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Listowel People to be Proud of

Ballybunion photo; Christopher Scott


A Well Deserved Tribute from The Kerry Association in Dublin

Photo and text from

NÓRA Relihan has been chosen by the Kerry Association in Dublin as the 2023 recipient of the Kerry Association in Dublin Arts Award in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the Arts.

Nóra was an actor with Listowel Drama Group and Listowel Players, a Director, Adjudicator, Entertainer, Broadcaster, Writer, Nurse, Social Worker, Co-founder of the Listowel Players in 1959, Writers Week in 1971 and St John’s Theatre and Arts Centre in 1987.

A member of the Arts Council she was accorded a Civic Reception in Listowel in 2008 in recognition of her prestigious contribution to the Arts.

Born in Abbeyfeale in 1929, Nóra Ryle, as she was then known, was educated at Killorglin National School, Presentation Convent Milltown and Presentation Convent, Hospital, Co. Limerick.

Nóra was nurtured and encouraged by her exposure to theatre while a student nurse in Guy’s Hospital in London. While there she seized every opportunity to attend and watch plays, operas and musicals. She settled in Listowel in 1952 and there later married Michael Relihan.

It was the late Eamon Kelly who was a woodwork teacher in Listowel, and very involved with Listowel Drama Group with his late friend Bryan MacMahon, who first put Nóra on stage. Nóra became friends with John B. Keane when she returned from London.

In 1958 John B saw Nóra’s prize-winning production of Joseph Tomelty’s play “All Souls Night”. According to Nóra, he was not greatly impressed, and he told her he was going to write a play himself.

John Bs first play – SIVE – emerged. Nóra was cast as Mena Galvin, in her first character part, and Mena was part of her life until the early 1980’s. The play opened in February 1958 at Walsh’s Ballroom in Listowel.

Drama festival after drama festival brought major awards, ending triumphantly with All Ireland honours in Athlone, and the highest recognition of all from the Abbey Theatre.

Listowel Drama Group were invited to present SIVE in the Abbey Theatre in May 1959, an invitation that was extended before the All-Ireland final.

In late 1959 Nóra joined a professional company, which included the late Eamon Keane and J.G. Devlin, for a short season in the Grand Opera House, Belfast. Very shortly after that Nóra, with John B. Keane, founded the Listowel Players and chose SIVE as their first production.

For years afterwards Nóra applied herself to many acting roles with Listowel Players, as well as being producer and stage manager at various times.

In 1970 the then editor of “The Kerryman” Seamus McConville rang and asked Nóra if she could review a forthcoming radio programme, “A Gift of Ink” which was based exclusively around the many facets of Listowel and its environs.

Requests like this were not unusual as Nóra was a general contributor to “The Kerryman” and had a weekly television column. Nóra gave the programme an excellent review and it subsequently became available as a beautifully packaged long-playing record.

“A Gift of Ink” celebrated the work of writers from Listowel and Seamus Wilmot suggested to Tim Danaher that a writing festival be held in his native town. A list of proposals for a festival of the Arts was drafted and circulated to members of the Kerry Association in Dublin and to prominent people in Kerry, including the Secretary of the Listowel Race Week Harvest Festival Committee – Nóra Relihan.

Nóra chaired the meeting to discuss the proposal in Listowel in November 1970. Among the luminaries present were John B Keane, Bryan MacMahon, Luai O Murchú, Michael O Connor and the first Writers Week, under its first Chair, Luai O Murchú, took place from 2nd to 6th June 1971.

A special programme for the younger generation took place and at this Nóra presented a sensitive interpretation of the works of Bryan McMahon and John B. Keane. In 1976, Nóra as programme director of Writers Week, restructured the organising Committee from 11 to 5 subcommittees. She succeeded Luai O Murchú as Chairman in 1977.

The existence of St John’s Theatre and Arts Centre, and its outstanding contribution to the Arts in Listowel for over thirty years is due in no small measure to the vision, courage and single-mindedness of Nóra.

A meeting of Listowel Urban District Council was convened by the Chairman, Robert Pierce, who proposed that an ad-hoc Committee be set up to decide what would be done with St John’s and that Nóra be Chairman of the Committee. St John’s Founding Committee was established in 1987 under Nóra’s Chairmanship.

At this stage Nóra was recognised throughout Ireland and further afield as a woman of extraordinary ability, immense creativity, single minded vision and great courage. These artistic and personal qualities resulted in her being invited to become a member of the Arts Council. She used this position with discretion and wisdom to further her ambitions for St John’s.

Nóra was a regular contributor to “The Kerryman”, writing articles on a weekly basis on matters literary and social. Inevitably, she was invited to broadcast on Radio Kerry, with her first broadcast from O’Carroll’s window in the Square in Listowel. Nóra was such a successful broadcaster that on every Sunday for nine and a half years she aired her regular and informative radio programmes on Radio Kerry.

Writing and presenting for RTE, Lyric FM and Radio Kerry, Nóra was invited in 2001 by Paul Sheehan, General Manager and Programme Controller of Radio Kerry to present her radio programmes in book form, and so “Signposts to Kerry” was born.

Nóra had a varied career throughout her lifetime with solo tours, drama, TV, and film appearances, including “Fair City” and TG4 film “Limbo”.

Jimmy Deenihan, Chairperson of the Selection Committee, said “Nóra Relihan richly deserves this prestigious award in recognition of her immense contribution to the promotion of the Arts during her lifetime. One of her greatest achievements was the establishment of St. John’s Theatre and Arts Centre in Listowel which is regarded as the premier small arts centre in the country. She now joins the pantheon of renowned Kerry Artists who have received the award to date including Pauline Bewick, Brendan Kennelly, Fr Tony Gaughin and Fr Pat Aherne”.

In announcing the award, Mary Shanahan, Chairperson of the Kerry Association in Dublin said “Nóra has made a unique contribution to the promotion of the Arts in Kerry and nationally. She deservedly merits the accolade “Voice of the Kingdom” for her role as Director, entertainer, broadcaster and for her role in the various arts activities in North Kerry”.

In accepting the award Nóra Relihan said; “I am delighted and honoured to receive this award from the Kerry Association; it is a really lovely tribute to my interest and work in the arts over many decades”.


A Date for the Diary


Another Michael O’Connor artwork

Wasn’t the late Michael O’Connor who was born in No. 24 The Square, Listowel the most versatile and productive of artists?

Every week Stephen Rynne seems to unearth another piece of this extraordinary artist’s work.

The news this time came from Michael’s son, Fr. Brendan O’Connor;

“…My father won a competition for the design of the Irish Standards mark for what was then the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards. It was a celtic eye shape, based on the letters c and é, the initial letters of the Irish words Caighdeán Éireannach (Irish Standard). The logo is still in use today as the Standards Mark for Ireland.”

‘The Irish Standard Mark signifies that a product has been manufactured in compliance with the relevant Irish Standard (I.S.). The symbol assures customers that the item meets certain basic standards and has been produced under a system of quality control supervised by NSAI.’

Michael O’Connor could do ornate intricate colourful illumination to the highest standard. He could do pared back minimalist graphic design to the highest standard as well. This modest Listowel man was, in short, a genius.


An Artefact

This looks like an old fashioned ash tray of the kind that cigarette smokers used to use in pubs.

Well. it’s not. it is a smoking related artefact alright but its actually a kind of glorified match box.

The outside edge of the receptacle is rough and you used this surface to strike your match which you had taken from the bowl part of this collector’s item.


A Fact

At the first recital of Handel’s Messiah on April 13 1742 in The New Music Room in Fishamble Street Dublin, such was the demand for space that men were requested not to wear their swords and ladies not to wear hooped skirts.





Poetry and Cattle


  1. What a star Nora Relihan is, and how brightly her light shines in our town. I’m priviliged to have known her from my early childhood, as her late husband, Mick, was the nephew of my aunt Nora’s husband: Richard McElligott, the renowned tailor in the Bridge Road. I have McElligott cousins in common with Nora’s and Mick’s daughters: Martina and Michelle, both of whom have brought their inherited light to so many others.

  2. Michael Sheahan

    A well deserved tribute to Nora Relihan who has left a great mark on Listowel

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