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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Robert French

Portmarnock on a Sunday morning in December 2021;

Photo; Éamon ÓMurchú


A Street with Five Names

Remember this story from a few weeks ago? The part of town local people call The Small Square is also Main Street, An Príomh Sráid an An Sráid Mhór.

Vincent Carmody reminded me that it was also called O’Rahilly Square.

Here are two billheads from Vincent’s great book, Snapshots of a Market Town.


The Lawrence Photographer

William Street from the Lawrence Collection

Robert French

In the early 1900s a man came to town who would shape the way future generations would see Listowel. Robert French took the photographs of the streets of Listowel for the Lawrence collection. His photographs have appeared in postcards, in calendars and everywhere that Listowel in the twentieth century is spoken of. We owe him a lot.

So who was Robert French?

Here is Noel Kissane’s essay from The Dictionary of Irish Biography

French, Robert (1841–1917), photographer, was born 11 November 1841 in Dublin, eldest of the seven children of William French, a court messenger, and Ellen French (née Johnson). At the age of nineteen, in September 1860, he joined the Constabulary (later RIC) as a sub-constable, giving his occupation as ‘porter’. He was stationed at the barracks at Glenealy, Co. Wicklow. Having served almost two years, he resigned in August 1862.

French next found employment in Dublin as a photographic printer, possibly at the portrait studio operated by John Fortune Lawrence at 39 Grafton Street. He later joined the more successful studio run by John Fortune’s brother, William Mervin Lawrence (qv) (1840–1932), which opened at 7 Upper Sackville (later O’Connell) Street in March 1865. Progressing upwards through the grades of printer, colourer-retoucher and assistant photographer, he attained the rank of photographer in the mid-1870s. Meanwhile, William Mervin Lawrence had developed a lucrative trade in the sale of topographical views and he gave French the task of providing a comprehensive range of scenic photographs representing all parts of the country. French performed this role with dedication and distinction for almost forty years until his retirement in 1914.

French’s function was to provide photographs for a market that favoured views of picturesque landscapes, seaside resorts, and the streets of cities, towns, and villages. Lawrence was in charge of marketing strategy and planned French’s itineraries, but French selected the individual views. He travelled throughout the country, identifying and photographing appropriate subjects, generating stocks of negatives from which Lawrence’s printers produced multiple images for sale in the medium of prints, stereoscopic views, and lantern slides. The images were also widely used in commercial advertising and in publications designed for the tourist market, particularly in the extensive postcard trade that Lawrence developed in the late 1890s. As people wanted views that were up-to-date, many of the images, particularly those of urban scenes, were periodically retired and replaced, the replacements almost invariably being taken from the same optimum viewpoint. The photographs presented the more positive aspects of Ireland and contemporary Irish life, with evidence of social deprivation appearing only incidentally, and with few instances of social or political conflict other than a relatively small number of eviction scenes.

French married, 1 December 1863, at St Peter’s church, Dublin, Henrietta Jones, daughter of Griffith Jones, a farmer at Newcastle, Co. Wicklow. The couple had eleven children, some of whom long afterwards recalled their father as a fervent unionist, fond of singing rather loudly in the congregation at St Patrick’s cathedral, and infuriatingly painstaking when taking family photographs. He is portrayed in a number of his own photographs as a dignified figure with a fine full beard. In his later years he lived on Ashfield Avenue, Ranelagh. He died 24 June 1917.

While French played a central role in the success of the Lawrence firm, which dominated the photographic trade nationally for a generation, his historical significance arises from the extensive archive of surviving negatives. These make up the greater part of the Lawrence collection (held by the National Photographic Archive in Dublin), amounting to approximately 30,000 of the 45,000 images in the collection. They reveal him as a talented and extremely competent photographer. His compositions presented sites to best advantage, and the images are invariably sharp and engaging and suggest the inherent atmosphere of the place. The predominant factor, however, is that the photographs provide an invaluable visual record of urban and rural Ireland over a period of almost forty years. They document the process of change and modernisation in various aspects of environment and society, reflecting the considerable economic and social progress in the decades of relative peace and prosperity leading up to the first world war. While engaged in the relatively mundane profession of commercial photographer, French emerged as one of the foremost chroniclers of his generation, albeit unwittingly, and endowed posterity with a unique cultural and educational resource.


A Poem for our Exiles

Shared by the poet on Facebook


It was Christmas Eve in London,

And an Irishman, called Joe.

Stood by an upstairs window

That looked on the street below.

He could see the shoppers passing by,

Their voices filled with cheer.

As they shouted Happy Christmas,

And a prosperous new year.

As he looked around the little room,

That for years had been his home.

He was fifty years in London,

Since he crossed the ocean foam.

His youthful days behind him now,

And his working days long gone.

In retirement, his days were spent

On his own, to carry on.

He could hear a church bell ringing,

On the street across the way.

Where mass was celebrated, on

The eve of Christmas day. |

Then a choir started singing and

The strains of silent night,

Came drifting through the window.

Into Joe’s old flat that night.

As he listened to the singing,

He began to shed a tear.

For he always felt emotional,

On Christmas Eve each year.

When old memories came flooding back,

And his thoughts began to stray.

To his childhood days in Ireland,

Long ago and far away.

He could see again the old thatched house,

At the corner of the lane.

Oh what he’d give to be a lad,

and be back there once again.

The candle in the window,

To light a welcome way.

For the virgin and the Christ child,

On the eve of Christmas day.

The holly and the ivy,

and the cards Around the fire.

And his mother’s Christmas cooking,

That would fill you with desire.

The boxes left for Santa Claus,

In the hopes that he would call.

With the toys to play on Christmas day,

The happiest times of all.

As his memories began to fade,

reality Set in.

He was back once more in London,

In his little flat again.

And he drew his coat around him,

as he sat back in his chair.

And for all those in his memories,

he began to say a prayer.

And he asked the Lord, to grant them rest,

In the land beyond the sky.

All the folks he once shared Christmas with,

In the happy years gone by.

Tomorrow at the Centre, he will meet o

His old friend Jack,

an Irishman just like himself.

That never made it back.

They will have their Christmas dinner,

and a glass or two of beer,

As they join their old acquaintances,

And the friends they love so dear.

Everybody has their party piece,

To raise a bit of cheer.

At their Christmas get together.

In the Centre every year.

So to all our Irish exiles,

in lands far off and near

The blessing of this Christmas time

we wish you all this year.

And although we are divided,

by land and sky, and foam,

A very Merry Christmas,

from the Irish Folks at home.

Martin O’Hara © 29/11/2021


High Praise Indeed

John Comyn is the Bridge columnist with The Irish Independent. He has been writing the column for 50 years and he has been playing Bridge at the top tier for far longer. He has played against top international players.

However, he says the best player he ever encountered was Pat Walshe, from Listowel, Co. Kerry.


Something to look forward to

#ANSEOKerry LIVE in LISTOWEL FREE OUTDOOR CONCERT for all the family – Saturday 18th December 12-6pm. LOOK – it’s going to be special… Get ready for some SINGING 🙂 and lots of craic!Fanzini Grace Foley Singer Drum Dance Ireland The O’Neil Sisters Renovator plus more…. 🙂


Old Photos, Nora Relihan and A Bridge that no one was allowed to cross

Photo; Christopher Burke


Jill Friedman’s North Kerry Photos

I don’t know whose  funeral is in the first one is. If you know, tell me. I think I recognise the man in the second photo. He is a fisherman from Finuge.  I have posted the last one before. I think the man with the harmonica is Faulkner.



In those heady days before the lockdown, Marie Moriarty went walking in The Maherees. Here are a few of her photos.


Nora Relihan as Mena in Sive

Prize giving at Scarriff

Photo; Paul O’Flynn
Nora Relihan played Mena in the original Listowel Amateur Drama Group production of ‘Sive’. This production won the all Ireland drama award at the Athlone Drama Festival in 1959. When the play was produced by the Southern Theatre Group in June 1959, Nora Relihan was asked to reprise her role. Eibhlis MacSweeney later replaced Nora Relihan in the role of Mena until the end of the production. This production played in Fr Mathew Hall for 6 weeks, then travelled to the Olympia to play for 4 weeks before touring Munster

(photo and text from Cork County Library local studies section)


The Forbidden Bridge over the River Feale

In the House of Commons on 1st April, 1898, Mr. Flavin, M.P., (N. Kerry),  Listowel, Co. Kerry, raised the following issue and asked the following questions of Gerald Balfour, Chief Secretary: 

“I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland,

(1) if he is aware that the Grand Jury of Kerry erected a bridge at a cost of £3,496 10s. over the River Feale, between Duagh and Islandanny, and that three-fourths of the total cost is now repaid out of the public rates to the Commissioners of Public Works (Ireland), but that the general public are not allowed to use the bridge, although it has been completed and maintained for the past seven years; and 

(2), what steps will be now taken to obtain access for the public to pass over the bridge?”

Mr. Gerald Balfour: “I am informed that the facts are correctly stated in the first paragraph. The line of railway from Tralee to Limerick crosses the road or approach, at one side of the bridge, and no proper crossing has been provided by the railway company at this point. The grand jury, moreover, state they have no power to employ a person to look after the gates at what appears to be a farm crossing. I am advised there is no legal provision under which the railway company or the grand jury can be required to provide a crossing, and the Board of Trade inform me they have no power to intervene.”

Mr Flavin, M.P.: “I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman why the grand jury constructed this bridge—[Mr. SPEAKER: Order, order!] 

Mr. Flavin:  But, Sir, arising out of the question, I should like to know if the right hon. Gentleman is aware that a large number of people in the district are prevented from using this bridge.” 

Mr/ Speaker: “ Order, order! The hon. Member is continuing to argue a question which has already been fully answered.” 

Mr. Flavin: “I wanted to point out, Mr. Speaker-”  

Mr Speaker: “Order, order!” 

It would appear that no-one thought of the need for access to the bridge by those it was intended to carry across the river!  Could the bridge really have stood idle for seven years as a result of such incompetence? 

Portmarnock, Listowel Writers Week 2007 continued, some old news and St. Patrick’s Day in times past

Portmarnock Beach in March 2020 during the Covid 19           Photo credit; Eamon ÓMurchú


Listowel Writers’ Week 2007

Mattie Lennon remembers

On Saturday morning that Cork Legend Niall Toibin unveiled a statue to the late John B.Keane in the small square. 

It is at the intersection of Church Street, where John B. was born, and William Street, where he died.

The annual Literary and Historical tour, starting at 2 O’clock, took in Gortaglanna, Knockanure, Moyvane and Lenamore.  Gortaglanna was the scene of a brutal killing by the Black-and-Tans. (Octogenarian songwriter Dan Keane, has written a new version of The Valley of Knocknanure to commemorate the slaughter.)  Moyvane was the birthplace of poet, philosopher and mystic, John Moriarty, whose funeral was on the day of the tour.

Bi-location would have come in handy because An Audience with Melvyn Bragg got under way in the Listowel arms at 2.30, followed by a reading by Liam Browne and Mia Gallagher at 4 O’ clock.

And it would have meant very tight scheduling if one tried to fit in a meeting with author Irvine Welsh at 5 O’clock. His first novel Trainspotting was described as, “ the fastest-selling and most shoplifted novel in British publishing history”.

I missed the lecture by Alain de Botton in Saint John’s Theatre at 6 30. and later Frank Pig says Hello because I was making preparations.

Wait ‘til I tell you.

I have told you before, about when I first became interested in storytelling. It was when my, visually impaired, mother was given a radio by the National Council For The Blind in 1959. Once a week, on The Rambling House, the Seanachai of all Seanachais, Eamon Kelly came into our humble kitchen.

Occasionally, in later years, people who didn’t know any better, would describe me as a storyteller. It must have gone to my head because this year I submitted a story to the International Storytelling Competition dedicated to the memory of the above-mentioned Eamon Kelly.

I got into the final, which was held at 9.30.

Now, no self respecting Seanachai (even one as amateur as yours truly) would be seen without the traditional garb of the Irish storyteller. It’s not the sort of clobber you can purchase in Saville Row or from sartorial purveyors on the high street.

Being a man of modest means, who was doing his small bit to keep the art of storytelling alive, I thought that some native drapery merchant would sponsor my outfit. I approached many but I am sorry to say that not one supplier on the Island of Saints and Scholars donated as much as a bootlace. (I even contacted the County Secretary of the GAA in Wicklow asking for a shirt in the county colours but I wasn’t even granted the courtesy of a refusal. I was ignored.)  But, a number of offshore benefactors came to the rescue.

Photo; Tom Fitzgerald

Because of the nature of my act a number of shirt changes was necessary, but not just any shirt. It had to be a Grandad shirt. Those garments were very kindly sponsored by;

Boden On-line shop (

Starlight; (

Ethnic Fashion;


Stars; (

And of course the waistcoat.

A collector of waistcoats who wants to be known only as “The Waistcoatman” ( donated a period waistcoat.

In the past no true Irishman would be seen bareheaded unless he was in bed or in the Church (some of them slept in both places). As the aforementioned Eamon Kelly used to say, “There was respect for the brain then”. The necessary Fedora was provided by Treasured Parts ( The top half of me was now period.

Men of my father’s era wore a two-and-a-half-inch wide leather belt with a rectangular brass buckle. In the Beano and the Dandy misbehaving juniors were punished with the slipper but in rural Ireland the male parent’s belt was the “correction tool” of choice. My father was a kind man and (apart from the occasional “larrup” on the backs of the legs for severe mischief) I escaped. So, as a tribute to Tim Lennon (no mean story teller himself) long gone to his reward, I decided I would wear an appropriate leather belt on stage. But where would I get one? Susan McKenzie, Director of The Inner Bailey, in Kentucky “gave me a belt”. She can be found at

On Sunday I missed a reading by Gisele Scanlon, “Allergic to Beckett”, a  reading by Giles Foden and “A Treasury of Poets”.

Those omissions weren’t through laziness or apathy; I couldn’t miss the Dan Keane children’s poetry event in Finuge This is a poetry competition for children where the next generation of literati are judged by thecritical eye and ear of Dan who was born in 1919. There had been children’s events all week but to my mind this was the highlight. It was an open competition but not surprisingly Kerry schools shone; particularly pupils from Dromclough National School. There is a healthy crop of young poets in the Kingdom.

The Irish Network of Dramatic Arts, from West London, presented Big Maggie, by John B.Keane, in Saint John’s Theatre on Sunday night.

On Monday morning as “the road to Abbeyfeale”  brought me further from the culture capital, I hoped that the Great Creator would leave me here to repeat the experience in 2008.


ICA in St. Patrick’s Day Parades

Máire MacMahon sent us these photos from yesteryears


Infrastructure Improvements in 1824

(from old newspapers)

Sunday last, Mr. Griffith laid the foundation stone of the new bridge, over the river Feale, which is to be called Wellesley Bridge, in commemoration of the Viceroyship of his present Excellency, to whom the public are solely indebted for so many important works now going on in that hitherto neglected part of the Country. The three first stones that were laid weighed over seven tons. A quantity of whisky was poured on them when they were put down.

The public will be gratified to learn, that the line of Road between Limerick and Tralee, part of which was executed at the private expense of Mr. Rice, of Mount Trenchard, is nearly complete, and that a Mail Coach will be started in August, to run between Limerick and Tralee.- Mr. Rice will be repaid his expenses by the Grand Jury. It is curious to remark, that Mr. Rice excepted a piece of road for 200l. for which a sum of 2,000l. was demanded for by contract.

Supernatural Happenings in Beale, Cleaning up at St. John’s and my visit to Mount Lucas

Irish Wildlife Photography Competition Finalist

Peacock butterfly by Dick Glasgow


A Scary Story From Ballybunion Convent School in Dúchas Collection

Sheila Sheahan 

Beale Middle

Co Kerry

There is a fort in Beale and it is supposed to be the principal resort of the fairies. One day as two men were drawing hay from Slios near Caill na Talmhain, one went through the fields as it was shorter than to go by the road, and his brother drove the horse by the road to Slios. As he was passing this fort, a little boy came out of it and ran after the car and sat into it. When they were gone a short distance he offered the man some sweets but he refused to take any. None of them spoke anymore until they arrived in Slios. Again the little boy offered the sweets to the second man who went through the fields. But his brother went behind the little boy’s back and grinned at the other man not to take the sweets, because he was about to take them. At this the little boy went into the fort and they saw him no more.


Tidying Up

This is why Listowel is Ireland’s tidiest town. I met Joe Murphy and Liz McAuliffe on the morning after the international drama festival. Despite a long week of hard work and late nights Joe was out with his mop and bucket making sure his posters were clearly readable and Liz was clearing out the old cardboard.


Bridge in St. Michael’s in 1994

A trip down Memory Lane with The Kerryman


Facing into the Future

My son-in-law works on the Bord na Mona Wind Farms. He recently brought me on a visit to Mount Lucas. I was pleasantly surprised. It was a Saturday so the Park Run had just finished. Mount Lucas was once a bog so the area is now covered in 100% organic trees and other vegetation. It has just grown from seeds that have literally blown in.

Each turbine (they call them towers in Bord na Mona) is massive. I didn’t honestly think they looked ugly and they certainly weren’t noisy. We could hear the birds singing happily on a lovely sunny summer day.

The visitor centre was not open on Saturday but if you visit on a weekday you can have a tour and see for yourself.


A Table of Poets

Eileen Sheehan is the writer in residence at The Kerry Writers Museum. I spotted her in the hotel in the  company of some local poets. They had just participated in Eileen’s workshop.

Left to right; Barbara Derbyshire, Vincent O’Brien, Eileen Sheehan and Susan Hitching

Here is a poem by Eileen Sheehan I found on the internet. I know someone just like her father. I was in his house last week and the was feeding crows.


My father,
a most gentle man,

fed the leavings of the table
to nesting crows
that screamed and whirled
in a nearby stand of trees.

From a branch of sycamore
that overhung
his newly-planted drills,
he suspended
by its gnarled legs
one dead crow;

for weeks
the wind-jigged carcass
swung there
in a crazy parody of flight.

My father,
a most gentle man,

appeasing the dark gods,
their appetite
for sustenance,
for blood.


Nearly There

It’s all hands on deck to get the Square finished in time for the First Holy Communion

The Rubicon has been crossed

Our entrances and our exits will never look the same again. Upgrading work on the big bridge has finished. The new lights are in place but not lit yet. It looks smashing.

The publicans and shopkeepers are gearing up for the big week.

As soon as The Races are over it will be all systems go for Croker. I photographed this lovely green and gold window box display on Charles St. yesterday.

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