Ferriter Family Synoptic History

What follows is a very brief, sketchy, and partially anecdotal history of the Ferriter Family, of County Kerry, the United States, (and a few other places).  This may not be exactly factually correct, but the general shape of it is. The sources for this synopsis are Family Oral Histories, an article by Paul MacCotter, as appeared in the Kerry Archaeology Journal, a manuscript document put together by Fr. Michael  Manning, along with a variety of minor references and tales.

Prior to the 12th Century, the Ferriters, at that time “le Furetur” probably resided on the Breton Peninsula of France. These men were at least partly employed under Norman leadership, as soldiers. In all likelihood, at inception “le Furetur” was a nickname, originally applied to describe someone who made a practice of hunting with ferrets.

When Richard le Clare, (Strongbow, Earl of Pembroke) was invited into Ireland in 1171 to assist in resolving certain succession issues in Munster, he brought soldiers, and opened the door for many other land-hungry Normans, looking for fiefdoms. By the mid-1200s, we see Ferriters, first in Dublin, and then in Kerry.

Good reason exists, based upon the timelines involved, to suggest that the first Ferriter to be established in the Dunurlin, Marhin, Ballyferriter, Ballyoughtera area was enfiefed by a DeMarais, perhaps the first Norman Lord of Dingle. These entitlements were later renewed or further supported by the Geraldine Earls of Desmond who were Lords of Kerry and other parts of South Munster.

The earliest Ferriter Chiefs were “knights of the shire”, which was a base unit of the social, legal, and economic control structures that existed under the Feudal order. The knight swore fealty to his liege lord and in return for recognition by the liege as landlord, provided the lord an annual  tithe and military service/men at arms when required, for 40 days per year.

The “Norman Order” reflected feudalism as practiced across continental Europe. This political and economic system differed greatly from the traditional Irish/Celtic socio-economic system, sometimes referred to as the Brehon Order, or Gaelic Order. The Irish had no “knights”, nor serfdom in the feudal sense.  Territories were controlled by the great Septs, or tribes, with chieftains supporting a local king, who did not rule by dive right or by decree, but much more in the role of tribal chief.

During the period of Norman Order, c1200 – 1300, there are documented references to a Walter, followed by successive Phillip Ferriters, who were most probably family heads.

The military seat of the Ferriter Family was Dun Point, site of fortifications dating to the Bronze Age. By the 1400s, a stout tower house, frequently called Castle Sybil, or Ferriter’s Castle had been erected. It is this structure that exists in a fragmentary state, yet today. It is quite possible that the Ferriter residence was at some point removed from the fort, in the form of a messuage, or manor house, however, the tower house was no doubt also a residence, at least periodically.

As the Norman Order gradually became the Hiberno-Norman Order, documentation diminishes. This is due to a breakdown in the Dublin centered legal system, as the Norman Lords became “Gaelicized”. Brehon Law displaced English law in many areas, and in some areas, the traditional Septs continued to assert control.

During this period there exists somewhat apocryphal information suggesting that a Martin Ferriter, and a pair of Nicholas Ferriters may have succeeded one another as Family Chief during the 1400s.

By the 1500s, England began to reassert authority within Ireland, in earnest. Under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, various military incursions and wars were fought for control if area within Ireland. During this period, specific names emerge, “Dennis of Doon”, Maurice Ferriter, Eamon Ferriter, and Pierce Ferriter, in succession.

Piaras Ferriter

Pierce Ferriter, (Piaras Feirtear), was born c1600, into a time of strife. Elizabethan predations yielded to a return to Catholic monarchy, which in turn led to Parliament’s forcing Charles I from his throne, Civil War, and regicide. In likelihood, Pierce was educated by the Dominican Order, possibly at least partly in Spain. Certain legendary stories would also have him in attendance at a Gaelic System Bardic school in Connaught, where the old Irish ways persisted to his times. The notion that Pierce had some formal Irish schooling is evidenced in his polished and refined poetry, written in Irish,  for which he continues to be recognized to this day.

Pierce, (Irish: Piaras) was fully immersed in Gaelic/Irish Culture. This may be seen not just through his poetry, but also by  the legends, (likely true), that he was also a great harpist. The harp in Ireland holds special place amongst all musical instruments, extending back into pre-history. Certain Ferriter Family anecdotes link Pierce to the famous Clan Rickard Harp, now on display in Trinity College, Dublin.

When a confederation of Irish Aristocrats of the Catholic Faith declared on the side of Charles I, in the Civil War, Peirce sided with them. Despite the diminishing fortunes of this confederacy, Peirce held out against the Cromwellian (Protestant) forces for ten years, becoming the last Irish Chieftain to yield.
In 1652, Peirce was tricked into surrendering, under the promise of amnesty. He was hung by the English in Killarney, in 1653.

Pierce Ferriter remains an elusive character in the history of his time. That history is written by the victors speaks loudly to this. The eradication of Gaelic ways, and the violent suppression of indigenous Irish institutions were to a considerable extent consummated during the three generations following Pierce’s death.

Subsequent to the Cromwellian victory, facts again get hazy. Pierce may have had as many as four sons, at least one of whom, Dominick, fought with his father during the Cromwellian War. Other sons, named Eamon and Maurice were perhaps too young to have fought in that war.

After Cromwell

Following the restoration of the monarchy in England, Dominick Ferriter is known to have taken certain actions to have his property restored. Unfortunately, the Catholic King James II, was also forced from the throne, and once again, Irish Catholics supported the King’s cause. Dominick, Eamon, and Maurice served as officers in the Irish Army. Once again, the Irish were defeated.

After the defeat of the Irish in the Jacobean Wars, the English instituted the Penal Laws, which severely restricted anything that Irish Catholics might do, such as speak Irish, teach Irish, carry weapons, own property, and worship as Catholics. To be a priest was an automatic death sentence.

In this terrible time, Dominick and any heirs disappear from clear view. Certain information exists that might suggest name-changes, moves, and individual conversion to Anglicanism may have transpired. The line of Dominick, which would have been the propertied line, or line of inheritance vanishes.

Maurice doesn’t vanish although his life and circumstances are unknown. Anecdotal family history has him fathering one son, who survives the hardships of dispossession and the penal laws, albeit in a much reduced state, in terms of wealth and status. This man’s name was Lucas na Srianta, or Luke of the Bridles.

Anecdotally, this Luke is known via several interpretations of his nickname. Now it must be said that due to the repetitious nature of the Irish naming convention, where the same names are used generation after generation, the use of nicknames was prevalent.

Luke is known as being “of the bridles”, which might suggest  that he was a harness-maker, or horseman. Another interpretation is that “na Srianta” denotes one who is bridled, or restrained. This sense is supported by an English variant of his name: “Silent Luke”. This one makes sense in that during the strictest period of Penal Law enforcement, which corresponds to Luke’s adulthood,  c1700 -1740 or so, it certainly behoved anyone with an Irish rebel family history to keep one’s mouth shut.

The Great Diaspora

Luke had two sons, James, (Seamus Lucas) and John, (Sean Lucas). These two men stand as the patriarchs of the two great “wings” or principal lines of descent of perhaps all Ferriters/Farritors/Feirtears/Ferreters alive today.

Within two generations following these men, the Diaspora of the Irish, and of the Ferriters in particular began. Eventually, roughly half the extended family departed Ireland, mostly for the United States, a few to England, Canada, or Australia. Those immigration sagas become the individual stories of our respective lines.

About the lineages – our family was bestowed a great gift by one of us who lived a century ago, Padraig Feirtear, (Patrick Ferriter). Padraig was a Ballyoughtera man, who had a passion for capturing and preserving folk tales, poems, anecdotes, and oral histories as spoken in Irish. He also made a great effort to capture and document the oral lineages of the various branches of the Family.  This “Family Tree” is preserved as Volume 16 of the 30+ volume set of manuscripts that Padraig bequeathed to Henry Hyde, Gaelic scholar and first President of Ireland, (Irish Free State), that now reside in the Library of University College, Dublin.

The families that remained in the Mother Country grew, with a sense of the past, and with accrual of birth, death, and marriage records. The descent of Ferriter bloodlines within Ireland  from suspension of the Penal Laws may be traced via these. For the immigrants, particularly the early ones, a breakdown in contact with the Irish left behind, lack of awareness between groups that had already arrived of the successive parts of the family emigrating, and frequent moves once having arrived led to a breakdown in understanding in some cases, with respect to this heritage. In most families however, an oral tradition extending to Piaras Feiritear, and to an earlier time of prominence did survive, passed along from generation to generation.

The Line Continues

This little essay ends here, although the history of the Ferriter family proceeds. With the advent of the internet, and access to vast databases of documents, Ferriter Family genealogists have been working on re-establishing the connections.  The strenuous and productive efforts put in by the folks has brought us collectively to that point whereupon many, if not most of us may understand how we are connected to our progenitors, both within Ireland, and at the various points to which we have immigrated.

Another opportunity for the family is to chronicle our respective histories. Anecdotes that have circulated across family groups, histories that have already been compiled by certain branches of the family, and documented experiences of various family members who have “made names for themselves” all strongly suggest a wonderful history exists. Perhaps it is time for these family treasures to be gathered up and collated. Not a task for one person, but a combined effort by the several and various Ferriter family historians.

Finally, as an aspect of this “pulling in of the limbs” of our Family Tree, we will continue to gather as an extended family in order to preserve our known history and discover even more.

Know Your Ancestors

Robert Garret Farritor

photo b. February 2, 1846
d. 1915

Robert Garret Farritor was born in Blossburg, Pennsylvania, February 2, 1846 to his Irish Immigrant Parents, John Ferriter and Honora Fitzgerald Ferriter of Ard Na Cainthne (Smerwick) Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry Ireland. Raised in Pennsylvania Coal Mining Country, he joined his Father and brothers in the coal mines at age 16. After the Civil War, his family relocated to Streator, Illinois, a new coal mining community in central Illinois. Determined to leave this dangerous occupation, he homesteaded in central Custer County Nebraska in 1879, along with his brothers and other immigrant families from County Kerry. Successfully enduring the natural and personal hardships of establishing a... Read More