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

Category: History Page 1 of 16

Old Listowel and Old Ballybunion

Bridge Road in July 2022

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Down by the Riverside

Molly gave me a great incentive to get out and about more. She is posing for me in the lovely Tidy Town community garden. By the wall there are flowers as well as herbs.

( I’m having a bit of an issue with image resizing at the moment so you’ll have to forgive a few over compressed ones. All along I had been putting up files that were way way too big and I’ve used up all my allowed disc space. I’m awaiting tech help (my son) to hopefully sort it out for me)

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Happy House on Bridge Road Listowel in July 2022

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The Homecoming

This surely was the homecoming to beat all homecomings.

Denny Street Tralee on Monday July 25 2022
Photo: Elizabeth Brosnan
July 2022; Festival of Kerry lights up and victorious team in town Photo; Breda Ferris

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Old Listowel

These two old photos are from the Lawrence collection in the National Library. They have been colourised by Frank O’Connor and shared on Facebook. You will notice in the St. John’s photo that it once had a low wall surrounding the church. This wall was topped with a railing which was an ideal post to which to tether a horse. I’m told that Catholic mass goes used to tie their horses to this raining while they attended the church across the road on Sundays.

You will also notice a house, painted white on the right of St. Mary’s in the photo. This house was purchased by the diocese and knocked to extend the church

Te church, the castle and the sweet factory by the river Feale

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A Bank Holiday Read

Tadhg Coakley wrote this charming essay recently in The Irish Examiner’s Mo Laethanta Saoire series. He returns to Ballybunion, the holiday destination of his childhood.

Tadhg Coakley, Irish Examiner

Mo Laethanta Saoire: vital life lessons from Ballybunion’s surf, amusements and Bunyan’s shop

Cork author, Tadhg Coakley, recalls the logistics of getting eight children on holiday to Ballybunion — and the joy of the beach, the bumpers and trips with family

THU, 14 JUL, 2022 – 22:00

TADHG COAKLEY

You’re walking around the North Kerry seaside town of Ballybunion. It’s the summer of 2022. The day is blustery and sunny.

You’re thinking of the summer holidays you and your family went on — to Ballybunion every year from the 1950s to the late 70s. How everything has changed and how everything is the same.

Such a feat of logistics and emotional intelligence to transport all eight children from Mallow, year after year. But your mother and father managed it: sometimes with the help of John Mannix, transporting beds and a clothes drier on a Springmount Dairy van. Mary remembers stopping at McKenna’s in Listowel to rent a washing machine and a TV for the fortnight. How very 1960s.

One year, when you were three or four, you forgot to bring your imaginary friend, Chummy, with you. When you realised your mistake you went into hysterics. What did your mother do? Turned the car around. Now, if the car had been closer to Listowel than Mallow there might have been a different result, but Chummy had a great fortnight at the seaside.

When was the last time you were here? You can’t remember. In 2018 when you were at Listowel Writer’s Week and took a little pilgrimage out to look around? Or was it 2019 when your pal Mick Quaid invited you to 18 holes on the Old Course? A stunning golf links which you can no longer do justice, but that’s okay too. Time erodes everything, including golf swings.You walk out the Doon Road to the north of the town. Costello’s shop is long gone. What a magical place it was when you were a child. A cornucopia of wonder. A milestone when you were first sent to that shop on your own to get the messages. That mixture of pride and anxiety to have such a monumental responsibility. It helped that there was no money involved, Mrs Costello having a ‘book’ in which she totted up everything at the end of holiday, when your mother would pay up.

You call into Bunyan’s just down the road and when Liam tells you he still uses that system for regulars, you are heartened. The Bunyans have been trading there since 1957; some things are different, but some things stay the same.The Ladies Strand still seems as stunning to you after all these years. Especially since the tide is coming in and the wind is whipping up towering waves which crash against the jagged cliff. Even through your jaded eyes, it still seems wondrous.

Did you and your brothers and sisters really dive into that tumultuous surf when you were small children? Did you lay down rugs in gale-force winds? Did you leave your clothes and towels in the shelter and run down through the rain to the distant sea at low tide?

Was the sand as soft and golden as it is today? Was the coast of Clare so close? Were the white horses so wild? Was the sky so blue and the clouds so white? Was the wind whipping off the water so bracing?

Memory is fallible. Like sepia-tinted photos, it fades. It can hide blemishes and beauty alike. But the ice cream cones were sweet and soft, the flakes hard and crumbly underneath. The water in the pools by the cliff was warm. The caves in the cliff were magical. The walk over to the Black Pool was thrilling. The bumpers and the amusements were electrifying. The dinner was served in the middle of the day, piping hot with floury spuds and butter. The salads for tea were delicious. The forty-five in the evenings was great fun — your mother, especially, loved those card games.

The days were as long and as full as days can be. You were never happier than on that strand with a ball at your feet or a hurley in your hand, your family all around you.

You walk out to the cliff-top chalets where ye rented in the later years. You are surprised they’re still here. Surrounded by ribbons of houses, now, and a plethora of mobile homes. The chalets look a bit jaded. All privately owned, these days, Liam told you. You’d forgotten how they all angled away from the central road. You think the final year for you was in 1977, in the last one on the left; could that be correct? You remember the shock at Elvis’ death and you know that happened when ye were on holidays, when you were 16. Padraig and Pauline went one more year with your Mam and Dad.Year after year, your mother and father managed to treat you all to that holiday, until — one by one — late teenage ‘sophistication’ eroded its wonders and other priorities took hold. How you were all nurtured and provided for so well for so long. It’s only now you realise that the nurture and provision never ended. Instead, it is being passed on to the next generation and the next one after that.

Tadhg Coakley in 1963 Irish Examiner

These days the holidays may be in the Cote d’Azur, or Noosa, or Hilton Head, or Gruissan, but the joy is just the same. You all learned how to have fun in Ballybunion — a vital life lesson.You check into the Cliff House Hotel, which was known as Bernie’s when you were a child. Your father would have approved of you forking out a few extra bob for a sea view. He used to have a pint there and tell Bernie (the legendary GAA man, Bernard O’Callaghan) what was wrong with Kerry football. Bernie must have enjoyed that. You remember when Pecker Dunne played there — how exotic that name to a 1960s child.

Later, you walk out to Nun’s Strand. There’s an old photo of you with a donkey along that path and you’re surprised there are no donkeys in the fields anymore. Some things change.

You meet a woman from Brisbane, her name is Catherine. You tell her about your niece, Una, living out there with Joel and Ronan. Catherine tells you she’s here to spread some of her mother’s and father’s ashes into the sea the following morning on the strand. Her father (Listowel) and her mother (Abbeyfeale) met in Montreal and then moved to Australia where she and her brother and sister grew up. They loved coming back to Ballybunion and now they will be reunited there again — this time, forever. She shows you a black-and-white picture of her mother taken at the very spot you are standing now — in the photo she is wearing a hand-knitted cardigan; she looks very like your own mother.You walk around the town. The amusements are open and you see children grouped around a shining noisy game. A boy passes you, hopping a football. Four American golfers cross the road. Some things stay the same.

On Church Road you can’t find the house you rented for a few years — the one with the big garden where Dermot took all those photos. You think it’s been knocked down to build a Celtic Tiger housing development. Some things do change.

In the morning you wake to the sound of the sea. Which was what you wanted more than the view. The sound is constant and is very like a distant wind. It’s the same sound you fell asleep to and woke up to all those years ago as a child on your holidays.

You chat to Maggie and Kevin at Reception as you check out from the hotel. You tell Kevin a story about your father and he tells you a story about his — the aforementioned Bernie. You turn the car left at the end of Church Road and head out on the straight road to Listowel and home. You think of Catherine’s mother and father and your own mother and father. You think of your brothers and sisters. You think about what William Faulkner meant when he said that ‘the past isn’t over; it isn’t even past’.

You wonder when your next trip to Ballybunion will happen, but in another sense, you know you’ve never left at all.

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Fr. Anthony Gaughan

This house in the Silent Valley in Co. Down is renovated in the style of an old time cottage with open fire and old furniture. Photo by Éamon ÓMurchú

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McKenna’s Yard staff

Photo Mike Hannon

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A Poet at a Book Launch

Gabriel Fitzmaurice and Fr. Anthony Gaughan in St. Jiohn’s at Writers’ Week 2022
queueing for a signing
Eamonn and Marion are great supporters of Fr. Gaughan

The setting was a coincidence. The picture of the Blessed Virgin was on stage as a prop for the lunchtime play, The Six Marys.

Fr. Gaughan, Catherine Moylan, Martin Moore and a lady who writes bilingual books

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Maureen Flavin Sweeney Commemorated in Knockanure

Ted and Maureen Sweeney

Maureen Flavin was born in Knockanure 99 years ago. She married Mayoman, Ted Sweeney.

The Sweeney family, Ted, his mother Margaret and sister Frances, together with Maureen, had been reporting on the hour, twenty-four hours a day, to the Meteorological Service in Dublin for the length of World War II. This hourly reporting continued until an automatic meteorological station was brought into operation in Belmullet in 1956.

On her 21st birthday, June 3 1944 the barometer at the remote weather station at Blacksod showed pressure was dropping rapidly, indicating a major Atlantic storm was due to arrive and blow right across western Europe. Based on Maureen’s readings, US general Dwight D Eisenhower postponed the D-Day landing by 24 hours. And so a woman from Knockanure changed the course of the war.

She was honoured in her home place on Sunday June 19 2022. She was not well enough to attend but I’m sure her relatives brought her back photos and recordings of the event.

( A little bird told me that she attended the All Ireland Final of 1951, the last time Mayo won)

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The New Kingdom

The New Kingdom Bar was been repainted. I love the new look.

This is one of the very stately upstairs sash windows.

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A Poignant Book Launch at Writers’ Week 2022

This book launch had a few elements of a wake about it. Like any good wake it had an element of hooley about it too.

We had songs and stories and we laughed and cried with the chief mourner.

Mary Kennelly gathered into this book a collection of poems she wrote chronicling her feelings as she observed two beloved uncles fade into the grey of dementia.

This wasn’t just another political duty for Norma Foley. Norma is a friend of Mary’s and like everyone who contributed to the success of this book launch was there a friend who empathised with Mary, knowing the toll this illness takes on families.

The book was published as a thank you to the two nursing homes, Aras Mhuire in Listowel and Fatima House in Tralee, where Mary’s two uncles, Fr. John and Brendan were cared for. All proceeds from the sale of the anthology go to these two places.

Brendan Kennelly who loved words, lost his words at the end. He returned, “helpless as a baby” to his Kerry family who eventually, in death, returned him to his worldwide family, an audience, who loved his words.

Mary Kennelly signing my book at Writers’ Week 2022.

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Writers’ Week and other things

Listowel Town Square in June 2022

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Listowel Writers’ Week 2022

What a great few days, (Writers’ Week is not really a week) we had. I enjoyed every moment from start to finish. I haven’t had such a hectic time since before Covid.

I’m going to tell you all about it, not necessarily in the order in which it happened.

This event happened in St. John’s on Friday June 3rd. 2022. The ladies onstage are best selling authors, Catherine Ryan Howard, Carmel Harrington and Hazel Gaynor. They write in three very different styles. What they have in common is that they are all really successful, they write full time and their work has been categorised as commercial fiction as if that was somehow inferior to literary.

As Catherine said, they write the books people read.

With them on stage is Catherine Moylan who is chair of Writers’ Week. Catherine is passionate about including these writers in the festival of writing. It was a great event.

Catherine Ryan Howard wrote a brilliant thriller set in lockdown Dublin. It is called 56Days and I’d highly recommend it. Her Nothing Man is great too.

Carmel Harrington writes what is called up lit. Up Lit is a new trend. It stands for uplifting literature, stories with kindness at their core. Carmel is hugely popular. She is on her 11th book. Her tenth, A Mother’s Heart is in the shops now.

I particularly love Hazel Gaynor’s books. She writes historical fiction and she is a meticulous researcher of sometimes little known topics. Many of her books are available in audio book form or for Kindle.

I’m delighted these three ladies came to Listowel. They have proven that they deserve their place in a festival that celebrates writing.

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Meanwhile

While I was enjoying plays and books, another exciting thing was taking place.

A lovely lovely Listowel girl was being picked as Kerry Rose for 2022.

Édaein O’Connell has everything you could want in a Rose. She is “lovely and fair as the rose of the summer”. She is also media savvy, well able to account for herself, a witty and entertaining journalist who appeals to readers at home and abroad.

I hope she sings The Night Visiting Song as her party piece. It will bowl the judges over. My money is on Édaein to be the first ever Kerry Rose to win the contest outright. Even if she doesn’t, she will be a brilliant Kerry Rose for the year.

Édaein was sponsored by Garvey’s Super Valu and one of her first tasks as Rose was a visit there.

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A Half Century Ago

This class of Leaving Certs. from 50 years ago had a reunion lately but I got no pictures unfortunately.

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A Request

Dear Mary 

I am writing because I found your blog, and I was wondering if you could help me with some research I am conducting.

In particular I am looking for fifth and sixth year class photos of the Presentation Secondary School, for girls in Listowel for the following years: 1957, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62 and 63. 

I would really appreciate if you could help point me in the right direction, or if indeed you might know anyone who might have a yearbook with class photos, that they could send me by taking a picture of the yearbook themselves.

Kind regards,

Mel Cannon

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The Bog

Road works on Church Street 2022

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It’s that Time of Year

A picture is worth a thousand words. These pictures which Mary O’Donnell took in the bog last week tell the story of our forefathers. Handcut turf drying in the May sunshine is a sight that spans the decades.

The turf is harvested with skills and tools passed on from generation to generation. It’s a link with our ancestors, a beloved tradition that is fiercely defended whenever it comes under threat.

In the first picture you will observe the wind turbines on the right, the past and the future side by side.

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Tara Griffin Shares Some ads

There is a great swell of nostalgia on a Facebook group named Listowel and North Kerry do you know.

A recent contributor to this site is Tara Griffin, the late Bert’s daughter. She is sorting through her father’s archive of photographs and memorabilia. Look at the above great Listowel advertisements from a match programme.

Listowel where everyone is a poet.

For a bus to Duagh

A plane to New York

A slow boat to China

Or a train to Cork

Consult Michael Kennelly

I presume the Fountain Café was Roly Chute’s with “the finest chips to pass your lips”.

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Old Ballybunion

A while ago, Glin Historical Society shared some lovely old photos of Ballybunion is the days of changing huts and donkey rides.

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Jimmy Hickey, Dancing Master

Photo shared on Facebook, Listowel and North Kerry,do you know

Siamsa Tire have shared a great video of Jimmy Hickey.

Here is the link;

Jimmy Hickey, Dancing Master

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A Brian Bilson Poem for you

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Shops and People

The Friday Market in the new covered area in Listowel Town Square

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Lovely Buildings on Church Street

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Pres Yearbook 2006

Zuzanna, One of the First Polish Girls in Pres.

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A Coursing programme from 1968

shared online by Brian Canty

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Artist at Work

This artist, Jean Cauthen, is a frequent resident at Olive Stack’s Gallery. You can purchase this picture she is painting en plein air or any other of her local scenes at the gallery.

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