By Tommy Martin
Editor: Willie Warren
As someone who grew up in Castleisland, and has lived here most of my life, I suppose I run the risk of getting attuned to seeing the vista of its landscape so frequently, that I stop noticing it. It is timely, therefore, to take a step back and take stock of just what Castleisland has to offer in terms of landscape and geology.
Castleisland, is a Town unlike any other. Nestling snugly in a valley, it is flanked on all sides by hills and mountains. In addition, the town is also surrounded by the River Maine, – giving it its landlocked “Island Status”! Visitors to Castleisland are obliged to cross a bridge to enter, regardless of the direction travelled. Those travelling from Abbeyfeale, will readily appreciate the panoramic beauty of Castleisland, as viewed from above Glansharoon, on the Limerick Road. There, on a clear day, with the valley below you, and the mountains standing mute in the distance, the County of Kerry can be seen in all its splendour
Castleisland, or “Oileán Chiarraí”, derives its name both from the Castle, and the Island status it enjoys. The direct translation of “Óileán Chiarraí” is “The Island of Kerry”. However, with the anglicisation of many Gaelic Place names, this was lost, and the name was simply translated to Castleisland. Today, the Town is often referred to by locals, as simply, “The Island”.
The Castle, which lends its’ name to the Town, was built by Geoffrey de Marisco, in 1226. De Marisco had been granted lands along the River Maine, by King John of England, and took the decision to avail of the natural moat, that was the River Maine, by building a large Castle. Unfortunately, the Castle was subsequently destroyed in 1598, with the ruins of a tower being all that remains today. Rob McGuire, a local man with a passion for history, has recently completed a lengthy study of the history of the castle, and has produced a fascinating documentary on its origins and impact on the growth of Castleisland.
Unusually for a Town of its size, Castleisland does not have a Town Square. However, it is famed near and far, for the width of the Main Street. Main Street owes its width, not to any careful town planning in Medieval times, but to the fact that a rowof houses once existed in the centre of the now, Main Street, which were subsequently demolished, thus converting two streets into one much wider one! Having such a wide street of course, meant ample room for parking or abandoning all manner of vehicles with incredulity. Up to a few years ago, it was not uncommon for vehicles to be triple-parked, on both sides of the street! That was, of course, before the arrival of the local Traffic Warden!
The geology of Castleisland is also a fascinating subject in its own right. Castleisland town and the hinterland is built on limestone, which is why we have the world famous Crag Caves on the outskirts of the town – a unique visitor attraction, that was originally discovered and developed in 1983. Crag Caves features a wondrous selection of stalagmites and stalactites, thousands of years old, and it is amazing to think that such a fascinating subterranean landscape exists right beneath our feet.
However, in my opinion, the single factor that makes Castleisland unique, is the people. Every Town has its characters, but Castleisland has them in abundance. Where else would you find a town that has its very own “Latin Quarter” – situated on the Killarney Road? Here, on any given day, will be found the best minds in town discussing the pressing events of the day! Long may it continue.