The County of Kerry suffered a drop on population of 19% between the Census of  1841 and the Census of 1851 as a result of An Gorta Mór –  from starvation, disease or emigration.  While this was the overall drop, it varied from from 52% drop in Killahan (or Dunquin 48%) to Kilflynn 9% (or Killarney 8%). Do you know what your Civil Parish suffered? See full list here.

Since last month (Jan 2023) we have fresh evidence from five Kerry Catholic parishes of the death rate and other first-hand accounts    These were published in The Death Census of Black 47: Eyewitness Accounts of Ireland’s Great Famine (Open Access).  I will summarise the five reports from Kerry over the next couple of weeks, with Ardfert to-day but  I would strongly recommend reading the accounts of the Kerry parishes in full through this Open Access or your local library. 

This particular survey into the progress of the famine throughout the country was conducted during the late spring of 1847 ‘as hunger and disease became commonplace across Ireland’.  Intended as a national survey, it was organised by Daniel O’Connell’s association for Repeal of the Union.  Local Catholic clergy compiled their own parish reports.  The take -up was poor with only 100 Reports returned.   Only five reports have survived from County Kerry:  Ardfert/Kilmoyley,  Ballylongford/Tarbert, Ballybunion, Castlemaine and Moyvane.

Ardfert & Kilmoyley, Kerry Diocese

While there is confusion about the accuracy of the 1821 and 1831 Census returns for both Ardfert and Kilmoyley

‘If we accept the 1831 and 1841 census figures at face value, then we would estimate a Catholic population of about  10,000 in mid-1845, falling back by almost 2,000 two years later.  In a population of this size, we would expect to witness between 114 and 171 deaths during a normal six-month period. [Fr] O’Sullivan’s estimate for deaths during the period October 1845- March 1846 is slightly above the upper limit. According to his figures the mortality rate in the six-month Famine period was more than four times the ‘normal’ rate.  What is certain is that the union was overwhelmingly Catholic, the Public Instruction Commissioners could only identify 120 Protestants (1.7 per cent) in the 1831 Census list.  In 1841, 54 per cent of the housing was classified as fourth class and the female illiteracy rate was 79 per cent.’

The return for Ardfert and Kilmoyley was compiled by Revd. Jeremiah O’Sullivan, parish priest of the parish ‘since at least 1822’.  Fr. O’Sullivan was a strong supporter for the rights of Catholics and ‘was alive to the dangers of creeping Protastantism’.  There is an unflattering picture of Fr. Sullivan, who harboured an intense dislike for both Thomas D’Stack, then head teacher of the Ardfert School, and for the parents of the children attending that school.  Fr O’Sullivan had no problem denouncing both Mr. Stack and the parents as ‘heretics’!  As this argument is outside the report on the death rate, I must leave the reading of it to the actual book.  Fr. O’Sullivan was a strong supporter of the Repeal movement which held a meeting in Ardfert in June 1843 attended by ‘twenty thousand’.