Michael Christopher Keane is a retired University College Cork lecturer and author of three books about the Crosbies, leading and often controversial landlord families in County Kerry for over 300 years. Keane’s own genealogy revealed that one branch of his North Kerry ancestors were transplanted tenants on one of the Crosbie estates. His newest book, ‘The Crosbies of Cork, Kerry, Laois and Leinster’ (2021), and earlier ‘From Laois to Kerry’ (2016) and ‘The Earls of Castlehaven’ (2018), are available in Kerry bookshops and online at omahonys.ie, hannas.ie, and kennys.ie. Email Michael at email@example.com. … Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and travelers to Ireland are always welcome to offer guest contributions. MH
My first book focused on the initial arrival of the Crosbies into Kerry and in particular their role in transplanting many members of the leading Septs of County Laois in the Irish midlands to Kerry in 1607. The historic “Seven Septs of Laois”, Moores, Kellys, Lawlors, Dowlings, Dorans, McEvoys, and Deevys or Dees, had been in almost continuous rebellion through the late 1500s as they vigorously resisted the plantation of their county by the English.
Following defeat at the landmark Battle of Kinsale in 1601 they accepted the plantation of Laois, which had been renamed Queens County. This was facilitated by the large-scale transplantation of the Laois Septs to about 10 parishes in North Kerry extending from Tarbert in the northeast to Ballyheigue.
These lands had been taken over by the Crosbie brothers Patrick and John, the latter having been appointed Protestant Bishop of Ardfert and Aghadoe 1601-1621. From Laois to Kerry includes a detailed tracing of the descendants of the Seven Septs of Laois in North Kerry through the generations to the present time. Many of the Laois Sept surnames are still quite prominent in North Kerry, especially Kellys, Lawlors, Dowlings, Moores, and Dees. However, all seven continue to have a distinct presence, with many families still established over four centuries later in the original 10 parishes to which their distant ancestors were first transplanted.
The Crosbies of Cork, Kerry Laois and Leinster aims to reveal the complete story of the Crosbie family from the 1500s to the present time. 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 16th century two MacCrossan children, Padraig and Sean, were fostered in Laois by new English planters, the Cosbys of Stradbally Hall (now of Electric Picnic fame) and changed their names to Patrick and John Crosbie. They both became large landowners in North Kerry.
In 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 War, Sex, Corruption, Land, subtitle gives a hint of the content.
The Crosbies were particularly noted for marrying widely into virtually all the “big houses” of Kerry, leading to the expression “Kerry cousins,” denoting the close family links between the county’s landlords of the time. As an example, the Crosbies became closely intermarried at an early stage with their neighbours the Fitzmaurices of Lixnaw, Earls of Kerry. The Fitzmaurices were the leading family of North Kerry through the generations until their dramatic demise in the 1700s. Their glory and decline are detailed in two fine books by fellow North Kerry historians: Kay Caball’s, The Fall of the Fitzmaurices, and Martin Moore’s Deeds Not Words: The survival of the Fitzmaurices Lords of Kerry 1550 to 1603.
Having become the new dominant family of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy era in North Kerry, the Crosbies developed several mansions, including Ballyheigue Castle, Ardfert Abbey, Tubrid House in Ardfert 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.
Having obtained the rank of Earldom in the later 1700s, 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. The evidence clearly shows that the main parishes of the Crosbies, Ardfert, Ballyheigue and Abbeydorney experienced some of the worst losses of life and of emigration of all Kerry parishes during the decade of the Great Famine. 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. Their two great houses in Kerry, Ballyheigue Castle and Ardfert Abbey, were both burned down during the War of Independence and the Civil War.
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. In the modern era, the Crosbies of the Examiner newspaper dynasty of Cork also trace their roots to Thomas Crosbie who arrived in Cork as a young journalist from North Kerry in 1842.