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Category: History Page 2 of 12

Robert French

Portmarnock on a Sunday morning in December 2021;

Photo; Éamon ÓMurchú


A Street with Five Names

Remember this story from a few weeks ago? The part of town local people call The Small Square is also Main Street, An Príomh Sráid an An Sráid Mhór.

Vincent Carmody reminded me that it was also called O’Rahilly Square.

Here are two billheads from Vincent’s great book, Snapshots of a Market Town.


The Lawrence Photographer

William Street from the Lawrence Collection

Robert French

In the early 1900s a man came to town who would shape the way future generations would see Listowel. Robert French took the photographs of the streets of Listowel for the Lawrence collection. His photographs have appeared in postcards, in calendars and everywhere that Listowel in the twentieth century is spoken of. We owe him a lot.

So who was Robert French?

Here is Noel Kissane’s essay from The Dictionary of Irish Biography

French, Robert (1841–1917), photographer, was born 11 November 1841 in Dublin, eldest of the seven children of William French, a court messenger, and Ellen French (née Johnson). At the age of nineteen, in September 1860, he joined the Constabulary (later RIC) as a sub-constable, giving his occupation as ‘porter’. He was stationed at the barracks at Glenealy, Co. Wicklow. Having served almost two years, he resigned in August 1862.

French next found employment in Dublin as a photographic printer, possibly at the portrait studio operated by John Fortune Lawrence at 39 Grafton Street. He later joined the more successful studio run by John Fortune’s brother, William Mervin Lawrence (qv) (1840–1932), which opened at 7 Upper Sackville (later O’Connell) Street in March 1865. Progressing upwards through the grades of printer, colourer-retoucher and assistant photographer, he attained the rank of photographer in the mid-1870s. Meanwhile, William Mervin Lawrence had developed a lucrative trade in the sale of topographical views and he gave French the task of providing a comprehensive range of scenic photographs representing all parts of the country. French performed this role with dedication and distinction for almost forty years until his retirement in 1914.

French’s function was to provide photographs for a market that favoured views of picturesque landscapes, seaside resorts, and the streets of cities, towns, and villages. Lawrence was in charge of marketing strategy and planned French’s itineraries, but French selected the individual views. He travelled throughout the country, identifying and photographing appropriate subjects, generating stocks of negatives from which Lawrence’s printers produced multiple images for sale in the medium of prints, stereoscopic views, and lantern slides. The images were also widely used in commercial advertising and in publications designed for the tourist market, particularly in the extensive postcard trade that Lawrence developed in the late 1890s. As people wanted views that were up-to-date, many of the images, particularly those of urban scenes, were periodically retired and replaced, the replacements almost invariably being taken from the same optimum viewpoint. The photographs presented the more positive aspects of Ireland and contemporary Irish life, with evidence of social deprivation appearing only incidentally, and with few instances of social or political conflict other than a relatively small number of eviction scenes.

French married, 1 December 1863, at St Peter’s church, Dublin, Henrietta Jones, daughter of Griffith Jones, a farmer at Newcastle, Co. Wicklow. The couple had eleven children, some of whom long afterwards recalled their father as a fervent unionist, fond of singing rather loudly in the congregation at St Patrick’s cathedral, and infuriatingly painstaking when taking family photographs. He is portrayed in a number of his own photographs as a dignified figure with a fine full beard. In his later years he lived on Ashfield Avenue, Ranelagh. He died 24 June 1917.

While French played a central role in the success of the Lawrence firm, which dominated the photographic trade nationally for a generation, his historical significance arises from the extensive archive of surviving negatives. These make up the greater part of the Lawrence collection (held by the National Photographic Archive in Dublin), amounting to approximately 30,000 of the 45,000 images in the collection. They reveal him as a talented and extremely competent photographer. His compositions presented sites to best advantage, and the images are invariably sharp and engaging and suggest the inherent atmosphere of the place. The predominant factor, however, is that the photographs provide an invaluable visual record of urban and rural Ireland over a period of almost forty years. They document the process of change and modernisation in various aspects of environment and society, reflecting the considerable economic and social progress in the decades of relative peace and prosperity leading up to the first world war. While engaged in the relatively mundane profession of commercial photographer, French emerged as one of the foremost chroniclers of his generation, albeit unwittingly, and endowed posterity with a unique cultural and educational resource.


A Poem for our Exiles

Shared by the poet on Facebook


It was Christmas Eve in London,

And an Irishman, called Joe.

Stood by an upstairs window

That looked on the street below.

He could see the shoppers passing by,

Their voices filled with cheer.

As they shouted Happy Christmas,

And a prosperous new year.

As he looked around the little room,

That for years had been his home.

He was fifty years in London,

Since he crossed the ocean foam.

His youthful days behind him now,

And his working days long gone.

In retirement, his days were spent

On his own, to carry on.

He could hear a church bell ringing,

On the street across the way.

Where mass was celebrated, on

The eve of Christmas day. |

Then a choir started singing and

The strains of silent night,

Came drifting through the window.

Into Joe’s old flat that night.

As he listened to the singing,

He began to shed a tear.

For he always felt emotional,

On Christmas Eve each year.

When old memories came flooding back,

And his thoughts began to stray.

To his childhood days in Ireland,

Long ago and far away.

He could see again the old thatched house,

At the corner of the lane.

Oh what he’d give to be a lad,

and be back there once again.

The candle in the window,

To light a welcome way.

For the virgin and the Christ child,

On the eve of Christmas day.

The holly and the ivy,

and the cards Around the fire.

And his mother’s Christmas cooking,

That would fill you with desire.

The boxes left for Santa Claus,

In the hopes that he would call.

With the toys to play on Christmas day,

The happiest times of all.

As his memories began to fade,

reality Set in.

He was back once more in London,

In his little flat again.

And he drew his coat around him,

as he sat back in his chair.

And for all those in his memories,

he began to say a prayer.

And he asked the Lord, to grant them rest,

In the land beyond the sky.

All the folks he once shared Christmas with,

In the happy years gone by.

Tomorrow at the Centre, he will meet o

His old friend Jack,

an Irishman just like himself.

That never made it back.

They will have their Christmas dinner,

and a glass or two of beer,

As they join their old acquaintances,

And the friends they love so dear.

Everybody has their party piece,

To raise a bit of cheer.

At their Christmas get together.

In the Centre every year.

So to all our Irish exiles,

in lands far off and near

The blessing of this Christmas time

we wish you all this year.

And although we are divided,

by land and sky, and foam,

A very Merry Christmas,

from the Irish Folks at home.

Martin O’Hara © 29/11/2021


High Praise Indeed

John Comyn is the Bridge columnist with The Irish Independent. He has been writing the column for 50 years and he has been playing Bridge at the top tier for far longer. He has played against top international players.

However, he says the best player he ever encountered was Pat Walshe, from Listowel, Co. Kerry.


Something to look forward to

#ANSEOKerry LIVE in LISTOWEL FREE OUTDOOR CONCERT for all the family – Saturday 18th December 12-6pm. LOOK – it’s going to be special… Get ready for some SINGING 🙂 and lots of craic!Fanzini Grace Foley Singer Drum Dance Ireland The O’Neil Sisters Renovator plus more…. 🙂


St. Mary’s and St. John’s

Feale Sculpture and St John’s, Listowel in December 2021


Things you may not know about St. Mary’s

Lord Listowel gave the site for the Catholic Church in The Square. One of the sites considered was across the road in the place where the National Bank, later The Butler Centre is now. This was thought to have too much commercial potential so the site eventually chosen was where St. Mary’s stands today. However a house that used to stand to the right of the picture has been demolished so the church is more visible than it used to be.

The late Paddy Horgan told me a story he learned from his elders. He told me that Lord Listowel made it a condition of the donation of the site that the Angelus bell would be rung at 7.00p.m. instead of the usual 6.00. Knocking off time for Lord Listowel’s workmen was the sound of the Angelus bell.


Christmas Window

Lynch’s Coffee Shop and Bakery in Main Street has a really lovely window display. My photo does not do it justice.


A Back Lane

Listowel has many many back lanes. They tell their own story, many of them little changed over the years. This one is opposite the offices of The Revenue Commissioners.

Doors leading on to the lane on the second storey often led into a store. The delivery dray or the customer parked his cart in the lane below the door and the sacks of grain or other goods were thrown through the door and into the cart.

To this day the stonework of Listowel’s masons is preserved in these outhouses.


Then and Now


Taking down the flags

This is my brother taking down his Kanturk bunting and flags on Monday, December 6 2021.

In fairness the taking down of the support had more to do with the imminent arrival of Storm Barra than with the recent defeat to Newmarket.

We know how you feel, Kerins O’Rahilly’s supporters.

Listowel and Asdee Remembered

Main Street, Listowel in November 2021


Asdee Memories

I met these members of Asdee Active Retired Group in Garvey’s Super Valu. They were promoting their great collection of memories and lore.

Do you know what a losset is?

I didn’t until I found out all about it and it’s biblical connections from a lovely lady, Noreen Dineen. Noreen remembers going to school in the 1930s when there were few facilities, no creature comforts and life was tough.

This delightful book is the first draft of Asdee history. It is full of precious reminiscences, old photographs and it preserves words used locally for a generation that is fast forgetting them.

I bought this window into the past as much for the next generation as for myself.


Christmas at Listowel Garden Centre

It’s still November but this Christmas display is just the ticket to raise expectation levels for the season still to come.


Then and Now

William Street 2007



Main street in November 2021


A Listowel Fact

Listowel’s trade history began with the laying out of the market square in 1697. Fairs and markets were held regularly and Listowel was a busy town.

In 1829 the Big Bridge was built and this was a game changer. the Mail Road in 1827 and the Cork line in 1829 also made access to outside markets easier. In particular The Cork Line to Abbeyfeale and Newmarket meant a saving of 37 miles for the car men going to the Cork Butter Market. Before that they had to go through Killarney.

The railway came to Listowel in 1880. The Lartigue Railway was built in 1889


A Few more Names

In Seán Keane’s lovely old photo we already had these names

Eamon O’Connor is lying in front with his hand to his head. On his right (left in photo) is Eamon Leahy. Behind him is his brother, Tadhg Leahy, beside him behind Eamon O’Connor is Ciarán ÓMurchú. Buddy Scanlon is the boy with the towel over his shoulder. Behind him is Monty Galvin and Toddy Scanlon is behind Monty.

Since publishing the photo we have a few more memories jogged.

Gerard Leahy recognised the little boy on the right looking on at the big boys. It is Gerard himself wearing the Fair Isle jumper his mother hand knitted for him.

Ned O’Sullivan saw “Paddy Fitz of Charles Street and possibly Peter McElligott of Bedford.”

Julie Gleeson thought that Michael Brennan and Eoin O’Neill might be in the picture.


Listowel in Happy and Unhappy Times

In Market Street, Listowel in November 2021


Did you know?

Listowel Garda Station was once the local RIC station. It was the scene of a famous mutiny in 1920.

The Ladybird version; The police commissioner for Munster planned to impose Martial Law on the town and to amalgamate the police and the military in a bid to wipe out Sinn Féin.

Constable Jeremiah Mee declared that he was an Irishman and with that he plonked his cap belt and bayonet on the table and refused to follow Ferguson’s orders. His fellow officers supported him and they too refused to cooperate and prevented his arrest.

Later that day 25 officers met in what is now John B. Keane’s pub and it was agreed that 14 single policemen would resign from the force.


Happy Boys at The Falls

Seán Keane sent the photo. Éamon ÓMurchú enhanced the photo and researched the names.

Eamon O’Connor is lying in front with his hand to his head. On his right (left in photo) is Eamon Leahy. Behind him is his brother, Tadhg Leahy, beside him behind Eamon O’Connor is Ciarán ÓMurchú. Buddy Scanlon is the boy with the towel over his shoulder. Behind him is Monty Galvin and Toddy Scanlon is behind Monty.

Any help in naming the others will be greatly appreciated.


New Mode of Transport

My first sighting of an adult scooter in Listowel.


Then and Now

Harp and Lion in 2007
Harp and Lion in 2021


A Christmas Window for 2021

John R.’s gingerbread house display is in keeping with the delicious fare inside this shop.


A Drunken Wall

Church Street, Listowel in November 2021


John B. Keane’s Sive

To mark the 50th anniversary of the first performance of Sive, The Listowel Players produced a souvenir programme to go with their production of the play. They included a page from the original programme.

Margaret Ward, who played the first Sive when she was only a schoolgirl remembers an eventful rehearsal.

Lovely memories from Nora Relihan


Martin Chute, Master Signwriter

Martin stopped for a short chat with a friend as he finished the sign on Griffin Butchers on William Street, Listowel


Did you Know?

Listowel once had a structure called The Drunken Wall. It was located at the end of the footpath on the Neodata side (or Town Park side for those who don’t remember Neodata) of Bridge Road. It was a wall built across the footpath preventing you going any further. It was built to prevent intoxicated pedestrians from walking into the river which is about 100 yards from that point. The idea was that as soon as you hit the wall, you could go no further and you knew it was time to cross over to the other path which would lead you over the bridge.


We’re having a Christmas Market

and we’re turning on the festive lights.

Photo; on social media


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