Dingle Benners Hotel – A Tale of Time and Transformation
In the year 1852 Griffith’s Valuation revealed a leaseholder named William Petrie at Main St Dingle. His dominion encompassed a house, a shop, assorted offices, and stables, all held in fealty to Lord Ventry. Yet, the winds of change were swift, for within two short years, Petrie’s narrative transformed, casting him in the role of a hotelier. By 1870, Slater’s Directory provided a glimpse into the robust establishment known as William Petrie’s Ventry Arms Hotel. It stood proudly on the same ground, alongside his other venture—a thriving linen and wool drapery. Thus, Dingle, in the early 1850s, burgeoned into a bustling commercial hub.
Meanwhile, William Petrie resided in the tranquil precincts of Cooshmore, westward of Dingle Bay. In the same epoch, the tale of David Watson (1827-1901) began its course. From the distant Aberdeenshire in Scotland, he embarked on a journey that would lead him to Ballymoreigh in 1852. Local lore suggests that he had been summoned to the Kerry region to impart his knowledge of land drainage, a craft honed in the Scottish highlands. The tapestry of his life unfolded as he first settled in Abbeydorney, tilling the fertile soil and eventually espousing Kate Pierse, the daughter of Garret Pierse, the esteemed guardian of Meenogohane House near Ballybunion. Alas, their union was touched by tragedy, for Kate passed away in the same year they ventured to Ballymoreigh in 1864. In time, David found solace in the arms of Jane Petrie, daughter of none other than William Petrie, the esteemed Dingle hotelier. Together, they assumed the mantle of the Ventry Arms Hotel’s stewardship, a duty they faithfully discharged until 1887.
The story unfolds further back in time, in the 1700s, with the arrival of the Benner family of Tralee. These Palatines, refugees from the Rhineland, sought refuge near Rathkeale in West Limerick. Their arrival, all sixteen Palatine families strong, was orchestrated by Colonel John Blennerhassett, a generous landowner in Ballymacelligott, near Tralee. These families, proficient in the noble arts of farming, milling, carpentry, and baking, would prove to be industrious and enterprising. Departing their farm in Ballymacelligott, they sought new horizons in the burgeoning township of Tralee. In the initial stages, they turned their hands to brewing and distilling, establishing enterprises in the nearby locales of Blennerville and Ballymullen.
The prelude to the modern era is marked by the endeavors of Samuel Benner (1763-1832). In the late 1790s, he etched his name into the town’s annals by founding the Blennerhassett Arms Hotel along Castle Street in Tralee, christening it in honor of his esteemed benefactor. With his wife, Anne Cronsberry, a compatriot of the Palatine community, Samuel ran a welcoming establishment at the heart of the town. His sister, Agnes, embarked on her own entrepreneurial journey by marrying Mr. Splents. Together, they operated the renowned Splents Hotel adjacent to the Blennerhassett Arms on Castle Street, catering to the well-traveled clientele of the Bianconi network of horse-drawn coaches. Over time, the Splents Hotel merged into the folds of the Blennerhassett Arms. Another sister of Samuel married Mr. Eager, a prominent figure in the corn-milling industry of Blennerville, circa 1828.
In 1865, a scion of the Benner lineage, Samuel’s son William Gallagher Benner, entered the realm of hotel management. He had taken Agnes Lunham of Cork as his bride, but destiny proved capricious. In the sorrowful year of 1880, William’s life prematurely ended, leaving behind a widow, Agnes Benner. A resilient spirit, she assumed the mantle of three hotels: the Blennerhassett Arms, now rebranded as Benner’s Hotel in Tralee; the Gallagher Hotel in Tarbert, previously known as the Leslie Arms; and the newly acquired Ventry Arms in Dingle, christened henceforth as Benners Hotel, Dingle. Historical records attest that the original acquisition of the Dingle establishment bore William Benner’s name, yet fate intervened with unexpected finality, transferring the spirit license to his widow, Agnes Benner, during the Quarter Sessions held in July of 1887.
As the tides of time surged onward, Agnes Benner chose to remain in Tralee, preserving the legacy of Benner’s Hotel in that township. Simultaneously, her eldest son, Robert Ainslie Benner, and his spouse, Georgina Revington, embarked on a new odyssey—the renaissance of Benners Hotel, Dingle. Their union bore the fruit of two daughters: Olive Ainslie, ushered into the world in 1897, and Georgina Agnes Marjorie, graced with life in 1900. Yet, the wheel of fate turned once more, as April of the subsequent year brought the somber news of Robert Benner’s untimely passing at a mere 34 years of age, leaving his widow, Georgina, to carry the weight of the hotel’s stewardship.
Five years later, in the annals of 1905, Benners Hotel, Dingle, stood poised on the brink of transformation. An advertisement in The Kerryman, dated June 29th, 1905, chronicled its fate:
“Lot 1 – Benner’s Hotel which is let to Mrs. Benner for a term of 99 years from 1887 at the yearly rent of £50. This lot will be sold subject to the very low head Rent of £10.6s.11d. leaving a profit of about £40 yearly.”
However, destiny had other plans, for the property remained unsold, a silent testament to the enduring legacy of Benners Hotel. Marjorie Benner, Georgina’s daughter, would later step into the role of custodian, only for the hotel to be once again advertised for sale in The Kerryman on May 23rd, 1931, bearing the headline “Owner Retiring.” The notice proclaimed that “Benner’s Commercial and Seaside Hotel Dingle” stood fully furnished, yet it remained unsold, a steadfast sentinel to time’s passage.
In November of 1950, the indomitable Georgina Benner, aged 82, breathed her last within the hallowed halls of the hotel. In the wake of her passing, the establishment changed hands, falling into the possession of George McDonnell. His family, descendants of Ventry emigrants to Springfield, Massachusetts, journeyed to Dingle on a fateful visit, subsequently leaving the stewardship of the hotel in the capable hands of Miss Moloney, who approached her duties with unwavering enthusiasm.
The year 1962 ushered in a new chapter as solicitor Peter Callery, along with his wife Elizabeth, transplanted themselves from their Roscommon domicile to Dingle. Peter took up the mantle of Richard Murtie Burke’s legal practice. As they began their sojourn, Benner’s Hotel welcomed them as its guests, leaving an indelible impression. Elizabeth recalled those initial moments, describing an entrance where the stairs greeted visitors, the office concealed beneath their ascent. Time had layered the floor with ancient rugs, atop black and white tiles, while bus seats served as improvised seating. The hotel’s rear unveiled a splendid garden, punctuated by an enduring remnant of an old medieval wall, though regrettably, the garden itself had vanished with the march of years.
One of solicitor Peter Callery’s earliest cases in his burgeoning Dingle practice involved a cohort of luminaries hailing from Boston—businesspeople, lawyers, and estate agents, all members of the Harvard Glee Club Foundation: Larry Bianchi, John Dineen, Geoffrey Richon, and Dawson Heran. Their collective endeavor drew them to Dingle in the late 1960s, where, in short order, the initial quartet of shareholders burgeoned to eighteen. All members of the Glee Club, they would come to stay at Benner’s Hotel, accompanied by their families.
The following years witnessed Peter Callery’s stewardship over staffing and general maintenance. An Englishman, John Eades, assumed the mantle of the hotel’s management for a period. He found both love and community ties in the locality, marrying a local from Ballyhea in West Dingle. Another chapter unfolded in 1969, as the illustrious film director David Leen descended upon Dingle to scout locations for his cinematic masterpiece, “Ryan’s Daughter.” The film’s eighteen-month production would usher in a time of extraordinary change in Dingle, as newfound financial prosperity enveloped the town. Benner’s Hotel emerged as the focal point for revelry and entertainment, hosting stars of the silver screen, including Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, John Mills, and Trevor Howard, all lodged in its welcoming chambers.
The year 1971 brought with it the arrival of Taylor Collins, a retired American Air Force pilot, and a veteran of the Vietnam War. He made his sojourn at Benner’s Hotel while engaged in the negotiations for the purchase of An Blascaod Mór, better known as The Great Blasket Island. In this endeavor, the acting solicitor was none other than Peter Callery.
In the late 1970s, the Bostonian consortium embarked on a substantial overhaul of Benner’s Hotel, Dingle. The facade of yore yielded to a modern visage, with the original structure’s rooms rebuilt, and its footprint extended at the rear. Time flowed on, leading to a pivotal decision—the sale of Benner’s Hotel, Dingle. It found a new custodian in the local Garvey family, flourishing into a thriving 52-bedroom establishment.
In the chronicles of time, Dingle Benners Hotel stands as a sentinel, a testament to the indomitable spirit of its stewards and the ever-evolving tapestry of history.
Griffith’s Valuation: The inaugural comprehensive property assessment conducted in Ireland from 1847 to 1864, under the guidance of Richard Griffith.
Slaters Directory: A monumental two-volume directory, published in 1894, comprising over 3,000 pages of text.
Research Conducted by: Maurice O’Keeffe, Irish Life and Lore (www.irishlifeandlore.com)
Assistance Provided in Research by: Michael Latchford, Gordon Revington, Kay Caball, Elizabeth Callery, and the archive of the late Russell McMorran.