The Nature of the Ferriter Family in Ireland 1200 – 1600

Posted by Seoirse on 9/21/2011 in Genaology | Ireland

Five hundred years is a long time, yet across that half-millennium span, the Ferriters in Ireland seem to have played a very consistent role. Certainly there were personalities emerging from time to time, and circumstances that demanded more or less, but in general, the social, economic, and certainly geographical position of the family remained little changed across the entire span of time.

At this point in the essay – right here at the beginning – I need to identify myself as a member of the family, and as a member of a part of the family that preserved a handful of tales and legends regarding the early times in Ireland. Many immigrant lines, and all of the Ferriters remaining resident in Ireland have fostered such oral traditions.

The focus of these traditions seems to be (also with some consistency), that Ferriters were of a knightly or soldiering class, and arrived with the Normans. With extensive land ownership on the western part of the Dingle peninsula, the family held a sort of leadership position in that area. When a time of crisis arose in the middle 1600s, the leader of the family, Pierce Ferriter assumed a leading role on the side of right and justice, which ultimately cost him his life. While alive, Pierce wrote great poetry in the Irish language. After Pierce’s execution, the family withered away, and was stripped of landholdings and other possessions. Somehow a few hardy souls hung on until famine times, when many immigrated. Some Ferriters still speak Irish. And that is pretty much what we all knew.  Oh, and that we all descend directly from the great Pierce – we weren’t sure how, but that we did.

That never seemed to sit too well, or be sufficiently detailed for some of us. How could 500 years of time pass with so little historical record? Just what were these people up to? Was the Great Pierce an anomaly, and did no other Ferriters do anything noteworthy?

Over time, in every recent generation people appeared who chipped away at this conundrum. Some were themselves family members, some were not. Many became frustrated at the apparent paucity and scarcity of information, while other attached themselves to the legendary aspects of the story, and tried to make those tales seem factual. Every one of these men and women made contributions of sorts to the developing panorama.

One lesson to be taken from the frustrations experienced by the efforts to recover the lost history of the Ferriter Family must be this: There are gaps in the story that probably never will be filled in, and shadows that defy illumination. More so than in the flames of the Four Courts fire in 1922, a smoking hole was left in the documented record by the fall and utter destruction of the Desmond Earldom during the late 1500s.

The Ferriter’s were Desmond men, and held land for centuries from the Earl of Desmond. The Liberty of Desmond was a palatinate – a Marcher Earldom imbued by royal charter with remarkable authority to manage activities within its borders. Cartulary Rolls, deeds, patents as issued by the Earl, agreements, indentures, legal records all of these would have been burned and scattered as each of the Desmond strongholds fell during 1579 – 1581.

So, what can we learn from the existing record, and what can be reconstructed from the fragments of the story that surround the fall of Desmond? The first part of the narrative is perhaps the clearest:

Modern researchers are in debt to the trails blazed by their predecessors. Prior to the Four Courts blaze in 1922, there already were people looking into our early history, and making note of those items that were in the official record. There were also efforts underway to document via summary “calendar” the contents of the official records as they existed within the Public Records office in Dublin (the structure that burned), as well as in London.  By comparing the notations made by early researcher to the abstracts included in the calendars, and idea of the level of detail lost can quickly be ascertained. To our benefit, it would seem that calendared references to Ferriters are in fact very reflective of the times, and provide clear insight into the social roles, and economic activities of the Ferriter family during the 13th and 14th centuries.

Another debt is owed those modern researchers, most particularly the Rev. Michael Manning (of Ferriter descent himself) who prepared certain “Notes” to accompany the Ferriter Family Tree compiled by Padraig Feiritear late in the 19th century, and Dr. Paul MacCotter, an Irish historian who uncovered a great deal of factual data in preparing his “The Ferriters of Kerry”, published in the Journal of the Kerry Historical Society, in 2003.

My goal in this little monograph is to sketch the known and likely story of how the Ferriters fit in the society of West Kerry during the long period from 1200 – 1600, a timeframe that bounds the early role fairly well.

The first Ferriter of record in Ireland is Walter le Fureter, who appears in Dublin in 12xx. This is two generations after the initial Norman incursion, but still a time of opportunity for a man of non-Irish descent who would be willing to wield a sword in behalf of a liege lord. The several Ferriters who appear in the area surrounding Dublin during the middle to late 1200s were probably his sons or nephews. These men were men of property, holding lands in Uriel, as well as properties within Dublin City.

For an individual seeking fame and fortune, the marcher land that had been established outside of, but surrounding the Pale offered opportunity. We know that the early grantee of territories on the Dingle Peninsula was a Norman Lord named de Marisco (de Marais, de Mariscus, et alia), and that he recruited fellow Normans, Englishmen, and other mainland Europeans to serve under his authority in return for land grants.

So, we can safely ascertain that a Dublin Walter accepted de Marais as his liege, and marched off to Corkaguiny, taking up residence on his new fief. This Walter may have encouraged a brother or a cousin to come out at join him, and we also can see based upon the historical record that the “chief” was also fulfilling the role of knight of the shire in the feudal system put in place by the Normans.

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Know Your Ancestors

Sister Helen Theresa Ferriter

photo b. October 8, 1870
d. November 17, 1945

Helen Theresa Ferriter was born in 1870 to immigrant parents from the Dingle Peninsula area of Ireland.  She was the tenth child of Nicholas and Mary Ann (Sullivan) Ferriter.  Her oldest brother, Michael James Ferriter, was 17 and working in the coal mines along with his father.  Her youngest sibling was John Joseph Ferriter, age 5.  Four of the nine children born before her had not survived childhood, with one dying as an infant and three dying as toddlers.  Barclay Village no longer exists. At one time, it was a very busy community that sprouted up in 1850 around the coal mines and the rail... Read More