Tralee is the county town of County Kerry in the south-west of Ireland. The town is on the northern side of the neck of the Dingle Peninsula, and is the largest town in County Kerry. The town's population including suburbs was 23,693 in the 2011 census making it the 7th largest town, and 13th largest urban settlement, in Ireland. Tralee is famous for the Rose of Tralee International Festival which has been held annually in August since 1959.
Situated at the confluence of some small rivers and adjacent to marshy ground at the head of Tralee Bay, Tralee is located at the base of a very ancient roadway that heads south over the Slieve Mish Mountains. On this old track is located a large boulder sometimes called Scotia's Grave, reputedly the burial place of an Egyptian Pharaoh's daughter. The Norman town was founded in the 13th century by Anglo-Normans and was a stronghold of the Earls of Desmond. A medieval castle and Dominican order Friary were located in the town. John Fitz-Thomas FitzGerald, founded the monastery and was buried there in 1260. The medieval town was burnt in 1580 in retribution for the Desmond Rebellions against Elizabeth I.
Tralee was granted to Edward Denny by Elizabeth I in 1587 and recognised by Royal Charter in 1613. Sir Edward was the first of the Dennys to settle in Tralee and from a recent history of Tralee by Gerald O'Carroll that only in 1627 did the Dennys actually occupy the castle of the earls of Desmond. Sir Edward's son was Arthur Denny, in whose lifetime the town's charter was granted by King James, containing the right to elect two members of parliament. The third settler, another Sir Edward, married Ruth Roper, whose father Thomas Roper was the lease holder of the Herbert estate centred on Castleisland. This Sir Edward was a royalist. He fought for the King in the wars of 1641. He died in 1646, before the triumph of Cromwell over affairs in England and Ireland. He granted "the circuit of the Abbey" to the corporation set up under the charter, in return for the fees of the town clerk. His son Arthur married Ellen Barry, granddaughter of Richard Boyle who during his life held many land titles in West Kerry and who also claimed property in Tralee. Sir Edward Denny, 4th Baronet was a notable landlord in his day: especially during the time of the Great Famine when instead of increasing his rents as so many landlords did at that time he maintained rents to suit his tenants. He was a notable Plymouth Brother.
The modern layout of Tralee was created in the 19th century. Denny Street, a wide Georgian street was completed in 1826 on the site of the old castle. A monument commemorating the 1798 rebellion plus the rebellions of 1803, 1848 and 1867 – a statue of a Pikeman - stands in Denny Street. First unveiled in 1905 the original Pikeman stood until the Irish War of Independence where in 1921 the Black and Tans dragged it from its pedestal and destroyed it. It wasn't until June 1939 that the current Pikeman was replaced by renowned Dublin sculptor Albert Power and unveiled by Maud Gonne who previously in 1902 unveiled the foundation stone of the original memorial.
Tralee Courthouse was designed by Sir Richard Morrison and built in 1835. It has a monument of two cannons commemorating those Kerrymen who died in the Crimean War (1854–56) and the Indian Rebellion (1857).
The Tralee Ship Canal was built to accommodate larger ships sailing into Tralee as the existing quay in Blennerville was becoming unpractical due to silting while merchants in Tralee were not satisfied with its facilities. The House of Commons authorised an Act of Parliament in June 1829 for the canal with work beginning in 1832. Issues with funding meant that the canal was not completed until 1846 when it was opened. The canal was 2 miles long in length with a new canal basin built in Tralee, lock gates and a wooden swing bridge constructed in Blennerville. However not long after the canal opened it too began to suffer from silting. By the 1880s Fenit harbour was built which was a deep water harbour and did not suffer from silting. A railway line was constructed between the harbour and Tralee carrying cargo and freight from ships moored there. Eventually over time due to silting the canal fell into disuse and neglect; and was finally closed by the mid-20th Century. Following the restoration of Blennerville Windmill in the early 1990s it was envisaged that the canal could be restored as a tourist attraction. In 1999 the Office of Public Works (OPW) started a restoration project of the canal at a cost of IR£650,000. The basin area of the canal was subsequently redeveloped with apartments blocks built as part of a proposed marina while the towpath along the canal was upgraded and is now used by people as an enjoyable amenity as part of the Dingle Way
The Dominican church of the Holy Cross was designed by the Irish Gothic Revival architect George Ashlin in 1866 and built by 1871.
Tralee saw much violence during the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War in 1919–1923. In November 1920, the Black and Tans besieged Tralee in revenge for the IRA abduction and killing of two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men. The Tans closed all the businesses in the town and did not let any food in for a week. In addition they burned several houses and all businesses connected with Irish Republican Army (IRA) activists. In the course of the week, they shot dead three local people. The incident caused major international outcry when reported by the press, who wrote that near famine conditions were prevailing in Tralee by the end of the week.
The Ashe Memorial Hall built in 1928 sits at the end of Denny Street, dedicated to the memory of Thomas Ashe – an Irish Volunteers officer in the Easter Rising of 1916. The building is built of local sandstone and originally housed the headquarters of Kerry County Council and Tralee Urban District Council before both moved to new premises. Since 1992 it houses the Kerry County Museum and a reconstruction of early Tralee in 1450.