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From Laois to Kerry—shifting sands of local history

A trilogy of local history

by Dr Michael Christopher Keane

This local history trilogy, involving three interrelated family stories, provides a revealing insight into the shifting sands of Irish history over the last five centuries.

From Laois to Kerry

The tales begin with the forced transplantation of the leadership and followers of the historic Seven Septs of Laois to Co. Kerry in the early 1600s to facilitate the plantation of Queens County: From Laois to Kerry, 2016.

The Crosbies of Cork, Kerry, Laois and Leinster

The resettlement of the Laois septs was organised by Patrick Crosbie who became their first landlord in Kerry. The Crosbies then continued as leading landlords in Kerry for over three centuries: The Crosbies of Cork, Kerry, Laois and Leinster, 2021.

The Earls of Castlehaven

Finally, the colourful story of the Crosbie in-laws, the Earls of Castlehaven, included fighting in the Battle of Kinsale (the 1st Earl), dramatic trial and execution for sexual depravity (the 2nd Earl), military leadership of the Catholic Confederacy and resistance to Cromwell (the 3rd Earl): The Earls of Castlehaven Lord Audleys of Cork and Kildare, 2018.


From Laois to Kerry

For more than a millennium before it was renamed Queens County in 1556, Laois was under the control of its historic Seven Septs: O’Moores; O’Kellys; O’Lalors; O’Dowlings; O’Dolans; O’Deevys and McEvoys.

Despite strong resistance to plantation the Septs leadership were ultimately obliged to accept defeat. This was formally acknowledged in 1607 when all seven septs’ leaders signed an agreement that they, along with a large cohort of their followers, would accept immediate transplantation to Kerry.

Background and descendants

As well as discussing the background to the transplantation agreement, the continuing strong presence of descendants of the original Laois septs in Kerry from the early 1600s through the centuries to the present time is explored in From Laois to Kerry.

While the seven sept leaders got to share the parish of Tarbert in North-East Kerry under Patrick Crosbie as their landlord, the remaining sept followers were distributed among the ‘hurling’ parishes of North-West Kerry, which had also come into Crosbie’s possession.

Indeed, the strong ongoing presence of hurling as the primary sport in that region of Kerry to the present time has been attributed to the distant arrival of the Laois septs.

These lands had been lost by the local Kerry clans in the aftermath of the Elizabethan-Desmond conflict and the following Nine Years War.


In tracing the Laois sept surnames in those parishes through the centuries, it was interesting to find that, over 400 years later, all seven of the original surnames continue to have a significant presence in the original resettlement parishes, as well as in the immediately surrounding areas.

These mostly forgotten historic links between the counties Laois and Kerry were revived with the enacting of a colourful pageant initially on the Rock of Dunamase, the historic seat of the O’Moores of Laois, in 2018 and then in Tarbert, Co Kerry to where the original septs leadership had been transplanted in 2019. 

The Crosbies of Cork, Kerry, Laois and Leinster

For most of their three centuries as prominent Irish landlords, the Crosbies were considered to be of English origin. However, it is now universally accepted that they were imposters, being instead of native Irish roots.

The Crosbies story begins with the MacCrossans who were the historic bards to the two leading clans of the Irish midlands, the O’Moores of Laois and the O’Connors of Offaly. In the 16th century two MacCrossan children were fostered in Laois by new English planters including the Cosbies of Stradbally Hall (now of Electric Picnic fame) and changed their names to Crosbie.

Achieved prominence

While claiming they were from Lancashire and expressing allegiance to the British crown, both achieved prominence with the elder brother, Patrick, becoming a leading landlord in both Laois and Kerry, while younger brother John became the second Protestant Bishop of Ardfert and Aghadoe (Kerry) from 1601 to 1621.

Interestingly, perhaps betraying their true origins, both brothers married members of the leading Laois Septs, Patrick’s wife being Catherine O’Moore and John’s wife being Una O’Lalor.

Of the next generation, Sir Pierce Crosbie, heir to Patrick, became a trusted member of the royal court during the reigns of James I and Charles I. While attaining membership of the Irish Parliament and Privy Council, his colourful career ended with death in jail through his active involvement in the Catholic Confederacy uprising. 

His first cousin David Crosbie, Protestant son of Bishop Crosbie, unlike most of his twelve siblings who were reared as Catholics, opposed his first cousin Pierce and the confederacy. As a consequence, he was personally rewarded by Cromwell, being appointed Governor of Kerry following Cromwell’s departure from Ireland. 

Leading family

As a leading family in the county, the Crosbies represented Kerry almost continually in the Irish Parliament throughout the 1700s and later in both houses at Westminster following the Act of Union.

Having been elevated to the rank of earldom in 1776, the Crosbies as Earls of Glandore lived in great style for a time both in Kerry and in their fine Dublin townhouse, now Loreto Hall, on St. Stephens Green.

That era led to the long Kerry stewardship of William Talbot-Crosbie from 1838 to 1899. While he was an innovative agriculturalist, his many evictions, which earned him the sobriquet ‘Billy the Leveller’, remain controversial in Kerry to the present time.

Remarkably, his successor Lindsey Talbot-Crosbie strongly supported land reform and Home Rule. His son in turn Maurice Talbot-Crosbie was a military leader in the Irish Volunteers in the south and later became a candidate for the Irish Parliamentary Party in Cork City in the 1918 general election.

Despite this family involvement, their two great mansions in Kerry, Ballyheigue Castle and Ardfert Abbey, were burned down during the War of Independence and Civil War.

Finally, the Crosbies of the Examiner newspaper dynasty of Cork also trace their roots to Thomas Crosbie who arrived as a young journalist from the Crosbie homeland of North Kerry in 1842. 

The Earls of Castlehaven

The Earls of Castlehaven were another prominent landlord family who played a leading role in Irish history for close to three centuries, extending from the Battle of Kinsale to the Great Famine.

They were connected by marriage to the Crosbies as Sir Pierce Crosbie was married to the widow of the 1st Earl of Castlehaven. The 11th Baron Audley, later the 1st Earl, was an English commander in the Battle of Kinsale in which he was wounded.

He later became one of Ireland’s largest plantation landowners, possessing 200,000 acres throughout Ireland, extending from West Cork through the midlands to counties Cavan, Armagh and Tyrone.

Colourful lives

The Castlehavens led colourful lives, none more so than the 2nd Earl. He married royalty as his wife Anne, eldest daughter of Lord Derby and Alice Spencer of Althorp of more recent Lady Diana fame, was at one stage heir presumptive to the throne of Queen Elizabeth I.

However, the 2nd Earl was accused by both Anne and his son, later the 3rd Earl, of extreme sexual depravity. Following a sensational trial, he was found guilty and executed in London in 1631.

Remarkably the 3rd Earl became a leading commander in the Catholic Confederacy uprising and was left to lead the resistance in Ireland to Cromwell. In the 19th century three successive Baron Audleys were involved in copper mining on their estate in the Mizen peninsula near Ballydehob in West Cork, a venture which was riddled with fraud and corruption.

Their estate later became a focal point in the tragedy of the Great Famine in the region. It was eventually sold as an encumbered estate in the post-famine years.