It is, no doubt, well known that the first transatlantic steam shipping company was founded by a Kerryman and was to be based in his home county: indeed on his own estate at Valentia Island. The transatlantic steamers would run thence to Halifax, Nova Scotia: that was amongst the shortest possible ocean crossing, which was important in the early days of steam navigation, when inefficient engines required prodigious quantities of coal. There were to be feeder services at both ends of the route, thus linking London with New York, and a second line from Valentia to the West Indies.
The Kerryman was Sir Maurice Fitzgerald MP, the 18th Knight of Kerry. A meeting of supporters was held in London in June 1824 and, a year later, an Act of Parliament permitted the formation of a joint stock company with limited liability for its shareholders. However, the American and Colonial Steam Navigation Company did not last long: it softly and suddenly vanished away in 1828, its single steamer, the Calpé, sold to the Dutch government before completing a single voyage (although, under her new ownership, she ran a successful transatlantic mail service to Surinam and Curacao).
The prospectus, published before the meeting in June 1824, said of Valentia:
Ballast cargoes may be obtained there in slates, butter, and coarse linen, for the American markets.
However, Alexander Nimmo, writing to Fitzgerald, said
Remember, your whole peninsula only affords 100 tons of butter per annum, and all Kerry would not provide for a constant trade.
The gallant knight would therefore, I am sure, be delighted with the news from the Americas that “Irish Butter Kerrygold Has Conquered America’s Kitchens“. I hope he would have known enough to realise that “[…] Ireland’s landscape and economy, which both remain dominated by agriculture” may be true of the landscape but is not true of the economy.
John Armstong and David M Williams “The Perception and Understanding of New Technology: A Failed Attempt to Establish Transatlantic Steamship Liner Services 1824-1828” in The Northern Mariner/le marin du nord XVII no 4 [October 2007]
Letters and papers of Maurice FitzGerald in Public Record Office for Northern Ireland ref MIC639/6
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser 28 June 1824