Robert McCarthy (1812-1870): Harbour Master of Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland

Researching Robert McCarthy of Tralee has been  difficult because of the loss of so many Irish records and because County Kerry has so many McCarthy families, though thankfully few McCarthy men were named Robert.  I know he was born about 1812, probably in the Tralee area.  He must have married Elizabeth Neil about 1840, though I have found no record.  This couple had six children that I know of.


Blennerville windmill, Tralee.  By Jerzy Strzelecki (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth was born about 1841, and was described as Robert’s “eldest daughter” in the newspaper announcement of her 1864 marriage to John Chard of the Irish Coast Guard.  They were married in a Church of Ireland ceremony at St. Anna’s in Blennerville, and  the McCarthys seem to have been Protestant.

Like most men of the Coast Guard, John was already an experienced sailor before he joined.  He had served several years in the British Navy, including a long stint on HMS Encounter during the Second Opium War (1856-1860).   I was surprised to find him in the 1861 Census of England and Wales, enumerated as a seaman aboard Encounter anchored at Yokohama, Japan.  His Coast Guard career was cut short by his death at age 36 in 1873.  Elizabeth then married John Watson of the Royal Irish Constabulary.


A second daughter, Anna, was born about 1846.  She was named administratrix of her mother’s estate in 1881, and died unmarried in 1886.

Their third child Joseph was born in 1848 and is the only one for whom I can find a baptism.  This record gives Blennerville as the family’s address and Robert’s job as Lock-Keeper of the Tralee Canal.

McCarthy, Joseph 1848 Baptism (2)

The canal was built to enable larger ships to sail directly to the town of Tralee.  It was completed in 1846, so Robert could not have had the job for more than two years when Joseph was born, and I am not sure what he did before this.  The family lived in the three-room home that was built for the lock-keeper, the ruins of which are standing today.

Tralee Canal Lock Keeper's Lodge 5

Robert and Elizabeth’s fourth child Mary Jane was born about 1850 and was my father’s great-grandmother.  She married Killarney forester and land steward George Maybury at St. Anna’s in Blennerville in 1871.  Like many other natives of County Kerry, this couple emigrated to Quebec, arriving in Montreal in 1874.

Their fifth child Harriet was born about 1854 and also went to Montreal in 1874.  She married a Scotsman named Alexander Mitchell in Ontario, Canada in 1882.  Harriet’s marriage record is the only document I have found that provides Robert’s wife’s maiden name, so I continue to search for more evidence as to her identity.

Their last child, Robert, was born about 1858 and served as Harbour Master after his older brother Joseph, who took the post between their “universally respected” father’s death in 1870 and his own early death in 1880.  Robert II was still serving in the post as of the 1911 census.

McCarthy, Joseph 1870 Harbour Master Tralee Chronicle 15 Nov

Announcement of Joseph McCarthy’s appointment as Harbour Master, from the 15 Nov 1870 Tralee Chronicle, found on

Records of Ireland’s Valuation Office show that Robert I was still living in the lock-keeper’s house in 1849 and 1852.  By 1853 he began to be listed as Harbour Master on complaints heard in the Petty Sessions Court, searchable at Findmypast.  Mainly he reported “riotous and disorderly” people who disturbed the peace in the harbor area, but sometimes he issued complaints against people who created unsafe conditions in the harbor with bad seamanship or disobedience to his orders.

I hope to uncover more about Robert’s earlier life and to determine something about his parents.  My Dad’s autosomal DNA does match people with McCarthy and Neil ancestors from Tralee.

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