kerry.
The railway network arrived in 1859. The Tralee ship canal, linking Tralee and nearby Blennerville, was put in place in 1846. It is now being restored. Tralee is well served by sea and airport. Farranfore Airport is located 11 miles south east of the town, half way between Tralee and Killarney, and can link up with Cork, Dublin, Shannon and cross-channel airports in the U.K. Fenit, 7 miles west of the town, is the main seaport; it has also been used as a servicing base for oil exploration off the west coast of Ireland. Tralee has been accepted as being Ireland’s newest tourism destination, with some of the finest and unpolluted beaches available. One of these, Barrow, runs alongside the now world-famous Tralee Golf Club – the first Arnold Palmer-designed golf course in Europe.
There are unparalleled and breathtaking views of mountains and sea to be enjoyed whilst golfing, motoring, cycling, hill walking, mountain climbing, deep sea fishing, helicopter flights and pony trekking are all available locally. The town has developed a range of quality all-weather visitor attractions unmatched anywhere in the country. The Aquadome provides all types of indoor water activity for families and individuals and is only a short walk from the town centre. There is also an excellent Sports Complex.
Other amenities include: a working windmill, steam train, greyhound stadium (hares are mechanical) and a beautiful 75-acre town park. And Tralee has its own radio station: “Radio Kerry.” The world-famous “Rose of Tralee International Festival” is held annually, at the end of August, and attracts many thousands of visitors from all over the world. ‘Roses’ selected by Irish centers world-wide are brought together for a week of festivities and family entertainment, culminating in the selection of the “Rose of Tralee” Check out our links page for more details of local activities.
Thank you to: County Library, Tralee (Eamonn Browne)