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
Cool shaded walk in Childers Park, Listowel, June 2023
Photographing a Photographer
John Stack with two of his talented and very photogenic grandchildren pictured in The Square, Listowel, in June 2023.
It’s always a bit risky snapping a very experienced snapper but a photo of this doting grandad was too good to miss.
One of the Best Gone too Soon
I love this picture of Frank and Jim in Frank’s garage back in the good old days. Few knew as much about cars as Frank Greaney. He loved cars and he loved dealing in them and repairing and refurbishing them. He was the Citreon king and he loved nothing better then to talk cars with is cronies.
Frank’s garage was a kind of mini parliament chamber. A few of his friends used to come and sit and set the world to rights with Frank while he worked.
Away from the garage, Frank was a super volunteer. Nothing was too much bother to him. He expended hours fundraising for St. Mary Of the Angels, Beaufort, where his beloved daughters were looked after. He helped every cancer charity. Poignantly, on the day of his funeral, Hospice fundraisers left their posts in the Small Square to join in the guard of honour that accompanied Frank’s huge funeral cortege through the town.
He was a familiar presence in St. Mary’s, taking up the collection, counting the money and helping wherever he was needed.
It was sad to see Frank suffering and in pain for the last few months of his life, but, like the trooper he was, he soldiered on.
Eileen and Frank Greaney were inseparable, a living example of enduring love. My deepest sympathy to Eileen and Mike. Frank was one of the good ones, one of my favourite Listowel people.
In this photo Frank is holding his copy of Brendan of Ireland, a long out of print special book in which his family played a part. It was a measure of the man that he lent it to me to photograph and to share with followers of Listowel Connection. Others would not have let it out of their sight.
Tonight we’ll have the graveyard mass in John Paul cemetery. It won’t feel right not to have Frank there directing traffic and helping out generally. He contributed a lot to making that graveyard the lovely place it is today.
May the sod rest lightly on the gentle soul of this lovely gentleman.
Marketing Listowel in the 1960s
My recent German visitors, Wolfgang and Anita gave me this booklet that they had kept from their first visit to Listowel in 1973.
Another era surely! Who remembers travellers’ cheques?
Just a Thought
My reflections which were broadcast last weak on Radio Kerry in its Just a Thought slots are here;
An Easter Window in St. Mary’s Listowel in April 2023
Then and Now
On Church Street
Beautiful Cherry Tree
In Listowel Pitch and Putt Course
A Biden Story (Kind of)
From Mattie Lennon
When President Biden mentioned his great-grandfather Finnegan, the poet, it reminded me. The poet Paddy Finnegan was a friend of mine. He was from Galway and was no stranger to Listowel Writers’ Week. I don’t know if he was related to “the President’s Finnegans” and there again I don’t know that he wasn’t!
When Paddy died in 2014 two others and myself organised a “Finnegan’s Wake with an Apostrophe”, in Dublin’s Mansion House. President Higgins couldn’t attend but his daughter Alice Mary did. We made a DVD of the evening’s events,
I’ve a piece that I wrote about Paddy Finnegan after his death.
Paddy Finnegan passed away, unexpectedly, on 16th July.
Shortly after his death poet and writer Stephen James Smith wrote, “Paddy was a wonderful man who inspired me with his poetry and acted as a great supporter of other young poets too. . . as he speaks to me beyond the grave his verse is still unnerving me with his gravely pitted voice holding my ears. . . .Paddy you’ll always live on in my memory, you’ll always be one of the first people who made poetry sing to me, you’ll always be a writers’ writer, a warrior with words. The Fionn mac Cumhaill of verse.“
Paddy was born “between two years” either in the dying moments of 1942 or just after midnight on New-year’s day 1943 in Dereen, Kilkerrin, County Galway. Like everywhere else in rural Ireland clocks weren’t all that accurate at the time.
While a pupil at the National School in Kilkerrin a teacher convinced his father, Michael, that Paddy had academic potential. He got a Scholarship to St Jarleths College, Tuam, in 1956 and continued his formal education in UCD.
Paddy had a fantastic knowledge of the English language, was fluent in all dialects of Gaeilge and had a good grasp of Greek and Latin. His versatility was increased in the year he spent in Wolverhampton as one of “the men who built Britain”. He became an expert on how to fry steak on the head of a shovel.
He joined the Irish Civil Service in 1962 but office work wasn’t for Paddy. Apart from being on a higher mental plane than most of his colleagues he was an open-air man. During his stint there I’m sure Sigerson Clifford’s line often went around in his head, “They chained my bones to an office stool and my soul to a clock’s cold hands.“
He worked as a bus conductor with CIE from 1971 to 1980.
When I got a job as a bus-conductor in 1974 I was sent to Donnybrook garage. I didn’t ask who was the most intelligent person in the garage but if I had the reply would have been concise, “Paddy Finnegan.” As a conductor he could reply to any criticism from an irate passenger; in several languages if necessary. During this period Paddy and a few of his fellow intellectual would assemble in a city centre flat which was known a Dáil Oíche. It was a later edition of “The catacombs” as described by Anthony Cronin in Dead as Doornails. With such a collection of intelligentsia you can imagine (or can you?) the topics under discussion. He lived for many years in Lower Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh. If ever a house deserved a Blue Plaque it’s Paddy’s former residence.
He brought out a collection of his poetry, sadly now out of print, titled Dactyl Distillations. I know dear erudite reader that you know the meaning of dactyl but I had to look it up. It is, “a foot of poetic meter in quantitave verse.”
He was inspired by everyday events. His “Post from Parnassus” was inspired by the annual Saint Patrick’s Day commemoration of Patrick Kavanagh on the banks of the Grand Canal.
Post From Parnassus
(after Patrick Kavanagh)
by Paddy Finnegan
Here by my seat the old ghosts meet. Here, the place where the old menagerie Relentlessly soldiers on Remembering the old green dragon, me, On the feast of the Apostle of Ireland.
Ye greeny, greying catechumens Will cease to stage this ceremony Only on the command of Sergeant Death. Then break not the heart of poet past Nor that of preening poet present: But know, ye prodigies of prosody That multitudes in times to be Will listen to my lays And look askance While cods forever fake Their own importance.
More recently he recorded a, limited edition, CD, Fíon Ceol agus Filíocht. I hope that somebody will now bring out an “unlimited” edition. Since 1995 he was a familiar sight selling the Big Issue outside Trinity College and more recently at Bewleys on Grafton Street.
Paddy always had a story, like the day he was chatting to his fellow poet Professor Brendan Kennelly at the gate of Trinity as dark clouds hung overhead . “ . . . I asked the Ballylongford wizard for a meteorological prognostication. He replied in the immortal words: ‘ There’’ be no rain; it’ll be as dhry, as dhry as a witches tit.’ He wasn’t gone fifteen minutes when amazingly the cloud dispersed and as our old friend Pythagoras used to say: ‘ Phoebus played a blinder for the rest of the day.” That was Paddy.
I asked his brother James if there were poets in their ancestry. He said no, that their father was a farmer but, in the words of Seamus Heaney, “By God, the old man could handle a spade.”
Listowel Success in The Rebel County
Elaine and Seán O’Sullivan with Bobby Cogan and Carine Schweitzer.
They won the weekend table quiz in The White Horse, Ballincollig.
An old Post Box
This post box is on the street in Tralee at the corner of Day Place. These pillar boxes date back to an earlier era when they were painted red and had the monarch’s cypher on the front.
This one is one of the ones that had an angle grinder taken to it and the cypher shorn off.
Just a Thought
My Reflections, broadcast last week on Radio Kerry are here;
Absolutely pure gold is so soft it can be molded with the hands. A lump of pure gold the size of matchbox can be flattened into a sheet the size of a tennis court. An ounce of gold can be stretched into a wire 50 miles long.
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