Written by Dr. Michael Christopher Keane, January 2022
Being a native of Tarbert in North Kerry, for many years I have harboured a curiosity about the Crosbies who were one of Kerry’s leading and often controversial landlord families for over 300 years. This interest originated with an exploration of my family tree which revealed that one branch of my North Kerry ancestors were both tenants of the Crosbies and indeed had been transplanted to North Kerry by the Crosbies in the early 1600s. Having retired from my career as a lecturer in University College Cork in 2010, I finally had the opportunity to explore the story of the Crosbies in detail.
The Crosbies had highly unusual origins. Their story begins with the MacCrossans of Laois who were historic bards to the two leading clans of the Irish midlands, the O’Moores of Laois and the O’Connors of Offaly. In the later 16th century two MacCrossan children, Padraig and Sean, were fostered in Laois by new English planters, the Cosbies of Stradbally Hall (now of Electric Picnic fame) and changed their names to Patrick and John Crosbie. Claiming that they were from Lancashire and expressing allegiance to the British crown, they both became large landowners in North Kerry. The older brother Patrick is now best remembered for transplanting large numbers of the historic ‘Seven Septs of Laois’, (Moores, Kellys, Lawlors, Dowlings, Dorans, McEvoys and Deevys or Dees), to his newly acquired lands in North Kerry in the early 1600s. His great estate extended across ten modern parishes from Tarbert in North East Kerry to the Atlantic coast. My first local history book ‘From Laois to Kerry’ (2016) included a detailed tracing of the descendants of the Seven Septs of Laois in North Kerry through the generations to the present time. Many family descendants are still established over four centuries later in the original ten parishes to which their distant ancestors were first transplanted. The younger Crosbie brother John became the second Protestant Bishop of Ardfert and Aghadoe (1601-1621) and it is his descendants who continued as the dominant landlords of North Kerry through the centuries to follow.
Of the next generation, Sir Pierce Crosbie, heir to Patrick, as well as being a large North Kerry landowner, also became a trusted member of the English royal court during the reigns of James I and Charles I, attaining membership of the English Privy Council and the Irish Parliament and Privy Council. His marriage to the widow of the 1st Earl of Castlehaven led to the story of my second book ‘The Earls of Castlehaven Lord Audleys of Cork and Kildare’ (2018). The book’s sub-title ‘War, Sex, Corruption, Land’ gives a hint of the content. While the 1st Earl of Castlehaven became a great Irish landowner following the Battle of Kinsale, his successor the 2nd Earl, Sir Pierce Crosbie’s stepson, following a remarkable trial, was beheaded in London for crimes of sexual depravity. This was despite his close royal connections, his wife Anne being one of the Spencers of recent Lady Diana fame. Indeed Anne herself at one stage was in line to succeed Queen Elizabeth I to the English throne. The colourful life of the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven was to become one of the great British sex stories through the centuries. Sir Pierce Crosbie himself also had a varied career which ended with death in an Irish jail due to his active involvement in the Catholic Confederacy uprising. His first cousin David Crosbie, Protestant son of Bishop Crosbie, unlike most of his siblings who were reared as Catholics, opposed Pierce and the Catholic Confederacy. As a consequence, he was personally rewarded by Cromwell. This branch of the family then became firmly established as a leading part of the new ascendancy in Kerry.
Battle of Kinsale
The Second Earl of Castlehaven, Mervyn Tuchet
Princess Diana and Prince Charles
Having become the new dominant family of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy era in North Kerry, the Crosbies developed a number of mansions, including Ballyheigue Castle, Ardfert Abbey and Rusheen House in Ballylongford. Along with a couple of other leading landlord families, they dominated Kerry politics throughout much of the 18th and 19th centuries, representing the county almost continuously in Parliament, firstly in Dublin and then in Westminster, for much of that time. When elevated to the rank of Earldom, the Ardfert Crosbies, as Earls of Glandore, lived in great style for a time both in Kerry and in their fine Dublin townhouse, now Loreto Hall, on St. Stephens Green. That era led to the long stewardship at Ardfert of William Talbot-Crosbie, or ‘Billy the Leveller’ as he became widely known, from 1838 to 1899. While he was an innovative agriculturalist, his extremely harsh treatment of tenants which included widespread evictions and his activities during the Great Famine remain highly controversial to the present time. Remarkably, ‘Billy the Leveller’s’ successor at Ardfert Abbey, Lindsey Talbot-Crosbie, supported land reform and Home Rule, while his son in turn Maurice was a candidate for the Irish Parliamentary Party in Cork in the 1918 general election. As discussed in some detail in the new book, their two great houses in Kerry, Ballyheigue Castle and Ardfert Abbey, were both burned down during the War of Independence and the Civil War.
The Irish war of independence
John Crosbie, 2nd Earl of Glandore & his wife Lady Diana (née Sackville)
Like many large extended families of their time, the Crosbie family story contained its share of scandals. These included the shipwrecking of the Golden Lion laden with bullion at Ballyheigue, which resulted in one of Kerry’s most famous unsolved mysteries. Accusations against the Crosbies and others led to arrest, jail, alleged murder and multiple court hearings, with much manipulation of the legal system at the time. Members of the extended Crosbie family who had returned to Leinster include Richard Crosbie of Wicklow who became Ireland’s first aeronaut and his older brother Sir Edward Crosbie who was executed in Carlow due to his alleged involvement in the 1798 uprising. In the modern era, the Crosbies of the Examiner newspaper dynasty of Cork also trace their roots to the North Kerry Crosbies, commencing with Thomas Crosbie who arrived in Cork as a young journalist from North Kerry in 1842. The significant role played by the Crosbies in Irish journalism through five generations is also explored in the new book.
Irish Rebellion of 1798
Newspaper clipping of the robbery
‘The Crosbies of Cork, Kerry, Laois and Leinster’, along with ‘From Laois to Kerry’ and ‘The Earls of Castlehaven’, are available in local bookshops, online at www.omahonys.ie, www.hannas.ie and www.kennys.ie, also directly from the author email@example.com
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Dr. Michael Christopher Keane is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin. He was Senior Lecturer/Head of Department, University College, Cork, 1981-2009. His ongoing research and publications in the areas of Irish local history and genealogy represent a continuation of his earlier University career which related primarily to key aspects of change in rural Ireland through the centuries. Since retirement he has published three Irish local history books, ‘From Laois to Kerry: The Laois 0rigins and continuing presence in Kerry of the Moores, Kellys, Dowlings, Lawlors, Dorans, McEvoys and Dees (Deevys or Devoys)’, 2016: ‘The Earls of Castlehaven Lord Audleys of Cork and Kildare: War, Sex, Corruption, Land: From the Battle of Kinsale to the Great Famine and beyond’, 2018: ‘The Crosbies of Cork, Kerry, Laois and Leinster: Bards, Imposters, Landlords, Politicians, Aeronauts, Newspapers’, 2021