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Ireland Gazeteer

Ardfert in 1833

ARDFERT, called anciently ARDART, ARDFEART-BRENN, or ARDBREINN, a decayed city of Ireland, in the barony of Clanmaurice, county of Kerry; 184 English miles S.W. by W. from Dublin, and about four N.N.W. of Tralee.

Although now much reduced, its former importance and its episcopal rank entitle it to notice. The see of Ardfert was erected in the fifth century, and was so early united with that of Aghadoe that they now form but one diocese, comprehending the county of Kerry and part of Cork, and containing eighty-eight parishes, and forty-nine benefices.

In 1663, the united sees were added to that of Limerick, but without incorporation. The chapter of Ardfert consists of five dignitaries, viz., dean, precentor, chancellor, treasurer, and archdeacon, but no prebendaries; only the archdeacon of Aghadoe has a stall.

The five dignitaries above-mentioned have the cure of souls in the parish of Ardfert, and contribute each one-fifth to the curate's salary. The parish church serves as the cathedral, and is the relic of a very extensive edifice, the rest of which was demolished in the wars of 1641.

The ruins of the nave and choir are twenty-six yards long and ten broad. There are the remains of an aisle on the south side, and there was probably one on the north side, which was rebuilt not long before the demolition of the church in 1641.

Towards the west end of the cathedral, there are two detached chapels, said to have belonged to the dignitaries of the cathedral, one of them bearing marks of remote antiquity.

Opposite the west door was formerly one of the ancient round towers (see Antrim town) nearly a hundred feet high, and built mostly of a dark kind of marble; but this fell in the year 1770 or 1771.

The area of the cathedral is crowded with tombs, on one of which is the effigy of a bishop rudely sculptured in relief.

Ardfert was once the capital of Kerry, and had a University of high repute.

The bishops were anciently called bishops of Kerry, St. Brendan, or Brandon, to whom the cathedral was dedicated, erected a sumptuous abbey here in the sixth century, but it was burned, as well as the town, in 1089.

The town suffered a similar fate again in 1151 and 1179, on which last occasion the abbey was entirely destroyed.

Within the demesne formerly belonging to the earls of Glandore and barons of Ardfert (titles now extinct) are the remains of an ancient monastery, forming a most picturesque addition to the grounds.

These remains, according to Sir R. C. Hoare, who visited them in July, 1806, consist of the tower, nave. and a great part of the cloisters, which are in tolerable preservation.

The architecture of the building does not bespeak a very ancient date. There is some difference of opinion as to its origin; Smith (Nat. and Civ. Hist, of Kerry) ascribes its foundation to Thomas, Lord of Kerry, in 1253, in which he is followed by Archdale (Monast. Hibern.): others ascribe it to a baron of Kerry, in 1389. It is thought to occupy the site of the former monastery founded by St. Brendan, and was destroyed when the town was burnt in the years 1089 and 1179.

There are three fairs in the year. The population amounted, in 1821, to 629 in the town, or 2,481 in the whole parish.

It was a parliamentary borough before the Union, and sent two members to the Irish House of Commons; it is still governed by a portreeve and twelve burgesses.

In 1821, there was an Hibernian Society school of forty boys and twenty-one girls.

Ardfert is so near the sea, that single trees, or even rows, are destroyed by the wind; yet there are fine plantations in the grounds of the late Earl of Glandore.