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
Today is February 6 2023, our first ever St. Bridget’s Day national holiday.
Faces of North Kerry
This is one of the Jill Freedman photographs that is part of a project being undertaken by Des Byrne.
The late photographer, Jill Freedman, made several visits to Listowel, Finuge and North Kerry in the 1970s and ’80s. She loved to meet local people on the streets and in the pubs. She particularly loved Irish music and musicians.
She made many friends during her sojourns here and she took lots of photographs.
According to Donal Nolan’s article in this week’s Kerryman. a fellow photographer, Des Byrne, has, with the permission of the Freedman estate, released some of the photographs in the hopes of finding the people who are in them.
Email email@example.com if you can identify any faces or if you think you can help Des with his project.
Galvin’s of William Street is a very different shopfront to others in Listowel.
According to experts the wooden facade is most likely the work of Reidy’s of Killarney.
The beautiful mosaic work in the shop name was covered up for years. During the War of Independence it was against the law to have a shop name in Irish so a sign saying J.J. Galvin covered up the mosaic one.
From The Advertiser
For the Diary
First up tomorrow evening is local writer, Emma Larkin
St. Patrick’s Hall, Listowel to some of a certain age will always be The Bandsroom. Once upon a time this parish hall was a very male preserve.
Here is an account given a few years’ ago by local historian, Vincent Carmody.
Final of the billiard tournament in St. Patrick’s Hall, Listowel in 1954/55
Front Row; Seán Stack, Francie Holly, Eamon Stack, Moss Carmody, John Enright, David Roche, John (Chuck) Roche, Tom Murphy, Simon Kelliher, Michael Mc Guinness, J.J. Rohan
Back Row: Danny Enright, Matt Kennelly, Michael O’Connor, P.J. Maher, Frankie White, Tim (Windy) Kelliher, Dan Lou Sweeney (with glasses)
Backround: Ned Stack (caretaker), Fr. Michael Keane (C.C. Listowel) (Uncle of Moss Keane )
St Patrick’s Hall, a brief history by Vincent Carmody
There was an active Temperance Society in Listowel at the end of the nineteenth century, this committee were anxious to have a meeting place and after some protracted negotiations with Lord Listowel’s agent they were facilitated with a site where the present hall now stands.The committee comprised of the following, Lar. Buckley, Maurice Kerins, Con Kearney, Maurice Scanlon, Michael O Sullivan and John Kirby.
Fund raising began at once and the agreed contract price of £293 was quickly risen. Soon afterwards building commenced and was completed within an agreed twenty two weeks. The builder was Mr Michael Costello of Church Street.
An interesting aside is that the builder was bound by a contract clause that he was libel to pay a penalty of £1 for each week of part of for any over run. The committee appointed Mr Maurice Nugent, then coach-builder to the Lartigue to act on their behalf. Fealy Brothers supplied all building material.
When built, the hall became the focus for much Parish activity. A very fine Brass & Reed band which had been active in the town for some years were facilitated with the use of the upstairs room as a bands room, the balcony from this room overlooking Upper William Street was used as a stage for many outdoor summer evening performances. The main room downstairs was used for card games, billiard and snooker, the towns musical society of the day also used the hall and the billiard tables were used as an improvised stage.
In 1895 a split occurred in the local GAA club and for a number of years afterwards the Temperance Society affiliated a team in the Kerry Co. Championship known as St. Patrick’s.
In March 1907 a set of nineteen general rules were drawn up and unanimously adopted. These rules gave a clear indication of the moral code which the members were expected to adhere to.
In 1936, a branch of the Catholic Young Mens Society was started, this incorporated a study circle and lectures were given on various nights. One of these had Paddy Fitzgibbon (senior) speaking on the topic “Is Ireland ripe for Communism?”
Also, the same year saw a move into the electronic age with the procurement of a radio. This was very popular, especially on Summer Sundays with live transmission of GAA matches.
Over the years, whist drives were organised as fundraisers, a bridge club was also set up under the chairmanship of local photographer, Jimmy Adams.
From the 1920’s all band activity was under the baton of James Hennessy. He had served in the British Army as a bandsman in his younger days and besides being a noted musician he also was a strict disciplinarian. However allied to his retirement in the 1940s and a lack of genuine interest shown by the younger members it was decided to cease band activity, and so the band which had given so much joy the followers near and far for over fifty years was no more.
Father Sayers arrived as a new curate in Listowel the early 1940s, and was appointed as Spiritual Director to the Society. At the first committee meeting which he attended it became apparent that he was determined to leave his imprint with a set of new rules and regulations which he proposed. These caused immediate resentment. Some of these were,
In future the Hall would be referred to as St. Patrick’s Catholic Hall,
He in future would nominate all committees, (this was a break in tradition, as from 1905, members elected half of the committee of sixteen)
Membership of the men’s confraternity had to be strictly adhered to by all members.
Fr. Sayers, who was vehemently anti-drink, decreed that anyone he suspected of entering the hall having taken drink would be suspended. Many members resigned at this point and the position was further escalated by the announcement that the front door lock was to be changed and entry would be permitted to key holders only. During this period also the now unused band instruments which had been stored in the upstairs bands room were sold without any consultation with the older members who had been part of and had always hoped for a reformation of the band.
The resignation of so many of former active committee members must have had an immediate effect on Fr. Sayers. He relented on much of what he had tried to implement. Sanity prevailed and things resumed in a more lax mode with Fr Sayers taking a more demure back seat role.
Following the war years, under a new and younger management, the hall went from strength to strength. Billiard tournaments were organised with clubs from other towns, card games of Poker, Solo, Patience and Whist were popular, while Jimmy Adams and Super Mulcahy again revived the dormant Bridge club. An annual dinner dance was organised (a ladies committee was chosen to run this, even though membership of the Society was for men only). The hall remained in great use and activities were most popular especially during the months from August to May, however by the late 1950s the condition of the hall in general, now built over sixty years had started to decline and a revamp was badly needed.
Again it was in the form of a new Curate as Spiritual Director that was to effect changes, Fr. Michael Keane arrival in Listowel was to herald a new beginning for the hall. A tireless worker, he gathered around him a band of fellow workers and so began a whole array of improvements, the first since 1893.
During the late 1950s and 1960s the hall was once again the centre of winter activities and one of the most popular fundraisers was the holding of Pongo during Listowel Races. However by the latter part of the decade a steady decline of membership had begun. This would have been mainly due to emigration and a host of other social activities which had become popular by this time.
The hall had closed by 1970 and the billiard and snooker tables were dismantled. One particular group showed interest in taking it and running it as a private members club, the local council were said to be interested in buying it, with a view to knocking it in order to give wider access to a council car park at the rear of Charles St./Upper William St.
During the 1970/80s it mainly served as a hub and office space during Writers Week, Fleadh Cheoil, Listowel Races and as headquarters of a youth club. By the 1990s a very vibrant active retirement group under the Chairmanship of Michael O Sullivan and they with the youth club began a series of fund raising draws to find money to implement some repairs. Again a young Curate got involved, Fr John Kerins. Meetings took place and with the funds already collected along with grants promised by Tuatha Ciarraí and North Kerry Together, the committee set up to oversee the changes sought and got FAS to carry out the restoration work. Work started and was completed in 2002. The major improvements have left us with a building that looks better than ever, since the re-opening has once again been the centre of a multiplicity of events and groups. Hopefully it will again serve the town and its people for the duration of the twenty first century as it has done for the previous hundred years.
Good Bridget, Bad Bridget
February 2023 for me is all about saints and sinners. I have just bought my copy of Bad Bridget in Woulfe’s and now I’m looking forward to reading it in preparation for Elaine and Leanne’s visit to Listowel for Writers’ Week 2023.
Their event is set to be held in Listowel Courthouse, a setting familiar to Bad Bridgets.
The boys of Scoil Realta na Maidine made and sold St. Bridget’s crosses.
Eileen Moylan’s beautiful silver or gold crosses were in great demand after her appearance on Imeall. People have asked me to share the link here.
The site has details of all the shipwrecks off our coast and there were a lot clustered around the Shannon estuary.
From the Mailbag
I’m a distant relation of Sean (John) Lenane who died in 1923 (buried at Gael Graveyard outside Listowel). I’m wondering if you would know of any Listowel or area commemorations occuring for those who lost their lives in the Civil War. I’m not from the area but would love to attend if there are any such events in the months ahead. Thanks in advance if there is any information you’ll be posting in your blog or could email.
Patricia O’Halloran (on behalf of my Mom in photo)
I photographed this pillarbox on College Road, Cork
This box dates from the reign of George V 1901 to 1936.
I know that there is a decline in the amounts of mail sent nowadays and it costs to maintain them and to have someone go every day and empty these boxes but I really hope these artefacts are never removed from our streets. They are part of our history.
I photographed this more recent one in Mallow train station. It is ugly, utilitarian and as for “post office’! What’s that about?
An Cailín Ciúin…a Listowel connection
“The apparel oft proclaims the man.”
Costume is just another way of telling the story and the beautifully evocative costumes in An Cailín Ciúin were the work of costume and wardrobe designer Louise Stanton.
Neil Brosnan shared this great connection with us.
“You recently mentioned Eibhlín wearing trousers in An Cailín Ciúin. I’m glad to say that Bray designer, Louise Stanton, is responsible for the wardrobe of the film – Louise is the sister of my partner, Gina Kelly. Louise personally made many of the costumes, including Cáit’s iconic lemon dress. The knitted and crocheted items were crafted by Louise’s 92 year-old mother, Marie Kelly, and her knitting circle friends in Castlebridge in Wexford, The Joe Heney movie ‘Song of Granite’, and Roddy Doyle’s, ‘Rosie’ are among Louise’s previous projects, along with the forthcoming RTE series ‘The Dry’. Louise is presently working on writer/director Pat Collins’s production of John McGahern’s ‘That they may face the rising sun’.”
Cáit in the iconic yellow dress running towards her happy place.
Cáit with the washing in the background, dull colourless, grey garments, symbols of her old life.
Of course anyone who saw the film will know the significance of boys’ clothes and girls’ clothes and the huge symbolism of buying the new dresses.
Then there was the poncho. I couldn’t find a picture but I recognised it well. We all had one in my young days and we thought we were the height of fashion. I think it was my first useless garment. It didn’t keep you warm so was useless as a replacement for a cardigan or jumper but we thought it was stylish. I was delighted to hear that Louise and Gina’s elderly mother and her crafter friends made this. Maybe she even once wore one.
I can’t wait to see this marvellous film again.
Listowel’s creative writing group celebrated 20 years together on Saturday January 28 2013.
They had cake, songs and readings, lots of chat and reminiscing and Helen Broderick took a few photos.
Today is February 1st. feast of our second patron saint. According to one tradition Saint Brigid was born in Faughart, Co Louth, where there is a shrine and another holy well dedicated to her. The Saint founded a convent in Kildare in 470 that has now grown into a cathedral city. There are the remains of a small oratory known as Saint Brigid’s fire temple, where a small eternal flame was kept alight for centuries in remembrance of her.
This is St. Brigid’s in Kildare
This window is in the Catholic church of St. Brigid in Kildare Town.
This is the St. Brigid stained glass window in St. John’s church, Ballybunion
She is usually depicted either with her famous cross or a church which she built.
The Kildare crowd in their church plaque don’t bother with the Co. Louth part of the legend. There she is all Kildare.
St Brigid’s Cloak
Once when on a visit to my Kildare family I came upon this display in the Whitewater Shopping Centre in Newbridge.
This is St. Bridget with her marvellous cloak. The project was the work of a local knitting group.
The story of the cloak is this. St. Bridget wanted to build a monastery so she approached the king of Leinster to give her a site. He laughed her off. Undaunted, she returned to him and asked only for “as much land as my cloak will cover” His majesty took one look at her small cloak and agreed to her request.
Then began her first miracle. She asked her followers to take her cloak and to walk North, South, East and West with it. The cloak grew and grew until it covered more than enough land to built her monastery. The king picked his jaw up from the floor, decided that this lady was blessed by God and there and then became her biggest fan and ardent supporter.
To celebrate this miracle one tradition is to leave a handkerchief (if anyone has one of these anymore) or piece of linen out overnight. St. Brigid will bless it and it will have curative powers from then on.
St. Brigid’s Cross
Probably the most popular tradition associated with St. Bridget is the custom of making crosses from rushes and hanging them in houses to ward off dangers particularly the danger of fire.
St Bridget had n0 cross with her when she was in the bothán of a dying man whom she wished to convert to Christianity. She picked up the nearest thing, rushes on the floor, and fashioned a crude cross from these. Irish schoolchildren have been making flitters of their fingers emulating her feat ever since.
Valerie O’Sullivan took these photos of the mid Kerry crowd out on The Biddy last year. The tradition involves taking an effigy of St. Bridget (a Brídeóg) from house to house and having a bit of a hooley along the way. This tradition is related to mumming and the colourful hats are part of it all.
Some people make a St. Brigid shrine. This was Helen Dunlea’s last year.
This is the St. Brigid icon by Sr. Aloysius McVeigh.
An icon is different to a picture in that it’s purpose it to tell the whole story. If a picture paints a thousand words, an icon paints several thousands.
Some of the symbols are;
Sword under her foot…her love of peace
Animals…she was fond of sheep and cows and depended on these for food and nourishment
Her fellow sisters
Bishop’s Crosier…many traditions have it that Bridget was ordained a bishop
St. Brigid’s Cross
St Brigid’s Fire…Her fire was kept alight for decades, used for heating and cooking etc.
So now you know something about the saint responsible for our new national holiday.
I’m told that the name Bridget and derivatives has fallen out of fashion but her cult is now having a moment as we celebrate on our new national holiday.
Look at this beautiful piece of St. Brigid jewellery from Listowel goldsmith, Eileen Moylan. If you have a Bridget in your life, here is her birthday present sorted.
I happened to be in the Bon Secours hospital in Cork on January 24 2023. The hospital was celebrating its anniversary.
Over the years The Bons has been good to me. An anniversary is a time for reflection. Not all my visits there were happy ones!
The Clock of Life is Wound but Once
The song My Grandfather’s Clock dates back to 1876. It tells the story from a child’s perspective of a clock bought for his grandfather on the day of his birth. Mysteriously it stopped working on the day he died. Maybe it was only a mystery to the child. I am old enough to remember the custom of manually stopping the clocks when someone in the house died.
My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf, So it stood ninety years on the floor; It was taller by half than the old man himself, Though it weighed not a pennyweight more. It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born, And was always his treasure and pride; But it stopp’d short — never to go again — When the old man died.
Ninety years without slumbering (tick, tick, tick, tick),
His life seconds numbering, (tick, tick, tick, tick),I
It stopp’d short — never to go again —
When the old man died.
This grandfather clock has stood in The Bons in Cork for as long as I can remember.
They’re Teasing Us
Some of the people coming to this year’s Writers’ Week. Put the dates in your diary. It looks like a good one.
Movie of the Moment
It’s all about the movies these days as the Irish film industry is having a moment.
When I think of films I think of the late Kieran Gleeson. He would be in his element just now, lapping up all the movie news.
I am printing here an old post from 2016. It is Billy Keane’s tribute to Kieran, our man of cinema, published in the Irish Independent after Kieran’s untimely death.
Billy Keane’s Tribute to Kieran Gleeson Irish Independent Jan 25 2016
Kieran Gleeson’s eyes lit up as he explained the background to the film he was showing, and you could see he was excited – excited about sharing all he knew with his audience there in his three-screen cinema in a small country town.
There was always an introduction before his cinema club films on a Thursday night. This was his night, the night when he got to choose the films he loved. Kieran spoke as all the knowledgeable do – in simple, easy-to-understand language.
Kieran has been in love with the cinema ever since he stood up on the piled-high metal boxes that were used for storing magic reels. There, he was the spellbound kid looking out through the porthole in the projectionist’s room with his dad and grandad in their country cinema in Cappamore, County Limerick. Afterwards, he would be full of excitement and full of talk.
Kieran ‘the man’ is still ‘the boy’ in the projection room. Often, we would be kept on after the crowd had gone home for a discussion about the movie he was showing. He knew his stuff, did Kieran. There was no showing off, just teaching and sharing. The soft, gentle but passionate voice, hoarse from too much talk, is gone for good now.
Kieran’s life is a silent movie. He breathes with the help of a machine. Our small town hero’s chest rises and falls with every breath. It’s as if he’s a marathon runner at the end of a gruelling race. Kieran Gleeson who rescued, owns and loves our local cinema here in Listowel – has advanced Motor Neurone Disease.
But he’s still communicating. Kieran writes a little, but only with great effort. He sends text messages, nods in agreement or moves his eyes towards something he wants you to read.
Kieran writes ’29’ on a sheet of paper and hands it to his wife, Teresa. Did you ever notice it when two people feel and read each other’s thoughts? They seem to instinctively know what the other person is thinking. The bond has to be strong, but there’s more than just tuning in. The two must share the dream.
The 29 refers to January 29, 1987 – the day the cinema in Listowel reopened under Kieran’s management.
The cinema had been closed for two years. Kieran was driving by one day with his mother and he noticed a ‘For Sale’ sign up over The Astor Cinema. There and then, he made up his mind to buy the rat-infested wreck. A local businessman told Kieran he was “absolutely mad” – and maybe he was. Small town cinemas were going the way of small shops. There are only a few independent cinemas left in Ireland. The prophesy of failure made Kieran all the more determined to succeed. He worked day and night and, bit by bit, the cinema began to pay for itself. His mother helped out every Sunday when the cinema was at it’s busiest.
Kieran opened three screens and he had the best of films showing at the same time as the big cities. He was one of the first to embrace digitalisation and encouraged Jimmy Deenihan, the then Arts Minister, to provide grant assistance to a number of cinemas.
Hard-up parents were given deals. Kids who didn’t have enough money were never refused. Kieran often declined the big money-making movies if he felt they were bad. He never overcharged for tickets, sweets or popcorn. Director Ger Barrett – who is now about to release his third movie, ‘Brain on Fire’, later this year – was allowed in for free. Ger premiered his last movie, ‘Glassland’, in Listowel – and the night was turned into a tribute to his mentor and friend. Actor Jack Reynor came along and Kieran was so buzzed up that the illness was put into remission for a night. It was like the football coach who sees the player he trained as a kid step o collect an All-Ireland medal.
I was only three, but I remember being brought to The Astor for ‘Summer Holiday’ by Bernie Buckley – who was babysitting me then, and still does. Dad and I cried when Davy Crockett died at the Alamo. It was here I had the first lip-kiss in the back seat.
Sometimes, when our kids were young, we’d be there at the pictures and, out of the corner of my eye, I could see Kieran standing in the aisle at the back, taking it all in. He was enjoying the kids enjoying the picture show. The light flickered over his smiling face and, if ever there was man who was happy at work, well, it was him. There and then, and always. After all, he gave up his studies in accountancy to help run the family cinema in Cappaghmore when his dad died suddenly from a heart attack.
There have been tough times and, last year, thousands of euro were stolen from the safe by heartless thieves. Teresa is trying to get to grips with the details of running a cinema, but she’s learning fast. Best of all, she and Kieran are determined to keep the cinema going. “Our staff have been so good to us,” she says.
Kieran had been checking out the possibility of live streaming concerts and sporting events. He had big plans.
The kids come in from school and Kieran gets a smile out. Teresa, I know, struggles to come to terms with how it is that such a decent man suffers so much. She is loyal to him as a full-time carer on a break from her job in the civil service, and loyal to his vision for the family-run cinema. Such is the practicality of true love and mutual respect.
Teresa sent me a link to a Radio Kerry interview with John Herlihy, where Kieran speaks of his love of the sounds of the old cinema projection room with the 35mm reels. “We treasure that now,” she says. “It’s all we have of his voice.”
He shuffles in his wheelchair to attract my attention. He shows me the screen on his phone. This week, Kieran is showing ‘The Revenant’ and ‘Creed’, as well as kids’ movies. Still promoting his cinema as he fights for every movement. There is such a powerful, undefeated will within him. As I leave, I kiss my friend gently on the head and thank him for all he has done for all of us.
Kieran was a lovely kind man. His screen 3 was the only one which was wheelchair accessible. Kieran offered to show any film which normally was showing in One or Two in Screen 3 on a Monday night, just to suit Jim Cogan. All we had to do was ask.
It was an offer we never took him up on but we greatly appreciated the kind gesture.