Listowel Connection

This blog is a personal take on Listowel, Co. Kerry. I am writing for anyone anywhere with a Listowel connection but especially for sons and daughters of Listowel who find themselves far from home. Contact me at listowelconnection@gmail.com

Dress Dance in 1956

In Cromane by Chris Grayson

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A Grand Affair

One of the highlights of the North Kerry social calendar used to be the Teachers Dress Dance.

Kathy Reynolds shared the link to Tony Fitzmaurice’s photographs of the 1956 dance and an abridged version of an essay first published in The Ballydonoghue Parish Magazine 2021 outlining the work of the ballroom photographer and Kathy’s efforts to reunite the photographs with their subjects or their families.

Teachers Dress Dance in Walsh’s Ballroom in 1956

The Ballroom Photographer

Teacher’s Dress Dance 18th Nov ’56 Band; J McGinty.

That was my introduction to the ledger where the late Tony Fitzmaurice (RIP), Ballybunion, kept a record of his semi-professional photography. In the back of the ledger was some headed paper and this introduced me to “Tony’s Photo Service & Kerry’s Youngest and Best Ballroom Photographer”!

Tony was my father’s first cousin and I was familiar with his photography all my life. As a small child his special dark-room partitioned from the bottom of the kitchen was a source of fascination. As an adult I became more aware of his photography as it was a hobby we shared and he was generous with his advice as I developed my interest. On holiday or at any event Tony always had a camera to hand but it was only on his death in 2019, when his widow Madeline asked my family to look after his photography, that I found out about his life as a Ballroom Photographer.

His ledger recorded every detail of his semi-professional photography business which co-existed alongside his job as a Kerry County Council employee. The ledger gives us a look at the work of a 1950/60s Ballroom Photographer.  The Teachers Dress Dance on the 18th November 1956 with music by Joe McGinty was his first professional engagement. A 10 minute video showing photographs from the event can be found at  https://vimeo.com/666457253  Can anyone recognise teachers from their childhood? Looking at some of the posters in the room and as most of the money for the photographs came via Jim Walsh I assume the venue was Walsh’s Super Ballroom, Listowel, where Tony was resident photographer. His card with a unique number given to everyone he photographed tells us that proofs could be inspected at Mr. Jim Walsh’s, William Street, Listowel. Photographs were available in two sizes, Postcard (3.5 x 5.5 inches) or large (6.5 x 8 inches) costing 2 or 3 shillings (10 or 15p). Photographs were relatively expensive back in the 1950/60s when you consider that today a standard 6×4 inch print can be printed for as little as 5p at my local supermarket and the 8×6 for just 15p.

In the 1950s not many homes had a camera and so the Ballroom Photographer had a good market. The accounts for the teacher’s dance show that 70 photographs were taken and 90 prints were sold making a gross profit of £7 3s 9d on the night. Of course the capital cost of cameras, flashguns and darkroom equipment had to be covered as well as a payment to the Ballroom owner. The 1957 Teacher’s Dance was much larger with about 350 people present, 380 prints sold generating a gross profit of £24 13s 8d. In addition to the teachers other groups had annual dances such as The Post Office Staff,  Macra na Feirme and North Kerry Farmers. 

In his 6 years as a semi-professional photographer dances at the Super Ballroom occurred mainly from September to May with the busiest period being Listowel Race week with dances from Sunday to Thursday night with approximately 800 photographs taken.  Over the 6 years the most popular act was Chick Smith with 23 appearances followed by Denis Cronin and Mick Delahunty with 12 and 11 appearances respectively. International stars of the 1950s and 60s such as Eddie Calvert and his Golden Trumpet, Johnny Dankworth, Anne Sheldon and Winifred Atwell also made appearances. Tony’s ledger notes that Bridie Gallagher appeared 5 times drawing audiences of 1,500 to 2,000, indeed on 11th December 1960 Tony notes that the ballroom was too crowded leaving one to wonder just how big the audience was. St Patrick’s night and St Stephen’s night also drew large crowds but not every night was a success.  One such night received the withering comment “poor crowd — hopeless band”.

Although dances at the Super Ballroom accounted for most of Tony’s photography (26,600 negatives carefully stored) during these 6 years he also photographed local events, a few weddings, friends and family. One such event was in December 1959, children sitting on Santa’s lap at McKenna’s, Listowel. This will cover children from across North Kerry and the images can be found at https://vimeo.com/647951277 . It is my intention to try to reconnect the photos with the people or communities they came from. The easiest way for me to share them is as video slide shows, all are or will be titled North Kerry People 1..2..3 etc and they can be found by searching the internet for North Kerry People Vimeo. The 26,000+ Super Ballroom negatives is a very long term project, it will take many long winter days to scan them but I would like at some time to make the archive available in North Kerry for social history purposes.    

Many thanks to those, too many to name, who have already helped put names to many faces.

Autographed photo of Bridie Gallagher

Kathy Reynolds (Fitzmaurice), Oakham, Rutland, UK and previously Moybella, Lisselton.    

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Graffiti or Street Art

(Image and text from Yay Cork)

Asbestos’ mural on South Main Street has been featured in the Street Art Cities’ Top 100 list. The mural has won great admiration since its completion as part of the Ardú Street Art Project in 2021, and is now eligible to be voted for as the best piece of street art in the world.

Tim Marschang, who is the organiser behind the list and the competition, explained how each work was selected, saying: “For the past 12 months Street Art Cities selected some of the best murals across the globe and shared it on their popular Instagram Story polls letting the audience decide.” Over 100,000 votes were counted.

“This resulted in a list of 100 most popular artworks of 2021. And it’s literally a global list with murals from every corner of the planet, from Denmark to South Africa, From Lima to Brisbane, take a look and pick your favourites.” If you want to support Cork and Asbestos, you can vote here. Voting closes on February 6th.

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A Coup for a Writer with a Listowel Connection

Photo of Colm Tóibín by Barry Cronin

Colm Tóibín who is President of Listowel Writers’ Week has been appointed Laureate for Irish Fiction 2022 to 2024. He is a very popular choice nationally and internationally but especially in Listowel.

Isn’t Barry Cronin’s photograph gas?

At Writers Week 2019 I photographed Colm Tóibín with Rick O’Shea, John Boyne and Joseph O’Connor. I hope photo ops like this will come my way again in 2022.

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Emigration

Cromane; Photo; Chris Grayson

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A Prayer for My Daughter

By Gabriel Byrne

You are born in love and pain.
Given to us for a short time only.
Before we must let you go again, with love and pain.
One day you’ll come to know how close they are, one to the other.
You are a treasure, a blessing, a prayer’s answer,
A jig in my Irish soul.
You are me, and I am you.
You are both of us, the love of your mother and me.
Let me be worthy of you.
Let me lead you to truth, to beauty, to the mystery of the universe.
You will ask me great questions, and sometimes I will not know the answers.
Perhaps we are not meant to know some things.
That is life too… a seeking.
It may be our only purpose here.
All things are changing, always.
Yesterday is dust, tomorrow a dream.
Our gift is now.
And so, my sweet angel, may you know love, and be loved in return.
May you know truth, and laughter, and peace, and happiness,
And may the great spirit of the universe enfold you in his arms, and keep you safe, for always.

Éamon ÓMurchú sent us this lovely poem by Gabriel Byrne around the time that the nation was in mourning for Ashling Murphy.

Walking Among Ghosts

Gabriel Byrne, one of our most successful actors is also a skilled writer. His recent interview with Tommy Tiernan showed us another side of him.

A story that he told resonated with me. In case you missed it, here is is.

In the old Irish legend Niamh Cinn Óir lured Óisín to come with her to Tír na nÓg. She promised him happiness and eternal youth. He went with her and he was happy and youthful. One day Niamh asked him if he was contented. He replied that he was but he missed his fiends at home. So Niamh granted him his wish to go back to Ireland and see his old country and his old friends.

Alas, the country was changed utterly and his friends were gone. He found himself walking among ghosts.

Byrne was telling us that this is the story of every emigrant.

It is a story I hear often from followers of Listowel Connection.

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Handball Days

John Croghan and Autie Galvin being presented by John Joe Kenny with the Joe James Handball shield.

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A Jorum?

This is part of Dan Hartnett’s collection of old receptacles. I think these were for whiskey or beer. If memory serves me right we used to call them jorums.

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Listowel Town Square is changing. Here is something I photographed for you from last week’s Kerryman.

The section of Greenway from Abbeyfeale to Listowel is scheduled to be ready for summer 2022.

Kerry Co. Council have shared this video of progress so far.

Abbeyfeale to Listowel Greenway

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A Thought Found on Twitter

“Takiwatanga” is the Maori word for autism and it means “In their own time and space”.

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More Cinema Memories

Cromane: Photo by Chris Grayson

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Old Tralee Postcard

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Vincent Carmody Remembers Great Times in the Cinema

As someone who grew up quite close to the Astor, the cinema site itself, the adjacent railway property, in and around the Sluadh Hall and around the creamery were play areas for those of us from the top of William Street. 

A particular thing that we used to do when in the cinema yard was to pick up pieces of the celluloid film which would have been cut from the reels as the projectionist would splice reels together. We would take these clips home and get real enjoyment if any actors faces appeared on the clips.  Another thing that would have been discarded were sticks of carbine.  They would have been used in the projection room. This room was attached to the end wall of the cinema and was accessed by concrete steps to the upstairs projection room. Underneath was the boiler room. 

Pat Dowling of the Bridge Road was the projectionist. He was a mechanic at Moloney’s Garage in William Street and was also a member of the Fire Brigade. Jeremiah O’Connor of O’Connell’s Avenue was his assistant. Mrs Woulfe of St. Brendan’s Terrace was manageress and worked in the ticket office, while Michael Nolan and John Joe O’Connor were doormen. 

There was no shop in situ in our time. Sweets would have to be bought at either Jet Stacks, Quills or Kelly’s from further down the street. 

Admission to the gods (hard seats) was four old pence, middle soft seats, I think ten pence and the more up market balcony around would have cost one shilling and three pence. 

The Astor would show the same film, at the most, for two nights, whereas the Plaza would usually have the same film for three nights. Both cinemas would have afternoon matinees and and night show on Sundays. There were some in the town who would alternate visits to both cinemas on different nights. One nightly man in particular, was a pipe smoker and he would have two pipes, smoking one until it got hot, then changing it for the second one. 

 Advertisements for many local shops would appear on screen prior to the shows. Then usually what was shown next was either a serial or shorts, then trailers of upcoming films. If it was a serial, this would continue over a period of weeks. A great favourite at one stage, was a half hour Scotland Yard mystery case.  This was presented by an actor called Bruce Seton, (at that time I was not to know that I would get to know him very well when I worked in the Devonshire Arms public house in Kensington London in the 1960s). 

At one time, whoever was booking films must have got a bargain in buying in bulk. For about five Sundays in succession, films starring a cowboy by the name of Whip Wilson filled the screen, so much so, one local wit, put it out that Wilson was lodging at a local B & B.  

Being at the Astor on Sunday September 11th 1955, is a date I remember quite vividly. The reason for this, is that in that year, both All Ireland semi finals ended in draws on the two previous weekends. Both replays were re-fixed for the 11th, Kerry playing Cavan and Dublin playing Mayo. I remember that the Kerry match was played first, meaning that it did not finish until nearly four o clock. The Astor management, realising this, wisely put back their starting time to facilitate cinema goers who would have been listening to the match on the radio. 

Another standout memory is of attending a showing of Angela’s Ashes.  I found this a depressing movie, more so, as it seemed to have been filmed in near constant rain and depression. Leaving the cinema shortly after ten o clock that evening, we exited to a lovely bright warm summer evening. It felt great after what we had seen on screen.   

Another vivid memory for me is seeing Dead Poets’ Society. At the end of the film, Eamon Keane, recognising a fellow actor, Robin William’s tour de force, stood and applauded for a full five minutes

On occasions (especially before Walsh’s Super Ballroom was built in the 1950s) the Astor was used as a Dance Hall. In the 1940s there were occasional supper dances, with dancing at the Astor and a supper meal been served at the Slua Hall across the road. 

I can also recall a variety show sometime in the early 1950s. 

I, like many, regret the closure of the Astor, now Classic,  as a cinema. However I realise that without a regular substantial  audience attendance, a venue like this could not pay its way. Hopefully this fine building will not be pulled down and maybe have a rebirth, as it could be used as a theatre, exhibition space, museum  or boutique cinema.

Meanwhile, I salute the late Kieran Gleeson, his wife Teresa and family, for the pleasure which they gave to Listowel cinema goers. I thank them for rescuing the Astor and making it a worthwhile and pleasant location for North Kerry film buffs from January 1987 until its closure in January 2022. 

The Astor cinema was built and operated by the Coffey family in the late 1930s. The Coffey family had two cinemas in Tralee. Brendan Coffey ran the Listowel cinema.

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From Presentation Magazine 1983

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St. Ita

Ballybunion Golf Course January 16 2022; Photo; Catherine Moylan

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I don’t know much about this photo except that Bryan MacMahon and John B. Keane and others are on the back of Stuart Stack’s truck. Any help with identifying the others and telling us when where and why this photo was taken would be great.

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Local Lore and Legend

Newmarket man, Raymond O’Sullivan is a great man for local lore. Here is his Facebook post about St. Ita.

St. Ita, the patron saint of Killeedy and Co. Limerick, is also called ‘The Foster Mother of the Saints of Ireland’. Among her many illustrious foster children was none other than St. Brendan, the Navigator, who was brought to Killeedy when he was one year old and stayed until he was six.Her çult remains strong in the hill country along the Cork, Kerry, Limerick borderlands. One unusual feature of the cult is letting the Christmas decorations up until after her feastday on the 15th of January. Not sure if it is out of laziness or devotion to her that I continue to observe this custom. Probably a bit of both. We got married on her feastday, and, when unsure of the anniversary date over the years, a discreet inquiry about St. Ita’s ‘pattern’ got me out of many a potentially perilous situation.

Shrine to St Ita in Killeedy, Co. Limerick

Stained glass window of St. Ita in The Oratory in Gougane Barra

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Your Help Sought

I am trying to trace any (relatives) or people that may know of/ be related to my Grandfather, John Sylvester Horan.

My hubby is doing my family tree My mum, ( who died in 1990) was orphaned when she was 9 yrs. She told me that she was led to believe her father was a bigamist but, I have found through ancestry that he was in fact a widower when he left for Liverpool. I only know that his 1st wife was called Sarah.

John was born in 1886 in Listowel. I know this is a massive long shot, but maybe someone may know something.

Thank you so much, Patricia Jones…South Wales x

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Telling Stories

This little piggy….

Aoife and I had great old chats on her recent visit. I can’t wait to share all the family secrets with her.

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The one who came back to say thanks

John O’Leary contacted Listowel Connection to thank his former teacher in Rossmacowen Primary School, Miss Enright of Bridge Road. He remembered her with gratitude. We tracked down the Sheila Enright in question and John’s gratitude and kind words will be conveyed to her.

This is from John’s latest letter;

Hi Mary,

I can not  thank you enough for all your time and effort in tracing my primary school teacher, Sheila. I moved into the fourth class as Sheila arrived at our school. Sheila was kind and always showed interest in your progress, caring, taking time to explain the subject, never telling you off. It was a time of learning. The classroom was always welcoming with displays and all the flowers on the window board and on her desk. There was the open fire with all the bottles of drinks for lunch time, as from Oct to March we all brought a sod of turf for the fire and at lunch time we went up through the fields to collect wood for the fire. My last years in primary school were so memorable. Thanks to Sheila or, as we would say, Miss Enright.

John

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Danny Hannon R.I.P.

Ballybunion photo by Sharon of Simple Snaps by Sharon

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Golf in Wartime

Ger Greaney found this one and posted it on Facebook.

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Our Very Own Penny Black

A story from the 1983 Presentation Schools’ Magazine

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+ Danny Hannon R.I.P.+

A Power is passing from the earth
To breathless Nature’s dark abyss;
But when the Mighty pass away
What is it more than this,


That Man, who is from God sent forth,
Doth yet again to God return?—
Such ebb and flow must ever be;
Then wherefore should we mourn?

We will not see the like of Danny Hannon again. We are so lucky that we did see not only his like but we saw the man himself.

Danny was a Colossus of the Arts. He was top and tail of artistic Listowel.

1957

The most important person in Danny’s life was his dear dear wife, Eileen. They were inseparable.

Danny and Eileen in 2018, a picture of enduring love

Danny and Eileen were great supporters of local enterprises. Here they are with Noreen O’Connell in Craftshop na Mear.

Meeting the Hannon family on the street was always a treat.

Danny was always happy in the company of his friends. Whether in The Listowel Arms or Lynch’s, Danny loved to hold court.

This is the last photo I took of Danny Hannon. In the midst of a pandemic he had ventured from his home the short walk to the church.

Danny loved to travel. In his lifetime he travelled the world with his Lartigue Players.

In his declining years, when his health had deteriorated, Danny had everything he needed within easy reach of his home in The Square.

Danny left his mark on many many aspects of Listowel life. He was a builder, an auctioneer and a bookseller as well as a founder of The Lartigue Little Theatre, a founder of the George Fitzmaurice Appreciation Society, Listowel Writers’ Week’s first artistic director, supporter of St. John’s, Kerry Writers’ Museum and everything to do with Kerry writing and drama.

Danny with some of his Lartigue friends

Danny in his happy place, at his home in The Square with his beloved family on the occasion of his lifetime achievement award from Listowel Writers Week.

Danny’s funeral mass was celebrated in St. Mary’s Listowel on January 19 2022. We had songs from his beloved Listowel Folk Group who gave him his greatest triumph in John B. after Ten, poetry, prayers and laughter. The chief celebrant was Danny’s old schoolfellow and lifelong friend, Fr. Seamus Linnane.

Danny Hannon gave the eulogy at John B. Keane’s funeral. Fittingly Billy Keane returned the favour at Danny’s. He turned St. Mary’s into a theatre and the congregation into an audience. There were memories, anecdotes and even some audience participation as Danny was applauded off the stage in his beloved Listowel Town Square for the final time on January 19 2022.

May the sod rest lightly on his gentle soul.

John Kelliher’s footage of the funeral as it made its way through the streets of his beloved Listowel is at

Funeral of Danny Hannon

Listowel laid a favourite son to rest in the winter sunshine of Wednesday, January 19 2022.

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