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Thomas Fourth Viscount Kenmare

Founder of Killarney Town - A Brief History:
The following is a brief outline of the life of Thomas, 4th Viscount Kenmare. The main source used in The Kenmare Manuscripts, ed. by Edward MacLysaght, 1942, reprinted 1970, Irish University Press for the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

Valentine Browne, 3rd Viscount Kenmare, (b. 10th March 1694/5) married Honora Butler, daughter of Thomas Butler of Kilcash Co. Tipperary in November 1720. Honora's brother was John, 15th Earl of Ormond.

Thomas Browne, 4th Viscount Kenmare, was born in April 1725. He had a brother, Valentine, and two sisters, Helen and Katherine. Little is known of these except that Valentine died as a child. Both of Thomas' parents also died young. His Mother died when Thomas was four years of age. His Father remarried in 1735 but died a year later when Thomas was ten years of age. Thomas was then attending Westminister School (MacLysaght, 423).

Thomas' great-aunt, the catholic Madame Da Cunha, (wife of the Portuguese Ambassador) played an important unofficial role as Thomas' guardian. However, as the penal laws were then in operation she could not do so legally
(MacLysaght, p. xii).

Madame Da Cunha sent the young Thomas for four years to the English seminary at Douay. This seminary was 'highly celebrated for regularity of discipline, purity of morals and proficiency in science'(MacLysaght, p.446). Thomas then spent some time at the University of Oxford (MacLysaght, p. 447) and the Academy of Turin (MacLysaght p.448). He returned to England and took a house in Wiltshire where he was very popular locally (Maclysaght, p.448-449).

A Portrait of Thomas painted when he was 16 or 17 years of age depicts a youth with a pleasant expression. He had grey-blue eyes set wide apart and high cheekbones. Thomas came of age in 1747. In 1750 he married Anne Cooke, daughter of Thomas Cooke of Painstown, Co. Carlow. They had two children, a son Valentine (b.1754) and a daughter Katherine.

During these years Tomas appears to have spent about 12 years actually living in Killarney (MacLysaght, p.450). He compiled a private notebook recording his observations on his tenants on his estates in Kerry, Cork and Limerick. Thomas' observations on the Kerry estate were largely written between 1755 and 1757 (MacLysaght, p.179). He also expressed his opinions on the gentry of Kerry, disabilities against Catholics, and estate management (MacLysaght, p.xxi). Thomas appears to have been a considerate and enlightened landlord and he carefully managed his estate. The value of the estate increased from £3,000 to nearly £12,000 per annum within 50 years of his coming of age. However, this was partly as a result of a general rise in rents during the 18th century (Maclysaght, p.141).

For some years following her marriage to Thomas, Anne Cooke kept detailed household accounts. Some of these accounts for the period 13th Dec. 1753 to 20th July 1754, while the family were resident in Dublin, are attached here. It is interesting to note from these that Nanny, the child's maid, was paid £2.10 for half a years wage. The accounts are less detailed following the family's return to Killarney on the 26th July 1754 (MacLysaght, p.280-281).

From 1747 Thomas appears to have been actively and energetically improving his Kerry estate. He remarked that in that year he found much of his estate 'a large barren waste with monstrous large farms, few or no substantial tenants and a general spirit of dirty poverty and indolence among all ranks'. He began looking around for an industry that would help improve these conditions and he decided upon the Linen Industry (MacLysaght, p.214).

In order to foster the production of linen Thomas was informed that he needed to bring weavers from the North. However, a local man persuaded Thomas that his son was well acquainted with this industry. He stated that his son would settle 20 Northern families at Inchicullane near Killarney, that he would 'build slated houses for them, procure looms, keep a bleach yard and manufacture one thousand yard of linen yearly'. Thomas admits that in his own ignorance he thought that this was a 'great quantity' of linen. The man in question failed to adhere to their agreement. Thomas remarked that 'instead of answering my intention of promoting industry and the employment and welfare of the poor I see myself cheated on't above one hundred per annum by a rogue to the sole use of providing for one of his sons'. (MacLysaght, p214-215).

In 1748 the gentlemen of Kerry had 'formed themselves into a company for the encouragement of the linen manufacture' and had opened a subscription list. Thomas subscribed ten guineas. This was double the amount subscribed by the next highest subscribers, one of whom appears to have been Edward Herbert of Muckross (MacLysaght, p.424). Thomas was not discouraged in his promotion of the linen industry by his earlier unhappy experiences. He remarked that, 'the linen manufacture is still a sensible object and every method and opportunity of attempting it should be attended to' (MacLysaght, kp.215). He subsequently, in the early 1760s, provided premiums to his tenants to help encourage them to produce linen yarn (MacLysaght p.428 and 429).

In 1748 Thomas described a large part of the eastern portion of his Kerry estate thus: 'I found most part of this estate a great dreary waste without a passable road in it, limestone in the mountains but no way of coming at it and the whole in a state of nature without any attempt of improvement'. Thomas fully recognised the important role that lime played in land improvement. But in order to access the limestone necessary for lime production a system of roads had first to exist (MacLysaght, p.201).

Thomas' first step was to encourage the gentlemen of the country to apply for a turnpike road to Cork. He then offered '"praemiums" in imitation of those of the Dublin Society for ditching, draining, planting'. At his own expense and with some assistance from his tenants he built 'a road twelve or fourteen feet in the clear and well gravelled leading from the quarry of Lissivigeen to the quarry of Maserawr'. This road measured at least twelve miles in length and between it and the turnpike road 'none of the mountain farms will be above three miles remote from one or other quarry' (MacLysaght, p.201). Thomas also tried to encourage 'strangers of substance' to settle in the Sliabh Luachra area.

The town of Killarney was poorly developed during the 1740s. Thomas describes it and his methods for improving it thus: 'At my first coming of age there were not six slate housed in the village, but mostly mud cabins, low and ill-thatched. As well for neatness as that my own house was situated in it, and would have otherwise run a constant risk in respect of fire, I studied to get them slated and better built and to that purpose offered such of the owners as were capable of taking them leases of lives renewable for ever at five shillings each ground rent and the rest the same terms for 31 years with my promise them for them as often as they would require, provided they would raise and slate their houses. My reason for taking such trivial rent was because I should never lay much stress on rents arising out of an Irish village, whereas by giving them such a property and benefit in them it encouraged them to build and their expending their substance was a sure means to keep so many families on my estate, besides, they would require the neighbouring grounds for dairy, etc., which, of course, would ensure and raise their value' (MacLysaght, p.229).

With the same purpose in mind, Thomas removed all tolls, for six years, from his Killarney markets when their leases expired. He did this despite the fact that he 'could have got 50 pounds per annum for them'. He continued: 'Though I was in hopes thereby to have rendered this the cheapest and best market in the county I have been disappointed for Tralee though loaded with tolls its vastly better. Though I succeeded in having the village (Killarney) so much better built their circumstances are no ways equally improved with their houses and I am almost inclined to think they overstrained themselves in such buildings as though I have now lived among them near ten years and expended in said term upwards of 30,000 pounds sterling there are fewer of them in tolerable circumstances now them when I first arrived' (MacLysaght, p.229-230).

However, Thomas also identified other reasons for the lack of progress among his Killarney tenants. He continued:
'This is a great measure owing to the pride, drunkenness and sloth of the middling sort among the Irish. Every one of them thinks himself too great for any industry except taking farms. When they happen to get them they screw enormous rents from some beggarly dairyman and spend their whole time in the ale house in the ale house in the next village. If they have sons they are all to be priests, physicians or French officers; if daughters they are bred up to no kind of industry but become encumbrances on their parents and the public and this sloth and beggary are transmitted from generation to generation' (MacLysaght, p.230).

The market at Killarney did not improve, so in 1765 Thomas reset the tolls at £65.00 per annum (MacLysaght, p.230).

Thomas appears to have left Killarney with his family in 1761 (MacLysaght, p.225). During the following years he lived in London and afterwards in Paris, Lille, Spa and in other parts of the continent (MacLysaght, p.450). The Preacher who delivered a sermon at the time of Thomas' death in 1795 gave three reasons for this departure. The first suggests that some aspect of the penal laws may have been instigated against the family. The second suggests it was 'delicacy of his good lady's health that required change of air and proximity of physicians'. The third reason advanced is ' the necessity of providing proper education for their precious offspring' (MacLysaght, p.450). It is the last of these three reasons that Thomas himself mentions as the reason for his departure (MacLysaght, p.226).

During the 1760s Thomas returned to Ireland from the continent periodically (MacLysaght, p265). He himself states that he returned to Ireland in 1765 (MacLysaght, p.226) and in 1767 (MacLysaght, p.187). He was careful to scrutinise his estate accounts and to sign off on them on his return visits (MacLysaght, p.437).

The Catholic Association was founded in 1756 and was the first body established to give formal representation to Catholic interests in the 18th Century. It was succeeded by the Catholic Committee in 1760, which however, prior to the 1790s was only sporadically active. Thomas was a member of the Catholic Committee. But when a more militant group seized control of the Committee in 1791, Thomas led the more conservative faction, which seceded from it (Cpnnolly, S.J., The Oxford Companion to Irish History, 1998, p.74). Referring to the Tomas' role in the Catholic Committee, MacLysaght remarks that although he was a prominent figure in his day, Thomas was ill-suited for public life. He disliked strong measures and was reluctant to take any step that would seriously embarrass the Government (MacLysaght, p.xi).

Thomas died 9th September 1795 at Killarney. He was 69 years of age (The complete Peerage, Vol. VII, 1929, Muckross Library No. 50.106).