The Browne Family, Earls of Kenmare
View of Ross Castle, Killarney, by William Sadler (1782 - 1839).
A Brief History of the Browne Family
Earls of Kenmare
The Desmond Rebellion led by Gerald Fitzgerald the Earl of Desmond, against the English crown, came to an end in November 1583. The Province of Munster was devastated after four years of war and many people died of famine. The lands of the rebels were confiscated and granted to 'undertakers' loyal to the English crown. Sir Valentine Browne was granted the lands of O'Donoghue Mór of Ross, near Killarney. For almost 400 years the Browne family held these lands. Despite adhering strongly to the Catholic faith, the family's possesions remained unaffected during the period of the 18th Century Penal Laws.
Formerly a stronghold of O’Donoghue Mór, Ross Castle passed into the hands of the Browne family during the late 16th century. It then became their residence. In 1689, while still King of Ireland, King James II conferred the peerage of 1st Viscount Kenmare on Valentine Browne (c. 1694/5 - 1736). However, the latter forfeited Ross Castle, together with all his other property, following the Battle of the Boyne. Ross Castle then became a military barracks. In 1720 Valentine’s grandson, the 3rd Viscount (also called Valentine), recovered his family’s estate. However, it was not until 1815, following its abandonment by the military, that Ross Castle was returned to the Browne family.
In the mid-1720s, one member of the Browne family, Valentine 3rd Viscount Kenmare (c. 1694/5-1735), built a new house at Killarney. His son, Thomas 4th Viscount Kenmare (1721-1795), was largely responsible for the development of the town. Aside from promoting tourism, he encouraged the building of roads and houses and he attempted to establish a linen industry. Thomas' son Valentine (1754-1812) was granted an earldom in 1801 for supporting the Union with Britain and he adopted the title Earl of Kenmare. The secondary title of 'Castlerosse' was reserved for the eldest Kenmare son during the tenure of each earl.
The notorious land agent Samuel (Sam) Hussey replaced the more lenient Thomas Gallwey as land agent to the Kenmare Estate in June 1874. Hussy instigated quite modest rent increases between 1875 and 1878. At the same time however, the Fourth Earl of Kenmare Valentine Augustus (1825-1905) was engaged in building a new red-brick mansion over-looking Killarney's Lough Leane (Lower Lake).
The Land War, which erupted during the late 1870s, saw widespread violence and intimidation spread to the Kenmare Estate. This in turn led to rent arrears almost doubling between 1880 and 1882. The reduction in revenue from rents, coupled with the financial cost of the new mansion, caused the Browne family severe financial difficulties. As a result, by the end of the nineteenth century, the Brownes had started to sell off their once great estate to their tenants.