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

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A Play, A Train, Toast and a Poet’s Muse

Bike stand with Listowel Arms in the background

John Relihan in Kanturk

Duagh’s world famous chef and food entrepreneur was in Jack McCarthy’s world famous butcher’s and food shop in Kanturk on Saturday.

John Relihan with William and Cian Ahern in McCarthy’s on Saturday March 16 2024

Lartigue Opening at Easter 2024

From the Archives

Kerryman Friday, April 24, 1987

Tons of Money; comedy

GROUP Theatre Tralee takes the stage in Siamsa Tire Theatre at the end of this month with their 52nd production to date; a three act farce called “Tons of Money” by Will Evans and Valentine.

“It’s the funniest play I’ve read in years and I can recommend it unreservedly,” director Maurice Curtin told The Kerryman this week as work started on the set in Siamsa.

“Tons of Money,” which is currently running at London’s National Theatre, will be performed by the Tralee group from Thursday to Saturday, April 30 to May 2 at 8.30 p.m.

The cast of Group Theatre’s latest production in this, their 18th consecutive season, includes Betty Crowley from Ardfert, Bernie O’Connor from Moyvane and Tralee actors and actresses, Tony Collins (Lisbeg), Miriam O’Regan (Moyderwell), Brian Caball (Ashe Street), Brendan McMahon, Mary Church, Mairead Dowling, Danny O’Leary and Kay Dowling.

Mr. Curtin told The Kerryman that “Tons of Money” was one of the earliest box office blockbuster plays, reaching a record 733 consecutive performances when it was first staged, in London in 1922.

He said he believed it had been performed in Tralee before by the CYMS Drama Group and Denis Hourigan of St. Brendan’s Park, Tralee, could remember playing the part of the butler, Spules, in it.


Stella was Dean Swift’s muse. Little is known about her. She was Esther Johnson, an English woman. She is buried beside Swift in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

St. Patrick’s Day 2024

Kay’s Children’s Shop window

Big crowd of spectators

First sighting of the marchers

Leading the parade in sunny Listowel

A Fact

French toast has nothing to do with France. It was the brainchild of Joseph French, an innkeeper in New York in 1724. He intended to call it French’s Toast but in his advertisement, he forgot the ‘s.


Back to School

Daffodils and tulips in Market Street

A Welcome Back

I was back in my old workplace earlier this week. I was in very prestigious company. Cora Staunton and I were the inspiring guests invited to be part of the school’s celebration of International Women’s Day. We are pictured above in the school’s new library.

Wouldn’t Sr. Benedict be so proud to see reading centralised in her old school?

The new library is colourful, well stocked and inviting. I am honoured that my two humble offerings are now on the shelves here.

The main business of the day took place in the hall. Cora and I were interviewed on stage.

The audience was attentive and appreciative.

A moving poem was delivered by Taylor Lynch. In a day away from Mother’s Day, Taylor’s poem in honour of her late mother was dignified and poignant.

Everything Wasn’t Perfect. 

Everything was perfect. 

Until it wasn’t. 

Your sweet smile, 

And loud laugh. 

Your buoyant nature. 

How birds sang, 

As you walked. 

Your hair danced, 

In the wind. 

You were perfect. 

A mother’s love, 

There’s no compare. 

Imprisoned into darkness. 

A hospital grey. 

Taken from us. 

“Paradise” you said, 

“I’m going there”. 

Four short decades. 

Freed from life, 

like a bird. 

Now your name 

Is a word, 

Carved onto stone. 

Everything was perfect. 

Until it wasn’t. 

Taylor Lynch 


In a break in our interviews we had music, poetry and song from some of the very talented pupils.

A lovely event…thank you girls.

One for the Diary

From Pres. Yearbook 1988

Ah, happy days in the tuck shop.

Water from the Well

This vignette of life in rural Ireland in the 1940s and 50s is from the late Jim Costelloe’s lovely book, Asdee in the 1940s and 50s.

Thanks for the memories, Jim. Rest in peace.

In the days before group water schemes were introduced to rural areas, domestic water was sourced from wells and pumps. If the water supply lasted through the summer and into October it was the sign of a good spring. I well remember trips to the local well with a white enamel bucket and trying to move the green moss on the surface of the well water so that it would not get into the bucket and make the water in the pure white bucket appear dirty.

Getting clear water into the bucket was a skilful job, between trying to avoid the green moss on the surface and the “dirt” at the bottom of the well. How wonderfully cool and refreshing a mug of water was straight from the well. There was always a mug beside the well and we often drank from it during those warm summers that we seemed to get long ago.

A Fact

In 1999 the founders of Google tried to sell it to Excite for $1 million. The offer was turned down.


Memories and Loss of Memories

Greenlawn in October 2023


Hospice Coffee Morning ; October 5 2023

Some photos from a very successful fundraiser. Some local people who were there to support a great cause.


Ballylongford Ladies Named

Claire Healy, Bridie O’Sullivan, Deirdre Finucane, Ann Boxall, Mavis Hall, Breda Enright, Nuala Melbourne, Catherine Ahern, Joan Barrett and Mairead Lawlee


Listowel Connections in the U.S.

Lovely memories from Eleanor Belcher.

I have been enjoying the blogs and have been meaning to email you several times with stories to add to articles. However I have been busy. 

The O’Sullivan reunion brought back a memory. My husband and I spent a year in Milwaukee and a friend of mine was visiting her uncle Dan Connolly ( from Co Limerick) who was a physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. We were invited to spend a weekend at the Connolly holiday home which was on a lake called Spider Lake  in Western Wisconsin. When we arrived Dan discovered that I was from Listowel so that evening he invited Michael O’Sullivan who also was a doctor ( pathologist I think) at the Mayo  clinic to meet me. Michael came with one of his daughters . She had a beautiful voice and later she sang a Mozart aria much to the delight of us all especially my husband who is a keen opera lover. The evening was memorable also because Ruth Connolly a formidable German lady and Dan’s wife insisted we all went to Mass at a convent across the lake. We went by boat. My husband a non Catholic was left behind with instructions to carve a smoked salmon which another guest had brought from Dublin. Ruth was most impressed by my husband’s skills ( he was a surgeon) as he extracted every last bit of salmon from the skin. 

. You might also not know that Denis O’Sullivan was a urologist in Cork and was known as Denis ‘Piss’ to distinguish him from another Dr Denis O’Sullivan a physician. Mary Lawlor from the Square went to work for the O’Sullivan family in Cork after she had done her Leaving Certificate. They (and my father) encouraged her to do nursing which she did at St John’s and Elizabeth’s Hospital in London. She and I still keep in touch, she lives outside Edinburgh. 

My Dad was the dispensary doctor in Ballylongford and Asdee so it was lovely to see the pictures of the church. He used to drop us down to Littor strand while he did his calls. We had tin whistles which we tried to play and we had a swim with Dad when he arrived. 

Eleanor Belcher


A Caffler

Not everything is on line. Sometimes the old sources are the best.




A Fact

Mockingbirds can imitate any sound from a squeaking door to a cat meowing


Caffling, Nurses and Guards

Edward VII postbox with Maid of Erin in the background



Tidy Town volunteers, Breda McGrath, Julie Gleeson and Jimmy Moloney returned from Croke Park with another Gold Medal, a well deserved reward for all the hard work.


On Upper William Street

This popular shop has recently moved and refurbished. It’s lovely.


Gardaí at the Hospice Coffee Morning

Listowel Arms, October 5 2023



A story from Billy McSweeney prompted by my use of a word I heard often from my Cork mother but is not so familiar to Kerry people.

I hadn’t heard the word ‘caffling’ before so I looked it up. Most dictionaries hadn’t heard of it either but I liked John Arnold’s definition of ‘pranks’. It reminded me of a story from before my time and handed down to me. 

There lived in Convent Street two brothers who were noted cafflers. 

As was inevitable, one of them died; and the whole neighbourhood came 

together to make the arrangements for the obsequies. The poor man was 

dressed in his best clothes and for the wake was laid out in the bed 

with a candle on each corner and suitable seating arrangements on both 

sides of the bed for the caoining women.

     At the appropriate time in the evening the candles were lit and the 

women took their sorrowful keening places around the bed. Friends and 

neighbours arrived in dribs and drabs to pay their respects and partake 

of the food and drink laid on for the occasion. Memories of how good a 

person the deceased was were related midst the weeping assent of those 

seated all around. Gradually, over the next hour or so, the level of 

noise grew as the attendees grew into their sympathetic roles, helped in 

no small way by the lubrications on offer.

     Suddenly, a raised voice came from the bed; “Turn me on my left side”!

     There was a momentary silence, split open by screeches and screams 

as the whole room erupted and rushed out the door. Silence ensued in the 

room until, after a few minutes, a brave soul peeped back in and 

announced that they must be mistaken. The mourners sheepishly resumed 

their seats but decided that even though they imagined the voice, the 

instruction in the voice was clear, so they turned the body in the bed 

on its left side. All agreed that the corpse looked more comfortable on 

its left side so all settled down and resumed normal obsequies. One 

could not after all neglect the duties of consuming the good food and 

drink that would otherwise be wasted just because of their imaginings.

     Another hour or so passed uneventfully until everybody then in the 

room was suddenly startled to hear the voice once more: “Turn me on my 


     Again there was pandemonium as the mourners sought to escape 

whatever retribution might descend on them from this supernatural 

emanation. The room again emptied but one can get used to anything so 

this time they looked back in shortly afterwards and saw that nothing 

else had occurred. They again nervously resumed their seats and as per 

the voice’s instruction, turned the corpse on its face.

     When, shortly afterwards, the voice rose again: ” Now kiss my 

arse”!, There were some incredulous cries from the audience at this turn 

of events and en masse they examined for the source of the voice. They 

lifted the bed and, lo and behold, there, under the bed, was the other 


As it was told to me, extended in the tradition of good storytelling, the corpse asked also to be ‘turned on his right side’ but either because the corpse had a sore right arm from lifting pints or that Listowel Connections was short of space, I left that one out. pastedGraphic.png

Billy McSweeney


English Trained Nurses

From the 1940s up until the 1980s, thousands of Irish young ladies trained as nurses in English hospitals. It is a phenomenon that should definitely be studied and memories recorded while these ladies are still with us.

This thought was prompted by an email from Ken Duckett.

…my brief knowledge of my mother’s nursing training in Eastbourne, Sussex. The pictures would have been from the early to mid 1930’s. Just the surnames appear below the pictures and it includes my mum who was Kathleen Hanlon from Asdee east, Kerry. Maybe your readers may recognise the faces, surnames or different uniforms. I wondered how she got there and if there was a sea route from Cork or she went to Dublin and Liverpool?

Anyone else reading this who trained in England, maybe even in Eastbourne, we’d love to hear from you.

Thanks to David O’Sullivan for help with the photos.

Aren’t the uniforms gas?


A Fact

A father sea catfish keeps the eggs of his young in his mouth until they are ready to hatch. He will not eat until his young are born. This may take several weeks.

(Some of these facts are leaving me floored)


Of Cabbages and Kings

Bench surrounded by wild garlic in Gurtenard Wood, Listowel a few years ago

This photograph is meant to lift the spirits.

It says “if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’


Spare me a Minute

My late mother -in -law had a phrase for this time of year, the hungry gap. It was referring to that time of year when few fresh vegetables apart from hardy greens were available in the greengrocers. That was in the era before freezers and food miles.

These days are also a hungry gap for your blogger as life is quiet and the weather is so inclement that only the brave or foolhardy venture out.

This is my excuse for including the following story which has absolutely no Listowel connection except that lots of Listowel people are talking about it.

This is the amusing window display in Bert’s Books in Swindon on January 10 2023. There is no such display in Woulfe’s.

I have not read the book and I dont intend to but I’ve seen snippets and I watched one interview.

It seems to me that Harry is casting himself as some kind of universal saviour with a message for us all .

He is hoping by sueing them to warn the paparazzi off and thus save us all from their intrusion. (Personally they’ve never bothered me that much)

By revealing the number of people he killed in Afghanistan, he says he hopes he is helping prevent the problem of suicide among war veterans.

There is one glaringly obvious saving mission he could embark on. His mother died tragically in Paris as she was being driven through a tunnel which allegedly had a dodgy camber, by a driver who had that day taken drink and drugs and was ordered by his boss to drive a powerful car with which he was not familiar. She was being pursued (‘chased” is Harry’s more emotive word). BUT she was not wearing a seat belt. Now a seat belt may not have saved her life considering the speed at which the car was travelling, but it just might have.

That’s my tuppence worth.


Listowel Marching Band

Listowel Marching Band 1987…Photo: Charlie Nolan

Those were the days! Someone must have the stories. I’d love to record the origins and the history of this piece of Listowel history.


Irish Antecedents Remembered

Kay Caball has done extensive research on the Famine girls from Kerry who were relocated to Australia. Here some of the other Irish girls are remembered at a ceremony last November. The account is from an online blog, Tinteán.

Descendant participants of VOICES with Irish Ambassador. L-R front: Julie Merrington, Ian Bowker, Noeleen Lloyd, His Excellency Ambassador Tim Mawe, Alicia Burnett, Sue Jacques.
Back: Gavan Duffy, Mark McAuliffe 

The Irish Famine Orphan Girls Commemoration event, held at Famine Rock in Williamstown in November, marked a return to the in-person event which has been an annual commemoration since 1998.

The special guest speakers included the Ambassador of Ireland to Australia, His Excellency Tim Mawe, who was accompanied by his wife Ms Patricia McCarthy. Two other guest speakers were the newly-elected Mayor Cr Tony Briffa and Cr Pamela Sutton-Legaud, both from Creative City Hobsons Bay, the major supporter of the event.  

This year, the commemoration committee searched for a new way of ‘bringing the girls to the table’, as it were, to somehow let the girls share their story with us, rather than us telling their stories.  This led to the creation of special presentation titled VOICES, written by Siobhan O’Neill. 

The presentation followed the journey from Famine to Australia – from Hunger to Hope – that was taken by the orphan girls of the Earl Grey Scheme. Each part represented the story of one orphan girl from each of the six ships that came to Melbourne. It was crafted in the first-person, and delivered by descendants of those six orphan girls. 

The presentation was led by committee member Noeleen Lloyd, herself a descendant with three orphan girls in her family. 

The featured stories included were:

  • Famine – Bridget ‘Biddy’ Kildea, a 15yo from Gleneely, Co Donegal, who arrived on the Lady Kennaway in 1848 with her sisters Margaret aged 18 and Ann aged 17. Biddy told us about famine, eviction, and the spectre of the workhouse in Donegal. Her story was read by her second-great-grandniece, Alicia Burnett.
  • Workhouse – Margaret Ryan, 15 years old from Roscrea, Co Tipperary. She was among the girls who arrived on the Pemberton in 1849.  She told us about her lost family, life in the Roscrea Workhouse, and talk of a new scheme to send girls to Australia. Margaret’s story was read by her second-great-granddaughter, Julie Merrington.
  • Earl Grey Scheme and Journey – Catherine Foran was 15 years old, and had lived in the Waterford Workhouse from the age of nine. She came to Port Phillip on board the New Liverpool in 1849. She told us of her six years in Waterford Workhouse, being chosen for the new scheme, and the epic voyage to Australia. Catherine’s story was shared by her second-great-grandson Gavan Duffy. 
  • Arrival and employment – Mary Margaret Hunt, a 17yo from Limavady, Co Derry, came to Australia on the Diadem in 1850. She told us about her hopes for employment, creating a successful life here, and the opportunities she envisioned in Melbourne. Margaret’s story was shared by her great-grandson, Ian Bowker. 
  • Building a new life – Lucy Ellis was 16 years old and from Newry, Co Down. She was one of 35 girls sent from the Newry Workhouse to Australia. Lucy arrived in Port Phillip on board the Derwent in 1850. She told us about getting settled in a new country, finding love, creating a home and raising a family on the plains outside Melbourne. Lucy’s story was shared by her second-great-granddaughter, Sue Jacques, who travelled to Melbourne from Queensland for the event. 
  • Legacy and Generations – Margaret O’Brien was a 15-year-old from Nenagh, Co Tipperary. She arrived, along with her 17-year-old sister Bridget, on board the Eliza Caroline in 1850, the last ship to bring girls with the Earl Grey Scheme to Port Phillip. Margaret told us about the lives she and her sister created here, both marrying Irish convict brothers, and the joys and hardships of their new life in North East Victoria. Margaret’s story was shared by her third-great-grandson, Mark McAuliffe.  

While the stories featured were interpretations based on facts in the lives of the named girl in each instance, they are essentially the stories of all Irish orphan girls. In giving the girls a voice, the Irish Famine Orphan Girls Commemoration 20222 paid homage to the courage and legacy of all of these remarkable young women.

Siobhan O’Neill

Siobhan convenes the Irish Famine Orphan Girls Commemoration Committee


From my Inbox

My 2X Great  Grandfather, John Murphy, was from Listowel, Ahabeg, County Kerry. He married Johanna Cronin after arriving in the United States.  They were successful pioneer farmers in leavenworth County, Kansas.  I am planning a trip to Ireland in the SPRING  and am interested to find if the Murphy Farm House Bed And Breakfast could be home of relatives. 

Janice Fitzgibbon Hughes

Any help for Janice would be appreciated.


TY Work Experience and Loving it

My granddaughter, Aisling, is in town this week doing her TY work experience in Listowel Writers’ Week office. Here she is, dead excited with the curator, Stephen Connolly, as they check out venues for this year’s programme.

Here she is at Listowel Courthouse where Stephen is composing this excited tweet

“too excited to wait to share this news: we’ll be doing an event with the authors of @badbridget (crime, mayhem and the lives of irish emigrant women) on the 1st of june in the town courthouse, pictured here with the work placement pupil aisling who is helping out at @writersweek”

I wasn’t familiar with Bad Bridget but I am now. I can’t wait for this enticing event.


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