Now little more than a stump, this ruin of what was once a 15th century fortified tower house is beautiful due to its spectacular location near a cliff edge on the western tip of the Dingle Peninsula. Situated near Dingle golf club, 2 miles / 3 km to the northwest of Ballyferriter village in in County Kerry, the castle's crumbling state adds to its postcard charm. Also known as Castle Sybil, Ferriter’s Castle was once the main family home of the Ferriter family, who controlled the western part of the Dingle peninsula, as well as the Blasket Islands. The castle is perhaps most famous for being the birthplace of Kerry poet and warrior Pierce Ferriter, the last Gaelic chieftain to hold out against Cromwell's New Model Army.
Historians do not know exactly when Ferriter's Castle was constructed, but estimate it around 1400. It was most likely the primary homestead of the Ferriter family, a Hiberno-Norman clan. The original Norman family who were granted lands in this region in the 14th century were known as the Le Fureters. "Hiberno-Norman" or Irish Norman, means that, over generations, they adopted Irish ways and traditions. The castle is today best known as the birthplace as Kerry's most famous Irish (Gaelic)-language poet, Pierce Ferriter.
Architecture of Norman Tower Houses
The "castle" is a correctly described as a fortified Norman tower house, of a style associated with the west coast of Ireland. While little remains of the castle, historians are able to infer what it may have been like, from the general style of such houses: Norman tower houses were tall, rectangular structures, typically four or ﬁve levels high. They had a spiral staircase, which led to one main room on each ﬂoor. At least one of the floors would be a stone vault, usually at the base level of the building, while the other were constructed with timber. It was also common to have a main reception room on the top floor.
Pierce Ferriter, Poet and Warrior
Piaras Feiritéar, or Pierce Ferriter, was born in the region sometime around 1600, the last Gaelic Lord of the Ferriter lineage to rule over the Blasket Islands. As well as being a chieftan, Ferriter was renowned for his intellect and musical skills. A gifted harp player, he was known as "the gentleman harpist". Pierce Ferriter is also the best remembered Irish-language poet of the early 17th Century and he wrote a large body of work. His themes included
- Erotic love
The following is an excerpt -- translated from Gaelic -- from Pierce Ferriter's poem "A Lamentation - For the Death of Sir Maurice Fitzgerald, Knight of Kerry, who was killed in Flanders, 1642"
There was lifted up one voice of woe,
One lament of more than mortal grief,
Through the wide South to and fro,
for a fallen Chief.
In the dead of night that cry thrilled through me,
I looked out upon the midnight air,
My own soul was all as gloomy,
As I knelt in prayer.
In his works, Ferriter lamented "the death of the Celtic civilization that had flourished for 1,000 years in Ireland". This passion led him to joining the Irish Confederate army in 1641 as a captain in the battle against Cromwell's forces. That same year, he was wounded during an attack on Tralee Castle.
- For the next 12 years, he continued fighting in the field
- Under the command of Lord Muskerry, he became governor of Ross Castle, leading 960 troops
- In October 1653, Muskerry ordered all his troops in county Kerry to stand down, as Cromwell's New Model Army was smothering his forces
Pierce Ferriter is remembered as the last of Ireland's Gaelic Lords to stand down against the Cromwellian forces. After the fall of Ross Castle, Ferriter was duped into travelling to arrange the terms of his surrender, and was seized at Castlemaine.
- He was imprisoned by Cromwell's army and ultimately hanged in Killarney, on October 15th, 1653
- Alongside Ferriter, Cromwell's Puritans also hanged his brother-in-law, Thady Moriarty, Prior of the Dominican Convent, Tralee.
- No recorded reason has been recorded for the priest's hanging, except that he was Lord Ferriter's brother-in-law
He became a "war hero" figure for later generations of Irish rebels.
Ferriter's Castle from across the cove. Image by Sharon Loxton.