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

Category: History Page 1 of 24

Christmas Then and Now

Courtyard at Listowel Castle 2023

Craft Fair in Kanturk

Sunday, November 26 2023

The annual Christmas craft fair is organised by the local Men’s Shed. The Edel Quinn Hall is the venue and it was mobbed.

This lady’s knitted toys and ornaments were very popular.

It is always a pleasure to meet the Two Crafty Ladies at a fair. It was their first time in Kanturk.

This lovely lady’s company is called The Rebellious Goat and she produces lovely soaps and balms using goats milk and honey from her bees. My friend, Lil is trying out some hand salve.

Paddy, Gael and Lil were sampling mulled wine all the way from Listowel.

Will you look at the lovely group of choristers I bought.

Booker Winner

Couldn’t believe my luck when I got this in the library. Just started but so far it’s lovely, very poetic but I know the subject is far from pleasant so I’m prepared.

A Seasonal Poem

A Kerry Christmas Childhood

Garry MacMahon

Now I cannot help remembering the happy days gone by,

As Christmastime approaches and the festive season’s nigh.

I wallow in nostalgia when I think of long ago,

And the tide that waits for no man as the years they ebb and flow.

We townies scoured the countryside for holly berries red,

And stripped from tombs green ivy in the graveyard of the dead,

To decorate each picture frame a hanging on the wall,

And fill the house with greenery and brighten winter’s pall,

Putting up the decorations was for us a pleasant chore,

And the crib down from the attic took centre stage once more.

From the box atop the dresser the figures were retrieved,

To be placed upon a bed of straw that blessed Christmas Eve,

For the candles, red crepe paper, round the jamjars filled with sand,

To be placed in every window and provide a light so grand,

To guide the Holy Family who had no room at the inn,

And provide for them a beacon of the fáilte mór within.

The candles were ignited upon the stroke of seven,

The youngest got the privilege to light our way to Heaven,

And the rosary was said as we all got on our knees,

Remembering those who’d gone before and the foreign missionaries.

Ah, we’d all be scrubbed like new pins in the bath before the fire

And, dressed in our pajamas of tall tales we’d never tire,

Of Cuchlainn, Ferdia, The Fianna, Red Branch Knights,

Banshees and Jack o Lanterns, Sam Magee and Northern Lights

And we’d sing the songs of Ireland, of Knockanure and Black and Tans,

And the boys of Barr na Sráide who hunted for the wran.

Mama and Dad they warned us as they gave each good night kiss,

If we didn’t go to sleep at once then Santa we would miss,

And the magic Christmas morning so beloved of girls and boys,

When we woke to find our dreams fulfilled and all our asked for toys,

But Mam was up before us the turkey to prepare,

To peel the spuds and boil the ham to provide the festive fare.

She’d accept with pride the compliments from my father and the rest.

“Of all the birds I’ve cooked,” she’s say, “ I think that this year’s was the best.”

The trifle and plum pudding, oh, the memories never fade

And then we’d wash the whole lot down with Nash’s lemonade.

St. Stephen’s Day brought wrenboys with their loud knock on the door,

To bodhrán beat abd music sweet they danced around the floor’

We, terror stricken children, fled in fear before the batch,

And we screamed at our pursuers as they rattled at the latch.

Like a bicycle whose brakes have failed goes headlong down the hill

Too fast the years have disappeared. Come back they never will.

Our clan is scattered round the world. From home we had to part.

Still we treasure precious memories forever in our heart.

So God be with our parents dear. We remember them with pride,

And the golden days of childhood and the happy Christmastide.

A Fact

A Christmas fact from the schools’ folklore collection…

The Big Wind

In the year 1839 on little Christmas night there was a fierce storm. The people were very happy and enjoying Christmas ; they had the Christmas candles lighted and the night was very calm. At ten o’clock they went to look at the cows and took lighted splinters as candles were very scarce in those days. It was so calm that the splinter kept lighting till they had secured the cattle for the night.

Afterwards they went to bed, and were sound asleep when the storm arose at midnight. It was so bad that the people ran out of the houses. The houses were thrown down, cowstalls were flying half a mile away, and cattle were bellowing with no roof over them. The people were screaming for help, and tried to hold on to each other, and were very much exhausted.

The storm lasted till twelve o’clock at night till seven in the morning. Then the people collected and made up little houses that they could sleep in, until a time came when they were able to build their houses once more.

Afterwards when people talked of it they used to call it the night of the Big Wind.
Pat Stack, Told by Nurse Stack, Newtownsandes, 62 years.


Lyre, Ballyseedy and Ballylongford

Scully’s Corner

From the Capuchin Annual Archive

Horse-Drawn Ploughing, 1945 

This is an image of a farmer with a traditional horse-drawn plough in rural Ireland. The image dates to about 1945. Attracting an annual attendance of nearly 300,000 people, the National Ploughing Championships is the flagship event for Irish agriculture and is one of the largest outdoor exhibition and agricultural trade shows in Europe. The event runs for three days.

The photograph forms part of a bound volume containing a collection titled ‘Views of Irish life’ intended for publication in ‘The Capuchin Annual’. 

What I’m Reading

The Lyreacrompane and District Journal is full of interesting little stories.

I was happily reading these when I spied a photograph of my postman.

Pat Hickey’s story is on page 12.

In 1979 Pat’s grandfather made a find in a bog in Banemore…a casket of bog butter that could be 2,000 years old.

This is just one of the great and extraordinary tales in this marvellous journal. The best value in town at only €15.

In Ballylongford

I was in Ballylongford last Sunday for the annual craft fair. The community centre where the fair was held shares a carpark with St. Michael’s church.

I arrived at mass time. Big mistake! Cars parked and some more abandoned everywhere. I’ll know better next year.

When Your Granny Played a Role in History

The Ballyseedy massacre has to be one of the the worst atrocities of a very bitter civil war in Kerry.

Here is Mick O’Callaghan’s story;

Granny Curran and The Civil War

Granny Curran said her rosary nightly and prayed for people who died in wars. We were always very aware of the significance of her home place and civil war politics. My granny played a role in saving a man’s life. On March 7th, 1923, nine republican prisoners, six from the jail in Tralee and three from the workhouse, were taken from Ballymullen army barracks in Tralee. They were taken in a lorry, lying down, to Ballyseedy, on the Killarney Road. They were secured by the hands and legs and to each other and arranged in a circle around a landmine at Ballyseedy and they were blown up.

This barbaric event was in reprisal for the killing of Capt. Michael Dunne, Capt. Edward Stapleton from Dublin, Lieut Patrick O Connor from Castleisland, Private Laurence O Connor from Causeway, and private Michael Galvin from Killarney. They were killed in a booby trap bomb set off by anti-treaty forces at Talbot Bridge near Knocknagoshel on March 6th1923.

     One of the men at Ballyseedy, Stephen Fuller, was blown clear. He landed in a ditch, suffering burns and scars. He crossed the little river Lee and hid in Ballyseedy Woods. He followed the stream until he came to the gable of a house owned by Mike and Hannah Curran, my grandparents.

They took him in and hid him in the hayshed and tended to his wounds. The following day they took him to the home of Charlie Daly. His injuries were treated by a local doctor, Edmond Shanahan who found him in a dugout. He moved often in the coming months including to the Boyle and Burke families in the locality. Then he stayed in a dugout prepared by the Herlihy family for seven months until they were able to contact people who could get him to safety and back to health. The Dublin Guards scoured the country for Fuller but failed to find him.

He joined Fianna Fail led by Eamon De Valera in 1926 after a split with Sinn Fein. He returned to full time farming. Later he became a TD for North Kerry and won elections in 1937,1938, 1943.

My grandparents were not actively involved in any movement but just did the Christian thing in saving a man’s life. They were shocked at the barbaric act that had been committed so close to them at Ballyseedy Cross.

This was a time when brutality was everywhere with pro and anti- treaty sides involved in terrible atrocities with brother fighting against brother and families split over civil war loyalties.

My first cousin Michael, who is now in his eighties and resides in Connecticut, lived with Granny Curran, and I asked him if he ever spoke to her about the Troubles and he wrote to me as follows: “She described the Stephen Fuller episode to me many times.  It struck me as a one-off event.  He came up along the river that runs behind our house and saw the gable in the distance and headed for it.  She said they put him up – I think in a loft, maybe in one of the outhouses overnight and passed the word to wherever they needed it to go that he was there.  I had the impression “they” came for him the next day in a pony and trap and took him away.  As I say I think it was a one-time event.  I don’t believe she ran a “safe house” although it was safe for Stephen Fuller that night.  She never impressed me as a fan of either side in the civil war.  I think she was too practical for that.  

She had a large family at home – my father was 14 at that time – and the civil war was an extension of what they went through with “the Tans”.  I think she just wanted to be left alone.  She was sympathetic to Fuller on a human level but was shocked by the atrocious brutality of what the Free State did on that night – the tying of the men (I’m told) to a landmine.  

But there was so much ambivalence.  I think she admired Michael Collins for his looks.  She talked about that.  

 I remember the crowning of Elizabeth II.  Our grandmother (and every other female I knew) was enthralled by the spectacle.  No resentment was shown about old issues.

Come to think of it, I teared up when the much older Elizabeth stood in Dublin, dressed in green, and gave a toast in Irish.  And when she got into the joking back and forth with the fishmonger in the English Market in Cork it was more than I could take. There’s so much more to all these relationships.

There was an RTE program presented by Pat Butler some years ago about Ballyseedy [a reprisal for an event in a field in Knocknagoshel]. My Auntie Kitty was interviewed for it and spoke about her mother’s role and her reluctance to speak about her role in it confirming my cousin’s story.

Our grandmother had a great interest in and knowledge of the family tree.  At one point in my teen years, realising that she would not be around forever, I asked her about the ancestors, one by one, going back through the generations.  She took me back three or four generations, I think.  I wrote it down, drawing it as a family tree or chart and kept it.  In fact, I was looking for it about six weeks ago to show to my granddaughter but couldn’t find it.  It was a pencil sketch of the tree as she described it to me.  We were raised as Catholics but there were Protestants in our background and people with German ancestry. The name was Poff, and they lived in Killorglin.   It may have been one of the Palatinate people”. 

Some five days after Ballyseedy another five republicans were chained to a landmine at Bahaghs near Cahirciveen, having their legs first being shot to prevent them from escaping. Five men were also chained to a mine in Countess Bridge in Killarney, but one Tadhg Coffey was blown clear. All this was done under the command of Major General Paddy O Daly, and all were exacting revenge for Knocknagoshel.

 It is interesting that during his life as a public representative Stephen Fuller never spoke about the Ballyseedy massacre. He spoke publicly about it for the first time in 1980 in an interview with Robert Kee’s ground-breaking BBC series Ireland: A television history. This happened a few years before his death.

 In this interview, as on many other occasions, he never mentioned my grandparent’s role in the rescue. They knew each other and respected their privacy.

He never wanted to influence his own family in their political beliefs. I remember reading that Stephen Fuller told his son that Civil War divisions should not be passed on to the next generation. He also stated that he bore no ill-will towards his captors or those who were involved in his extrajudicial attempted killing.

Granny Curran, like most women of her era, was a strong-willed person. She had her own strong religious and political beliefs, but they were not shared. She spoke about the five years she had spent in America at the turn of the century and how it had influenced her life and she in turn influenced us.  We heard a lot of stories about different cultures and beliefs. Her chats with us during our formative years had a very positive influence on our attitude to people during our lives especially in respecting difference. We had regular lessons in tolerance and inclusion, and this was very important to her since they lived in a mixed religion area.

She said her rosaries and had the Stations in the house which were held with due respect and reverence. She was progressive in her thinking, but she never crossed the line with politics. She never wanted her political beliefs passed on to the next generation. As she often said to me ‘You are too young for that information” or “somethings are best left unsaid and kept to yourself”.

The Ballyseedy monument was opened in 1959 and the Curran family was represented but no mention was made of their involvement in the 1923 explosion or incident as it was euphemistically called. Ballyseedy was a sad event which happened long before we were born but the story has been part of the folklore of our lives down the years and whenever we pass the Ballyseedy monument on the way into Tralee we recall Granny Curran and the many memories we have of her long life.

It is interesting that the Curran and Fuller families, in Ireland and America, are still in contact. Although all members of the family are fully au fait with the tragedy of Ballyseedy, they never speak about it. Is binn béal ina thost.

Let the past look after itself as my granny used to say.

A Poem

This poem by Robert Louis Stevenson was one of the first I learned by heart.

A Fact

A sleeping man’s snore can be as loud as 69 decibels, i.e. the same as a pneumatic drill.


Football and Poetry

in St. Michael’s Graveyard


No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –

A Piece of GAA history from the Capuchin Archives

Maurice Davin, GAA Pioneer, 1903 

A rather mundane letter albeit one written by a towering figure in the history of Irish sport. Maurice Davin (1842-1927) was a farmer from Carrick-on-Suir in County Tipperary who achieved international recognition for his athletic endeavours in the 1870s. He is now chiefly remembered as one of the co-founders of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA).

On 1 November 1884 Michael Cusack and Davin convened a meeting at Hayes’s Hotel in Thurles in County Tipperary, at which the GAA (Cumann Lúthchleas Gael) was established. Davin presided over the meeting and was elected as the organisation’s first president. He remains the only individual to have ever served two terms in that role. Although not actively involved in the GAA after 1889, he remained passionately committed to Gaelic sports. He organised matches on his farm at Deerpark near Carrick-on-Suir, and several Tipperary County finals and the All-Ireland hurling final of 1904 were played there. Davin was also responsible for drafting the early rules for both Gaelic football and hurling. The Davin Stand in Croke Park, Dublin, the principal national stadium of Ireland and the headquarters of the GAA, was named in his honour. Davin’s letter is addressed to Fr. Richard Henebry, a Waterford-born priest and Irish language scholar. It forms part of a collection of Henebry’s papers held in the Irish Capuchin Archives.

“I asked my mother what will I be….”

This photo and caption shared on social media by Kerry Franchise is one of the sweetest things you’ll see today.

David (aged two – seated, squirming maybe, wearing the ‘goated’ 1998 Adidas jersey) and Paudie Clifford (four years old, standing snugly behind David’s buggie) at Kerry Airport to welcome the Kerry team home after 2000 All-Ireland win. 

Just two small boys lost in the crowd. But in 20 years time they’d be creating their own Kerry legacy. Stuff of dreams. And literally for them. 

Paudie now has 3 All Stars – and some said he didn’t have the ‘stuff’ for senior football when he was playing with the Kerry juniors; and now, after 3 years playing senior he has 3 All Stars; 3/3. Just goes to show – anything can happen if you will it into existence. 

As for David, well, what’a ya gonna say about Daithi that hasn’t already been said. It’s a pleasure to be around to just enjoy him. 

This photo shared by Fossa GAA shows Paudie and David on Friday evening last, November 17 2023 with their all star awards . David holds his Footballer of the Year trophy which he won for the second consecutive year.

Looking forward to Christmas

One of my favourite anthologies from Moybella Press

The Lyreacrompane and District Journal has been published 14 times since its inception in 1990.


Food Fair, Book Launch and a Mystery Solved

St. John’s photographed from St. Mary’s

Listowel Food Fair Food Trail 2023

Stop number 3 was at Daisy Boo Barista.

Another Listowel success story here. Daisy has her own business at age 20. She served coffee, tea, herbal tea and hot chocolate to the by now fairly full trailers.

On to stop number 4.

Stop the lights! the two Mags served us up a full meal of chicken in a romana sauce with rice and salad, They had a full array of desserts including chocolate biscuit cake.

Helen Godfrey has been with Mags and Mags nearly since the beginning.

The celebrity chef was happy to pose with the real chefs of the day. He reminisced about calling to the deli when he was a garsún in to town from Duagh. John Relihan loved their food then and more so now. He particularly loved Mags’ Deli romana sauce.

Mags joked that she wasn’t going to share her recipe with a man who sells sauces.

This deli is a Listowel institution. It is now 25 years since John O’Connor moved out and the two ladies took over. They deserve all the support they get.

From William Street Upper to Pennsylvania Avenue, Kathy Buckley’s life story makes for great reading.

Her cousin, Vincent Carmody, tells her story well, embellished with photos, recipes, menus etc. …a great read.

I took a few photos at the launch.

Anne and Elaine Sheahan with Helen Moylan

Rose Molyneaux, Judy MacMahon and Kay Caball

Jed Chute and Liam Grimes

The book was launched by Katie Hannon and lauded by Dr. Miriam Nyhan Gray, a historian specialising in the Irish diaspora. She was fascinated by the fact that Kathy came back to William Street to end her days. Irish emigrants to the US have a very low rate of return by comparison with people from other countries.

From Duagh to the bright lights of Dublin, Katie Hannon is a lady who has blazed her own successful trail. She recalled Vincent, then her postman, delivering her CAO offer letter and waiting for her to share the contents. She recalls him being underwhelmed at her choice of career. He has been proven wrong, hasn’t he?

Máire MacMahon and Anne and Elaine Sheahan

Vincent had signed all the books in advance….this was not his first rodeo. People felt that you can’t leave a book launch without a signing so Katie had to take out the trusty Bic and sign for us.

Mary O’Connell was there

Kieran Lyons caught up with his old teacher, Mick Mulcaire.

Katie and Helen Moylan

Mystery Solved

Our lovely boyeen at Listowel Mart in 1985 has been identified as Maurice O’Connor.

Date for the Diary

A Fact

The Spanish Inquisition once condemned the entire Netherlands to death for heresy.


The Carnival

The Small Square looking towards the Square in August 2023


A Beautiful Shopfront in Main Street

The colourful corner pieces at either side of the nameplate are unique to here. Notice how Martin Chute signed his name in tiny writing. He should be announcing it loud and proud. Beautiful paintwork!

The sign writing is superb.


My photographs don’t so it justice.


The Carnival

In 1940s rural Ireland the annual village carnival was often the social highlight of the year. My interest in revisiting this phenomenon came about because of this photo.

To recap, this is Maria Stack wearing a vintage dress first worn at a carnival queen dance in 1948.

I enlisted help and went on a search for the back story. Thank you Margaret, Lisa and Anna for the hard work and the enjoyment.

The information about this carnival came from this invaluable local journal published in 1990, full of great local lore. The book is, of course, no longer available, but Anna in Kanturk library sourced the article in the local studies archive.

The carnival in question was held in Kilcorney, Co Cork in 1948. This was the second year of the holding of this three-day event. The selection of the carnival queen and her ladies -in- waiting was made at a dance in early June. The 1948 Kilcorney Carnival Queen was the lovely Mary Ring of Horsemount. Margaret, her daughter, took this photo out of its frame to photograph it for us.

The photograph was black and white but had some colour added later. Behind the photo in the frame was this.

A precious souvenir of one of the highlights of a young girl’s life.

The queen and her ladies were dressed in regal costumes with crown and sceptre for the festival as they presided over events like horse trotting, climbing the greasy pole, football matches and in 1948 a huge attraction was the mysterious Madam Know all, who, with the covert aid of a local assistant, could read very accurate fortunes in her crystal ball.

The Queen for the duration of the festival travelled on horseback or was carried with her royal entourage in “a four wheel car pulled by two beautiful steel grey horses”. The car was usually used for carting milk to Rathcoole railway station.

I loved reading the journal’s detailed account of the carnival and its picture of rural life in the days before mechanisation and technology.

There were carnivals and carnival queens in the areas around Listowel. Id love to hear the stories or see the photos.


There’s No Place Like Home

John McElligott welcomes home his niece, Helen (Gore) Mitchell.


They Did It!

Photo from the official announcement on Aug 26 2023

This extraordinary bunch of people organised a day Listowel will never forget. They assembled a record breaking number of people dressed as Dolly Parton in Páirc Mhic Shithigh, Listowel on June 25 2023. In the process they raised €74,670 for two great local charities, Kerry Hospice and Comfort for Chemo. 1,137 people took part in the fun challenge and many more made donations.


A Fact

This “fact” was sourced in a book called “Strong Absorbent Trivia for the Toilet” so don’t blame me.

On average a woman utters about 7000 words in a day while a man uses just over 2,000.


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