Much of Ballyheigue's history centers around the great castle overlooking the village. Built by Colonel James Crosbie in 1810, it has been burned on two occasions, first in 1840 and again in 1921. It is now the centrepiece of the surrounding golfcourse.
The Cantillons came to Ireland with
William the Conqueror. Their ancestry can be traced through the Norman's back to
the Danes. But like all the settlers of this time, they intermarried and settled
into the Irish way of life. They built the first castle in Ballyheigue (not in
the same place as the present one) and Thadhg Cantillon gave Ballyheigue (Baile
Uí Thaidhg) it's name. In the sixteenth century their lands were confiscated by
Elizabeth I and 'planted' by the Crosbies.
Folklore surrounds the Cantillons and it is said that when a member of the family dies the body is left on flat rocks known as Muchan na Marbh at evening time. At dusk 'a spiritual being' carries the body to its resting place in Teampall-fo-thoinn.
In the 1860's, an impressive new
Coastguard Station was built in Ballyheigue with a slip way opposite. Its aim
was to stamp out smuggling. It stood proudly beside the sea for almost sixty
years, until the War of Independence from 1919-1921. In May 1920, one of the
biggest operations in North Kerry took place when the great building was burned
to the ground.
Thankfully, no lives were lost in the blaze, but the sequence of events were bizarre to say the least. During the attack, the leader, Michael Pierce, briefly suspended operations to allow one woman into the building to retrieve a valuable ring.
The arsonists did not burn the building to the ground. They let this job to the Coastguards, who were at sea at the time! Pierce instructed his men to fill the water tanks with petrol and oil. When the unfortunate victims turned on the hoses, well you can guess what happened!
The statue of Roger Casement in Ballyheigue commemorates an important incident of the 1916 rebellion, when his crew and he failed in their attempt to aid the transfer of arms and ammunition from Germany. Through a bizarre series of "rendezvous gone wrong" Casement ended up on Banna Strand, after his rescue dinghy had capsized. He spent the night in a fort near the beach, and waited for help to arrive. But the Volunteers who were to aid him went to Ballyheigue instead of Banna. He was eventually found, but by the English! Casement was taken back to London and charged with treason. He was hanged in Pentonville prison on 3 August, 1916.
"When I landed in Ireland that morning... Swamped and swimming ashore on an unknown strand, I was happy for the first time in over a year. Although I knew that this fate waited on me, I was, for one brief spell, happy and smiling once more. I cannot tell you what I felt. The sandhills were full of skylarks rising in the dawn, the first I had heard for years --- the first sound I heard as I waded through the breakers, and they were rising all the time up to the old rath at Currahane... and all around were primroses and wild violets and the singing of the skylarks in the air, and I was back in Ireland again.
His remains lie, since 1965, in Glasnevin cemetery. The statue of Roger Casement which stands in Ballyheigue was unveiled in 1984 by Dick Spring, Tanaiste.