Coming of age in Victorian Kerry

Coming of age in Victorian Kerry Kerry author Bertha Beatty.
Kerry Memories, by Bertha Beatty, edited by Pádraig de Brún
(North Kerry Literary Trust, Listowel, €15.00; copies from the Kerry Writers Museum, 24 The Square, Listowel, Co. Kerry, V31 RD93; Tel: 068 22212;

Local memories are always a delight to read. They are of human interest, of course, but also always a revelation of how varied and often fascinating life can be in the rural places of the world, and the crisscrossed streets of cities.

This book in hand is one of these memorable books, and is the work of a lady worth remembering. She belonged to a particular time and place. Bertha Beatty, nee Creagh, was born in Listowel, Co. Kerry, in November 1878.

She was educated by a series of governesses, Irish and English, several of whom she mentions in her book. In her early 20s she left home and worked as a governess and companion in the English West Country until she married Dr Robert Pounden Beatty, a prominent medical practitioner in Swindon in Wiltshire, England.

First edition

The first edition of Kerry Memories carried a notice from the publishers of another book by her, West Country Thoughts. This is largely a collection of pieces which she had contributed to the local Swindon newspapers. She was thus a practised writer when she wrote Kerry Memories between 1936 and 1938.

The hotel was told to provide him with breakfast, but only if he had been successful in selling the calves!”

The present second edition, edited by Pádraig de Brún, was prepared in 2007. It includes numerous incisive and informative comments by Maurice G. McElligott. He had a medical practice in Wigan in Lancashire, England, and was a prominent member of the Irish Genealogical Research Society. He was a neighbour and close contemporary of Bertha. Dr McElligott’s comments are taken from his extensively annotated first edition of Kerry Memories.

Second edition

This second edition of Kerry Memories also includes hundreds of scholarly footnotes which provide a treasure trove of information on the Anglo-Irish who resided in North Kerry in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Bertha begins her narrative with an account of her early years. She describes her Irish nurse and first lessons in Scripture. Next she devotes a chapter to her parents and their ‘Pedigree’. Visiting relatives and friends was a feature of their lives. Bertha particularly enjoyed visiting Mrs Cooke of Tanavalla House, just outside Listowel.

Kitchener, the famous field marshal, was her godson and a frequent visitor. It was known that he had had a very harsh upbringing. In a note, Dr McElligott states: “Herbert Horatio Kitchener when a boy used to drive his father Colonel Kitchener’s calves [from Tarbert] to be sold at Listowel fair, the hotel was told to provide him with breakfast, but only if he had been successful in selling the calves!”

John Foran, I assisted at the autopsy. He was shot in July 1889 for taking over a ‘boycotted farm’”

Bertha lists her co-residents in the Square, Listowel. Typical Victorian elite, these were the rector of St John’s and the parish priest of St Mary’s, and three bank managers residing over their offices. There were also two solicitors and George Sandes, an agent for a number of landlords. Bertha wrote of him: “one rarely saw him, except at Church, he must have been a shy man”! To this McElligott added: “Not where women were concerned. They were the cause of his downfall, and he was deprived of the ‘Commission of the Peace’”!

Wild Kerry

Bertha recalled that the “disturbed” state of the county had it become known as ‘Wild Kerry’. She wrote: “I remember being on a walk and seeing a group of men talking together at a crossroads. I remarked of their seriousness. Later on that evening a man was shot, a tenant farmer”.

McElligott added: “John Foran, I assisted at the autopsy. He was shot in July 1889 for taking over a ‘boycotted farm’”. Bertha notes that all those associated with the law, Captain Massey, the Resident Magistrate, and the Solicitors, including her father, had to have the protection of the RIC and sometimes a detachment of soldiers. Of Massey, McElligott wrote “Richard Albert Massey, late of the 60th Rifles, archetype of everything unpleasant in the administration of English law in Ireland”.

Pádraig de Brún and the North Kerry Literary Trust are to be congratulated and thanked for this splendid local history, though I now learn that the association has been dissolved.

Bertha Beatty’s childhood home, now the Kerry Writers Museum.