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ARDFERT, a decayed borough and market-town, and a parish, in the barony of CLANMAURICE, county of KERRY, and province of MUNSTER, 5 miles (N.N.W.) from Tralee, and 144½ (S. W. by W.) from Dublin; containing 3585 inhabitants, of which number, 117 are in the town. The name of this place, sometimes written Ardart, signifies, according to Sir James Ware, "a wonderful place on an eminence," or, as some interpret it, "the hill of miracles." Ardart has also been considered a corruption of Ard Ert, "the high place of Ert." Matthew Paris calls it Hertfert, "the place of miracles of Hert or Ert ;" and in the Annals of Innisfallen it is mentioned under the name of Hyferte, which denotes "the territory of miracles, or of Ert." It is thought to have been made by St. Ert, in the fifth century, the seat of a bishop's see, which comprehended the northern part of the county. St. Brendan erected a sumptuous monastery here in the sixth century, which, with the town, was destroyed by fire in 1089: it was again reduced to ashes by Cormac O'Culen, in 1151, and, with the town, suffered a like fate in 1119, on which occasion it is supposed to have been entirely demolished. In 1253, Thomas, Lord of Kerry, founded a monastery for conventual Franciscans, probably on the site of the former, which was held in high estimation on account of numerous miracles said to have been performed in it : the founder and several other lords of Kerry, with many of their respective families, were interred in this monastery. A leper-house was founded about 1312 by Nicholas Fitz-Maurice, who also erected a castle, of which little is recorded until the reign of Elizabeth, when the town was destroyed by a party of the royal forces under Maurice Stack, in 1599; and in the following year the castle was besieged by Sir Charles Wilmot, and, after a vigorous defence for nine days, was surrendered by the garrison, on some small pieces of ordnance being brought against it from an English vessel; the constable was hanged, but the lives of the rest were spared. The castle was rebuilt by Patrick, lord of Kerry, in 1637, but was demolished by an Irish leader named Lawler, in 1641, and there are now no remains. In the same year the cathedral was also destroyed, and the south transept was afterwards fitted up for divine service.

This is a declining town, without either trade or manufacture, and presents only the appearance of a village. The market, which was held on Thursday, was granted, with a fair on the festival of St. Peter and St. Paul and the following day, and a court of pie poudre and the usual tolls, by letters patent bearing date July 6th, 10th of Jas. I. (1612), to Thomas, lord of Kerry, then principal owner of the district. Fairs are held on Whit-Monday, July 9th, and Aug. 15th. The collection of tolls is not confined to sales made in the public fair; every person selling in his own house, on the fair day, is compelled to pay toll to the collector. A penny post from Tralee has been lately established ; and here is a station of the constabulary police.

It has always been considered a borough by prescription, there being no charter of incorporation on record. The corporation, under the title of "The Portreeve, Burgesses, and Freemen of the Borough of Ardfert, in the county of Kerry," consisted of a portreeve, twelve burgesses, and an unlimited number of freemen. The borough returned two members to the Irish parliament in 1639, and continued to exercise the franchise till the Union, when the £15,000 awarded as compensation for the loss of that privilege was paid to the trustees of the marriage settlement of the late Earl of Glandore: the right of election was vested in the corporation. For some years after the Union, corporate meetings took place for the election of a portreeve and filling up vacancies among the burgesses, principally with a view to preserve the corporate property in the commons from encroachment; but the corporation was little more than nominal, and its meetings have fallen into total disuse. The borough extends towards the east and west a considerable distance from the town, but on the south-west a portion of the town itself is outside the limits, which are not accurately defined: it is entirely within the parish, and is said to include the Sheep Walk, Grague, Killarane, Brandon Well, Kilquane, Laragh, Gortaspidale, and the commons. The above grant of Jas. I., in 1612, conferred on Thomas, lord of Kerry, the privilege of holding courts baron and courts leet, with other manorial rights. The Earl of Listowel is now lord of the manor, and appoints a seneschal, who holds, in what was probably the old borough bridewell, a manor court once in three weeks, for the trial of actions of debt amounting to 40s. late currency, of which the jurisdiction extends about 2½ miles round the town; all trials are by jury, the jurors being summoned from the tenants of the manor, who are bound by their leases to serve, or are otherwise liable to a fine; but the business in this court is decreasing, from the holding of petty sessions in the town every alternate week, and of the county quarter sessions before the assistant barrister at Tralee. The only property now admitted to belong to the corporation is the commons adjoining the town, comprising about 200 acres, and valued at £70 per annum, on which the inhabitants exercise a right of commonage; they were formerly very extensive, but encroachments have been made from time to time, which have been a source of constant disputes, and there are now on them about 100 houses or cabins, valued with the land at about £200 per annum; the occupants are free from rent, and formerly escaped all county rates, but the latter have of late been levied.

The DIOCESE of ARDFERT and AGBADOE consists of a union of two ancient sees, which from time immemorial have been incorporated. The see of Ardfert, or Ardart, was anciently called Kiaragi or Kerrigia, also the bishoprick of Iar-Muan, or West Munster; and from history and public records it appears that the bishops of Ardfert were likewise denominated bishops of Kerry, which title is still retained in the R. C. divisions. On the translation of Thomas Fulwar (the last bishop of Ardfert) to Cashel, in 1660, this see was held in commendam with that of Limerick, of which latter Edward Singe was in that year consecrated bishop; and on his translation to Cork, in 1663, Ardfert was permanently united to Limerick, under the prelacy of Wm. Fuller. The ancient diocese of Aghadoe can now only be traced in its archdeaconry, which is annexed to the chapter of Ardfert, and in the remains of its ancient cathedral. The diocese is one of the eleven constituting the ecclesiastical province of Cashel, and comprehends the entire county of Kerry and a small portion of that of Cork: it extends about 66 British miles in length and 61 in breadth, and comprises by estimation a superficial area of 676,450 plantation acres, of which 647,650 are in Kerry, and 28,800 in Cork. The chapter consists of the dean, chancellor, treasurer, precentor, and archdeacon: there are no prebendaries or vicars choral attached to the cathedral; the only other endowed office is a minor canonry, which does not exist in connection with any other cathedral in Ireland, except that of St. Patrick, Dublin. The see lands and gross annual revenue of the diocese are included in the return for the diocese of Limerick. Of the cathedral, dedicated to St. Brendan, a portion of the remains has been fitted up as the parochial church, which was repaired in 1831 by subscription of the bishop and dignitaries: there is no economy fund. The consistorial court consists of a vicar-general, surrogate, registrar, deputy-registrar, and proctor: there is also a diocesan schoolmaster. The diocese comprehends 89 parishes, forming 51 benefices, of which 9, including the deanery, are in the gift of the crown; 21, including the other dignities, are in the patronage of the bishop, and the remaining 21 in lay patronage. The number of churches is 35, besides 8 other buildings in which divine service is performed; and of glebe-houses, 20. In the R. C. divisions the diocese (which retains its ancient name of Kerry) extends, with the exception of a small part of one of the northern parishes, over the whole of that of the Established Church, and also includes the parishes of Kilcaskin, Kilcatern, Kilaconenagh, and Kilnamanagh, in the Protestant diocese of Ross, and is suffragan to that of Cashel. It comprehends 43 parochial unions or districts, and contains 88 chapels, served by 48 parish priests and 34 coadjutors or curates: the bishop's district is that of Killarney.

The parish lies on the western coast, and contains 6018 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act, exclusively of a considerable extent of sand-hills, marsh, and bog. Within its limits is the creek or harbour of Barra, where a pier was some years since constructed by the late Fishery Board, which from its position has hitherto been of no avail: the entrance is flanked by rocks rising to the height of nearly 100 feet, and was formerly defended by a castle, of which a considerable part remains, and from which, according to tradition, a chain was thrown across to the opposite rock, to prevent the sudden entry of hostile vessels ; further in, on the Fenit side, are the remains of another old castle. The pasture farms are extensive; the tillage farms average from 20 to 30 acres. The principal seat is Ardfert Abbey, subsequently noticed. About a mile to the east of the town is Tubrid, a seat belonging to J. O'Connell, Esq. Sackville House, lately in the occupation of the Rev. R. Maunsell, is the property of the Crosbie family; and Barra, on the north shore of the creek of that name, is the residence of T. Collis, Esq. Within a short distance of the town are the ruins of a castle, called Rahanane, formerly the residence of the Bishops of Ardfert, and still attached to the see, but held on lease by Capt. Willow. The living is a rectory, in the diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe, and is divided into five equal portions, held respectively by the dean, precentor, chancellor, treasurer, and perpetual curate: the portion attached to the deanery was united, at a period prior to any existing records, to the rectories of Ratass and Killanear, constituting the corps of the deanery of Ardfert, in the patronage of the Crown: the tithes of the parish amount to £253. 16. 11., and of the decanal union to £479. 19. 8½., to which being added the value of the glebe-lands, lying in Ardfert and Ratass, the gross income of the dean, according to the Commissioners of Ecclesiastical Inquiry, is £549. 9. The church consists of the south transept of the old cathedral: it is served by a perpetual curate, whose stipend, payable by the dignitaries, has been recently augmented by one-fifth of the rectory, and a portion of the glebe, which formerly constituted part of the endowment of the archdeaconry. There is no glebe-house: the glebe lands comprise 280a. 1r. 20p., plantation measure, of which 37a. lr. 8p. belong to the dean, 71a. 0r. 12p. to the precentor, 45a. to the treasurer, 15a. to the perpetual curate, and 112a. to the minor canon, who has also other lands, amounting in the whole to about 180 acres, let on lease at an aggregate rental of £205. 12. In the R. C. divisions this place is the head of a union or district, which comprises the parishes of Ardfert, Kilmoiley, Ballynahaglish, and Fenit, and contains three chapels, situated respectively at Ardfert, Chapel town, and Lerrigs: the first, erected in 1783, at an expense of £300, is a neat slated building. with a sacristy, and over the altar is a painting of the Crucifixion. There are two free schools; one, a thatched stone building adapted to the reception of 140 children, but in which at present about 45 are taught, was erected by Mrs. Crosbie, at an expense of £120, and is supported by her and the dignitaries of the cathedral; the other, in which are 150 boys and 90 girls, is a slated building near the R. C. chapel, erected at an expense of £90 by the Rev. J. O'Sullivan, P. P., by whom it is chiefly supported. Here is also a dispensary.

The cathedral, dedicated to St. Brandon or Brendan, occupied an eminence on the north side of the town, and is said to have been destroyed. in the war of 1641. The remains consist of the walls of the nave and choir, which are perfect: the east window has three lofty lancet-shaped compartments, ornamented internally with light and elegant clustered pilaster columns; on each side is a niche, in one of which stands the figure of a bishop, rudely sculptured, but in excellent preservation, lately found in sinking a vault, and called and venerated as the effigy of St. Brandon; near it, in the choir, is another of much superior workmanship. On the south side, near the altar, are nine windows ornamented with pilaster columns terminating in a trefoil arch; at the west end, on the north side, are two square windows, opposite which are three bold arches resting on square pillars, which led from the cathedral probably into a chapel, and there were also two other entrances into this part of the building, the principal at the north-west corner. Four rude Norman arches still remain, of which the centre is the largest and was the doorway. A doorway at the north-west led into a later addition, part of which only remains, and in 1668 was purchased for her tomb by the Dowager Countess of Kerry, and has since been the family vault of the Crosbies. To the west of the cathedral are two detached buildings, one having the Norman and the other the pointed arch. An ancient round tower, which formerly stood near the cathedral, fell about 60 years since. Within half a mile to the east, in a beautiful park of the late Earl of Glandore's, are the cruciform ruins of the Franciscan abbey, consisting of the nave and choir, with a lofty tower on the west, a chapel on the south, and the refectory on the north, adjoining which are two sides of the cloisters, the whole principally in the pointed style. The great east window has five divisions, and is of bold design. On the south side the choir was lighted by nine windows, under which are five arches in the wall, differing in style and elevation, and probably intended as monumental recesses for abbots; in the second is an altar-tomb of the last Earl and Countess of Glandore. The south chapel, of which the great window is perfect and its details handsome, was connected with the nave by three noble pointed arches resting on massive, but peculiarly elegant, circular columns. A stone in the buttress of the arch nearest the tower bears a rude inscription, which, from the difficulty of decyphering it, has given rise to various opinions, but, on lately removing the moss and dirt, proves to be in Latin, and purports that Donald Fitz Bohen, who sleeps here, caused this work (probably the chapel) to be done in 1453. In the choir are several very ancient tombstones, one bearing the effigy of an abbot. Near these ruins stands Ardfert Abbey, the mansion of the Crosbie family, who have resided here since the reign of Elizabeth, when Dr. John Crosbie, of Maryborough, Queen's county, was preferred to the bishoprick, and his descendants successively attained the honours of Baron Branden, Viscount Crosbie, and Earl of Glandore, now extinct. Col. David Crosbie, son of the bishop, who distinguished himself in the service of Chas. I., mentions, in his claims to Cromwell in 1653, that the Irish had burnt his house at Ardfert, which had cost him more than £1000 in building; (it appears, from an inscription still remaining, to have been completed in 1635;) and the original order by Col. Fitz Morice, for its destruction, is among the MSS. in the library. The succeeding mansion was modernised by the first Lord Branden in 1720, and has been greatly improved by its present occupant, Mrs. Crosbie: it contains an extensive library of choice works and numerous family MSS., and in the dining and drawing-rooms is a variety of paintings, mostly family portraits. The park is well stocked with deer; the gardens are extensive, and open into several fine avenues of elm, lime, and beech trees.

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