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

Looking Forward to Christmas

Christmas tree 2023 in situ

The Christmas Coat

This story by the late great Seán MacCarthy is one of my all time favourites. I repost it every year. If you are new to the blog you are in for a treat. If you remember it like it was last Christmas, enjoy it again.

I still don’t know if the story is biographical. A lot of the details are anyway.

The Christmas Coat   

Seán McCarthy  1986

Oh fleeting time, oh, fleeting time

You raced my youth away;

You took from me the boyhood dreams

That started each new day.

My father, Ned McCarthy found the blanket in the Market Place in Listowel two months before Christmas. The blanket was spanking new of a rich kelly green hue with fancy white stitching round the edges. Ned, as honest a man as hard times would allow, did the right thing. He bundled this exotic looking comforter inside his overcoat and brought it home to our manse on the edge of Sandes bog.

The excitement was fierce to behold that night when all the McCarthy clan sat round the table. Pandy, flour dip and yolla meal pointers, washed down with buttermilk disappeared down hungry throats. All eyes were on the green blanket airing in front of the turf fire. Where would the blanket rest?

The winter was creeping in fast and the cold winds were starting to whisper round Healy’s Wood; a time for the robin to shelter in the barn. I was excited about the blanket too but the cold nights never bothered me. By the time I had stepped over my four brothers to get to my own place against the wall, no puff of wind, no matter however fierce could find me.

After much arguing and a few fist fights (for we were a very democratic family) it was my sister, Anna who came up with the right and proper solution. That lovely blanket, she said was too fancy,  too new and too beautiful to be wasted on any bed. Wasn’t she going to England, in a year’s time and the blanket would make her a lovely coat!. Brains to burn that girl has. Didn’t she prove it years later when she married an engineer and him a pillar of the church and a teetotaler? Well maybe a slight correction here. He used to be a pillar of the pub and a total abstainer from church but she changed all that. Brains to burn!

The tailor Roche lived in a little house on the Greenville Road with his brother Paddy and a dog with no tail and only one eye. Rumours abounded around the locality about the tailor’s magic stitching fingers and his work for the English royal family.  Every man, woman and child in our locality went in awe of the Tailor Roche. Hadn’t he made a coat for the Queen of England when he was domiciled in London, a smoking jacket for the Prince of Wales and several pairs of pyjamas for Princess Flavia

The only sour note I ever heard against the tailor’s achievements came from The Whisper Hogan, an itinerant ploughman who came from the west of Kerry.

“ If he’s such a famous  tailor,” said Whisper, “why is it that his arse is always peeping out through a hole in his trousers?.

Hogan was an awful begrudger. We didn’t pay him any heed. Tailor Roche was the man chosen to make the coat from the green blanket. Even though it was a “God spare you the health” job, a lot of thought went into the final choice of a tailor.

The first fitting took place of a Sunday afternoon on the mud floor of the McCarthy manse. The blanket was spread out evenly and Anna was ordered to lie very still on top of it. Even I, who had never seen a tailor at work thought this a little strange. But my father soon put me to rights when he said, “Stop fidgeting, Seáinín, you are watching a genius at work.” Chalk, scissors, green thread and plenty of sweet tea with a little bit of bacon and cabbage when we had it. A tailor can’t work on an empty stomach.

The conversion went apace through Christmas and into the New Year. Snip snip, stitch, stich, sweet tea and fat bacon, floury spuds. I couldn’t see much shape in the coat but there was one thing for sure – it no longer looked like a blanket. Spring raced into summer and summer rained its way into autumn. Hitler invaded Poland and the British army fled Dunkirk, the men of Sandes Bog and Greenville gathered together shoulder to shoulder to defend the Ballybunion coastline and to bring home the turf.

Then six weeks before Christmas disaster struck the McCarthy clan and to hell with Hitler, the British Army, and Herman Goering. We got the news at convent mass on Sunday morning the Tailor Roche had broken his stitching hand when he fell over his dog, the one with the one eye and no tail. Fourteen months of stitching, cutting, tea drinking and bacon eating down the drain. Even a genius cannot work with one hand.

Anna looked very nice in her thirty shilling coat from Carroll Heneghan’s in Listowel as we walked to the train. Coming home alone in the January twilight I tried hard to hold back the tears. She would be missed.  The Tailor was sitting by the fire, a mug of sweet tea in his left hand and a large white sling holding his right-hand. I didn’t feel like talking so I made my way across the bed to my place by the wall. It was beginning to turn cold so I drew the shapeless green bindle up around my shoulders. It was awkward enough to get it settled with the two sleeves sticking out sideways and a long split up the middle. Still, it helped keep out the frost. Every bed needs a good green blanket and every boyhood needs a time to rest.

The ghosts of night will vanish soon

When winter fades away

The lark will taste the buds of June

Mid the scent of new mown hay.

A Printer’s Legacy

I was walking through St. Michael’s cemetery when I saw this memorial. It is on the grave of the Cuthbertson family.

There are no descendants of that family in town now so they would all be forgotten were it not for Vincent Carmody’s book, preserving forever the posters, penny ballads and other materials printed by Bob Cuthbertson on his printing press in Listowel.

May they all rest in peace.

A Fact

Christmas in Listowel Workhouse in 1907

(Research by Junior Griffin)

The workhouse was under the auspices of the “Listowel Board of Guardians” and the “Kerryman” report of the children’s Christmas party under that body in 1907 read as follows;”

Christmas treat to the Children of Listowel Workhouse

“The Xmas treat entertainment which has become a pleasing annual event in the lives of the little children of the Listowel Union, was carried out in an admirable manner on the night of New Year’s Day.

Mrs. Foran, Lady Guardian for Listowel, and vice-chairman of the board, was-as been her wont since she became a guardian of the poor-the central figure, as well as the originator of this year’s Xmas tree entertainment, and the manner in which the various details incidental to such pleasurings were carried out, as well as the considerateness with which she contrived to give pleasure to the individual little ones of the Workhouse by her kindly and tasteful distribution of the good things provided, gives evidence of her thoroughness of head and heart. The delight of the little ones was apparent in every nook and corner, where they could be seen gloating over their presents either singly or in groups.

The Ladies who were present were and who assisted in distributing the toys, etc., were- Miss J. Broderick, Miss Hartnett, Miss Lyons, Miss Nolan, Miss D. Nolan, Miss McElligott, Miss O’Donnell.  The Matron of the workhouse and the school mistress were most assiduous in securing comfort for the children.

The band of the Listowel Total Abstinence Society attended the entertainment, and ably rendered choice selections of music from 8 to 10 o’clock.  This did much towards enhancing the pleasure of the little workhouse children, and enough credit can hardly be given to the band, individually and collectively for their decent, humane and manly action in their giving to the children of the very poor, if even for only two short hours in the year, a glimpse into the joyful and mirthful things of life, which are by forces of circumstances to them denied, and which to the more fortunate little ones outside the workhouse walls are matters of daily, perhaps hourly occurrence. It is particularly creditable that each individual member of the band played his part with much zest and earnestness for those little waifs and strays of humanity as he could have done in the palace of a King and for the most select of audiences.  They well merited the thanks which Mr. Maurice Griffin, editor of the “Kerryman”, bestowed on them, and the proceedings terminated, leaving everyone with the pleasurable knowledge that those for whom the treat was inaugurated were for this one night as happy as if there was never a shadow of a care or sorrow in this vale of tears.

The following are the contributors- Mrs. R.H. McCarthy, The Glebe, box of toys; Miss McElligott, Mount Rivers, beautiful dressed doll, boxes of sweets, cakes, chocolates and picture books; Miss Hartnett, two gipsy dolls; Miss Foynes, mother-hubbard doll; Miss Stewart,  Sailor doll; Miss McAuliffe, box of toys; Mrs. Barry, tin of biscuits; Mrs Crowley, 2 boxes candy; Mr. T Walsh, oranges; Mr. Daly, oranges;

Mr. Corridan, box of sweets; Mrs. Foran, £2.


An Aviator and a Dunce

Bridge Road

The Dandy Lodge

November 2023

Martin Chute’s mural on the gable of the Pitch and Putt clubhouse

Wrong Way Corrigan

From the Capuchin archive

Douglas ‘Wrong Way’ Corrigan, Dublin, 1938

An image of Douglas Corrigan (1907-1995) at a reception in Dublin on 24 July 1938. As noted in the original caption, Corrigan (left) is shown with James Montgomery (1870-1943) who was the Irish film censor from 1923 to 1940.

Corrigan was a pioneering American aviator who earned the nickname ‘Wrong Way’ after ‘accidentally’ flying across the Atlantic when his original intention was to fly a cross-country route from New York to California. He took off from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn on 17 July 1938 and bizarrely landed on 18 July at Baldonnel Aerodrome in County Dublin after flying for just over twenty-eight hours. His first reported words after stepping off his plane in Dublin were ‘Just got in from New York. Where am I?’ His only provisions were two chocolate bars, two boxes of fig bars, and a small quantity of water.

In the aftermath of his adventure, Corrigan became something of a celebrity with a ticker-tape parade on his return to New York, a meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House, a Hollywood movie about his life and a best-selling book.

Corrigan insisted that his accidental flight was caused by navigational error and a malfunctioning compass, but almost immediately suggestions were made that it was always his intention to undertake the risky transatlantic crossing. Corrigan was a skilled aviation engineer and experienced pilot who had previously worked on Charles Lindbergh’s aircraft in advance of his first solo nonstop transatlantic flight in May 1927. Despite claims to the contrary, never once in public did Corrigan budge from his story that this historic flight was purely accidental.

The photograph forms part of a file of press images assembled by the editors of ‘The Capuchin Annual’.

The Thomas McAuliffe Window in St. Mary’s

A picture of this generous man from Vincent Carmody’s Snapshots of an Irish Market Town.

(Note to self…If you’re looking for information on any Listowel business from 1850 to 1950, Vincent’s books have a lot more information than Google.)

Christmas in Abbeyfeale

The book gives no clue to the identity of the author. Maybe someone knows Shane?

And the Winner is…..

Listowel Writers’ Week sponsor the prize for best poem at the A Post Irish book awards. An established and very well regarded poet, Mary O’Donnell won for this poem called Vectors in Kabul.

Confession here…I have only a vague idea of what it’s about. Once it gets into the nitty gritty of Maths I’m lost but I think it is a very clever poem.

The irony for me is that, while it is about educating girls in Taliban controlled Kabul, it is also about this Western educated woman failing to understand mathematical concepts but understanding freedom only too well.

A Fact

This is what Christmas was like in rural Ireland in the 1950s and 60s.


The Square, the Window and More

Listowel Town Square in 2023

Am I alone in liking it better the way it was?

Stained Glass Window Donor Update

Further research by Kay Caball and David O’Sullivan has led us away from the wrong track and has revealed that the true donor of the window was a Thomas MacAuliffe of Main Street. He is described as a merchant and a stationer and he lived “two doors up from the Town Hall”.

The cutting below identifies the E F Boylan commemorated in the window.

This marriage certificate gives Mamie McAuliffe’s address as Main Street

Then I got this email from Vincent Carmody and he has all the details;


I was away yesterday but somebody contacted me in relation to an item on a Thomas McAuliffe, who donated the stained glass window on the right hand side of the church, I was asked, who was he and was he anything to the plasterer. There was no relationship. His daughter (Mamie)  got married in Dublin to Edward Boylan, From my notes, McAuliffe himself was married to a Mary Brodar, they married in Duagh in 1879. They had 2 children, John 1880, and Mary (Mamie) 1882, McAuliffe died in Ballybunion in 1935. Mamie and her husband, E. Boylan took over the running of the shop and Boylan’s garage, next door.  McAulliffe’s shop was bought by M.A.Hannon in the late 1930s, the garage was bought by the U.D.C., for years it housed the council office and also housed the town’s fire engine.  Interestingly, 2 Brodar sisters (Broderick) from Duagh, worked as shop assistants at McAuliffe’s until 1904, they then opened their own shop in William Street in 1904, one of these married Paddy Fitzgibbon’s grandfather. 

If required, you will find all the information on pages 180 and 181, of my 2013, Snapshots of an Irish Market Town.

The old Listowel saying holds true, There are more Jack Barry’s in town than one.


I Know his Grandmother

I was reading Kerry’s Eye when this story about this handsome young man popped out at me.

The lady on the left, with me and friends in Boherbue this summer is Óisín’s very proud grandmother, Maureen Ahern.


The dollies and teddies are planning a sleepover at Listowel Library on Dec 1 2023.

Christmas in Abbeyfeale

Apologies to the writer who is not identified in the above anthology.

From the Capuchin Annual Archive

Windy Gap, County Kerry, 1945 

A quaint image of a cottage sitting at the crossroads of the Windy Gap near the village of Glenbeigh in County Kerry in about 1945. The Windy Gap is now a very popular walking and hiking route along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way offering a variety of picturesque views of Lough Caragh and the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks in County Kerry. The photograph was taken by J.H. Williams who submitted it for potential publication in ‘The Capuchin Annual’. 

In Upper William Street

This may not be new but I didn’t notice it before. I was parked outside it on my way to the Vincent de Paul shop on Thursday last.

Deora Dé

An article for a cold Wednesday

When I was buying my summer bedding plants this year I saw some lovely potted fuchsia plants which I admired and bought. The shop assistant said I should be familiar with them because they were native to Kerry.

On my way home that day I remembered my grandmother had a great ditch of fuchsia and we were never allowed to pull the lovely red belled flowers because they represented Christ’s tear drops on the cross. Deora Dé as she respectfully called them.

In our teen years years we often cycled from Blennerville around Slea Head and I fondly remember all those lovely fuschia bushes on the road back by Derrymore and then again west of Dingle as we headed to Ceann Sléibhe with a stop off in Kilmalkedar to follow the path of the 636 AD Saint Maolcethair and down into that seaside marsh of Muiríoch where I spent my Gaeltacht days.

After my visit to the garden centre and my youthful reminiscences I came home and opened up my gardening encyclopaedia to check out our native fuchsia. Sadly we couldn’t lay claim to it as it was native to Haiti and first found there in 1696 and named after a German Botanist named Leonhart Fuchs . He was famous for writing and illustrating the first herbal book which he wrote in Latin.

When I look out at the garden today I see our many hydrangeas losing colour and shape and when I check I see that they are native to Korea, China, Japan and the name comes from a Greek word meaning watershed.

Our back Garden is adorned with eight lovely clusters of agapanthus which burst into flower mid July every year and yes you guessed it. The name is not of Irish origin. The flower name comes from two Greek words agape meaning love and anthos meaning flower and are originally native to South Africa.

I quit and admire our native shamrock in the lawn which comes from the Irish seamair óg or young clover.

If you want to pass away an hour on some wet and dreary winter day look up the word Shamrock.

As the song “The Dear little Shamrock “goes  ‘Sure Twas  St Patrick himself sure that set it’. It’s probably as Irish as you get.

Mick O Callaghan

A Fact

Christmas 1929

Kerry News Friday, December 27, 1929;

A STORMY CHRISTMAS. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were marked by the stormiest weather associated with the great Christian festival for very many years. Almost incessantly from the afternoon of Christmas Eve until five o’clock on the evening of Christmas Day gales continued to rage with a force which at times reached the velocity of a hurricane.
Though much damage was done to property in town and country, it is fortunate that no injury to life or limb has to be recorded, in the Tralee area at all events, though there were many narrow escapes from storm swept slates. It was a great tribute to the deeply religious fervour of our people that they were found braving the elements going to the confessionals in St. John’s Parish Church and the Dominican Church of Holy Cross in the teeth of the storm on Christmas Eve, and again attending the early Masses and receiving Holy Communion in such vast numbers in both Churches on Christmas morning.


The Goose is Getting Fat

Putting up the Christmas lights in November 2023

Stained Glass in St. Mary’s

I returned to St. Mary’s in the afternoon of Tuesday, November 22 2023 because I knew that by then the beautiful window pane would be back in place.

This is the one that was removed and releaded.

The newly renovated one is not as bright as the pane on the far right.

Now that the donor’s dedication has been fully restored I see that it commemorates both the McAuliffe and Boylan families. These families were connected through marriage.

Dave O’Sullivan has done a bit of research and it looks like the Thomas MacAuliffe who donated the magnificent window is one of the famous McAuliffe family, plasterers.

The rose window at the top is lovely now.

Second Sign of the Approach of the Holy Season

I was in town on Thanksgiving Thursday and work was underway on several windows. The theme for this year’s Christmas windows is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The New Kingdom has gone for a jokey pun.

Harp and Lion Antiques never disappoints. The window was in the process of decoration by a delighted big child, who loves to give her creative talents free reign.

Mr. Duck was in his best Willy Wonka attire as he carried his golden ticket. BTW the tree is decorated with real sweets and the garland is made of candy canes and gold and silver chocolate coins. Gorgeous!

Another Listowel shop with a very creative owner is Taelane Store

Giant candy canes and muffins here.

Mags is in on the act as well with candy canes and treats galore.

Jade was just plotting out her window at Jumbos.

Christmas according to another Local Writer

Unfortunately the booklet gives the names of all the writers but it doesn’t say who wrote what.

A Fact

Today’s fact is a true Christmas story from a great storyteller, Mattie Lennon

My Best Christmas.

   It was mid-December in the third decade of the twenty-first century. I was at a Table Topics session. Because of my dubious ability to read upside down, I could make out the Topicmaster’s list of questions at the top table. One jumped out at me. “What was your best Christmas ever?”   I hoped I’d get that one. I had an answer.

    My best Christmas was Christmas 1956 but I didn’t know it at the time.  About the eighth of December that year I developed a pain in my stomach which didn’t feel all that serious. .  Various stages of discomfort, ranging from relatively mild to severe pain, continued until the end of the month.  By this stage a hard lump could be felt in my stomach. All kinds of remedies from the relic of Blessed Martin de Porres to Lourdes water to many folk “cures” were applied. None of them did me any harm. Medical intervention hadn’t been sought. And because of the thinking of the time and the climate in which we lived I don’t blame anyone. On Sunday December 30th Doctor Clearkin from Blessington was called.    As the December light was fading he examined me. His work was illuminated by lamplight as rural electrification was still in the future. . He told my parents that if it was appendicitis then I was “a very strong boy.” He was puzzled and didn’t make a Diagnosis. His best guess was that one of my testicles hadn’t descended and he insisted that I was too ill to be out of bed.

   He called the ambulance and on arrival I wanted to sit in the front but Mick Byrne, the driver, was adamant that I would be parallel with the horizontal in the back. I don’t know what time we arrived at Baltinglass Hospital but the doctor there was equally puzzled.

   I was loaded up again and hit the road for Mercer’s Hospital in Dublin. It was only my second visit to the Capital. The previous May my father brought me to  Frawleys in Thomas Street  to buy my Confirmation suit. Two years earlier I spent some days in hospital with a knocked-out elbow so I wasn’t all that perturbed by the clinical environment. My details were taken as well as  the name of the local postmaster as the post office in Lacken was our nearest phone.. I received a penicillin injection every four hours and I still remember the taste of liquid paraffin. Many doctors examined me and all were confused. One of them described me as “intelligent” but very few people have agreed with him since.

 Whenever I hear the ballad “Sean South from Garryowen” I’m transported back to the radio of Patsy Cavanagh from Craanford County Wexford, who was in the corner of the ward. It was New Year’s Day 1953 and the main news item covered the shooting of South and Fergal O’ Hanlon at Brookeborough, County Fermanagh.

   I’m not sure if I turned off the immersion this morning but I’m amazed at how many names of my fellow patients I can remember after more than three score years. There was Seamus  Osborne also from Craanford, Tony Hand, from Arklow, who was younger than me and whose father was in the army. Pipe smoking Kerryman, Tim Toomey, who was a guard in Enniskerry. When he learned that his father had died he asked me to say a prayer for him. George McCullough, a farmer,  from Goresbridge who was a seanachai and didn’t know it.  

As an eleven  year old rus-in-urbe, who had a sheltered childhood, I was mesmerised by the antics of  one patient, “Midget” boxer and aerial acrobat Johnny Caross. He died in the same hospital a few months later.

  Later, on the first day of the New Year, my father came  to visit me. He was able to tell me that one of the surgeons in Mercers had “his hands blessed by the Pope.”  When, not quite out of earshot, he asked a doctor about my condition, he was told. “Well, He’s an unusual case.” ( I was still a mystery to the medical profession.)  

  I was operated on the next day. They found an appendix abscess which was removed and arrangements were made to remove the appendix some weeks later. The second operation was duly performed and I didn’t ever ascertain how close to death I was. I meant to look for my medical records before Mercers Hospital closed in 1983 but procrastination got in the way.

   Oh, at the Table Topic session I was asked “If you had to cook for eight people on Christmas Day what would you do” .  I wasn’t disappointed. How would I have fitted my prepared answer, to the other question,  into two minutes? 

   So far I have lived through 77 Christmases. But the best one was in 1956, because I was alive to see it.


Signs of The Holy Season

Listowel Town Square, November 2023

The first sign of local festivity is the putting up of the Christmas street lights.

Kerry is still high and wide but from now on will be even more handsome. This was the scene on Charles Street on November 21 2023.

A Restored Window

In the grounds of St. Mary’s I met Glynn Palmer as he was just arriving to restore the refurbished stained glass window.

Over the adoration chapel, you will notice the boarded up section of the beautiful window.

The window in question was donated by Thomas McAuliffe. Does anyone know anything about him?

The panel on the right is already renovated and restored.

A Christmas Poem

The unvarnished truth about Christmas from John McGrath

Our Wildflower Garden in Winter

Where have all the flowers gone? Some have gone to seed and will bloom again next year. Some of the annuals are gone never to return’

A Fact

This is the beautiful Reggie, a rescued lurcher. Larger dogs are harder to rehome for various reasons but this one found a great welcome in Ballincollig.


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