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 listowelconnection@gmail.com

Category: Listowel Races Page 2 of 8

Donkey Derby

Vintage car enters The Square in July 2023

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A Donkey Derby

(Newspaper research by David O’Sullivan)

In 1960 among the highlights of The Harvest Festival were a roller skating competition, a mothers’ race around the houses and a donkey derby.

Above is the poster from 1959 and below is Vincent Carmody’s account of Harvest Festivals in his youth.

The two main off course attractions  during raceweek in Listowel were undoubtedly the Donkey Derby  and The All Ireland Wren Boys competition. The late John B. Keane described Listowel Donkey Derby as “A fantastic flight of asses down the historic Church St. course.”

The heyday of the donkey derby coincided with the emergence of one of the best known racing asses called Listowel Factory. This donkey was owned by Paddy Behan of Bunaghara and many of my age will remember his terrific duels with Finuge Lass.

The course for the donkey derby ran from the boy’s school to  Guiney’s in Lower Church St. now Mamma Mia. For health and safety reasons consideration was given at one stage to moving  the derby to Charles St. This would give a straighter course and safer viewing for spectators. At the meeting to discuss this proposal, Mr. Denis Guiney, publican, asked to address the meeting as he heard that they were considering moving the event. He threatened to withdraw his financial support of this event if this happened. The records show that this support amounted to the grand sum of one shilling and six pence.

Another donkey derby memory is that on one race night the well known commentator, Michael O’Hehir was standing on a tea chest giving a live commentary on the action. The same night the excitement of the crowd at the finishing line caused them to surge forward and topple him from his commentary box.

 In a conversation later with Thomas Ashe who was on the original festival committee, he told me that he had been appointed to organize the start of the race. The official starter was none other than Prince Monolulu. The first night over 80 asses turned up at the start. Thomas was wondering whether to hold 10 heats of 8 or 8 heats of 10. When he got in touch by walkie talkie with John B., who was running the event, John B. jokingly suggested that they run all 80 off together.

The Wren Boy competition was started by the festival committee in the fifties. Dr. Johnnie Walsh was the first chairman and John B. was the first M.C. The first competitions were mainly made up of local groups, Killocrim, Ennismore, Dirrah East and Dirrah West. Two of the original “kings” were Jimmy Hennessey and Sonny Canavan.

One memory of mine is of working in a bar in London in the early 1960s and Dr. Johnny accompanied by Jimmy Hennessey in full Wren boy regalia entered the bar. The bar in question was The Devonshire Arms which was popular with film and TV celebrities. One of these, Sir Bruce Seton exclaimed when he saw the goat-skin clad Hennessey beating his bodhran “Good gracious, They’re coming in from the jungle.”

I don’t remember children in the river chanting “Throw me down something”, and I am sure that this tradition only started in the 1970’s.

Nowadays  no horses are stabled in town. There are close to 200 stables at the racecourse.

 The following week it was back to school and life in Listowel resumed as normal. We were left only with memories, which happily we can still recall today.

Listowel Donkey Derby 1959 by Jet Stack

The weather being fine, being fifty nine and the races drawing nigh

To win the donkey derby sure our hopes were very high.

So we called on all the donkeys that might win cup or bowl

And we started preparations for the derby in Listowel.

The donkeys came in dozens, some were fast and some were slow,

But sure that’s the way you’ll find them no matter where you go

But we put them through their paces and we raced them past the pole

And twas all in preparation for the derby in Listowel.

We had Nixes grey and Driscolls bay, she showed a little blemish

John Joe brought our camera in case of a photo finish

When Lady Barney won the second race, Dan Riordan scratched his pole

And t’was all in preparation for the derby in Listowel.

Nedeen Buckley came with Sad Dust and Nellies Morning Dew

This was a kind of challenge race and t’was left between the two

Then Margaret came on Forge Road Lad, He’s the sire of a foal

And t’was all in preparation for the derby in Listowel.

When Shanahan’s Stamps came winning home, the crowd they gave a roar

They heard it back in Coolagown and down through Ennismore

Bob Stack got so excited, he ran up the winning pole

And t’was all in preparation for the derby in Listowel.

Scortlea’s Hope when going well, won many a thrilling race

He ran his best to half a length and that was no disgrace

But when Casey down from Dromerin,  said he couldn’t run with goats

Sure his feeding was substandard, it was small Kilarda oats.

When Phil arrived on Gurtinard Lad,  Sean’s donkey gave a wink

He started like a bullet and gave him no time to think

Our jockeys rode like professionals both fearless and bold

And there’s one thing I can vouch for; a race was never sold.

The crowd grew larger every night, they came from far and near

Elsey , Kit and Minnie came the winners home to cheer

We had Bertha , Paul and Bridie, sure they played their usual role

And t’was all in preparation for the derby in Listowel.

Eileen came with Kathleen and Bridge came running fast

Sure Mary nearly broke her neck in case she might be last

Ginette was there from London oh my heart she nearly stole

And t’was all in preparation for the Derby in Listowel.

So then when the fun was over and we picked our chosen few

We raced them down Church Street where we met our Waterloo

But such is life, there is always strife in trying to reach your goal

Still our hopes are high for another try at the derby in Listowel.

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Galvin’s new Colour Scheme

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A Couple of Limericks

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Thinking Ahead to Christmas

Church Street 2022

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A War Grave

This is the only war grave memorial in Listowel cemetery.

This headstone in St. Michael’s graveyard was erected by the War Graves Commission to a fallen soldier of The Great War. The soldier is D. Daly who died on December 26 1918 at the age of 26. His next of kin was a brother who lived in Convent Street.

Does someone know the story? So sad!

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Remembering Listowel Races 2022

When looking for something else I came across a few Races photos I think I never posted

Martina and her two lovely daughters were racing on Sunday
Emma was out with her family enjoying family day.
Gillian and John had little Robbie at his first outing to The Island
Me and past pupil, Lisa

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Listowel Garden Centre Christmas Shop

It’s as good as ever for Christmas 2022

It’s great to have a smallie as an excuse to browse in the Christmas shop.

A bit early for the letter. But no harm to be preparing.

Cora loved the idea of a pink display.

Nana is a bit more traditional (and boring!)

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A Poem

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Jerry Kennelly in Shannonside Annual 1959

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One for the Diary

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A Book, a Dancer and the Greenway

The Curragh ; Éamon OMurchú

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Jimmy Hickey ‘s Big Birthday

His friends in Presentation Primary School helped their dancing teacher celebrate a big birthday lately.

They shared the pictures on Facebook.

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A Poem about Ballinruddery

From North Kerry Landscape

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Point to Point

I love this book. It’s the third in Healyracing’s horse racing books and, in my humble opinion, the best.

If you love horses; if you love history; if you love photographs; if you love stories, if you love people, they are all here in Point to Point.

Many p to p races are held in gorgeous settings, a photographer’s dream.

It’s not all glamour. Many big day winners at Cheltenham or Fairyhouse started off in muddy fields in rural Ireland.

There is the usual sprinkling of dramatic dismounts.

I love this book and I’ll be dipping into it for a while yet. You dont have to know anything about horses or racing to enjoy this one. It will be a best seller.

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The Greenway

I went to investigate where the greenway enters the park. Here are a few photos to give you an idea. This section is not finished yet.

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All Fine and Dandy

The Curragh; Photo: Éamon ÓMurchú

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Dandy Lodge Facelift

Kerry’s Eye

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A Book Recommendation

I haven’t seen this one yet so I’m giving you advance notice of what sounds like a must for all local historians.

Lyreacrompane native, Joe Harrington, has just published a book on very first Butter Road from Kerry to the Cork Butter Market.  Joe describes the book, ‘Once Upon a Road’ as a “search for the olden days on a sixty-mile journey through 275 years of time”. 

The subject of the book is the road from Ballyduhig, near the Six Crosses, through Lyreacrompane, Castleisland, Cordal, Tooreencahill, Millstreert, Aubane, Vicarstown, to Kerry Pike outside Cork City.  It was originally built as a tollroad/turnpike, under a 1747 Act of Parliament. The man behind the venture was a John Murphy from Castleisland.  ‘When I was growing up, I remember the dispensary at Pike, halfway between Lyreacrompane and Listowel. I often wondered why it was named Pike. Researching the history of this road over recent years I discovered that Pike in fact alluded to a turnpike/toll gate on this spot from the early 1750s to 1809.  It was one of six that John Murphy was entitled to erect on the road all the way to Cork up until the latter date”, Joe explained.

The book ‘Once Upon a Road’ with 364 full colour pages and 315 images, maps and photos which Joe was delighted to have printed locally by Walsh Colour Print, Castleisland with graphic design by Easy Design, Causeway.

Joe has been researching the history of the road for the past five years and it initially led to him writing a song on the subject; ‘The Road John Murphy Made’, which won the Sean McCarthy Ballad Competition a couple of years back.  “The ballad was about one man’s trip on the road in the 1750s and the book broadens the story of the road that connected the dairy lands of north Kerry and the famous Cork Butter Market”, Joe explained.  

‘Once Upon a Road ‘dips into the local history of the townlands, towns, villages, and settlements through which the road passes. Every mile on ‘The Road John Murphy Made’ has a story to tell and along the way we will meet Whiteboys and Hedge Schoolmasters, Freedom Fighters and Moonlighters, Famines and Natural Disasters, Mass Rocks and Wedge Tombs, Bronze age hoards and Bog Butter, Lost Estates and Evicted Tenants”, Joe explains. The road even played a part in the slave trade he reveals.

From Ballyduhig, where the road began near the present day Six Crosses, to Kerry Pike near Cork City the book is a travelogue in time and place.  Like the rest of the book, the Listowel to Lyreacrompane section is packed with the happening in the area since the road was built in the 1750s. The killing of the Earl of Desmond at Gleanageenty is revisited as is the adventures of the Earl of Kerry who owned much of the land through which the turnpike was built.  Matchmakers, bog slides, new and ancient, and the story of the Lyreacrompane man who oversaw at least three hundred executions in an American Prison fill the pages as do heroes like Amelia Canty and villains like Lucy Ann Thompson. The visit of William Makepeace Thackeray, of Punch fame (or shame) to Listowel is recounted.

I would like to thank all the local historians along the route who unstintingly related to me all they had discovered about their own area and, on a road known for its ‘straight as a gunbarrell’ stretches, to Kay O’Leary, who, so to speak, kept me on the straight and narrow.  

Once upon a road is widely available including from Joe Harrington, Lyreacrompane. Joe can be contacted at 0872853570.

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A Few More from Ladies Day 2022

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A Piece of History

the source

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Back in 1949

This was Marie Neligan Shaw’s found treasure which I shared with you yesterday. I had found no one to tell me who Pat Crowley was. No one that is until Dave O’Sullivan came to our rescue.

Dave searched the papers and found that Pat Crowley was a big name on the dance scene in 1949 and for years afterwards. Here is what Dave found

Now this begs the question; Does anyone remember Des Fretwell or the Pavilion?

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