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 2 of 24

Listowel and Ballybunion

Listowel Town Square, August 2023


Quirky Sights in Listowel

At the back of Brosnan’s pub.

On the wall at Pierce and Fitzgibbon


From the Newspaper Archives

(thanks to Jer Kennelly)

Kerry Evening Post Wednesday, 01 December, 1897; Page: 4


One of the most successful concerts ever hold in Listowel was the grand evening entertainment which came off in the Hall of the Total Abstinence Society, Listowel, on Wednesday evening. From every point of view the concert was a most pronounced success. The fact that the entertainment was held under the auspices of the society, and in aid of the funds of the organisation, fully accounts for the large and fashionable attendance ; but the enthusiasm of the audience can be accounted for only by the fact that the various contributions were performed in the most capable and finished manner. The programme was varied and interesting in character, judiciously drafted and calculated to appeal to every taste. In addition to local artistes, a number of other ladies and gentlemen also contributed to the programme.

The vocal items were rendered in fine style, and did not fail to draw enthusiastic plaudits from the audience; but the success of the entertainment must, to a great extent, be attributed to the recitals by the Misses Rahilly, and the instrumental contributions, which rank amongst the finest performances ever witnessed at a local concert. Every one, of course, expected that Miss Florence Rahilly would sustain her widespread reputation in a department which she has made peculiarly her own; but the excellence of the performance of Miss Tessie Rahilly, on the occasion of her first public appearance, took everyone by surprise. Needless to say, her reception was of the warmest character. The instrumental items: particularly the contributions of the Misses Creagh, were rendered in a style which betoken splendid musical ability and an appreciation of the composer’s work as admirable as it is rare, at a local entertainment, and which reflects infinite credit on local talent, which never showed up in better form than on Wednesday night.

The arrangements left nothing to be desired with the result that, though the hall was crowded to its utmost capacity, no inconvenience was caused. A special word of praise is surely due to Mrs Fitzpatrick, to whom, in a great measure, the success of the entertainment is to be attributed. She conducted the practice meetings with a degree of success, which only wide experience and splendid abilities as an instrumentalist and vocalist rendered possible. It is to be hoped, she will be long associated with our local entertainments.—Correspondent.


A Gift of Ink….Update

Philip O’Carroll is sorted. Many people have offered him digitised versions of the LP . Philip and his family are remembered with great fondness in Listowel and many of his old friends were only too willing to help him. Thank you everyone who offered to source the album for him.



Aspects of Ballybunion

The Beach Mission, always a reliable on the beach in August is back this year.

Signage on the beach has greatly improved. Clear flagging of areas of rip current means that the beach is now safer for everyone.

A Feature of the beach in recent years is beach art. It is a lovely way to send greetings for a birthday, wedding other celebrity occasion.

Seats are often memorials where a visitor can rest and remember someone who loved this spot.


A Swim, a Concert and a Kiss

Market Street in August 2023



Areas where it is safe to swim are clearly flagged.

This lifeguard on the waters’ edge was monitoring two swimmers.

He was on red alert for any sign of danger and had his whistle at the ready in case anyone wandered into unsafe waters.

Flags and dangers clearly explained


Think Before you Judge

Food for thought from Mattie Lennon

A famous British explorer was invited to a seaside town to give a talk about his adventures in the African jungle. “Can you imagine a people so primitive that they love to eat the embryos of a certain bird and slices of the belly of a certain animal?” the explorer asked the assembled audience. Its members gasped and looked around at each other in horror. “They also grind up grass seed, make it into a paste, burn it over a fire, then smear the result with a greasy mess that’s extracted from the mammary fluid of certain other animals,” the explorer continued. “Utterly barbaric! How can people live like that?” said a shocked individual. “All I’ve described is a breakfast of bacon, eggs and buttered toast, sir!” retorted the explorer. Moral of the story: Don’t be quick to judge cultures before you understand your own!


Nuns or Púcas

Convent Street

Or is it Gleann an Phúca?


Chicken Club at Leahy’s Corner


The Best Concert Ever in Listowel

Kerry Sentinel, Wednesday, 13 January, 1897

NORTH KERRY NOTES. Listowel, Thursday.


The laudable efforts of a number of local gentlemen in organising a concert in aid of the poor of the town are meeting with sympathy and support of the people of Listowel of every class and creed. The concert has been fixed for Wednesday night, the 20th inst. In addition to the services of a large number of local ladies and gentlemen, Professor Robinson, Limerick, and a number of artistes from the city of the violated treaty, have kindly consented to contribute to the programme, which promises to be the most interesting and attractive ever submitted to a local audience.


A Fact

This week a kiss landed Luis Rubiales, Spanish FA President, in hot water.

Carried away by the unexpected win by the Spanish ladies soccer team in the World Cup, Luis kissed the captain, Jenni Hermoso on the lips. Not acceptable behaviour at all, at all.

The Romans had three words for kissing.

Basium was the kiss between acquaintances

Osculum was a kiss between close friends

Suavium was the kiss between lovers.

Luis should have stuck to Basium.


Stories from The Square

Courthouse Road in July 2023


Temporary Closure


Listowel’s Caravaggio

The taking of Christ is the priceless treasure by Caravaggio that was thought lost but was discovered by chance in a Dublin Jesuit house in 1990.

Micheál Kelliher at the Celtic Art talk in Kerry Writers’ Museum in July 2023 suggested that the below piece may just be Listowel’s long lost Caravaggio. The Michael O’Connor illuminated scroll features the words of Bryan MacMahon. The magnificent piece was presented to the race company to mark 100 years of Listowel Races. It was kept safely by the Stokes family, descendants of the Race Company chairman who accepted the presentation. The piece is currently being conserved and will then be returned to Kerry Writers’ Museum.

You would have to travel to Dublin to the National Gallery to view The Taking of Christ. Soon you will be able to view our own national treasure in Kerry Writers’ Museum in the heart of town.

Stephen Rynne very kindly transcribed the poetic words of MacMahon.


The town on the cliff above the silver river stirs in sleep. The autumn sun limelights the white posts of the “Island” course and brings to brilliance the emerald of stretch and straight. In the enclosure begonias take morning flame.

The sun, too, touches the purple, gold, blue, green and red of pennants and scrolls hung above the streets of the awakening town. It strikes fire from the painted houses. And then, on a cockcrow, the town comes fully awake to the first of its three great days.


For a full century in this town, youngsters, adolescents, those in prime and oldsters have leaped up to full life on such a day.

For the children the splendour traditionally begins with a vendors cheery cry of “Race-ee cards!” Thereafter the day resolves itself into a spinning wheel of beauty and colour.

In the market-place the whirligig gains momentum as the day advances: merry-go-rounds; wheels-o’-fortune, chair-o-planes, swingboats, and the great Ferris Wheel – all these add their circles of exhilaration.

There are ramparts of gingerbread and plumduff, batteries of Peggy’s Leg, hillocks of dilisk and winkles, and foaming cascades of ice-cream.

Music mounts to crescendo.

There are professional strong men and professional fat men, dancing ducks and performing fleas, boneless wonders and leprechauns. There are Death Wall Riders and Headless Marys. And Mmm! The smell of mutton-pies is aromatic on the morning air.

For those in prime there is the meeting of old friends and the clasping of the hands of exiles. Carts, cars, caravans, buses and breaks continue to disgorge their loads. Countryfolk, the weariness of harvest forgotten, turn the streets to canyons of good fellowship. Tipsters cry their racing certainties. On every side there are bells and cries of joy.

Then – Tappeta! Through the streets go the hooves of the horses. The great “Island” field darkens with people and vehicles. Excitement mounts as with stentorian voices the bookmakers cry the odds. The coloured silk of the riders is now brilliant against the grass.

On hearing : The horses are now under Starter’s Orders, a prolonged silence falls on the immense throng. Then, abruptly the roar of: “THEY’RE OFF! ” rises from the people. The thunder of hooves advances and recedes. Presently the climax of the neck-and-neck finish sets the crowd fully a-roar.


Above, the sky is indigo about a lemon-coloured moon.

In the town below, in rainbow hues, the lights flick on. The Norman Castle is green-lighted. Stepdancers respond to the insistence of fiddle-music. Gypsy rings catch the firelight as country girl hears of the dark man destined to be her lover. Glasses foam over. An old man tells the tale of a sugar barrel race-bridge. A boy smiles at a girl: a girl smiles at a boy. Cupping his hand about his mouth a ballad singer chants:

I’ve been to Bundoran, I’ve rambled to Bray,

I’ve legged it to Bantry with its beautiful bay.

But I’d barter their charms, I would, ‘pon me soul,

For the week of the Races in Lovely Listowel.

Green Morning. White Day. Coloured Night.

Thus, for a hundred years have our forefathers made merry **** on


God grant that those who come after us shall continue to uphold the Irish sense of wonder.


Winter’s Turf home and stacked

Lovely picture of the late Michael Stack proud of his reek of Turf in Listowel, Co. Kerry around 1950. (Photo and caption from the internet)


Around The Square

Photo; John Kelliher

Eleanor Walsh now Belcher grew up in Listowel Town Square, when the centre of town was very different to how it is today. I asked Eleanor to share here her memories of a happy childhood in the Listowel of the 1950s and 60s.

I am going to share these with you this week and if anyone else would like to add to her story, I’d love to hear from you.


My parents John and Peggy Walsh bought No 26 the Square in 1950 and named it Ivy House because of the Ivy creeper. The Square in the 1950s was a wonderful place as it was a playground for all of us children growing up then. There were 5 Lawlor children at No 20 . Their father Tim Lawlor was the Parish clerk . Next door the house later owned by the Sheehans was derelict and we played in the front garden.

There was a house ( now demolished ) next door to St Mary’s church which was owned by the Bank of Ireland. The families who lived there tended to be Protestant. When I was very small the Berry family lived there remembered by my mother for the children’s wonderful names of Ivy, Heather,  Myrtle , Holly and Rowan. When I was about six  I ran in home to tell my parents that there was a new family and that the boy was called after two birds. His name was Robin Peacock. ( The Peacocks moved to Maam Cross and the big shop there is still called Peacock’s) The Heneghan  family were grown up but we all knew Mr Heneghan who was a vet and always kind to us. The present Writers’ Museum was a house often empty though I remember a girl called Persephone staying one summer. We were fascinated by her name. Next was the castle which was a playground for us as was the river bank accessed down the lane. 

The elderly McKennas, John and Grace lived next door to us. We were never in that house but we shared a communal backyard which was marvellous  as we were never aware of living in a terraced house. We brought our bikes in through the big wooden gate on the side wall on the road down to the island bridge. 


A Fact

Dynamite is made from peanuts.

Well its a kind of exaggerated fact.

Peanut oil can be processed into glycerol, which is a main ingredient to make nitroglycerine, the explosive liquid used in dynamite


Things of the Past

O’Sullivan’s Cycle Shop, The Square in July 2023


Spotted in Listowel Credit Union

Major events in the twenty years since our credit union was formed.


Remembered with Flowers

When I posted this photo last week, people reminded me that this special walltop garden was referred to in Tidy Town circles as Eileen’s Wall because the late Eileen Worts took special care of it.

Eileen, R.I.P. with fellow Tidy Towners, Jackie Barrett and Breda McGrath. Mary Hanlon tells me that the present beautiful display here this year is planted and cared for by Breda.


July 6 2023 in Kerry Writers’ Museum

A few more pictures from the evening

Childhood neighbours, James Kenny and Jim MacMahon in Kerry Writers’ Museum

Fr. Brendan O’Connor and Jimmy Deenihan

We were able to see The Book of Kells which was the inspiration for much of Michael O’Connor’s work up close.

It wasn’t THE Book of Kells but it was a facsimile copy

What is the difference between an ordinary copy and a facsimile copy?

Answer; Quality… facsimile looks exactly the same as the real thing with ink stains, water damage and holes just as they are in the real thing.

This is the man, Dr. Donncha MacGabhann who owns the precious facsimile copy and who explained to us what it is all about.

It was a source of fascination to everyone on the evening.


A Timely Poem

An Post have launched their digital stamp. Before too long a book of stamps or any paper stamp at all will be a thing of the past.


Artwork, History and Poetry

Áras an Phiarsaigh in July 2023


Happy Doggie

A very cute local puppy is wagging her tail on the double this week.


Listowel World Centre of Celtic Art

Since attending Stephen Rynne’s talk on July 6 2023, everywhere I look in Listowel I see Celtic influence.

Carmel Fitzgiibbon with her late husband, Paddy Fitzgibbon’s beautiful artwork. There are three pieces of Paddy’s extraordinary celtic artwork on display in Listowel. One piece is in the offices of his old firm, Pierse and Fitzgibbon. This one was kindly lent to Kerry Writers’ Museum for us to see up close on the night,

My photos give only a small insight into this unique design of artwork. Remember there was no template or instructions for this. It is pure genius.


Ballybunion Castle on the Internet

wild atlantic way castle and beach with beautiful reflections

Ireland and Peg’s Cottage


Ballybunion Castle is one of fifteen cliff forts along the North Kerry coast; it was built by the Fitzmaurices in the 1300s. In 1582 the castle was acquired by the Bonyan family, which is how Ballybunion derived its name, but in 1583 William Og Bonyan lost the castle and lands because of his part in the Desmond Rebellion.  By 1604 the castle was back in the possession of the Fitzmaurices and remained so until the mid-18th century. 

Today, the 40 ft high east wall is all that remains of the castle.  An underground passage leading from the cliff face to the castle, was discovered in 1987. 

Pic. iStock, credited to morrbyte


LWW 1974

Wolfgang Mertens kept a comprehensive folder of memorabilia from his sojourn in Listowel for Writers’ Week 1974. He developed a special relationship with Bryan MacMahon, whose work he was studying.

This is MacMahon’s postcard to Wolfgang, accepting his application to join the short story workshop.


A Smile for you


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