Sitting at the head of the Kenmare River – actually a long, narrow sea inlet – KENMARE is an excellent base for exploring not only the Ring of Kerry, but also the Beara Peninsula, part of which, including the contrasting scenic beauties of Gleninchaquin valley and Derreen Gardens, lies in County Kerry. The cosmopolitan town is neat and attractive in itself, with a fine array of restaurants and accommodation and a lively, sociable nightlife.
Kenmare was established after the 1652 Act of Settlement, which followed Cromwell’s brutal campaign in Ireland and forced Irish landowners to give up their estates to English settlers. Sir William Petty, who mapped and allocated these forfeited lands, managed to get hold of a quarter of Kerry for himself, and in 1670 established Nedeen (or An Neidín, “the little nest”) here, a colony of English and Welsh Protestants to work in his lead mines, pilchard fisheries and ironworks. His descendant, the first Marquis of Lansdowne, rebuilt the town on its current X-shape in 1775, with the pretty, tree-shaded Fair Green (which still belongs to the Lansdownes) at its fulcrum, and rechristened it Kenmare – mistranslating Neidín as “nest of thieves”, he adapted an earlier Irish name, Ceann Mara (head of the sea inlet), with which he was also able to honour his good friend, Lord Kenmare. The town’s colourful history is carefully detailed in the heritage centre at the back of the tourist office.