Tigh Mór Dhoire Fhíonáin aka Derrynane House is sheltered within the woodlands of Derrynane (the Oakwood of St Fionán) at the tip of the Iveragh Peninsula in Co. Kerry. For several generations, it had been an O’Connell ancestral home. Most notably, it was the childhood home, and country residence of Daniel O’Connell, lawyer, politician and statesman, and one of the great figures in modern Irish history.
The O’Connells, an ancient family in south-west Kerry, were hereditary constables of Ballycarbery Castle, three kilometres west of Cahirciveen. In the 1650s, the castle was abandoned and following its destruction, Daniel McGeoffrey O’Connell settled near Waterville.
Circa 1720, Captain John O’Connell (son of Daniel McGeoffrey) was the first to build a two-storey house at Derrynane in the civil parish of Kilcrohane.
John O’Connell’s son, Donal Mór, built up a thriving sea trade between Kerry and France. Some of this amounted to little more than smuggling. Donal Mór either extended the original house or replaced it with a three storey Georgian farmhouse, the first slated house in that part of Kerry.
Donal Mór and his wife, Maire, raised a large family at Derrynane. Their children included Muiris na gCaipin (‘Hunting-Cap’), Morgan (father of Daniel O’Connell), and Count Daniel O’Connell, who became a General in the French army. Muiris ‘Hunting-Cap’ inherited Derrynane in 1770 and continued Donal Mór’s trading business.
Daniel O’Connell, born 6th August 1775, was the eldest son of ten children of Morgan and Catherine O’Connell of Carhan House, Cahirciveen. Daniel and his younger brother, Maurice, were adopted by their uncle, ‘Hunting-Cap’, and Derrynane became Daniel’s home from his earliest boyhood.
Daniel O'Connell inherited Derrynane on his uncle’s death in 1825, adding the south wing and the crenellated library wing. Later, in gratitude for his release from prison in 1844, he added the chapel, modelled on the ruined monastery chapel on Abbey Island.
Derrynane was one of the great influences on Daniel O’Connell’s life as he himself was always ready to admit. He and his family spent most summers at Derrynane throughout his career. It was here that he was host to many guests in the surroundings that he loved and here he indulged his passion for beagling.
After O’Connell’s death, the house remained the O’Connell family home until, in 1948, the Derrynane Trust was founded, to preserve the house as a museum and memorial to Daniel O’Connell.
20th CENTURY MUSEUM
In 1964, the house was transferred to the Commissioners of Public Works. Restoration work, completed in 1967, concentrated on those parts of the house built during Daniel O’Connell’s ownership. Much of the remainder was structurally unsound and was demolished.
Many relics of O’Connell’s life and career are preserved in Derrynane House. The original furniture and memorabilia of O’Connell were presented to the State by the O’Connell family and the Derrynane Trust. Other items have been donated by private individuals and organisations. These include a bronze bust, donated by the Directors of the Royal Bank of Scotland who has also loaned O’Connell’s sword, a piano which O’Connell had given to the Presentation Nuns in Cahirciveen, and O’Connell’s death bed which had been in the possession of the Irish College in Rome since 1926.
In August 1967 the House was officially opened to the public as a museum commemorating Daniel O’Connell by President Eamon De Valera. Many books have been written about O’Connell but one can perhaps gain a greater insight into his character by visiting his home at Derrynane and experiencing the surroundings familiar to him during his life. It certainly is a must-see for anyone planning a tour of the Ring of Kerry.
In August 1975, to mark the 200th anniversary of O’Connell’s birth, the surrounding Park was officially declared open by President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh. Today some 120 hectares (300 acres) of the lands of Derrynane, together with Derrynane House, make up Derrynane National Historic Park, under the management of National Historic Properties of the Office of Public Works.