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 email@example.com
Anti-government forces in the Irish Civil War attacked the Listowel and Ballybunion Railway several times in early 1923. Damage to the rolling stock and stations of the 9-mile monorail between the two Kerry towns, and the impracticalities of operating such a unique line in the newly consolidated Irish rail system, forced its permanent closure in October 1924.
Passengers and mail on the LBR had been targeted by Irish republican forces during the Irish War of Independence, 1919-1921. In January 1923, during the civil war, armed men forced the Ballybunion stationmaster to open the line’s office, goods store, and waiting room, which they doused with petrol and paraffin oil and set on fire. Within an hour a similar attack occurred at the Lisselton station, about halfway between the two terminuses.
Such destruction is generally attributed to the IRA forces opposed to the Irish Free State. These “irregulars” also cut down about 1,700 yards of telegraph wire and six poles between Listowel and Ballybunion, matching attacks along other Irish rail routes.
Nicknamed the Lartigue after inventor Charles Lartigue, the monorail was “suspended indefinitely” in early February 1923 due to the sabotage. Nearly 40 employees lost their jobs, impacting about 100 family members and ancillary businesses.
With the train out of service, a char-a-banc and motor car service began operating between the two towns, but it also came under attack in March.Once the civil war ended later that spring, the Lartigue was repaired in time for the busy summer season at Ballybunion, a seaside resort. By mid-July, the Freeman’s Journal reported the Lartigue “has already, particularly on Sundays, been taxed to almost its fullest capacity in the conveyance of visitors.”
Like the Lartigue, however, the national newspaper also would have its run ended in 1924.
Then and Now
Mary Sheehy met this lady twenty years ago on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. They met last week by chance in The Flying Saucer café, Listowel.
Mayor of Listowel Aoife Thornton, Kerry Rose Édaein O’Connell, Joan Flavin of the Community and Business Alliance with, front, Trevor Horan of the Community Centre and Alliance chairperson Rose Wall launching the Listowel Community Rose selection.
(photo and caption : The Kerryman
On March 31 2023 in The Listowel Arms Hotel the selection of our community rose (there are 8 in all) will take place. These 8 will compete to replace Edaein O’Connell as Kerry Rose.
Co-ordinator and Festival Director Suzan O’Gara said.
“In the spirit of supporting local and creating a positive community buzz in each of these locations, we are inviting all interested young women between 18 and 29 years of age, and young men aged 21 to 31, to send in their application forms via www.roseoftraleecommunities.com as soon as possible to ensure they’re on time to enter their local Community Rose selection events.”
Funds raised by Listowel Community Rose selection will be shared with the community centre to help with refurbishment expenses following the recent fire.
The Moving of the Dandy Lodge
The Dandy Lodge was built in 1875. In 1997, when it had fallen into disrepair, it was taken down, moved and rebuilt stone by stone in the town park.
Tom O’Halloran R.I.P. who lived nearby was a citizen journalist before the term was invented. He took the following photos of the demolition in progress on his doorstep. His family are now sharing them with us.
A Forgotten Food Fact from 1916
I told you this before. You have probably forgotten it. I certainly had.
Bovril operated a distribution warehouse at Eustace Street, Dublin. In the aftermath of the Rising there were grave food shortages, caused mainly due to the forced closure of bakeries. Many Dublin people were starving. Bovril was distributed free to the citizens to ease their hunger.
(Fact learned from Ireland’s Own)
Adopting a Native American Child in the U.S.
Apropos of yesterday’s story from 1952, Kathy Reynolds wrote;
I have long had an interest in Native American culture maybe first because of Sunday afternoon cowboy and Indian films on RTE as a child but really because of a visit to petroglyphs at Monument Valley in 1988. As we looked at these ancient petroglyphs 2,000 or more years old the Americans around us on hearing British accents could only talk of our long history and the USAs lack of history. They saw no merit in Native American history. This was underlined as we toured the Navajo Tribal Park when our guide said how much he enjoyed taking Europeans around as they appreciated the history will the Americans only saw them as a curiosity.
In case you have forgotten yesterday’s letter here it is;
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Seely,
Thank you very kindly for your donation of 10.00 for my little Indians. Yours is the first invitation that was ever extended to one of our papooses [Native American children] to come and spend the vacation somewhere. We have a few little boys and girls who have noone at all interested whether they live or die or come and go.
I would send a little boy of six years or older or a little girl whatever you prefer. These Indian children are very little trouble, especially the one I have in mind. If you really mean it, I will see that we get him ready; you may have him any time you desire. I am not making any inquiries about you, because it takes a good person to make an offer as you did.
Please, let me know.
With kindest regards,
The Fr. John was Fr. John Pohlen of Tekakwitha Indian Mission in South Dakota.
“The boy that Malcolm and Suzanne Seely wound up adopting is now 71 years old as of March 2018. Dennis Isaac Seely told us in a phone interview that he was an infant in 1946 when he was forcibly taken from his mother, a Dakota Sioux woman living on the Lake Traverse Reservation in Sisseton, close to the North Dakota-Minnesota border:”
I happened to be in the Bon Secours hospital in Cork on January 24 2023. The hospital was celebrating its anniversary.
Over the years The Bons has been good to me. An anniversary is a time for reflection. Not all my visits there were happy ones!
The Clock of Life is Wound but Once
The song My Grandfather’s Clock dates back to 1876. It tells the story from a child’s perspective of a clock bought for his grandfather on the day of his birth. Mysteriously it stopped working on the day he died. Maybe it was only a mystery to the child. I am old enough to remember the custom of manually stopping the clocks when someone in the house died.
My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf, So it stood ninety years on the floor; It was taller by half than the old man himself, Though it weighed not a pennyweight more. It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born, And was always his treasure and pride; But it stopp’d short — never to go again — When the old man died.
Ninety years without slumbering (tick, tick, tick, tick),
His life seconds numbering, (tick, tick, tick, tick),I
It stopp’d short — never to go again —
When the old man died.
This grandfather clock has stood in The Bons in Cork for as long as I can remember.
They’re Teasing Us
Some of the people coming to this year’s Writers’ Week. Put the dates in your diary. It looks like a good one.
Movie of the Moment
It’s all about the movies these days as the Irish film industry is having a moment.
When I think of films I think of the late Kieran Gleeson. He would be in his element just now, lapping up all the movie news.
I am printing here an old post from 2016. It is Billy Keane’s tribute to Kieran, our man of cinema, published in the Irish Independent after Kieran’s untimely death.
Billy Keane’s Tribute to Kieran Gleeson Irish Independent Jan 25 2016
Kieran Gleeson’s eyes lit up as he explained the background to the film he was showing, and you could see he was excited – excited about sharing all he knew with his audience there in his three-screen cinema in a small country town.
There was always an introduction before his cinema club films on a Thursday night. This was his night, the night when he got to choose the films he loved. Kieran spoke as all the knowledgeable do – in simple, easy-to-understand language.
Kieran has been in love with the cinema ever since he stood up on the piled-high metal boxes that were used for storing magic reels. There, he was the spellbound kid looking out through the porthole in the projectionist’s room with his dad and grandad in their country cinema in Cappamore, County Limerick. Afterwards, he would be full of excitement and full of talk.
Kieran ‘the man’ is still ‘the boy’ in the projection room. Often, we would be kept on after the crowd had gone home for a discussion about the movie he was showing. He knew his stuff, did Kieran. There was no showing off, just teaching and sharing. The soft, gentle but passionate voice, hoarse from too much talk, is gone for good now.
Kieran’s life is a silent movie. He breathes with the help of a machine. Our small town hero’s chest rises and falls with every breath. It’s as if he’s a marathon runner at the end of a gruelling race. Kieran Gleeson who rescued, owns and loves our local cinema here in Listowel – has advanced Motor Neurone Disease.
But he’s still communicating. Kieran writes a little, but only with great effort. He sends text messages, nods in agreement or moves his eyes towards something he wants you to read.
Kieran writes ’29’ on a sheet of paper and hands it to his wife, Teresa. Did you ever notice it when two people feel and read each other’s thoughts? They seem to instinctively know what the other person is thinking. The bond has to be strong, but there’s more than just tuning in. The two must share the dream.
The 29 refers to January 29, 1987 – the day the cinema in Listowel reopened under Kieran’s management.
The cinema had been closed for two years. Kieran was driving by one day with his mother and he noticed a ‘For Sale’ sign up over The Astor Cinema. There and then, he made up his mind to buy the rat-infested wreck. A local businessman told Kieran he was “absolutely mad” – and maybe he was. Small town cinemas were going the way of small shops. There are only a few independent cinemas left in Ireland. The prophesy of failure made Kieran all the more determined to succeed. He worked day and night and, bit by bit, the cinema began to pay for itself. His mother helped out every Sunday when the cinema was at it’s busiest.
Kieran opened three screens and he had the best of films showing at the same time as the big cities. He was one of the first to embrace digitalisation and encouraged Jimmy Deenihan, the then Arts Minister, to provide grant assistance to a number of cinemas.
Hard-up parents were given deals. Kids who didn’t have enough money were never refused. Kieran often declined the big money-making movies if he felt they were bad. He never overcharged for tickets, sweets or popcorn. Director Ger Barrett – who is now about to release his third movie, ‘Brain on Fire’, later this year – was allowed in for free. Ger premiered his last movie, ‘Glassland’, in Listowel – and the night was turned into a tribute to his mentor and friend. Actor Jack Reynor came along and Kieran was so buzzed up that the illness was put into remission for a night. It was like the football coach who sees the player he trained as a kid step o collect an All-Ireland medal.
I was only three, but I remember being brought to The Astor for ‘Summer Holiday’ by Bernie Buckley – who was babysitting me then, and still does. Dad and I cried when Davy Crockett died at the Alamo. It was here I had the first lip-kiss in the back seat.
Sometimes, when our kids were young, we’d be there at the pictures and, out of the corner of my eye, I could see Kieran standing in the aisle at the back, taking it all in. He was enjoying the kids enjoying the picture show. The light flickered over his smiling face and, if ever there was man who was happy at work, well, it was him. There and then, and always. After all, he gave up his studies in accountancy to help run the family cinema in Cappaghmore when his dad died suddenly from a heart attack.
There have been tough times and, last year, thousands of euro were stolen from the safe by heartless thieves. Teresa is trying to get to grips with the details of running a cinema, but she’s learning fast. Best of all, she and Kieran are determined to keep the cinema going. “Our staff have been so good to us,” she says.
Kieran had been checking out the possibility of live streaming concerts and sporting events. He had big plans.
The kids come in from school and Kieran gets a smile out. Teresa, I know, struggles to come to terms with how it is that such a decent man suffers so much. She is loyal to him as a full-time carer on a break from her job in the civil service, and loyal to his vision for the family-run cinema. Such is the practicality of true love and mutual respect.
Teresa sent me a link to a Radio Kerry interview with John Herlihy, where Kieran speaks of his love of the sounds of the old cinema projection room with the 35mm reels. “We treasure that now,” she says. “It’s all we have of his voice.”
He shuffles in his wheelchair to attract my attention. He shows me the screen on his phone. This week, Kieran is showing ‘The Revenant’ and ‘Creed’, as well as kids’ movies. Still promoting his cinema as he fights for every movement. There is such a powerful, undefeated will within him. As I leave, I kiss my friend gently on the head and thank him for all he has done for all of us.
Kieran was a lovely kind man. His screen 3 was the only one which was wheelchair accessible. Kieran offered to show any film which normally was showing in One or Two in Screen 3 on a Monday night, just to suit Jim Cogan. All we had to do was ask.
It was an offer we never took him up on but we greatly appreciated the kind gesture.
When researching Listowel Marching Band stories for us, Dave O’Sullivan came upon this amusing account from John B. Keane in The limerick Leader
It’s the Little Things
I am blessed in my friends. I have a friend who, when she makes scones, makes me some and a friend who, when she makes marmalade makes me some. Thank God for friends.
Work is still ongoing at Kerry Writers’ Museum in preparation for the Michael O’Connor exhibition planned for later this year.
As research continues, and Stephen Rynne is locating examples of O’Connor’s work here there and everywhere, Dave O’Sullivan has unearthed this really interesting article about our great illuminator.
In this article, OConnor cites celtic artwork he saw in newsletters from Ballykinlar as an early influence on him.
Dr. Michael OConnor was one of several republican prisoners interned in Ballykinlar Internment Camp during the War of Independence. Another prisoner was the “Michael Reedy” referred to in the newspaper article.
Google had nothing on Michael Reedy, Killarney artist. I knew that Frank Lewis would be the man to know something about him. I was right.
Frank told me that he went by the name Micheál O’Riada and he told me that this artist had a huge influence on Eamon Kelly, Seanchaí. Frank pointed me to the exact pages in Kelly’s autobiography, The Apprentice where he tells of the massive influence this artist woodworker had on him.
The library didn’t have the book in house but they ordered it for me. In the meantime I knew that my friend, Éamon ÓMurchú was a great friend of the late Éamon Kelly. He was sure to have the book.
Eamon scanned the pages for me and then the library came up trumps as well.
“Meeting this man, Michel O Riada was his name, was the means of changing the direction of my footsteps and putting me on the first mile of a journey that would take me far from my own parish. He taught me and others the craft of wood and in time we passed examinations set by the technical branch of the Department of Education….”
“O Riada didn’t tell us, but we discovered that he had been interned in Ballykinlar Camp during the trouble. While there he made an illuminated book in Celtic strapwork design in which were the names of all the prisoners. This book is in the War of Independence section of the National Museum.”
Reading further I discovered that O’Riada’s ” Celtic strap work” adorns shopfronts in Killarney and “as far away as Listowel”.
ORiada also introduced Kelly to music, acting, astronomy and the great big world in general.
Something for the Weekend
Barbara Derbyshire sent us this invitation:
The Just Write creative writing group in Listowel is celebrating its 20th year in existence. I was not there at the beginning, but am now a member. We are celebrating this great achievement at St John’s Theatre on Saturday 28th January from 2pm until 4pm. There will be some music and readings and general mingling! There is also a book stall where members will be able to sell some of their published works. John McGrath is hosting and we’re hoping to have a bit of a party. It’s free to the public and if you feel you would like to come along, you would be more than welcome, of course. There are a few original members there, I think – Helen Broderick and Dee Keogh, Teresa Molyneux, Ena Bunyan. Marian Relihan now facilitates the group. There will be some poems read which were written by members who have passed away.
Helen Broderick shared online this early photograph of the group
The All Ireland Final of 1947 was famously played in The Polo Grounds in New York. Kerry played Cavan and Kerry lost.
Why am I venturing into a realm I know nothing about?
Kathy Reynolds has been in touch and she sent us this letter from her great uncle who actually attended the match.
” The game was attended by 34,500 including my father’s uncle, Mike Fitzmaurice, who had left Moybella South, Lisselton around 1910 for Waterbury, Connecticut. This is his account of the day, written on 6th October 1947 to his brother, Paddy, in Ballybunion.”
Isn’t it great to have a hoarder in the family?
What beautiful writing?
Back to the match;
In 1947 the All Ireland Senior Football Final between Cavan and Kerry was played outside Ireland at the Polo Grounds in New York to mark the centenary of the Great Famine and to acknowledge the large Irish American community.
Pádraig Ó Caoimh (Paddy O’Keeffe) General Secretary of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) oversaw the staging of the unique event and of the radio broadcast back to Ireland. Radio Éireann commentator Michael O’Hehir went to provide commentary for listeners back home in Ireland. For the broadcast, a landline from the Polo Grounds connected to a transatlantic cable which then fed through to transmitters in Dublin, Athlone and Cork.
The lines had to be paid for in New York in advance and were booked up to 5 pm on the day of the game. This would give enough time for the match to be concluded and 30 mins for wrapping up after the match had finished. (Source RTE Archive)
To cut a long story short the match ran over time because RTE forgot to factor in the time spent introducing dignatories and other fal dals before the match. Terrified that he would be cut off before the end of the game, Michael O Hehir appealed on air to be allowed an extra 5 minutes He was given the extra time.
Celtic Artwork in Scoil Realta na Maidine
This is the beautiful piece of artwork donated by Paddy Fitzgibbon to Scoil Realta na Maidine.
The piece here is hung lower so more accessible than the one in the Credit Union. I took a close up of a few letters so that you can see this absolute gem of Celtic artwork.
This work is executed with copper wire and pins. I am totally in awe.
Usually in this weather I don’t venture too far from home.
Certain trips have to be made though.
I travelled to Cork via Tralee and Killarney. My usual route, through my home territory of Rockchapel and Newmarket is a bit more challenging in frosty weather.
The new Macroom bypass is great. We won’t know ourselves when it is completed.
On this road I love to make a pit stop in Glenflesk.