Historic Kanturk – An Introduction

This section on Kanturk’s Historic and Heritage sites was compiled by Mr. Patrick O’Sullivan.

Kanturk is located in north-west County Cork, in the barony of Duhallow. It is situated at the confluence of the rivers Allow and Dalua which together flow into the upper reaches of the Munster Blackwater. It lies on the road from Mallow to Listowel (R576).

The present town obviously originated in the townland of the same name, which lies immediately to the west of both rivers, but has since expanded into the neighbouring townlands of Coolacoosane, Curragh and Greenane. Unusual for small Irish towns, Kanturk’s street system radiates from the centre.

First mentioned under 1510 A. D. in the Annals of the Four Masters (Annála Rioghachta Éireann), the name is derived from the Gaelic. This reference in the Annals relates to the assault of Gerald, the Earl of Kildare and Lord Justice of Ireland, on Duhallow and the taking of ‘caisléan cinntuirc’ (castle of Ceann Tuirc).

This placename literally means ‘the boar’s head’ and numerous theories have been propounded to explain its derivation, encompassing the religious, the topographical and the mythological. However, such discussion remains purely conjectural.

The owners of Kanturk from early modern times was a sept of the McCarthy clan, known locally as the MacDonogh. One of the latter, in the first half of the seventeenth century, mortgaged his land to Philip Percival, an English Protestant. When the MacDonogh went into rebellion in 1641 he lost the right of redemption and ownership then passed to Percival’s descendants. Their propriety continued until 1892 with but one short intermission, from 1841 to 1863. The Percivals did not build the town of Kanturk but developed the existing site and influenced the town in general.

The most prominent MacCarthy legacy is the shell of a large and semi-fortified house built by the MacDonogh around 1601.

A market town since 1615, Kanturk remains principally a retail and services centre for its largely agricultural hinterland. It has never been involved in heavy industry, though the initial stage of development rode on the back of a domestic-style woollen manufacture and various milling enterprises. With the change in farming culture the latter have now given way to large-scale production of milk and casein.

In line with national trends, Kanturk’s population peaked in 1841 at 4,300 but thereafter went into rapid decline and rarely exceeded 2,000 in decadal census.

Kanturk is the birthplace of such historical figures as the poets Conchubhair Ua Cuilleáin and John C. Deady; Matthew J. Bourke, K.C.; the women’s activist Hanna Sheehy Skeffington; Edel Quinn, the Legion of Mary missionary; An t-Athair Donnchadh Ó Floinn, ollamh le gaeilge; and David Guiney, sporting journalist and Olympian.