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 firstname.lastname@example.org
The Taelane Store isn’t in Taelane. It’s on Church Street.
The new owners of the Iceland chain have had a change of heart. Iceland, in Mill Lane, Listowel is staying open.
In Listowel Library
Vincent Carmody and Kathy Buckley’s niece, Orla Buckley.
On Friday February 24 2023, local historian, Vincent Carmody introduced us to one of Listowel’s most illustrious emigrants. Kathy Buckley of William Street, Listowel was the White House cook for three U.S. presidents.
Kathy’s Listowel home
Plaque unveiled by the US ambassador during Listowel Food Fair a few years ago.
Sections of the audience as we listened in fascination to Vincent’s story of this formidable lady who represented us so well in the U.S.
This is another chapter in the MichaelO’Connor story. The Cork Examiner account found by Dave O’Sullivan explains this novel fundraising initiative by Trinity.
Fact of the Day
Butterflies smell with their antennae and taste with their feet. The monarch butterfly’s feet (proper name tarsi) are approximately two thousand times more sensitive than a human tongue.
Just a Thought
My last week’s reflections as broadcast on Radio Kerry
Vincent Carmody spent the holidays with the U.S. branch of his family. He sent me this very interesting message.
Dec 17 2023
Happy Christmas from a cold Chicago.
We visited Rochester last weekend to catch up with my old neighbour and friend, Dr. Michael O’Sullivan of Mayo Clinic fame. He is regarded as a Demi God at Mayo for leading the way and doing the groundwork for his inventive research in the 1960’s which has put Mayo as a world leader today.
His daughter Finola hosted a dinner where many of the dept. heads of Mayo came together to meet, feast and party. Most of these are lovely Irish guys, many were hired by Michael when he was C.E.O. at Mayo Scottesdale and in time came back up to Rochester.
One of these is Michael O’Connor, a son of Michael the artist and grandson of Dr. Michael, as it were, the father, son and holy G.
During the evening he went to his car and brought in a family history which he has completed, on one of the pages a picture of the front of the GAA programme which I sent you, however during the evening I found another unique connection with another guest and this programme, this person, Una (O’Neill) ????, she came alone as her Doctor husband was not feeling well, Una is originally from Newry. When we were introduced by Michael, he mentioned that she came from GAA blue blood, she then told me the her two brothers played on the great Down team of ’60 and ’61, Sean and Kevin O’Neill. She was amazed when I pointed out that Down team had actually along with Kerry and Glen Rovers taken part in the matches that May day in 1960. A small world. I will be sending her the team sheet from that.
Again, great work during the year and thanks.
Only in Kerry
Christmas Eve in Kerry 2022….Photo shared widely on the internet
From the Postbag/Inbox
I am one of those crazy American genealogy geeks trying to explore my Irish roots. I have been researching my great grandfather and his half-brother, of Newtownsandes (Moyvane).
I ran across your website while looking for info on Listowel, which is so close to where my family was from. My family is all gone now and therefore my genealogy research takes a lot of detective work, because I know how difficult it can be to find Irish records and information.
I was interested in Listowel after reading on the town website about Writers’ Week. I am a budding family history writer and found it intriguing that a Writers’ week takes place so near to where my family roots lie.
A friend and I are planning a trip to Counties Kerry and Limerick this year, and I want to try to research family a bit while over there. Since Listowel is so close to Newtownsandes, and to Athea in County Limerick where my great-grandmother was from, I thought it might make a good base for beginning our exploration.
Can you advise of a good local history library or research facility where I might be able to find some info? Or do you know of a local historian or researcher who might be able to aid me in what I could look for while exploring the county?
Many of the names associated with my family exist almost entirely in either Kerry, Limerick or Tipperary, so I was hoping to find some help directly in those counties and really get to know them through some exploration.
Love your website and the stories people contribute. I signed up and look forward to learning more.
Becky Clark Denver, Colorado
I have replied to Becky and given her a bit of direction. If anyone else has any suggestions for her let me know.
A Lime Kiln
From Schools’ Folklore Collection, Clandouglas School
The Limekiln is fronted by a stone wall with an arch underneath and it is called the breast. About two feet from the breast is the pot and it is connected to the breast by the arch. The bank is made of earth and stone and in a round form. First a rail of turf is put in the bottom of the pot, then a layer of broken limestone about four inches in height is put on the turf and a layer of turf about one foot is put on the limestone and so on till the kiln is full. Then it is set on fire through the arch. As the limestone and turf is going down through the fire, a man is putting limestone and turf into it and keep it full. Another man is drawing out the lime at the arch. Lime needed for manure is mixed with the ashes of the turf. Lime needed for whitewashing has to be picked in lumps from the ashes.
Martin Chute is, sign by sign, leaving his mark on Listowel. His work is an invaluable asset to our heritage town. I snapped him painting Finesse Bridalwear sign. Note he is writing in the traditional way with maul stick and brush.
Sam Maguire in Town
There was a huge crowd in town to see the cup. I was amused to see the event described as a homecoming.
I wasn’t in The Square. I took the following photos on Upper Church Street.
Tom Coffey R.I.P. Playwright and Teacher
A lady was one day Googling her ancestors and she came upon the above headline in Listowel Connection
Tom, pictured at the back right between Mick Relihan and Pat Mc Elligott is remembered. I asked Marie Shaw if she remembered him and this is what she wrote:
“I can’t claim to know him personally Mary, I didn’t even remember his first name until you mentioned it, but I did take a commercial course with him at the Tech. What I remember vividly is his “Movie Star” good looks. There wasn’t a teenager in the town of Listowel at the time who wasn’t madly in love with him. Makes me smile just thinking of him. He was probably teaching at the Tech for two years. I left Ireland in 1958 and I would guess that he was in Listowel in 1956 and 1957.”
(I hope his family Google him and find out this forgotten corner of Tom’s life)
The lady who was doing the Googling was Tom’s granddaughter and she wrote
I found your posts about Tom Coffey—he was my grandfather. (I’m his son, Brian’s daughter.) I found the photo and sent it to my dad and grandmother. Thank you so much for posting about him; we all miss him very much, and it’s lovely to read about the other lives he touched. (I saw you hoped his family found the article, so I wanted to mention that, yes, we did.)
The backstory: Junior Griffin gave me the photo and he told me that Mr. Coffey taught him Irish in the Tech. now Coláiste na Ríochta. Here is what Junior wrote in 2014
Having a look at this week’s Kerryman I see an obituary on page 20 for the late Tom Coffey, very sorry to read about his recent death. You will see him in the back row of your recent photo.
They write about his time In Kerry but no mention of the time he spent here in Listowel. Now I started work in McKenna’s in Sept. 1953 and as time went by struck up a friendship with 2 work colleagues, Willie Barrett and Pat Somers. Indeed, Pat who lived in Billerough, just before the Six Crosses, used to call for me in the morning and give me a bar up on his bicycle, a fine strong lad he was.
It must have been the following year that we decided to do an Irish evening class in the old tech and our teacher was none other than Tom Coffey. Irish dancing was another one of his subjects and those ladies in the front of your photo were also involved.
The Kerryman obituary mentions his first play called Luiochan, Irish for Ambush, and it seems it won an Oireachtas award.
In actual fact, it was a group of us that put on that play first. We did it in Moyvane, Ballybunion and Listowel, hence our presence in that photo. He decided to enter it for the Limerick Drama festival and we were highly commended by the judge, who happened to be a brother of Gay Byrne but we did not receive a prize due to the fact that we were the only Irish play taking part that year and we were not in competition with anyone.
I honestly believe he was here in Listowel for 2 years, maybe the school terms of 1954 and 55. The obituary says he was in Dingle in 1955 so, if correct that could be starting the school term of ’55.
I did learn a good bit of Irish dancing from him but I most certainly did learn that I had 2 left feet.
He was a lovely man, I never met him after he left Listowel.
May he Rest in Peace
More Sustainable Fashion
This great event on the Saturday of Race Week was a first for Listowel Tidy Towns and is greatly admired by other festivals.
Wardrobes and attics are raided and charity and vintage shops scoured in an effort to win the coveted title of best dressed lady in sustainable wear.
The competition was judged by international model, Sydney Sargent and Elaine Doyle of An Taisce. It’s great to see so many local people supporting this great initiative
I have known Anne Leneghan since she was knee-high to a grasshopper. She is a great supporter of Listowel Races. Her outfit started life as a maxi dress and coat. Her bag she sourced in the charity shop and the hat was given to her as a present, all old and pre loved.
Lovely local lady, Nell Reidy, like myself, loves Listowel Vincent de Paul shop. She sourced her complete ensemble there over the years.
Maria Stack comes from a family who are both crafty, talented and dedicated to style, Maria always makes great effort in support of this event. Her beautiful tweed skirt she adapted from an A line one. It is one of many beautiful classic pieces she inherited from her aunt. Her coat was her mother’s but she had to reduce it a few sizes. She made her hat herself from material she bought from a man who was going out of the millinery business. Maria told us that she spent her spare time during Covid working on her sewing, crafting and hat making. It helped her de stress from her hectic job as a nurse in an acute respiratory ward.
Another local finalist was Deirdre Kissane. She found her classic red and black ensemble in her wardrobe. Deirdre looks after her clothes and buys pieces that will last.
When your mother is the very stylish Marian Relihan, then all you have to do to look this good is raid her wardrobe.
Just a Thought
If you missed me on Radio Kerry last week, and you would like to hear my reflections, here is the link
John Kinsella is a local singer songwriter of great talent.
Sr. Eileen Leen is a singer, dancer and ever cheerful and upbeat young lady.
John wrote The Jolly Nun Hornpipe with Eileen in mind. I’m looking forward to hearing it.
Windows in St. John’s
One of the highlights of our walking tour with Tom Dillon on Saturday August 13 2022 was our guided tour of St. John’s.
One of St. John’s more notorious parishioners was the most hated man in Kerry in the late nineteenth century, George Sandes. He died in 1895. During his lifetime his misdeeds earned him the title of Terror of North Kerry.
Above is the triple window, George Sandes erected in 1888 to his son, George Jr. who died in March 1887.
The choice of three women depicting, Faith, Hope and Charity as a subject for a Sandes memorial was ironically inappropriate. George senior terrorised the womenfolk of his tenant families. The story goes that he insisted that tenants send their wives to pay the rent and he expected more than the rent from them.
Once he was taken to court by a Mary Quinlan, one of the many women he raped. She was demanding child maintenance. Mary was wise enough to bring her then 7 year old son to court. Such was the likeness to his father that the judge immediately ruled in her favour.
George’s legitimate son, also George, in whose memory he donated the window was very different to his father and was well liked and mourned.
The windows feature an entwined GS and the motto, The Lord Giveth and the Lord taketh away.”
This massive grindstone stands in Kildare Town Square. I can’t imagine what needed such a huge edging tool.
In an authentic Chinese meal the last course is always soup because it allows the roast duck entrée to swim towards digestion.
Just a thought
My reflections, which were broadcast last week on Radio Kerry’s Just a Thought slot are at the link below.
This annual display on the side altar, as well as all the symbols of Easter includes animals. flowers, water and light.
Commemorative Manhole Covers
These permanent memorials of 1916 are literally under our feet in town. I photographed this one on Church Street. Try to notice them next time you are out and about.
Memories of an Influential Teacher
“And still they gazed and still the wonder grew
That one small head could carry all he knew.”
Oliver Goldsmith’s The Village Schoolmaster
The late John Molyneaux had a wealth of knowledge and he imparted it to cohorts of pupils in St. Michael’s. He had a prodigious knowledge of football, running and later golfing strategy.
One of his past pupils, David Kissane, published an obituary to his former teacher on line. I am including it here. As it is very long, I will give it to you in instalments.
A tribute to Mr John Molyneaux, St Michael’s College, Listowel
By David Kissane, Class of ’72
It is fifty years ago since a group of about thirty young fellas headed out the gates of St Michael’s College, Listowel and into the wide, wild and wonderful world of the 1970s. As a member of the class of ’72, there is a compulsion to remember the year and its hinterland. Its place in our layered lives. What contributed to what we are cannot go uncelebrated. It just keeps on keeping on.
But how can one capture the colours and contours, the shapes and shadows of half a century ago when the world had a very different texture to what we perceive now in the bóithríns of age? The ships we sailed out in may be wrecked or dismembered. The ports we set sail from are hidden in the mists of time and memory, and our fellow sailors are scattered.
So where does one begin?
The writer Colm Tóibín once asked the artist Barrie Cooke how he began his paintings. Cooke answered “I make a random mark on the canvas and see what happens”.
Just as I follow Cooke’s suggestion and type a random “J” on the screen, the phone rings. It is Jim Finnerty from Glouria. I look at my J and wonder if Cooke was right! “There’s a man you knew well after passing away in Listowel” Jim announced. Listowel, I thought out loud as Jim let the news simmer in the wok of my memories. A number of names came to mind before Jim said “John Molyneaux”.
And then my canvas began to fill in. I write the name of Mr John Molyneaux, my Latin and English teacher, my athletics and football coach, and the dam opens. For the five years I spent in St Michael’s College, Listowel, he was an enduring presence, a multi-dimensional man who had a huge influence in our lives for those budding years. An icon.
Of course the first question that challenged my memory was “when did I last see John Molyneaux?”
About three years ago I parked my van down by the Feale off the Square in Listowel. Near Carroll’s Yard. Near the entrance bridge to Listowel Racecourse where you’d hear “Throw me down something!” on race days in sepia Septembers. As I returned to the van with a brand new chimney cowl, I saw him coming along the bank of the river. Lively as always, thoughtful, loaded with intention, energised quietly by the magic of the Feale walk, eyes down. I knew immediately if was him although I hadn’t met him in thirty years or more.
I almost said “Sir”. There is something un-shielding about meeting our old teachers. For us teachers, there is often a similar feeling when we meet former students.
“Hallo”, I said. He looked up and at me and it was that same look that I had forgotten with the passing of the years. Stored in the subconscious though. A moment of silence. I heard myself say my name. “I know” he said and a pathway opened up between the two of us and five minutes of reacquaintance. The older face transformed itself back through the years and the voice reframed its undeniable Mr Molyneaux-ness.
“We might have a chat about athletics sometime?” I broached timidly and he nodded. I was talking to the man who helped discover Jerry Kiernan and a host of other athletes. We parted and my day was enriched and changed.
Time and Covid played their cruel games and the chat never took place.
I will regret that for as long as memory is my colleague.
A group of raw first year students entered St Michael’s College in September 1967 having done an entrance exam the previous May. From the hinterland of Listowel and the town itself. There were only two from Lisselton NS some eight miles away off the Ballybunion-Listowel road. Francis Kennelly and myself, coincidentally from the same townland of Lacca. And distantly related as well.
The novices of 1967 were the first beneficiaries of Donagh O’Malley’s free education bill with free transport and no fees. Up to then second-level education was the premise of the wealthy. Now we were part of a historical educational development which would change the face of Ireland forever. Educate that you may be free, Pádraig Pearse had said long before he was executed in 1916.
In we went to the famed, and sometimes feared St Michael’s College, imposing and immobile. Two storeys of history and education above the ground and one storey below looking out on our little minds. Long walk in like an estate house with manicured lawns and apple trees. We were told by those in the know that if we picked the apples that were growing on those trees that autumn that it would have worse repercussions than when Adam was persuaded by Eve to prove his manhood by picking the Granny Smiths in the Garden of Paradise. The principal, Fr Danny Long would punish the picker with impunity. We were herded up the spotted clackety marble stairs and looked down on the trees to our right and pondered the decree of ne tangere. Do not touch.