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KERRY, a maritime county of the province of MUNSTER, bounded on the east by the counties of Limerick and Cork, on the north by the estuary of the Shannon (which separates it from Clare), on the west by the Atlantic, and on the south by the same ocean and the county of Cork. It extends from 51° 40' to 52° 37' (North Lat.), and from 9° 8' to 10° 27' (West Lon.); and comprises an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 1,148,720 acres, of which 581,189 acres are cultivated land, 552,862 are unprofitable bog and mountain, and 14,669 are under water. The population, in 1821, amounted to 216,185; and in 1831, to 263,126.

The inhabitants of this tract, according to Ptolemy's chart, were in his time designated Velabri or Vellibori; "Hibernicè," says Dr. O'Connor, "Siot Ebir, obviously meaning Illiberi Iberia;" They are supposed to have been descended from the Iberi of Spain, to which their country lies opposite; but Camden derives their name from the British Aber, signifying an estuary, thus making it descriptive of the nature of the country. The Lucanij, or "people of the maritime country," were placed by Richard of Cirencester in this county, near Dingle bay. Ptolemy calls them Luceni, and they appear to be the Lugadii of Irish writers, which in a general sense comprehended all the inhabitants on the southern coast, from the harhour of Waterford to the mouth of the Shannon, though sometimes confined to those of the county of Waterford. The present name of the county is variously derived. Some trace it from Ciar, the eldest son of Fergus, King of Ulster, from whom it was called Carruidhe, or Cair Reeght, that is, "the kingdom of Ciar." According to Ledwich, it was called Cerrigia, or "the rocky country," from Cerrig, or Carrie, "a rock," Ciarvidhe, or "the rocky district on the water," from ciar, or cer, "a rock," and uidhe, or uid dha, "a district on the water," was the present barony of Iraghticonnor, on the south bank of the Shannon, and from which may be derived Cerrigia and Kerry. The chiefs of this country were called Hy Cain air Ciaruidhe, by contraction O'Connor Kerry, whose descendants were in possession of their ancient patrimony in the beginning of the last century. This district was sometimes denominated Ciaruidhe Luachra, or "the rocky district on the great lake or water." By some ecclesiastical writers the whole is called the country of St. Brandon, to whom the principal cathedral in the county was dedicated, and from whom a very remarkable mountain on the western coast takes its name. Camden calls that part of the sea into which the Shannon discharges itself Mare Brendanicum. The great portion of the county lying to the south of the river Mang formed. with the whole county of Cork, the old native sovereignty of Desmond, or South Munster, granted by Hen. II. to Robert Fitz-Stephen and Milo de Cogan, but of which these adventurers were able to make themselves masters only of the districts near the city of Cork.

On the arrival of the English, the O'Connors were in posession of the northern part; the middle parts were in the possession of the Moriartys: the southern portion was occupied by the O'Sullivans, from whom the district now named Dunkerron barony was called O'Sullivan's country; also by the O'Donoghoes, distinguished into the septs of O'Doooghoe More and O'Donoghoe Ross, and by the O'Mahonies. The McCarties, who had been the most powerful sept in the South of Ireland before the landing of the English, being subdued by the invaders, their chief took refuge in the fastnesses of Kerry, where he was afterwards compelled to have recourse to the aid of Raymond Le Gros to put down a rebellion of his own son, and in recompense for this service he gave him the northern district, then called Lixnaw. Raymond here settled his son Maurice, who gave its present name to this part of the county, which was henceforward called Clan-Maurice, in like manner as the family bear to the present day the name of Fitzmaurice. The ancestor of the Earls of Desmond, John Fitz-Thomas, also, soon after the arrival of Hen. II., acquired large possessions in Kerry and the contiguous districts, including the country of Desmond, by marriage with the daughter of Thomas Fitz-Anthony, another Anglo-Norman leader; and these were augmented by Prince John, in 1199. Henceforward, the family of Fitz-Gerald exercised a predominant authority in this quarter of the kingdom. The county was made shire ground, with its present limits, by King John, in 1210. Desmond was included with the Decies in the confirmatory grant made, in 1260, by Prince Edward to Lord John Fitz-Thomas; but in the following year this family received from the native sept of the McCarties a complete overthrow in Glanerought, in this county, from which they did not recover for twelve years, when quarrels among the native chiefs again admitted the rise of their power. Lord Thomas, towards the close of the thirteenth century, sat in parliament as Lord Offaly, and claimed, under the grant of Edw. I., to be the king's sheriff of Kerry. In these early ages, therefore, the districts forming the present county were subject to the power of three great families, the Fitz-Geralds, lords of Desmond; the Fitz-Maurices, lords of Kerry in the north; and the McCarties, tanists of the elevated central and southern regions. Edw. III., in 1329, granted to Maurice Fitz-Thomas the name and honour of Earl of Desmond, and all royal liberties within the county of Kerry; the church or cross lands thereof, and the four usual pleas of burnings, rape, forestal, and treasure trove alone excepted. In the following year, the earl deemed this sufficient anthority for entirely excluding the king's sheriffs and other ordinary ministers of justice from the county. The extraordinary power of this nobleman, however, brought upon him for a time some jealous persecution by the officers of the crown. In 1345, having presumed to summon a parliament in opposition to that called by the Lord Justice, Sir Ralph Utford, the latter overran. and seized upon the whole of his possessions, which were not restored to him until 1352. In 1388, Gerald, Earl of Desmond, was formally appointed keeper of the peace in the counties of Kerry and Limerick, with very extensive powers and authority, and in conjunction with Patrick Fox. In 1386, we find John Fitz-Gerald, Earl of Desmond, made sheriff of the Crosses of Kerry; being the lands of the church within its limits, in which the king's ordinary jurisdiction had course. James, Earl of Desmond, about 1425, as lord of the liberties of Kerry, entered into a deed with Patrick Fitz-Maurice Fitz-John, Lord Kerry, "captain or head of his nation," whereby the latter was bound to answer to the earl and his heirs at his assizes. James, the 15th earl, surrendered, by his deed in the chancery of Ireland, his old family prerogative of exemption from attendance on a parliament summoned in any walled town, except at his pleasure; and covenanted that he would suffer the laws of England to be executed in his county, assist the king's judges in their circuits, and permit subsidies to be raised upon his followers; but these conditions were never fulfilled either by himself or his successors. Thomas, sixteenth Lord or Baron of Kerry, is styled, even in the 5th of Edw. VI., "Captain of his nation," an extraordinary mark of the absence of English laws of property and society in this as well as the other old palatinates down to that period: he held his seat in parliament by the title of Baron of Lixnaw.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1840 by Samuel Lewis