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

Listowel Christmas Memories

Photo: Chris Grayson

Listowel Christmas Market

December 2 2023 4.oop.m. saw me in The Square for the market and turning on of the Christmas lights. Stalls were just setting up and people were very slowly gathering. It was very very cold.

That is my excuse for not bringing you the photos I had hoped for. I didn’t wait around but looking at reports on Facebook everyone had a great time.

These lovely girls were among the early arrivals.

One of the first, and most important stalls to set up was the soup, mulled cider and sandwiches crew who joined Elaine in raising funds for Kerry Hospice.

The Black Valley

A lovely man called Dan Doyle allowed me to join his Facebook group where he reminisces about growing up in The Black Valley. He has given me permission to share stuff.

This lovely man is Dan’s dad. Here is what he wrote;

Tom Doyle my dad on a road in Beaufort , Kerry Ireland, somewhere beneath the mountains around the Gap Of Dunloe almost 100 years ago ,we just recently got this only photo of the man himself. someone read our stories here ,God Bless us ,Great to see you big man after all these years.

Once in awhile we take my dad and introduce him to The Black Valley crowd.  He would shake his head if he knew anybody even read anything i wrote. He never went to school. He couldnt read or write.  He was a gifted man with a mind for helping people, one of the strongest men i ever knew. He sat under a tree in the mountains as my mom read to him ,so his eyes were closed and she read and they were a sight to see, so here is Tom Doyle my dad around 100 or 110 years ago somewhere in the mountains of Kerry.

Photo: Tarbert on Facebook

This somewhat scary effigy of St. Nicholas has graced Coolahan’s window in Tarbert for 100 years. Local children knew that once he took up his position, the real Santa would soon be on his way.Great to see that he is still standing, even if he is a bit the worst for wear.

A Request

Does anyone know where one could get a copy of the book by Joe Quaid of Athea called Hook Line and Sinker?

John O’Connell’s Remembers Childhood Christmases

At Christmas 2020 in the midst of Covid people here encouraged others to recall happy childhood Christmases.

Noreen Neville O’Connell shared these memories which she recorded from her husband of more than 50 years’ trip down memory lane.

“In our house in Curraghatoosane ( Bothairín Dubh), Christmas preparations started with white washing. Lime was mixed with water and a little bluestone added and this was painted on with a wide brush or sometimes the sweeping brush. Red berried holly was picked up in the Hickeys and a few red or white candles were stuck in a turnip or a 2 pound jam crock filled with sand and decorated with a piece of red crepe paper if we had it. The crib was set up on the wide window sill and decorated with holly or laurel.

On Christmas Eve I went off shopping with my mother in our ass and cart. My job was to hold the ass  as mother leisurely shopped, in all the shops, where she left her  loyal custom throughout the year. Here she got a “Christmas box” as a present. This was usually a fruit cake wrapped in festive parchment with a lovely little shiny garland around it or a small box of biscuits. There was no rush on mam, or no great worry about poor me in my  short pants, patiently awaiting by his docile ass. Throughout the long shopping  trek, I got   a bottle of Nash’s red lemonade and a few thick  ha’penny biscuits. It was up  Church street to Barretts  shop and bar, Lena Mullalys,  O Grady’s Arch store, , to Guerins in Market street, John Joe Kennys in the Square and many more smaller shops in town,  for flour and meal, tea and sugar, jam, biscuits, jelly,  a cut of beef, lemonade,  and lots of stout and a bottle or two of sherry.

Eventually with our cart laden with the provisions and the bottles rattling away  in long wooden boxes ( which would be returned with the empties after Christmas), we set off home. Poor Neddy and me, tired and cold but mother content and fulfilled and warmed by perhaps the drop of sherry or perhaps a  little  hot toddy she might have shared in a Snug  with a friend she met on her shopping expedition!! The last stop was at Jack Thornton’s for a few black jacks, and slab toffee which revived my drooping spirits.

As we travelled home the homes were ablaze with lighted  candles . It was a sight to behold, which I can still see as plain today as it was 70 years ago. There was very little traffic back then but I lit the way home  with the torchlight for mam, me and Neddy . The “ Flight to Curraghatoosane”!

Next it was to  untackle and feed and water our gentle, compliant ass, unload the messages and join my father and 3 brothers for a welcome bite. I was the 2nd eldest of four boys and felt high and mighty to be chosen to chaperone my mother. “Mother,s pet” says Noreen!!

 Next morning we were awake at cock crow to open our purties. (These were sometimes hidden in the meal bin and one year we were informed of this by an older neighbouring boyo and when the coast was clear one day, we searched and found the hidden cache.We were smart enough to remain  silent  so nobody  spilled the beans. ) We  walked, fasting, down to 7 a.m Convent Mass.  Then home to play with and maybe dismantle a purty to investigate its workings. The stuffed goose was roasting in the bastible. What a glorious smell . I loved the delightful brown gravy, carrots, turnips  and pandy, all from our own garden. As well as supplying milk in town, we had a fine market garden and so we had plenty of fresh vegetables. The trifle dessert was such a treat. 

Next day –St Stephens day was gambling day in our house, when the neighbours congregated to play 110 which could last for days, even into weeks. Plenty porter was gratefully accepted and savoured as well as  tea and cake. As I got older St Stephen’s day was the day for the wran (wren). We started getting ready early in the day and it was the day that the fancy cake garland that came around the  “Christmas box” cakes, were recycled and transformed into part of the” wran “head dress. We had a fantastic wrenboy group, known as the Dirrha wrenboys, captained by the well -known Sonny Canavan. A wren dance followed in a few weeks, hosted often in our  home and was the event of the year with music, song and dance and 2  half tierces, and attended by locals and visitors and denounced from the pulpit  by the parish priest, if he came to hear of it.”

Catherine Nolan Lyons’ photo of Dirha West wren boys on Charles Street in 1959.

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Courtesy and Politeness

Billy McSweeney found this gem in an old schoolbook

Care should be taken to cultivate gentle and obliging manners in all intercourse with friends. It is a common error to suppose that familiar intimacy supersedes attention to the lesser duties of behaviour; and that it may excuse a careless, or even a rough demeanour under the notion of freedom.  On the contrary, an intimate connexion can only be perpetuated by a constant endeavour to be pleasing and agreeable. The same behaviour which procures friendship, is absolutely necessary to the preservation of it.

Let no harshness, no appearance of neglect, no supercilious affectation of superiority, be encouraged in the intercourse of friends. A tart reply, a proneness to rebuke, a captious and contradictory spirit, are often known to embitter domestic life, and, to set friends at variance; it is only by continuing courtesy, and urbanity of behaviour, that we long preserve the comforts of friendship.

You must often have observed that nothing is so strong a recommendation as politeness, even on a slight acquaintance; nor does it lose its value by time or intimacy, when preserved, as it ought to be, in the nearest connexions and strictest friendships. 

In general, propriety of behaviour must be the fruit of instruction, of observation, and of reasoning; and it is to be cultivated and improved like any other branch of knowledge or virtue. Particular modes and ceremonies of behaviour vary in different places. These can only be learned by observation on the manner of those who are best skilled in them. But the principles of politeness are the same in all places. Wherever there are human beings, it must be impolite to hurt the temper or pain the feelings of those you converse with. By raising people up, instead of mortifying and depressing them, we make ourselves so many friends, in place of enemies.

Strive dauntlessly; habit is overcome by habit.

Senior Class Reader

Macmillan’s Class Reader c.1940



Brazil and Lyreacrompane


Bringing Home the Holly


  1. MArie Shaw

    Loved John O’Connel’s Christmas memories. Exactly what I too remember.
    So poignant. Merry Christmas John.

  2. John Keane

    Great pieces of nostalgia. Loved the photo of Sonny Canavan, King of the Dirrha Wrenboys

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