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Tag: 24 The Square

Michael O’Connor of No. 24 The Square, Listowel

Susan Corr in Kerry Writers’ Museum Feb 18 2023

This is Susan Corr. She was in Kerry Writers’ Museum on Friday last, February 18 2023 bringing with her a very precious cargo. Susan is Ireland’s leading paper  conservator/ restorer. She was in Listowel to bring the first tranche of Michael O’Connor’s artwork back to the house where he grew up.

Now in its new incarnation as Kerry Writers’ Museum it will be the repository of his exceptional bank of illustrations/ illuminations.

Michael O’Connor, Evening Herald 1966

Here is my story in a nutshell.  One Saturday in 2020 I had a phonecall from a man who introduced himself as Stephen Rynne. Stephen was sorting through his late father, Etienne Rynne’s, papers when he came upon a folder of correspondence and artwork. Stephen recognised that the artwork was of an exceptional quality. It was by Michael O’Connor, an artist whose name he had never heard.  A quick Google of Michael O’Connor brought Stephen to Listowel Connection and there I entered the story.

Fr. Brendan O’Connor, Mary Cogan, David Brown and Stephen Rynne, Sept. 2021

Michael O’Connor grew up in No. 24 The Square.

The artist’s father was Dr. Michael O’Connor, a Listowel g.p., a religious man and a republican.

Michael O’Connor’s parents in their garden in 1950 Photo thanks to Eitan Elazar

Dr. O’Connor was one of the local republicans who were interned in Ballykinlar in 1921. While in jail the Kerry men sent back newsletters to their families at home. These newsletters were embellished with Celtic borders, the work of Micheal Reidy of Killarney.

List off internees in Ballykinlar 1921

This was young Michael O’Connor’s first brush with celtic art. Of course, growing up in Listowel he was surrounded by the stucco work of Pat MAuliffe which is replete with symbols of celtic Ireland.

Stephen realised that Michael OConnor was a prolific artist. The more he delved into O’Connor’s corpus of artwork the more he realised that O’Connor was the top Celtic illuminator of his age producing work comparable to the work of the monks who produced The Book of Kells.

Eamon de Valera Forest artwork by Michael O’Connor

Why had no one in the art world ever heard of this genius?

Stephen found that much of O’Connor’s work was done for family and friends.  He was happy to stay below the radar.

Papal blessing of the marriage of Etienne and Aideen Rynne, artwork a present to his friends from Michael O’Connor

His biggest commissions were for the Jewish Irish community and official gifts presented to visiting dignitaries. These gifts are now lying in archives around the world.

O’Connor was generous with his talents, particularly to his Listowel friends.

He was a humble man. When asked for a short bio. to put in this booklet whose cover he illustrated for Listowel Emmets in 1960, his response was that he was a Listowel man and that is all people needed to know.

These are the words of his son, Fr. Brendan  

We were so accustomed to his artistic creations that we didn’t fully appreciate the originality, skill and dedication he brought to his art. He had the humility to continue working at a very high level of achievement without seeking to be known or appreciated. The completed work was its own reward.

This is shown in particular in the “Breastplate of St Patrick” – a family heirloom which he produced for his own enjoyment in 1961 to celebrate 1,500th anniversary of the national saint.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate now conserved and restored and returned to Kerry Writers’ Museum

The O’Connor family have very kindly donated this family treasure and other artworks to O’Connor’s ancestral home in Listowel.

Stephen Rynne took on a painstaking mission to search out and find as much of O’Connor’s artwork as he could.  His search put him in touch with archives around the world. During the 1950s and 60s Michael O’Connor’s work was the presentation gift of choice to visiting dignatories. Examples of his work are in The Vatican, the JFK library, Liverpool cathedral, archive of an Egyptian emperor as well as in The Brazen Head pub in Dublin, TCD, UCD and other Irish locations.

Listowel was always close to Michael O’Connor’s heart. He joined with Bryan MacMahon in producing many Christmas cards and bookmarks.

His most outstanding collaboration and probably one of his best pieces is a collaboration with the Listowel writer in a magnificent presentation piece to Listowel Race Company. The lyrical words by Bryan MacMahon and illumination by Michael O’Connor make this a Listowel treasure.

On the left of the picture is Thomas O’Connell, chairman of the Race Committee with Michael Kennelly, Michael O’Connor, Dan Moloney T.D. and Dr. Bryan MacMahon on the occasion of the handover of the work to the race committee during race week 1958.

The Stokes family, descendants of Thomas O’Connell who have kept this important piece safely until a home was found for it, handed over the picture to Jimmy Deenihan, representing Kerry Writers’ Museum during Listowel Races 2022.

Pictured at the handover of the piece to Kerry Writers’ Museum on Friday September 23 2022 are Olive and Oonagh Stokes with Owen MacMahon and Jimmy Deenihan.

The O’Connor family, Listowel Race Company and others have very generously agreed to donate family heirlooms, and irreplaceable priceless treasures to Kerry Writers Museum.

The museum has secured some of the funding to mount this important exhibition.

Special airtight display cabinets have been installed. Susan Corr, conservator’s, services have been engaged.

Cara Trant and Susan on Friday February 18 2023 at the handover of the first batch of restored illumination.

Beautifully restored and mounted letter

Celtic detail and beautiful calligraphy on the magnificent breastplate piece.

Conservation work is a very specialised job involving matching colours, repairing of vellum with isinglass which is also a collagen and restoring old pictures to their original vibrant state.

The process is slow but the work has started and hopefully we will all get to see the first of these treasures before the end of 2023.

I am privileged to be a witness to this, by far the best story so far to come my way since I started blogging in August 2011.

Thank you, Stephen Rynne.

Thank you too, David O’Sullivan for all the invaluable research


Fís na hÓige, Races, No. 24 The Square and a Listowel Poem

Howth by Éamon ÓMurchú


Fís na hÓige

Fís na hÓige Productions is a film and drama group based in St. John’s. During July they held a film making course.

Kiana Breatnach sent us these photos.


This could be the start of Something Big

This is No.24 The Square, Listowel.

Today it is home to Kerry Writers Museum.

Here is the same house in the 1950s when Dr. Michael O’Connor and his family lived there. The Morris Minor in front is the family car.

This is Fr. Brendan O’Connor pictured at the door.

He made a return visit to his father’s family home on September 19 2021.

In this photo sent to me by her grandson, Eitan Elazar, is Fr. Brendan’s grandmother at the same door in the 1950s.

This was the reason for Fr. Brendan’s visit and the “something big’ referred to in my heading.

It is St. Patrick’s breastplate, illuminated by the late Michael O’Connor, son of Dr. Michael O’Connor and father of Fr. Brendan.

Michael O’Connor had an enormous talent for illumination.

Illumination is calligraphy in the style of The Book of Kells.

Jimmy Deenihan, chair of Kerry Literary Trust presented Fr. Brendan with a copy of Bertha Beatty’s Kerry Memories. Bertha also lived in No. 24 The Square when the Creagh family owned it.

Also in the photo is Cara Trant, Manager of Kerry Writers’ Museum.

Bryan MacMahon and Michael O’Connor collaborated on several pieces. Jim MacMahon came to Listowel to meet Fr. Brendan and to see the treasures.

Fr. Brendan used his late father’s magnifying glass to show Jim some of the intricate detail in the breastplate. Michael O’Connor worked on this at the kitchen table in his Dublin home, after the children had gone to bed. He worked holding a magnifying glass in one hand and a brush/pen in the other. Under these less -than -ideal conditions he produced Celtic illumination work of the highest quality, work proclaimed by experts in this field as the best of its kind.

The hope is that after expert work of conservation, some of Michael’s work will be displayed in the house where he grew up.

Fr. Brendan O’Connor, me, David Browne , chair of Kerry Writers’ Museum and Stephen Rynne who is the driving force behind the project to bring the work of Michael O’Connor to the wide audience it deserves.

Stephen’s father, Etienne Rynne was a friend of Michael O’Connor’s and Aideen, Stephen’s mother, is willing to give her treasured piece of O’Connor’s work for display along with the other works.

Aideen is holding the piece in my photograph. It is an illuminated papal blessing scroll presented to her and her husband, Etienne, by Michael O’Connor on the occasion of their marriage.

Maybe there are other people with a Listowel Connection or not who have a piece of this original artwork in their possession. Stephen, who is co-ordinating the project is anxious to trace the whereabouts of as many original pieces as possible.

Maybe you have one of the 6 Christmas cards with words by Bryan MacMahon and illumination by Michael O’Connor that were produced by Oriel Press. The original artwork for these has been lost but maybe you have kept a card and it is now part of this extraordinary story.


Friday, September 24 2021 at Listowel Races

Photos by Bridget O’Connor

These ladies were the finalists in the Best Dressed competition.

And the winner is….

This photo is from Listowel Races site. The lady is Maritess McCarthy.

Friends and family pose with the O’Neill family.


A Poem from Poetry Town, Listowel


Dr. Michael O’Connor on cigarettes, Bob Dylan on weather and Galvin’s shopfront

Bryan MacMahon said that a teacher leaves the track of his teeth on a parish for 3 generations. I think the same is true of a doctor.  Certainly, this man pictured above, Dr. Michael O’Connor of 24 The Square, Listowel keeps coming up in folk memory here.

Today my titbit is an old letter that my good friend, Anne Moloney, unearthed for us. The quality of the copy is poor so I’ll transcribe it for you.

It is dated  13.12.’22 and the address is The Square, Listowel and it goes:

Dear Sir (or Madam),

It has been brought to my notice by a tobacconist in this town that some soldiers in Listowel Barracks have been using my name as their excuse for refusing to buy Irish made cigarretes, stating that the Doctor said, “Irish cigarettes caused skin disease”. This slanderous allegation is, of course, entirely untrue and was never uttered by me. Indeed there is nothing, as far as I know, in Irish or any other cigarettes likely to cause skin disease.

It is a poor specimen of a man or a soldier who has not the moral courage to say, when purchasing cigarettes made by Irish girls, that he prefers those made by foreigners.

                                                                                                       M. O’Connor M.D.


This photo appeared in The Advertiser a while ago with the caption. Tullamore School. It looks like a retirement.  Any further information welcome.


Mike Enright’s lovely photo last week of a calm Cashen inclines me to think that Spring may finally be on the way after this oh so inclement winter.

Our recent fascination with the weather sent me to my copy of Brendan MacWilliam’s Weather Eye .

Here is a fascinating piece of useless knowledge for you all:

“Dr. Alan Robock of Rutgers University, new Jersey has examined 465 songs performed over the years, by rock singer, Bob Dylan, and dicovered that the word “sun” appears in 63 of them; “wind” turns up in 55, “rain” in 40, “sky” in 36,  “cloud’ in 23, “storm” in 14, “summer” in 12 and “snow” in 11. Other weather words occurring but scoring less than 10, include hail, winter, lightening, thunder, flood and, of course, “weather” itself.

According to Dylan, the answer to many vexed questions is “blowin’ in the wind” and ” You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing”.


Market Street premises then and now


The Frank Lewis Saturday Supplement on Listowel is available here;

One of the many great Listowel stories you will hear on the programme  concerns this building. During The Troubles it was forbidden to have a shop sign in the Irish language and for years this shop had Galvin’s name in English over the door. During a much later refurbishment, this beautiful mosaic sign was uncovered. Apparently, some master tilers who were in town working on mosaic work in St. Mary’s were employed by Galvins to do this magnificent shop sign. Luckily it was not destroyed to comply with regulations.  The wily owner just covered it up for future generations to enjoy.


Listowel girl honoured

Savannah McCarthy ( Listowel Celtic)  was chosen as the under 17 Player of The Year at the recent FAI Player awards.

No 24 The Square and an extraordinary lady

The following photographs were sent to me by Eitan Elazar and they are from the family album of descendants of Dr. Michael O’Connor of no. 24 The Square, Listowel

Dr. Michael O’Connor and his wife in the garden of No. 24 in 1950

Mrs. O’Connor at her front door

Mrs. O’Connor at home in No. 24 The Square, Listowel

Dr. Michael O’Connor

In the garden at No 24 The Square.

The house with the family Morris Minor in front.


From my friend and collaborator, Vincent Carmody I got this message on the history of the house itself;

“You might let the readers know that Gerard Lynch was the owner of the Castle House after the O’Connors.  The Lynch family then build a house at the rear. Danny Hannon also was given use of the stables and for many years they housed early productions of the infant Lartigue Theatre.  For some time the Lynches had part of the house rented to the V.E.C who used some of the rooms as classrooms due to lack of space at the old Technical school in lower Church Street and prior to the building of the present Community College. After the VEC relocated, the house was turned into a flat complex. These apartments would have been first homes for a good number of Listowel couples in the days before rent subsidies.

The house itself was built by Richard Fitzgerald in the early 1800’s. It passed from him through his widow, Elizabeth Agnes FitzGerald (nee Fitzmaurice) to her nephew Dr Ulysses Fitzmaurice in 1855. The Attorney, Francis Creagh, father of Bertha Beatty, became owner after the Fitzmaurices.  


John Stack’s picture of the victorious Listowel Emmets youngsters.


Forur Genealogy posted this lovely picture of Liza Mulvihill of Glin. This lady was featured in the last edition of Turtle Bunbury’s Vanishing Ireland.

I knew Liza many years ago when she used to cycle to Listowel to collect for the National MS Society. Liza had a lovely niece who had MS. Liza looked after  Mary Anne with the very best of care. Anxious to do something to help find a cure for this awful disease that was devastating her family, she joined the MS Society and became its local liaison person. When the flag day came round, Liza would cycle from her home in Ballyguiltenane  to Listowel with her collecting tin and flags. In the 1970s these”flags” were little paper rectangles which one attached with a straight pin. She usually took up her position in The Square, collected all day, only stopping for lunch and then cycled back home to count the money and send it back to Dublin with the collecting tin.

The MS Society now is a professional organisation with professional staff as well as volunteers on the ground. Back in the early seventies it was run from Dublin on a totally voluntary basis by a group of ladies bountiful. I don’t think they ever realised the sacrifice and hardship heroes like Liza endured in order to fill the coffers and fund vital research which has yet to produce the cure we all hoped was around the corner back then.


This following story comes from Donegal this week. Has the country gone stone mad? I ask.


October 15, 2013

TEN-year-old boy has been awarded more than €5,000 in court today – for cutting
his knee.

settlement relates to an incident at Ostan Gweedore Hotel three years ago.

Patricia McLaughlin told Donegal Circuit Civil Court, sitting in Letterkenny
today, that the child had arrived at the hotel on July 12, 2009 with his mother
and sister.

the child’s mother was locking the car, her son fell on grass in the grounds of
the hotel and cut his knee.

Petria McDonnell was told that the hotel management were not told of the
incident at the time.

first they knew of it was a letter which arrived a year later,” said Ms

hotel, she said, was not accepting liability but was prepared to settle the

It was
still not clear, said the barrister, how the cut came about but the boy had to
receive eight stitches for a wound to his knee.

are no long term effects and the boy in fact wears the scar as a badge of
honour I’m told,” said Ms McLaughlin.

said the hotel had made a low all-in offer to the boy which totalled €6,000 to
cover costs and the injury and the boy would receive €5,059.90 as part of the

Gleasure descendants and Dr. Michael O’Connor of 24 The Square

Listowel had some welcome visitors during the past week. Ben and Kathleen Naylor were on a trip to North Kerry to visit locations associated with Ben’s Gleasure ancestors. If you have forgotten about The Gleasure letters, here is the link.

Ben’s ancestor is Frank to whom all the letters were written. Unfortunately we have none of Frank’s replies but the one sided correspondence we do have is a wonderful first person account of one family’s life in Listowel in the first half of the 20th century.

Ben consults the letters to clarify a point
Vincent Carmody points out the Gleasure names to Ben and Kathleen.
Vincent took the couple on a tour of the town pointing out places of interest.
Ben and Kathleen pose at the door of the pub which once belonged to Ben’s great great grandfather
Jacinta, Susan and Tom Quilter pose with the Naylors outside their veterinary shop, a premises once owned by the Gleasure family.

Vincent explains why this corner of town was known locally as The Custom Gap.


If you are following my tales of the Gleasure family and descendants, you will remember a reference in a previous post to one of May Gleasure’s letters in which she referred to her father’s illness and how his life was saved by the intervention of one Dr. Michael O’Connor. The good doctor was George Gleasure’s neighbour in The Square. He lived in the house now occupied by The Seanchaí.

Dr. Michael O’Connor R.I.P.

After I had posted this story I was contacted by  Geraldine O’Sullivan who is a granddaughter of Dr. O’Connor. She sent me his obituary from the Kerryman and the above photo. The newspaper cutting was very blurry so I contacted Michael Lynch the archivist in the County library and he sent me a slightly better scan but of the whole page of the newspaper from August 25 1951.

Then the story took another twist when Eitan Elazar, another grandchild of Dr. O’Connor sent me a typed up version of the obituary and a copy of the mortuary card.

There has
passed to his eternal reward one of North Kerry’s most gentle and unassuming
sons in the person of Dr. Michael O’Connor who was M.O.H. for Listowel and
district for the past thirty-five years. He was born at Derrindaffe, Duagh and
educated at St. Michael’s College Listowel, and at the National University,
Dublin, where he took his M.D. degree in 1906. It was in that year he started
his professional career in Listowel and from then on he had the interests of
that town very closely at heart. Right through his entire life he had the
greatest consideration for the poor and needy to whom he gave of his best
without thought of gratitude or money. Apart from his medical life, he took a
leading part in the affairs of the town and was foremost in anything that
furthered the interest of Listowel. In 1918, a special branch of the Town
Tenants’ League was formed to take over portion of Lord Listowel’s estate by
negotiation for the benefit of the landless poor of the town. These negotiations
failed and with the approval of town and country, the lands known as the Lawn
and the Major’s Field were forcibly entered and ploughed up. This action led to
the arrest of Dr. O’Connor  and the members of the special committee, who
were charged and sentenced to a term of imprisonment in Cork Co. Jail. Later,
Lord Listowel decided to give the land to the people and Dr. O’Connor and
another townsman were appointed trustees. Thus by his action, plots of land
were secured for cultivation by the people and particularly the poor. He was
founder member of Sinn Fein in North Kerry and devoted much of his professional
time organizing the I.R.A and there was not a town or village in North Kerry
but had its Sinn Fein Club, due to his untiring efforts and hard work. The
first Dáil Éireann Loan was organized by him in North Kerry. As a counterblast
to the Belfast Pogrom in 1920, he took a leading part in the Belfast Boycott
and had it so perfected that not a pennyworth of Belfast or English goods
entered Listowel. Naturally, all these incidents marked him as a man to reckon
with, so the British Government decided to make its move. On the Monday
following “Bloody Sunday” in Dublin the doctor and six of his
associates were arrested and taken to Listowel Jail, later being transferred to
Kilworth Camp, Cork Co. Jail and eventually Ballykinlar, Co. Down, where they
remained until the General Amnesty in December, 1921. During his internment
(which incidentally lasted thirteen months) his residence was taken over by the
British military and his wife and young family were forced to seek shelter
among friends. After the “split” he became pro-Treaty, but still his
sacrifices for the country were not over. Coming from Tralee one evening he was
forcibly removed from his car and compelled to walk across the mountains to
Castleisland spending one night in the open country , by the side of a fence,
and was later held prisoner for several days. In later years he took little
active part in politics. With his death the nation has lost a noble son and the
poor a kind friend. May the sod rest lightly on him who spent his life doing
good to others and may God, the giver of life, have mercy on his soul.

Eitan remembers visiting Listowel and staying at number 24

“Our memories of Listowel were from many holidays spent down at the house at 24 the Square.

Vivid memories were of the market days in the square waking up to the mooing of cows, the hee haws of donkeys and the bleating of sheep.

many many outings to Ballybunion during the summer. visits to Roberts the sweet shop at the corner of the Square 

and freshly baked apple tarts from Lynch’s bakery across the square and playing in the grounds of the Castle.

Michael O’Connor jr was a very good artist who was particularly interested in Celtic manuscripts. I include one of his works, 

the breast plate of St Patrick. “

Isn’t that magnificent?

Eitan sent me some more family photographs which I will post tomorrow.

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