The White House. Photo Curtesy Mary McCarthy

Kenmare’s Macabre History

By Faye Boland

DISTRICT DIRECTOR: Brendan O’Sullivan / EDITOR: Éamonn O’Reilly

Anyone entering Kenmare town will be impressed with its gorse-speckled fields, its sandstone mountains and stunning seascape. But as a plantation town founded in the 1680’s, it has as grim and gruesome a history as any town where vagabonds lurked, swords were wielded and the law was enforced by hanging and torture. 

If you walk past Cleady Bridge, about three miles outside Kenmare town towards Kilgarvan – on the site where a tavern stood at the end of the seventeenth century – you may happen upon a large red rock which has been used for generations as a trough. This is the site where the one-armed Fineen Boughal chopped the head off of Owen Mighall, a notorious robber and outlaw. Both Boughal and Mighall have been described as desperadoes who plundered Carrigadrohid Castle near Macroom, after which the Privy Council issued a proclamation offering a reward for their apprehension. 

Richard Orpen, agent for Sir William Petty who founded Kenmare town, lived in The White House in Killowen and it was he who had the misfortune of having the head thrown on his marble doorstep. The veins in the marble flagstone are supposed to be leaked blood from Mighall’s severed head. Orpen’s pregnant wife is said to have looked out at the moment the head was thrown and been so shocked at the sight of an eye in the severed head that she gave birth to a child with rolling eyes called “Raymond with the rolling eyes”.

The White House. Photo Curtesy Mary McCarthy
The White House. Photo Curtesy Mary McCarthy

The ruins of The White House can still be seen from the bend in the road at Killowen. The neighbouring property that belonged to Reverend Palmer has its own macabre history. According to popular folklore a priest from Bantry was decapitated on the flagstone outside Palmer’s door and his head hung from the lintel. The flagstones from this property – which incidentally burned to the ground – were sold to the County Council and have been used in the building of the courthouse and elsewhere. If you look hard enough you may see a trace of blood from the Priest’s severed head!

These days Kenmare celebrates all things ghoulish in the Halloween Howl Festival at mid-term. If you haven’t had enough of a scare after your time in Kenmare, you might like to drive by Derrycunihy church, just after Ladies View on the way to Killarney. The church can be reached on foot from Kenmare by walking the old Kenmare road. Many people who have passed this church will testify to it being haunted. A friend’s father claimed he entered a field near the church but could not find a way out. In fact he spent the night driving in circles in an attempt to find an exit and never forgot the fright he got. 

Other passers-by have described a girl in white clothing – supposed to have died after being knocked off her bike near the church – who appears in the rear view mirror of passing cars and disappears when the car passes her house. 

I haven’t seen her but maybe you will! 

About the Author

Faye Boland is a Short Story Writer and Poet from Kenmare, Co. Kerry. She is a Creative Writing Tutor at Kerry E.T.B. She was highly commended for a Kerry Literary Award (for fiction) and long-listed in both the Equality Writing Contest sponsored by Brilliant Flash Fiction and the RTE Guide/Penguin short story competition in 2015.

She was highly commended for the Desmond O’ Grady Prize 2019 and shortlisted in 2013 for the Poetry on the Lake XIII International Poetry Competition. She won the Robert Leslie Boland Prize 2018 and the Hanna Greally International Literary Award 2017. Her first poetry collection Peripheral was published in September 2018 by The Manuscript Publisher.

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