John McElligotts Prison In Co.Kerry

From entry of 25 Aug 1788 in [Rev. Daniel A. Beaufort’s Tour of Kerry, 1788]: “I consented, mounted my horse & rode with them to see several dippings of the River Leigh, and farther on a great Cavern under a ledge of huge rocks, with an open, or window as they call it, upon a perilous abyss. This is called McElligott’s prison.”

As most of my readers are aware my surname is McElligott so I descend from these people of Co.Kerry. My name first appears in Ireland as McElligott in the early 16th century. I researched my lineage all the way back to the 12th century.

I have been recently sent this by my brother who happens to be down there now enjoying himself visiting all these places of McElligott interest. The prison is called John McElligotts prison to be more accurate and it’s in the history books. My lineage is a well bred one of the gentry class and they were landlords with many castles and land in Kerry. Unfortunately for them it was taken from them during the Desmond rebellion and given to other English Lords like the Dennys for example whose tombs are in Tralee to this day.

John is in the history books as being a bit of a tyrant, but I would take these stories with a pinch of salt. The reason for this is because peasants and poor people in general tend to make up stories about the wealthy classes. Landlords were often despised then as they are today nothing has changed. With that in mind stories were often made up about them.

Historical stories from parish priests (considered an authority on these matters at the time in Ireland) reported John as being quite cruel. They explain he had a dungeon by his Castle (most likely the prison depicted in the map here) where he would torture passersby (peasants). They say he would hang the peasants on the hill and lynch them. Then he’d invite his daughter out for the spectacle who would laugh at it all and be highly entertained.

Are these stories true? I wouldn’t say no because I wasn’t there. However having the knowledge I do about how rich people are treated by the poor I would venture to say there’s no truth to these tales at all. Poor people have a habit, out of envy, of creating stories about the higher classes so I would never commit myself to the validity of these things.

If anything, history tells a story of a McElligott family who fought the English Queen and her barbaric campaign of rule over Ireland putting their funds into keeping Ireland safe. Ulick and John fought these people alongside the Earl of Desmond who upon capture was beheaded in the forest in 1583. He was betrayed by a fellow soldier for a handful of silver. Their castle is still intact to this day and is a tourist attraction. The Earl of Desmond was a good friend to my grandfather of the late 1500s and it was he who convinced Ulick McElligott to fight the Queen.

History is a bloody thing but it’s always blurred by these legends and stories that paint a good family in a bad light. Oh well. All that matters is what the Lord sees. I know that as long as I keep my nose clean I may see them again at the last day at the Resurrection. I think it’s sad how my familys land and castles were taken from them and have never been retrieved or returned. It’s just brick and mortar anyway as the real castle we should all be building is the virtuous one that awaits us in heaven should we be found worthy of it.

God bless

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