The wandering pedlar arrives in Castlegregory

Away back in the year 1800 or thereabout when England was at war with France there was a Coastguard shot on a wild remote part of Kerry on the Northern shore of dingle Bay called Minard. This place is situated 3 miles west of Annascaul. The Coastguards were housed in Minard castle which still stands at this spot overlooking dingle Bay. At a later date a new station was built and continued in occupation by the Coastguards down to the years 1908 or 1909.

At the time my story commenced the French and Spanish smugglers haunted the coasts of Ireland. They were to be found in every creek and crevice in the western sea-board of Kerry, I might say safely, actually lived in Dingle. At the corner of Green Street and Main Street, stood an old house which was known as “the Spanish House”. Outside Dingle Bay in the Ventry cliffs is a large cavern known as “An Nanny Brown’s Parlour”. In this place many a cargo of contraband was landed. Well now, although it was the Coastguards duty to watch and prevent this smuggling on the Irish coast. Their pay was coming from the English Government so irregular that they closed their eyes on the smugglers, and very often made a bit of money by taking a hand in their work. This was the case of the Coastguards of Minard. The Government received information regarding the smuggling activities of the Minard Coastguards. Special measures were taken, in order that a proper enquiry could be made. The Coastguards heard that they had been reported, and were being spied on. They thought it better to get out of the station before they would be caught. One night the entire lot of Coastguards , six in number, left the station. They removed all their equipment and out-fits and went on board of a smuggling ship. They were not seen anymore and left the station deserted.

A few years afterwards, a fast sailing “Smuggler” ran into Tralee Bay in the dusk of the evening. She cast anchor underneath Kilgobbin near the little village of Camp in Co.Kerry. She was a French boat and was loaded with smuggled goods. A party of ‘Longshore boys’ were waiting to receive her. With their boats they took off the cargo, and hid it away in their eaves in Gleann na Galt and Glendine, near Camp.

While the foreshore boys were taking off the cargo from the French ship they informed the Captain that a spy was watching them at Fenit. He remained some time on watch and eventually got the spy and shot him. But not before the spy had succeeded in sending a message to a Revenue cutter that was lying at anchor at Tarbot on the Shannon.. After shooting the spy the Captain returned to his ship under Kulgobbin, got up a sail and put out to sea. He meant to get out between Brandon Head and Kerry head, just as he was off the Maharee Sound, and steer for the open sea. The captain of the cutter foresaw the move. The gunboat too fast for him and she got between him and the sound. The gunboat opened fire on the smuggler with her guns. The smuggler returned, a fierce battle was fought in a small bay in the Maharee Island. This bay is known as Cuas an Ore or the Cove of the gold.

After putting up a fierce fight the smuggler was badly damaged by gunfire of the Revenue ship, and one of her guns was put out of action. Yet she fought on till fire broke out, and she received two shots at water level, afer this she was sinking fast. The crew of the smuggler took to the boats as she was going down, and got safe to the Maharee Islands. In leaving the ship the crew dismantled the heavy deck gun, known as the “Bow-chaser”. They brought this ashore and also some powder and balls. The gun they set up on one of the sand hills, intending to open fire on the gunboat. The idea of forming a shore battery did not prove successful, for the deck guns of the gun-boat was too hot for them, and the gun had to be abandoned, and it remains in the same place, to this day, but it is covered by sand storms. The old people in Maharees used say that about six foot of its muzzle was exposed for years.

Years after the sunken ship of the Smugglers could be seen at the bottom of the little bay, by the fishermen passing in their canoes. It is hidden deep in the sands today with all its hidden treasure.

(Extract) A short time after the sinking of the smugglers ship, a strange personage appeared wandering around the village of Castlegregory. This man had a small wooden box slung over his shoulder by a leather strap. The people came to the conclusion that he was a wandering pedlar. He had a few drinks in a public house in Castlegregory and then went off in the Brandon direction – The pedlar called into a house occupied by O’Donnells and got a meal from them, then proceeding on to cross the mountains. On the side of a lake he came to a house lived in by two brothers named O’Sullivans. These men were notorious thieves and poachers, and it is said they used to rob people. He agreed to stay the night – while having a smoke with them at the side of the lake they noticed that he was so careful of his box. The idea occurred to them that he might have valuables. Later they murdered the pedlar and then dumped him in the lake. Next day they were seen drunk in the village with the box in their possession. They were arrested by the police. The police opened the box which was empty except for half a golden ring. The robbers tore a hole in the thatched roof of the barracks and disappeared.

After 8 or 9 days the body was found. The news of the foul deed was widespread. A certain Mary Farrell living in Annascaul hearing the story of the murdered pedlar and the ring, with two friends took a horse and cart and came all the way to Castlegregory. She was given permission to look at the body and was also shown the ring. She produced the other half of the ring and recognised the murdered pedlar as one of the Coastguards who had deserted Minard station years before and went off on board a Smuggler and was making his way back to her in Annascaul again. She waited to see her sailor boy buried and laid to rest for ever. She returned home and after a short time she commenced to pine of a slow illness and died of a broken heart.

There is another story told about the Smuggling ship that when the ship sank the smugglers ran inland. Tradition also says that some of the crew remained hidden around the district of Castlegregory and settled down and lived there. The rest disappeared.

Reference; National Folklore Collection MS 782. p.175-187.Co.Kerry.

Written by a P.O.Sulivan  from a storyteller who lived near Castlegregory.