Listowel Town Square, October 2020


Keeping us Safe

It’s great to see that emergency defibrillators have appeared at locations in town. “Good to have but bad to need,” as the old people used to say.

This one is at Doran’s pharmacy. This seems to me like a good location since if you were to have a heart attack on the street it would be reassuring to have someone with medical knowledge close by.

This location at Brosnan’s Bar was selected by someone with no sense of irony. The defibrillator is above an electricity box warning you that you could be electrocuted and beside a receptacle for cigarette ends.


My New Favourite Book

This a perfect book for the year that’s in it. It doesn’t demand too much of the reader. This lovely book is living proof that a picture paints a thousand words. This is an important book in the history of Irish jump racing which, like every other industry, is undergoing a sea change.

Number 21

Lovely paint job and sign writing job at Upper William Street.


First Hand Account of a Faction Fight at Castleisland

Intrigued by the children’s accounts of faction fighting in the Schools Folklore Collection, Nicholas Leonard did a bit of research and here he shares with us an eye witness account of such a fight. The account appeared in The Irish Examiner

It’s a bit long and fairly gruesome but a fascinating insight into both sides.


■ When I left- the Royal Irish Constabulary Depot—having blossomed from, the chrysalis state of cadetship Into a full-blown district-inspector —to take charge of a country district, I was not disposed to agree with Mr. W. S. Gilbert (“A policeman’s lot is not an ‘appy one…” – Nicholas) regarding the woes incidental to a policeman’s career.  I had gained  distinction  as a ring-leader in the pastime of “hay making,” had mastered the intricacies of the goose-step, I had fired twenty rounds of balled cartridge at Sandymount— chiefly to the disturbance  of the local mud—and was unrivalled in my sublime ignorance of both statute  and   common law, and the detection of criminals. I could draw up a map of Chinese Tartary, but had a profound contempt for Taylor on Evidence (A Treatise on the Law of Evidence: As Administered in England and Ireland …Nicholas).   

I could form a hollow square, but of the necessary steps to be taken in a murder case my head was about equally empty. With these advantages, I started to assume command of a lawless station in the wilds of Kerry, and to instruct the 50 peelers therein in all that pertained to crime and outrage. Perhaps it was fortunate for the public—in my district at least—that the times were peaceable  and the sudden death of sundry of Her Majesty’s lieges not so much in request as in later years. To be sure, a victim would occasionally be found at a fair or pattern who succumbed to the joint effects of a black thorn stick and bad whisky, but these were not much missed. It is an ill wind that blows nobody good, and a little healthy excitement clears the air in Ireland.   

The holding of a fair without a few compound fractures would have been an anomaly, if not a disgrace. And here not let the reader picture a scene or harmless recreation where switch back railways, giddy horses, cocoa-nut shying, the fat woman, the fire-devouring wizard are the main characteristics. No; at an Irish fair the early morn and the best part of the day are spent in driving hard bargains in cattle and horses, the evenings in drinking a moiety of the profits and that diversion peculiar to all true sons of Erin — a fight. 

Shortly before I arrived the annual fair of Puck (a he goat) had been held, so called from a huge goat hoisted on poles being considered an indispensable adjunct to its success, and I learned that big Hick, the leader of the Foley faction, was quite disappointed at the unusual harmony that prevailed, this for,” he cried, as the day waned apace, “Six o’clock and no battle! Faith, yez ought to be ashamed of yeer selves.” Saying which he hurled his coat in an opponent’s face and was soon, with some hundreds of “the boys,” retrieving the honors of the day. 

It was, accordingly, with rather mixed feelings, that I read a report one morning intimating that the large fair of Molahiffe would be held that day week, and that a serious disturbance was expected. My head constable, that grand vizier to an Irish police officer, endeavored to reassure me. “As soon as you arrive there,” said he, “report yourself to a magistrate, act under his orders, and throw all the responsibility on him.” He told me that our men were seldom overpowered, but if they once gave way nothing could save us. “They’re rale divils to fight over there,” he added, sadly. “The last time Constable Cox lost an eye from a blow of a stone, and another had his leg mostly cut off with a scythe.”  

Pleasant this,   thought I, as I vaguely wondered what the Duke of Wellington would have done in my place. “How many men will I have, Head?” “Only forty-five, sir,” said he, in a dolorous voice. “And how many people do you think will be there?”. “Not counting the women, about three thousand or so; but sure,” seeing my lengthening visage, “I wouldn’t be vexing myself about it; time enough to bid the devil good-morrow when you meet him.” I was not deficient in personal courage, but the possibility of coming out of such a scrimmage, as seemed inevitable, with credit, appeared doubtful.  Firing was the last resource, the bayonet inflicted dangerous wounds, and troublesome questions might be asked in the House, should my inexperience prove unequal to cope with some grave emergency. 

The head constable had to take charge of the station in my absence, and the next in authority, an old sergeant, shook his head feebly when I asked what he thought of it, and muttered something about his wife and family. Molahiffe was a hamlet near the notorious Castle- island, fifteen miles off, and  on the evening preceding the fair I went to dine and sleep at the adjacent house of Mr Arthur Herbert, J.P. (since shot).  We were up betimes, and for the first time an Irish fair in all its glory burst upon my view. 

Some, twenty little houses stood on the bend of the road which, widened considerably, and then ran straight for half a mile. It was densely packed with people, horses and cattle as far as I could see, while tents with swinging-boards announcing that whisky and porter were therein retailed, rose everywhere like huge fungi amid the crowd. I found my little detachment in a thatched cabin facing down the road, which, hired for the day, was dignified with the title of “temporary barracks.” 

Having paraded the party and carefully examined their rifles, &c, I stabled my black mare, Jet, at Castlefarm, the hospitable owner of which, John Curtayne, (Curtin) was afterwards murdered; and, under, the guidance of the local sergeant, set forth to look around. My cicerone informed me that there was no likelihood of a fight till evening, so that I had time to study the ethics of this modern Donnybrook. It was a novel sight. Frieze-coated peasants, all armed with stout ash-plants or blackthorns, gesticulated and wrangled in their native Gaelic over their bargaining. 

Pretty country girls in all their Sunday bravery were there, laughing and chattering, and, as I hoped, admiring my new uniform. Horses were being galloped and jumped in a field next the road, while ever and anon a herd of black cattle (bought up) would come charging down the middle, reminding me of Captain Mayne Reid’s buffalo herd tales, amid yells and cheers from the flying crowd. Nor was all business. Sundry roulette tables emptied the pockets of the “omadhauns (fools)”, and knaves cunning in thimble-rigging and the three-card trick shared in the spoil. 

A primitive Aunt Sally, a porter bottle on a stick, flourished in a yard, while loud above the din   could be heard the lachrymose voices of wandering minstrels be-wailing the lost glories of Ireland. On returning to the “barracks” I found Mr Herbert awaiting me with an invitation to dinner, but I judged it unwise to leave my men, one of whom had just heard of a probable shindy later on. It appeared that one of the O’Connors, who had a powerful faction at his back, had been informed by an O’Sullivan, equally well provided, that his (O’Connor’s) wife’s sister’s son was a poor-spirited creature, having paid every penny of rent due on the previous gale day. 

This was a dreadful insult – but mutual friends interfered and a quart or two of whisky smoothed matters for a time, especially as business was not over, but the spark thus kindled steadily smouldered, and dark looks began to be exchanged as the story   circulated.  Molahiffe was getting on the boil. Now, a faction means not only many families connected by those ties which render blood thicker than water, but also includes their friends and sympathisers, thus an affront to one of its members was an offence to all. The O’Connors and O’Sullivans were the most powerful in that country, and with their adherents   formed almost the entire gathering. 

I pressed Mr. Herbert to remain and direct me in case of   a row, but he pooh-poohed the idea, and seeing I was determined to stay, gave me his parting advice  –   “If the rascals kick up a disturbance, fire upon them “at once,” said he. I was surprised at such harsh counsel from a local magnate living among the people and resolved not to follow. It unless driven to extreme, Sergeant G—told me, however, that this magistrate was unpopular with the peasantry, and considered the police less as conservators of the public peace than as supporters of a class.   

The afternoon wore slowly on. The men smoked, slept, argued, played “judge and jury,” and I swaggered about outside, clanking my sword and winking at the pretty girls, some of whom I overheard wondering at my juvenile appearance. “As six o’clock drew near I sent out a party to warn the vendors of drink to strike their tents, their occasional licenses expiring at the Hour, and then, for the first time, 1 noticed a change. The cattle, etc., had almost disappeared, and men were collecting in groups, apparently absorbed by some exciting theme, judging from their vehement gestures and talk, which, being in Irish, I could not comprehend. 

Others strolled about, sticks in hand, their flushed faces evidencing that they were not admirers of Sir Wilfrid Lawson (An English temperance campaigner- Nicholas). The tents now taken down, disgorged their crowds in various stages of inebriety, and even to my untutored sense it became pretty clear that Mars might at any moment take the vacancy ‘vice’ (‘in place of’) Bacchus sold out. There happened to be one little licensed public in Molahiffe a few yards from our quarters, and therein many of the dislodged ones whose thirst was unslaked took refuge. 

It soon became a focus of attraction, some weird howls of a melancholy and horrible nature, which would have driven a Zulu wild with envy, issuing therefrom, and which the sergeant told me was the people singing. “Shade of Grisi! – (“Grisisiknis” which literally means “crazy sickness” is characterized by long periods of anxiety, dizziness, fear, and irrational anger.” – Nicholas) – thought I, “what then is   their idea of a funeral dirge?” But I had little time for reflection. Suddenly, out staggered two tall fellows, who capered round each other in a sort of war dance for a few seconds, flourishing their blackthorns and uttering fearful yells.  Then, one of them shrieking, “ere’s an O’Sullivan, aboo—Ah-h-h!” dealt the other a dreadful blow on the head.  

As the blood spouted out a savage cry arose. It was taken up in the distance and swelled, rising and falling in dismal cadence until it culminated in one hoarse roar which seemed to rend the very air. I saw the old sergeant’s horrified face, and heard him mutter, “Begor, we’re in for it now,” and then I tried to collect my senses. For an instant I looked around. I saw a sea of struggling forms, of sticks descending, and heard the sickening thud as   they struck home. An inspiration seized me. “Thirty men fall in with batons only; ten men under arms as a reserve; remainder will guard barracks and arms left,” I shouted. 

The order was promptly obeyed. I directed the ten men with rifles to station themselves in front of the cabin, and the thirty forming my forlorn hope I dressed in double rank, as if on parade. For the first time I felt all the intoxication of danger and the pride of command. Now my lads,” I cried, “follow me; keep, your formation, and make all the prisoners you can. Draw batons—right face—left wheel—double- Charge!” In a moment we were upon them, and, like a wedge, forced our way into the seething mass; and what a melee it was. 

Stripped to their shirts and trousers, the former in shreds, they were fighting more like wild beasts than men. Frothing from the mouth, streaming with blood and uttering horrid cries, they struck at and bit each other, writhing in insensate fury. I had drawn my sword, like the young fool that I was, and seizing the biggest man I saw, called on him to yield. With a howl he turned on me, and his powerful hand was on my throat, when he was hurled to the ground by the leading file.  “’Tis Tim O’Connor, sir,” cried one of the constables, “the greatest blackguard, and—augh-h,” he added, with a groan, as a large stone struck him on the chest. 

I looked up just in time to duck another that flew over my forage cap. “Take that, ye black divils!” screamed a shrill voice, and, whiz! Down came a shower of young rocks on us. Some of the men were hit, one having his cheek laid open, and another getting a nasty gash on the forehead; but the volley, though well intended, made more havoc among the belligerents, several of whom were put hors de combat. Seeing this, the women stopped throwing—for to a detachment of old hags standing on the road bank were we indebted for this striking tribute of affection. 

But the men’s blood was now up, and our position sufficiently critical. Whack, -whack, whack went the batons, and down they went on all sides, despite their attempts to retaliate with their shillelaghs. I had previously no idea of how effective the charges of an organised body of men could be, and fighting shoulder to shoulder, a space was soon cleared around us. Seeing that the conflict near us had ceased, though going on as briskly as ever in front, I ordered a retreat to the barracks with some prisoners we had made, and then, charging through the mob which had followed us, we once more plunged into the thick’ of the fray; but the cry of “The peelers are coming!” had gone before us, and spread demoralisation, while loss of blood helped to weaken the combatants, who now began to give way on all sides. 

In a few minutes more the baton had decided the day, and we were able to introduce some more prisoners to their companions in custody. A nice-looking lot “they were, truly; half-naked, their shock heads dripping with blood, bruised, mutilated and half-senseless, they sulkily submitted to their fate. And then ensued a strange scene. Women, with streaming eyes and heaving bosoms, implored me in the wildest excitement to restore to them their warriors. They embraced my knees and besought me with all their native eloquence to have mercy. Some of my men, who were far from scatheless, seemed to think that they had had quite enough trouble in catching them, but beauty, in tears requires a flinty heart to withstand, and a happy thought occurred to me, which promised to smooth all difficulties. “Will you promise me, if I let them go, to keep them quiet, and take them home at once — no more fighting?’ said I. Fighting, is it?” they cried. “Oyeh, sure they were killed enough already. “Thau an diaol  huha neerev snawha gud thee na groun” (Devil’s luck to them; they haven’t a rag left to their back.). (“Ádh an diabhail chucu!  Ní raibh   snáithe go dtí na dhroim? – Nicholas”). 

Here the local sergeant, handed me in a list of the names and addresses of the delinquents, who, I may here say, were all fined at the next Petty Sessions. I, thereupon restored them to freedom and the arms of their fair intercessors, who, between cajolery and abuse, soon led them from the field of Mars. Thus tranquility was restored, and any attempt to rescue them, which might have involved serious consequences, avoided. An intense excitement still prevailed, I resolved to make a tour de force, and accordingly turned out forty men with rifles and fixed bayonets and marched them through the people. Mounting a cart, I told them in a blood-curdling manner that if I saw another blow struck, I would spit them all like larks. This terrible threat, and a glance at the line of glittering bayonets, produced their effect.  

The factions melted away, and in another hour we were marching for home by the light of a young May moon, beneath whose rays the little hamlet slept in peace. Some pools  of coagulated blood, torn   fragments   of coats and broken sticks alone testifying that it had been so recently the theatre of a battle.—G. Garrow Green, in the “Weekly Irish Times.”