PLAQUE FRONT INSCRIPTION
“In memory of Townsend Blennerhassett late captain Kerry Militia drowned in Castlemaine Bay 20 June 1867 when gallantly attempting to save the life of a fellow creature.”
PLAQUE BACK INSCRIPTION
“Erected by his brother officers of the Kerry militia in testimony of the affectionate esteem in which he was held by them and to perpetuate the recollection of the heroic action by which he lost his life.”
The Blennerhassetts were a very famous Kerry family in the 18th and 19th centuries, with connections extending to Daniel O’Connell and the Lords Ventry.
Born in 1829, Townsend Blennerhassett was the second youngest son of Dr. Henry and Anne Blennerhassett (nee Bell of Edinburgh) of Ballymacprior house. A great-grandson of Thomas Mullins (1st Lord Ventry), he married Catherine Eagar, another member of an established Protestant family in the county. He was also a member of the Kerry Militia. The Militias had been disbanded after the Napoleonic Wars but were re-instated during the Crimean War.
Dr. Richard Blennerhassett, his elder brother, was the doctor on the Jeannie Johnson which brought famine emigrants to Canada.
On June 20, 1867, while on a leisure cruise at the Inch end of Castlemaine Harbour, John Costelloe – one of the boatmen – fell overboard. Both Costelloe and Blennerhassett were drowned in what might be described as a botched rescue. Townsend Blennerhassett’s daughter was in the boat and witnessed her father’s drowning.
The drowning caused huge shock in Killorglin – happening in broad daylight, so close to shore and so near to being rescued and an accident that started off as something minor which escalated in two men losing their lives. John Costelloe’s family were left destitute after his death. The shock waves of the drowning went on for weeks:
The Costelloe family weren’t forgotten, and the Militia Officers got up a collection for this family.
A newspaper account of the funeral:
“The remains of this lamented gentleman, who so gallantly lost his life in endeavouring to save that of one of his boatmen, were interred yesterday in the family vault at Dromavalla. The feelings of respect and regret for the deceased evidence on the melancholy occasion must have been soothing to his bereaved family and friends. Numbers of the elite of the county attended ad well as his brother officers many of whom had to come from the extreme ends of the county. The staff of the regiment were present in full dress and wearing mourning emblems. The coffin was borne by the sergeants from Ballymacprior to his final resting place, which duty the farming class, the attendance of which was very numerous, were most anxious to share. A large number of clergy of all persuasions were present from far and near. Business in Killorglin was suspended and amongst all classes there was in evident feeling of extreme regret. Several of his brother officers and other friends were moved to tears at the funeral service, which was performed by the Rev Mr Hamilton, Rector of the parish. On Sunday last, after last Mass, the respected parish priest Rev George O’Sullivan paid an eloquent tribute to the lamented deceased”.
There is a family connection with the famous Harman of Aaron Burr fame and Blennerhassett Island in America. In 1794 Harman had created a scandal by marrying his niece, Margaret Agnew, and the two of them fled to the United States to avoid their families’ outrage. In 1798 they bought 169 acres on an island in the Ohio River (two miles downriver from Parkersburg, West Virginia); the island is called Blennerhassett Island to this day. There they built a magnificent mansion, unlike anything else for miles around, and entertained on a lavish scale. One of their guests in 1806 was Aaron Burr, the former Vice-President of the United States. Burr had fallen from political favour and was now turning his attention to grandiose schemes to redeem his reputation. He was plotting an invasion of Mexico, with the idea of setting up an independent government there and he hoped to join the western states to it, forming an empire on the Napoleonic model with New Orleans as its capital. The plot ended in failure and Harman lost Blennerhassett Island to his creditors. He eventually left the United States and died in Guernsey in 1831. The mansion on Blennerhassett Island has been restored and is now open to the public.