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

Stories from The Square

Courthouse Road in July 2023


Temporary Closure


Listowel’s Caravaggio

The taking of Christ is the priceless treasure by Caravaggio that was thought lost but was discovered by chance in a Dublin Jesuit house in 1990.

Micheál Kelliher at the Celtic Art talk in Kerry Writers’ Museum in July 2023 suggested that the below piece may just be Listowel’s long lost Caravaggio. The Michael O’Connor illuminated scroll features the words of Bryan MacMahon. The magnificent piece was presented to the race company to mark 100 years of Listowel Races. It was kept safely by the Stokes family, descendants of the Race Company chairman who accepted the presentation. The piece is currently being conserved and will then be returned to Kerry Writers’ Museum.

You would have to travel to Dublin to the National Gallery to view The Taking of Christ. Soon you will be able to view our own national treasure in Kerry Writers’ Museum in the heart of town.

Stephen Rynne very kindly transcribed the poetic words of MacMahon.


The town on the cliff above the silver river stirs in sleep. The autumn sun limelights the white posts of the “Island” course and brings to brilliance the emerald of stretch and straight. In the enclosure begonias take morning flame.

The sun, too, touches the purple, gold, blue, green and red of pennants and scrolls hung above the streets of the awakening town. It strikes fire from the painted houses. And then, on a cockcrow, the town comes fully awake to the first of its three great days.


For a full century in this town, youngsters, adolescents, those in prime and oldsters have leaped up to full life on such a day.

For the children the splendour traditionally begins with a vendors cheery cry of “Race-ee cards!” Thereafter the day resolves itself into a spinning wheel of beauty and colour.

In the market-place the whirligig gains momentum as the day advances: merry-go-rounds; wheels-o’-fortune, chair-o-planes, swingboats, and the great Ferris Wheel – all these add their circles of exhilaration.

There are ramparts of gingerbread and plumduff, batteries of Peggy’s Leg, hillocks of dilisk and winkles, and foaming cascades of ice-cream.

Music mounts to crescendo.

There are professional strong men and professional fat men, dancing ducks and performing fleas, boneless wonders and leprechauns. There are Death Wall Riders and Headless Marys. And Mmm! The smell of mutton-pies is aromatic on the morning air.

For those in prime there is the meeting of old friends and the clasping of the hands of exiles. Carts, cars, caravans, buses and breaks continue to disgorge their loads. Countryfolk, the weariness of harvest forgotten, turn the streets to canyons of good fellowship. Tipsters cry their racing certainties. On every side there are bells and cries of joy.

Then – Tappeta! Through the streets go the hooves of the horses. The great “Island” field darkens with people and vehicles. Excitement mounts as with stentorian voices the bookmakers cry the odds. The coloured silk of the riders is now brilliant against the grass.

On hearing : The horses are now under Starter’s Orders, a prolonged silence falls on the immense throng. Then, abruptly the roar of: “THEY’RE OFF! ” rises from the people. The thunder of hooves advances and recedes. Presently the climax of the neck-and-neck finish sets the crowd fully a-roar.


Above, the sky is indigo about a lemon-coloured moon.

In the town below, in rainbow hues, the lights flick on. The Norman Castle is green-lighted. Stepdancers respond to the insistence of fiddle-music. Gypsy rings catch the firelight as country girl hears of the dark man destined to be her lover. Glasses foam over. An old man tells the tale of a sugar barrel race-bridge. A boy smiles at a girl: a girl smiles at a boy. Cupping his hand about his mouth a ballad singer chants:

I’ve been to Bundoran, I’ve rambled to Bray,

I’ve legged it to Bantry with its beautiful bay.

But I’d barter their charms, I would, ‘pon me soul,

For the week of the Races in Lovely Listowel.

Green Morning. White Day. Coloured Night.

Thus, for a hundred years have our forefathers made merry **** on


God grant that those who come after us shall continue to uphold the Irish sense of wonder.


Winter’s Turf home and stacked

Lovely picture of the late Michael Stack proud of his reek of Turf in Listowel, Co. Kerry around 1950. (Photo and caption from the internet)


Around The Square

Photo; John Kelliher

Eleanor Walsh now Belcher grew up in Listowel Town Square, when the centre of town was very different to how it is today. I asked Eleanor to share here her memories of a happy childhood in the Listowel of the 1950s and 60s.

I am going to share these with you this week and if anyone else would like to add to her story, I’d love to hear from you.


My parents John and Peggy Walsh bought No 26 the Square in 1950 and named it Ivy House because of the Ivy creeper. The Square in the 1950s was a wonderful place as it was a playground for all of us children growing up then. There were 5 Lawlor children at No 20 . Their father Tim Lawlor was the Parish clerk . Next door the house later owned by the Sheehans was derelict and we played in the front garden.

There was a house ( now demolished ) next door to St Mary’s church which was owned by the Bank of Ireland. The families who lived there tended to be Protestant. When I was very small the Berry family lived there remembered by my mother for the children’s wonderful names of Ivy, Heather,  Myrtle , Holly and Rowan. When I was about six  I ran in home to tell my parents that there was a new family and that the boy was called after two birds. His name was Robin Peacock. ( The Peacocks moved to Maam Cross and the big shop there is still called Peacock’s) The Heneghan  family were grown up but we all knew Mr Heneghan who was a vet and always kind to us. The present Writers’ Museum was a house often empty though I remember a girl called Persephone staying one summer. We were fascinated by her name. Next was the castle which was a playground for us as was the river bank accessed down the lane. 

The elderly McKennas, John and Grace lived next door to us. We were never in that house but we shared a communal backyard which was marvellous  as we were never aware of living in a terraced house. We brought our bikes in through the big wooden gate on the side wall on the road down to the island bridge. 


A Fact

Dynamite is made from peanuts.

Well its a kind of exaggerated fact.

Peanut oil can be processed into glycerol, which is a main ingredient to make nitroglycerine, the explosive liquid used in dynamite



Things of the Past


A Listowel Lacemaker


  1. Michael Enright

    Hello, Mary,

    Your photo of Michael Stack with his turf. Is this man the legendary Michael “Gulliver” Stack, a candidate at a mystery election, engineered by John B and others in the 50’s. ?

  2. Helen O'Connor

    Hi Eleanor,
    My name was Helen Walsh back then. You sat beside Elizabeth O’Sullivan and I sat behind ye. Thank you for the memories.

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