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

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An Aviator and a Dunce

Bridge Road

The Dandy Lodge

November 2023

Martin Chute’s mural on the gable of the Pitch and Putt clubhouse

Wrong Way Corrigan

From the Capuchin archive

Douglas ‘Wrong Way’ Corrigan, Dublin, 1938

An image of Douglas Corrigan (1907-1995) at a reception in Dublin on 24 July 1938. As noted in the original caption, Corrigan (left) is shown with James Montgomery (1870-1943) who was the Irish film censor from 1923 to 1940.

Corrigan was a pioneering American aviator who earned the nickname ‘Wrong Way’ after ‘accidentally’ flying across the Atlantic when his original intention was to fly a cross-country route from New York to California. He took off from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn on 17 July 1938 and bizarrely landed on 18 July at Baldonnel Aerodrome in County Dublin after flying for just over twenty-eight hours. His first reported words after stepping off his plane in Dublin were ‘Just got in from New York. Where am I?’ His only provisions were two chocolate bars, two boxes of fig bars, and a small quantity of water.

In the aftermath of his adventure, Corrigan became something of a celebrity with a ticker-tape parade on his return to New York, a meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House, a Hollywood movie about his life and a best-selling book.

Corrigan insisted that his accidental flight was caused by navigational error and a malfunctioning compass, but almost immediately suggestions were made that it was always his intention to undertake the risky transatlantic crossing. Corrigan was a skilled aviation engineer and experienced pilot who had previously worked on Charles Lindbergh’s aircraft in advance of his first solo nonstop transatlantic flight in May 1927. Despite claims to the contrary, never once in public did Corrigan budge from his story that this historic flight was purely accidental.

The photograph forms part of a file of press images assembled by the editors of ‘The Capuchin Annual’.

The Thomas McAuliffe Window in St. Mary’s

A picture of this generous man from Vincent Carmody’s Snapshots of an Irish Market Town.

(Note to self…If you’re looking for information on any Listowel business from 1850 to 1950, Vincent’s books have a lot more information than Google.)

Christmas in Abbeyfeale

The book gives no clue to the identity of the author. Maybe someone knows Shane?

And the Winner is…..

Listowel Writers’ Week sponsor the prize for best poem at the A Post Irish book awards. An established and very well regarded poet, Mary O’Donnell won for this poem called Vectors in Kabul.

Confession here…I have only a vague idea of what it’s about. Once it gets into the nitty gritty of Maths I’m lost but I think it is a very clever poem.

The irony for me is that, while it is about educating girls in Taliban controlled Kabul, it is also about this Western educated woman failing to understand mathematical concepts but understanding freedom only too well.

A Fact

This is what Christmas was like in rural Ireland in the 1950s and 60s.


Old History and Recent History

Bridge Road in June 2023


History in Kiskeam

Opposite the school in Kiskeam they have a little history park with its own stone circle.

Fr. John J ÓRiordáin on Walsh

Ogham stones, the salmon of knowledge, history and myth remembered.


Now that the Dust has Settled

Here is a piece that Stephen Connolly wrote for The Irish Times before Writers’ Week 2023.

It was still daylight on January 4th when I left Dublin on my way to Listowel, but dark by the time the budget flight arrived into Farranfore. Until I got the job as the first ever festival curator at Listowel Writers’ Week, I didn’t know that there was a flight from Dublin to Kerry. It was the first of many things I was going to learn.

It’s a bizarre thing to have a new job announced in the national press, more so if it comes with a tag to say that your appointment “follows controversy”: a controversy I knew nothing about when I sent in my application. It’s even more bizarre to then walk into a town where you know nobody at all, but for whatever reason I wasn’t nervous. My love for Listowel was immediate and the first thing I noticed was the intricate plasterwork on the lintels above the windows of the buildings around the town with the names of business owners past and present: O’Connor, Molyneaux, Carroll, Keane.

I was living a few miles out of town on a road where a bus runs twice a day: if you got the second bus into town you would have already missed the last one back out again, so I was making the most of my time in Listowel itself getting to know as many people and places as I could. Mike the Pies, the amazing pub and even better music venue, was recommended to me by my friend Paul Connolly from The Wood Burning Savages and it was one of my first stops.

What really caught my eye, though, was a framed old poster with ‘IMPORTANT AUCTION of a modern two storied LICENSED HOUSE’ in beautiful, eccentric wood type: the kind of thing that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Paula Scher’s work for New York’s Public Theatre. It was marked with “Cuthbertson, Machine Printer, Listowel” at the top and the word Listowel itself appeared at least five times on the single poster. There was something about the various weights for the letterforms in the old wood type and the idiosyncratic syntax of it all that sparked something in me, and I knew immediately that it would influence the festival’s artwork.

I got talking about it to the owner, Aiden O’Connor, and before too long he told me about his uncle Michael O’Connor, a previous landlord and son of the eponymous Mike the Pies, who “collected posters, and made posters himself”. He told me that Michael had donated “quite a lot of them to a gallery in Limerick”. When I had a look online, I found that there was an archive of almost 3,000 posters from various cultural institutions across Europe spanning several decades that formed a permanent collection in the Limerick City Gallery of Art. “There’s more of them,” Aiden said. “Give me a minute and I’ll show you.”

I couldn’t believe what was hidden away above the pub, but it’s going to form an exhibition during Writers’ Week called The Uncollected Posters of Michael O’Connor. The singer-songwriter Jack O’Rourke had been amazed by Michael O’Connor’s story, too, and wrote Opera on the Top Floor about him: Jack will be playing at the opening night of Writers’ Week, when the winners of the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award and the Pigott Poetry Prize will be announced and the John B Keane Lifetime Achievement will be presented to Stephen Rea.

Mike the Pies was the first of many incredible discoveries during the first few weeks in the Kingdom and it was easy to see why this heritage town has been a cultural centre for decades. I’d read as much as I could about the history of Writers’ Week, particularly the ethos on which it was founded, and it resonated with what I’ve been trying to do since I was a teenager. I knew that if I was programming acclaimed best-sellers like Liz Nugent and Louise Kennedy, I’d have to be thoughtful in my approach to debut writers (there will be events with Michael Magee, Nithy Kasa and Fergus Cronin, to name a few). When I was inviting Paul Muldoon to read poems and have a conversation with Paul Brady, I knew that inviting emerging talents like William Keohane and Jess McKinney would be as important to the continuation of what the festival is all about.

In Kevin’s bar on William Street there’s another Cuthbertson poster, this one from 1937, advertising “the first all-night DANCE”: the dance was organised by local undertakers and the room used to store coffins became a cloakroom for the night (through to dawn, presumably). This kind of thing wasn’t a one-off, and I felt like it gave me a certain permission to make use of some slightly less-conventional spaces. Among the prestigious names in fiction and poetry, we’ll be putting on an event with the authors of Bad Bridget: Crime, Mayhem and the Lives of Irish Emigrant Women (a best-seller in the non-fiction charts) in the historic but working courthouse in the town; we’re putting on an event in Kevin’s bar where anyone called Kevin can turn up and do a turn (Kevins in Kevin’s: an Omnium Gatherum of Kevins); we’re putting on a performance of Minimal Human Contact, the play in Irish by Kneecap’s Naoise Ó Cairealláin, in Mike the Pies. I can’t wait to see all of this unfold in Listowel.

Stephen Connolly is Festival Curator of Listowel Writers’ Week, which runs from May 31st to June 4th



Molly and I visited the beautiful Pitch and Putt course.


Writers’ Week 2023

Bridge Road in May 2023


Witty Window

Harp and Lion Antiques in Church Street.


May Images from Childers Park


Choosing Kerry

These lovely people have bought a house in Beale and are relocating there shortly. Unfortunately they will miss Writers’ Week 2023. Maybe next year.


Will Collins, Scriptwriter

This photograph is from 2015 when Will Collins was a guest at The Children’s Festival during Listowel Writers’ Week. In it I am beside Will’s wife Karen and his lovely mom and dad are on the right of Will. Luke is in the buggy.

Will today is even more famous than he was back then. Here’s why.

Will Collins, who grew up a stones throw from my family home, co-wrote an episode of the Star Wars Visions’ series alongside Jason Tammemägi. 

The programme, which is currently streaming on Disney Plus, is titled Screecher’s Reach. 

The episode formed part of an ambitious project that allowed filmmakers and animators all over the world access to the Star Wars universe.

Will’s previous screenwriting credits include the Oscar nominated feature animations, Wolfwalkers and Song of the Sea with Cartoon Saloon.

Will got to live out every Star Wars fan’s dream with a trip to the George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch located north of San Francisco.


Man of the Moment (and girlfriend)

Stephen Connolly, curator of Listowel Writers’ Week 2023, is being helped at every step of his new venture by Manuela.


Saturday June 3 2023

If you join me outside The Listowel Arms Hotel at 10.00 a.m. we’ll take a short stroll to the Tidy Town seat and we’ll have a few songs there.

Then we’ll take the short stroll to the castle steps.

That’s the walking part done.

We’ll be entertained and informed. Hopefully the sun will shine on us and everyone will have a good time. I’m looking forward to it.


Opening Night Writers Week 2023

Opening Night will start at 8.00p.m. The doors will be open at 7.00p.m.

Jack O’Rourke will entertain us. Prizes will be distributed and the John B. Keane Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to distinguished actor, Stephen Rea.

Ger Holland is the official photographer but I’ve got permission to snap some local folk for Listowel Connection.

I’ll be taking annual leave to enjoy the festival and then some more annual leave to recover.

See you back here soon.


Last word on the toilet for now

Tuesday May 30 2023

Nearly there but no electricity yet so unfortunately it looks like it won’t be ready for Writers’ Week.

You saw it here first! the kindly Kerry County Council staff gave me a sneak peak. No super loo this…a bog standard wheelchair accessible public toilet.



Bridge Road in February 2023


In Athea

I don’t think I’ve been in Athea since Covid. It was high time I visited my favourite outdoor art gallery. Last time I was there Jim Dunn, artist/muralist had a cover erected so that he could work in all weathers. That was gone and I could see the work in progress in all its splendour.

The forge mural is across the road from the church.

The morning was sunny and the standard for the hanging baskets was casting its shadow on the doctor.

The blacksmith/farrier is a new addition. Isn’t that such a kindly face? The anvil awaits another day.

I love all the men in the artwork.

I love all the horses too.

While I was there I met two lovely real men who stopped for a chat and posed for a photo.


The Optical Suite

Lower William Street, February 2023


A Very Sad Relic of 1950s Ireland

When “many young men of twenty” said goodbye to Ireland forever.

This was donated by Eileen Fahey to John Creedon’s National Treasures.

Here is what she wrote;

“A Catholic Handbook. This little booklet measuring 9cm x 11.5cm, which cost sixpence highlights a very different Ireland. Published in 1954, the handbook was drawn up because “economic difficulties especially the scarcity of work in counties like Mayo, Kerry and Galway have caused boys and girls to leave homes in Ireland and seek a living in the land across the water.” When I took up my first teaching post in Roscommon in 1974, it was part of the library in the school. I was given the responsibility to sort out the school library and when I found this document, I decided to keep it because it speaks volumes about Ireland at a certain period in time. You wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry reading it but when I first read it, I recognised its historical value. In many ways, it was sad that it was a reference book in a school library where many students would have emigrated from. It gives insight into the loneliness, isolation, and fear of emigration in the 1950s. On arrival in England, the book advises that one of the first things you should do is look up the local parish priest.”


Fact of the Day

Actor and film star, Jack Lemmon was born in 1925… a lift.

His mother was playing Bridge and was engrossed in a particularly good game, so good that even though she realised that birth was imminent she refused to leave the table until the last minute.

History doesn’t tell us if she won the game.


Old Listowel and Old Ballybunion

Bridge Road in July 2022


Down by the Riverside

Molly gave me a great incentive to get out and about more. She is posing for me in the lovely Tidy Town community garden. By the wall there are flowers as well as herbs.

( I’m having a bit of an issue with image resizing at the moment so you’ll have to forgive a few over compressed ones. All along I had been putting up files that were way way too big and I’ve used up all my allowed disc space. I’m awaiting tech help (my son) to hopefully sort it out for me)


Happy House on Bridge Road Listowel in July 2022


The Homecoming

This surely was the homecoming to beat all homecomings.

Denny Street Tralee on Monday July 25 2022
Photo: Elizabeth Brosnan
July 2022; Festival of Kerry lights up and victorious team in town Photo; Breda Ferris


Old Listowel

These two old photos are from the Lawrence collection in the National Library. They have been colourised by Frank O’Connor and shared on Facebook. You will notice in the St. John’s photo that it once had a low wall surrounding the church. This wall was topped with a railing which was an ideal post to which to tether a horse. I’m told that Catholic mass goes used to tie their horses to this raining while they attended the church across the road on Sundays.

You will also notice a house, painted white on the right of St. Mary’s in the photo. This house was purchased by the diocese and knocked to extend the church

Te church, the castle and the sweet factory by the river Feale


A Bank Holiday Read

Tadhg Coakley wrote this charming essay recently in The Irish Examiner’s Mo Laethanta Saoire series. He returns to Ballybunion, the holiday destination of his childhood.

Tadhg Coakley, Irish Examiner

Mo Laethanta Saoire: vital life lessons from Ballybunion’s surf, amusements and Bunyan’s shop

Cork author, Tadhg Coakley, recalls the logistics of getting eight children on holiday to Ballybunion — and the joy of the beach, the bumpers and trips with family

THU, 14 JUL, 2022 – 22:00


You’re walking around the North Kerry seaside town of Ballybunion. It’s the summer of 2022. The day is blustery and sunny.

You’re thinking of the summer holidays you and your family went on — to Ballybunion every year from the 1950s to the late 70s. How everything has changed and how everything is the same.

Such a feat of logistics and emotional intelligence to transport all eight children from Mallow, year after year. But your mother and father managed it: sometimes with the help of John Mannix, transporting beds and a clothes drier on a Springmount Dairy van. Mary remembers stopping at McKenna’s in Listowel to rent a washing machine and a TV for the fortnight. How very 1960s.

One year, when you were three or four, you forgot to bring your imaginary friend, Chummy, with you. When you realised your mistake you went into hysterics. What did your mother do? Turned the car around. Now, if the car had been closer to Listowel than Mallow there might have been a different result, but Chummy had a great fortnight at the seaside.

When was the last time you were here? You can’t remember. In 2018 when you were at Listowel Writer’s Week and took a little pilgrimage out to look around? Or was it 2019 when your pal Mick Quaid invited you to 18 holes on the Old Course? A stunning golf links which you can no longer do justice, but that’s okay too. Time erodes everything, including golf swings.You walk out the Doon Road to the north of the town. Costello’s shop is long gone. What a magical place it was when you were a child. A cornucopia of wonder. A milestone when you were first sent to that shop on your own to get the messages. That mixture of pride and anxiety to have such a monumental responsibility. It helped that there was no money involved, Mrs Costello having a ‘book’ in which she totted up everything at the end of holiday, when your mother would pay up.

You call into Bunyan’s just down the road and when Liam tells you he still uses that system for regulars, you are heartened. The Bunyans have been trading there since 1957; some things are different, but some things stay the same.The Ladies Strand still seems as stunning to you after all these years. Especially since the tide is coming in and the wind is whipping up towering waves which crash against the jagged cliff. Even through your jaded eyes, it still seems wondrous.

Did you and your brothers and sisters really dive into that tumultuous surf when you were small children? Did you lay down rugs in gale-force winds? Did you leave your clothes and towels in the shelter and run down through the rain to the distant sea at low tide?

Was the sand as soft and golden as it is today? Was the coast of Clare so close? Were the white horses so wild? Was the sky so blue and the clouds so white? Was the wind whipping off the water so bracing?

Memory is fallible. Like sepia-tinted photos, it fades. It can hide blemishes and beauty alike. But the ice cream cones were sweet and soft, the flakes hard and crumbly underneath. The water in the pools by the cliff was warm. The caves in the cliff were magical. The walk over to the Black Pool was thrilling. The bumpers and the amusements were electrifying. The dinner was served in the middle of the day, piping hot with floury spuds and butter. The salads for tea were delicious. The forty-five in the evenings was great fun — your mother, especially, loved those card games.

The days were as long and as full as days can be. You were never happier than on that strand with a ball at your feet or a hurley in your hand, your family all around you.

You walk out to the cliff-top chalets where ye rented in the later years. You are surprised they’re still here. Surrounded by ribbons of houses, now, and a plethora of mobile homes. The chalets look a bit jaded. All privately owned, these days, Liam told you. You’d forgotten how they all angled away from the central road. You think the final year for you was in 1977, in the last one on the left; could that be correct? You remember the shock at Elvis’ death and you know that happened when ye were on holidays, when you were 16. Padraig and Pauline went one more year with your Mam and Dad.Year after year, your mother and father managed to treat you all to that holiday, until — one by one — late teenage ‘sophistication’ eroded its wonders and other priorities took hold. How you were all nurtured and provided for so well for so long. It’s only now you realise that the nurture and provision never ended. Instead, it is being passed on to the next generation and the next one after that.

Tadhg Coakley in 1963 Irish Examiner

These days the holidays may be in the Cote d’Azur, or Noosa, or Hilton Head, or Gruissan, but the joy is just the same. You all learned how to have fun in Ballybunion — a vital life lesson.You check into the Cliff House Hotel, which was known as Bernie’s when you were a child. Your father would have approved of you forking out a few extra bob for a sea view. He used to have a pint there and tell Bernie (the legendary GAA man, Bernard O’Callaghan) what was wrong with Kerry football. Bernie must have enjoyed that. You remember when Pecker Dunne played there — how exotic that name to a 1960s child.

Later, you walk out to Nun’s Strand. There’s an old photo of you with a donkey along that path and you’re surprised there are no donkeys in the fields anymore. Some things change.

You meet a woman from Brisbane, her name is Catherine. You tell her about your niece, Una, living out there with Joel and Ronan. Catherine tells you she’s here to spread some of her mother’s and father’s ashes into the sea the following morning on the strand. Her father (Listowel) and her mother (Abbeyfeale) met in Montreal and then moved to Australia where she and her brother and sister grew up. They loved coming back to Ballybunion and now they will be reunited there again — this time, forever. She shows you a black-and-white picture of her mother taken at the very spot you are standing now — in the photo she is wearing a hand-knitted cardigan; she looks very like your own mother.You walk around the town. The amusements are open and you see children grouped around a shining noisy game. A boy passes you, hopping a football. Four American golfers cross the road. Some things stay the same.

On Church Road you can’t find the house you rented for a few years — the one with the big garden where Dermot took all those photos. You think it’s been knocked down to build a Celtic Tiger housing development. Some things do change.

In the morning you wake to the sound of the sea. Which was what you wanted more than the view. The sound is constant and is very like a distant wind. It’s the same sound you fell asleep to and woke up to all those years ago as a child on your holidays.

You chat to Maggie and Kevin at Reception as you check out from the hotel. You tell Kevin a story about your father and he tells you a story about his — the aforementioned Bernie. You turn the car left at the end of Church Road and head out on the straight road to Listowel and home. You think of Catherine’s mother and father and your own mother and father. You think of your brothers and sisters. You think about what William Faulkner meant when he said that ‘the past isn’t over; it isn’t even past’.

You wonder when your next trip to Ballybunion will happen, but in another sense, you know you’ve never left at all.


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