Culture Travel Tuesday
Museum: Derrynane House
By Dr. Jessica Voigts
Exploring History at Derrynane House, County Kerry, Ireland
Imagine Ireland in a time of great change, both political and religious. There was great social inequality as well as religious persecution. In times like these, great men arise. And indeed, the story of Daniel O’Connell is an example of the times and a personality coming together to create great social change.
Daniel O’Connell was a lawyer who was horrified by the violence of war (he even escaped France during the revolution) and worked to change the laws in Ireland to include Emancipation for Catholics. He achieved this in 1829, when the British government granted emancipation for Catholics. O’Connell was the first Catholic to sit in the House of Commons (1830). He then worked on creating an Irish government for Ireland. He was imprisoned by the British government for conspiracy, and spent 3 months in prison. When he was released, he rode in a HUGE triumphal chariot through Dublin, and was elated at the crowds supporting him. Can you picture this small man, full of personality and charisma, on his chariot triumphant, amidst thousands of supporters?
On the advice of his doctor to help his poor health, he traveled to Italy in 1847 and died there at the age of 71. His body was returned to Ireland and buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. In his life, he’d been an incredible lawyer, campaigned for Catholic emancipation, created the Catholic Association, and won elections in the British House of Commons for County Clare (and changed the laws so that Catholics could hold office) and for the position of Lord Mayor of Dublin. His nickname is “The Liberator” for his great contributions to justice and social change.
So – the juicy dirt that history books don’t always tell…
O’Connell and his wife Mary (his 3rd cousin, but a love match) had 11 children, 7 of which survived (and all four surviving sons sat in Parliament). O’Connell’s favorite place in the world was his uncle’s house, Derrynane House, in Caherdaniel, County Kerry. While his uncle still lived, though, his wife didn’t go there AT ALL. O’Connell went there as often as he could, for he found great solace in being there, and companionship with his uncle. Once his uncle died, the family moved in and settled there, familial problems obviously taken care of.
I’d read about O’Connell before we headed to Ireland, but it wasn’t enough for me – I wanted to learn more. Luckily, Derrynane House was located just a few miles from our rental home in Ireland.
Now, Derrynane House is a public museum situated on 120 hectares, right on the Ring of Kerry. It is run by Ireland’s OPW, Office of Public Works. Derrynane House is open from April through November, and there is a small charge to enter (or you can use your Heritage Ireland card, which has discounts at a plethora of historic spots). While you can’t take photos inside, you can definitely take them outside – of the slate grey house, the vast gardens in which O’Connell took so much pride, and of the beach.
Yes, Derrynane Beach is a locals’ favorite – free, with swimmers, fishermen, and surfers visible daily. If you head to Derrynane Beach at low tide, you can walk across to Abbey Island, where there’s an old and very scenic cemetery that is still used today. But I digress. Head inside, and several things strike you at once – how large and elegant some of the rooms seem; how tiny the beds, dueling gloves, and clothing are; how it is filled with books and awards and gifts from admirers; and the aforementioned chariot. There’s also O’Connell’s death bed, shipped back from Italy and installed in his bedroom. You can walk right up to it, and surprise – it is so much shorter than beds are now.
The chariot is installed in a special carriage house, next to a highly recommended AV presentation about the life of The Liberator. Once you get a glimpse of the life of this diminutive man, and his outsize deeds (and chariot), you’ll find yourself even more interested in Irish history – it’s come alive, here on your visit to Derrynane House.
For more information, hours, and prices, please see the web site of Derrynane House.
Note: Jessie says “We were given a media pass by the Office of Public Works to visit Derrynane House. Thank you!” All photos in this post were taken by Jessie Voigts and her property. Please respect her copyright.