Ballycarbery meaning ‘Village of Carbery’ so called after Cairbre O’Shea, head of one of the Corca Dhuibhne clans. The Corca Dhuibhne Clans held control of Iveragh from c. 500 to 1300 A.D.. When the McCarthy Clan was driven out of Killarney early in the 14th century and moved to Iveragh, they over-threw the O’Sheas. Donal MacCarthy Mór built on the location a fine castle for his son Tadhg, who married the daughter of the powerful 4th Earl of Desmond (Fitzgerald). A residence appears to have stood at Ballycarbery in 1398 although the ruins there today represent a sixteenth-century construction. Tadhg Mac Carthaigh’s death was recorded there in 1428.
There is a story of Ballycarbery Castle which describes the rivalry between two O’Connell brothers living in the castle, one brother, Seán, occupying the lower portion, and the other, Morgan, living in the upper apartments, each of who wished to host the visiting MacCarthy Mór. Since both brothers could not agree which of them would have the honor of hosting the visiting lord, MacCarthy Mór decided that his party would dine with whichever brother had the feast prepared first. That very night the elder brother, with a view to cutting off from his brother upstairs all supplies of fuel and water, ordered that all doors and passages leading to the upper floor should be locked, and also set a guard to prevent their being opened. Morgan was chagrined when he had mounted to his rooms, to find that Seán had barricaded the entrance behind him, to prevent his servants from drawing water to cook the dinner. He had no alternative but to have his pots and pans filled with Spanish wine, wherein all his meat was boiled over as many fires of liquorish as were requisite. In this way he succeeded in having dinner ready much earlier than the elder brother, and having the honour of entertaining MacCarthy Mór with his lady and suite.
Some 16th Century sources indicate that it was occupied by the O’Connells in their capacity as MacCarthy wardens. Morgan O’Connell of Ballycarbery, for instance, became High Sheriff of Kerry during Elizabethan times. It is related that whenever a child was born to the MacCarthy Mór, he sent a cradle round to all the inferior chieftains and who ever accepted it, enjoyed the benefit of fosterage with the prince. When the cradle reached Ballycarbery Castle, Morgan O’Connell’s response was to send the cradle back with the head of the messenger inside. MacCarthy Mór came with a big army and hung him from the highest window, to learn the rest of the O’Connells a bit of sense. Another version says he only hung the messenger, O’Connell’s Gillie.
In 1565, Donal MacCarthy IX was abducted by David Roche, Lord Fermoy, and taken as a prisoner to England and coerced by Queen Elizabeth into accepting the inferior title of Earl of Clancare. His Haughty followers dispised him for this and this may have been the cause of the fosterage slight. This pledge of loyalty meant that if a MacCarthy Mór did not have an heir to his estate, his lands would be confiscated by the Queen. Before Christmas 1588, Sir W. Herbert wrote to the Queen's Secretary, Walsingham:
“I mean to take 6000 acres within the County of Kerry, and am desirous to have other 6000 acres in the County of Desmond, after the Earl of Glincar’s death,” and also “I may thre have Castle Logh, the Pallace, and Ballicarbry, with 6000 acres around them, I write rather thus timely, if not out of time, least some other should first make means and suit for them.”
In the winter of 1596 the ailing king Donal IX finally passed away. The Annals of the Four Masters, in a mean paragraph, record the death of the last King of Desmond, the descendant of illustrious ancestors and the possessor of a noble and ancient pedigree:
“MacCarthy Mór died; namely Donnell, the son of Donnell, son of Cormac Ladhrach, son of Teige; and, although he was usually styled MacCarthy Mór, he had been honourably created Earl by order of the Sovereign of England. There was no male heir who could be installed in his place (nor any heir), except one daughter (Ellen), who was the wife of the son of MacCarthy Reagh, i.e. Fineen; and all thought that he was the heir of the desceased MacCarthy, i.e., Donnell.”
King Donal IX MacCarthy Mór was interred in Muckross Abbey and his tombstone with coat of arms still exists there.
In certain Fiants of Queen Elizabeth purporting to be pardons to certain persons living in or near Ballycarbery we find the following;
Fiant No. 4888. Pardons to… Murtogh MacShane O’Connell of Ballycarberye, Donnell MacShane y Connell of same,… Shiraughe O’Connell of Ballycarbery… Dated 11 June, xxviii.
Fiant No. 6469. Pardons to… Murrough Mac Richard O’Connell of Ballycarbery,… O’Donnell of Ballicarbre, Conor Mac Richard Mac Ballie of same, Jeffrey Mac Morice O’Connell of Ballycarbery, Murrougho and Conor Mac Morrice O’Connell of same,… Shane Mac Morrice O’Connell of Ballycarbery, Jeffey and Morrice Mac Murrogh of same, Richard Grownige McDonnell Growne O’Connell of Ballycarbie, Shane and Rickard McDonnell oge O’Connell of same. Lord Deputy’s warrant, date 7th March, 1600.
The castle was passed onto Sir Valentine Browne following the death of Donal MacCarthy Mór. In 1652 it was attacked by cannon fire from Parliament forces. The majority of the perimeter walls were destroyed by General Ludlow of Cromwell’s Army in 1651-2, when Valentia Harbour was being fortified. In the 18th century a house was built on the site which was inhabited by the Lauder family. Much of the South and East walls of both the keep and bawn are destroyed, presumably due to the mid 17th Century slighting, though a portion of the southern bawn was dismantled and removed in the early 20th Century.
Today, Ballycarbery Castle stands as a fine example of the glory days of the powerful ancient Irish clans, the O’Sheas, the MacCarthy Mórs & the O’Connells.