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 email@example.com
2023 was the year when a man called Stephen Rynne opened our eyes to an underrated Listowel genius whose work was presented to popes, presidents world leaders and other visiting dignitaries.
This man was Michael O’Connor, a shy self effacing illuminator who regarded his great talent as a gift from God.
He was very proud of his Listowel roots. He collaborated with another Listowel genius, Bryan MacMahon. Their most beautiful collaboration is the Listowel Races piece. They also worked together to make memorable Christmas cards.
Here is one of their cards with words in Irish and English by MacMahon and illumination by O’Connor.
My Dear Old Kerry Home
From The Butte Independent 1927 a poem by D. M. Brosnan, Castleisland
“Tis Christmas Eve in Kerry, and the Pooka is at rest Contented in his stable eating hay;
The crystal snow is gleaming on the mountains of the West, And a lonesome sea is sobbing far away; But I know a star is watching o’er the bogland and the stream, And ‘tis coming, coming, coming o’er the foam; And ’tis twinkling o’er the prairie with a message and a dream Of Christmas in my dear old Kerry home.
‘Tis Christmas Eve in Kerry, and the happy mermaids croon The songs, of youth and hope that never die; Oh never more on that dear shore for you and me, aroon. The rapture of that olden lullaby: But the candle lights are gleaming on a hillside far away. And peace is in the blue December gloam; And o’er the sea of memory I hear the pipers play At Christmas in my dear old Kerry home.
‘Tis Christmas Eve in Kerry, oh I hear the fairies’ lyre Anear the gates of slumber calling sweet. Calling softly, calling ever to the land of young desire, To the pattering of childhood’s happy feet;
But a sleepless sea is throbbing, and the stars are watching’ true As they journey to the wanderers who roam — Oh the sea, the stars shall bring me tender memories of you.
D. M. BROSNAN, Close, Castleisland, Co. Kerry.
“Straight I will repair to the Curragh of Kildare”
Last week I ventured to Kildare to visit the Curragh based branch of the family. I’ll be telling you all about my trip this week. I took in a visit to the Cork branch of the family en route so I travelled by train from Kent to Kildare. Only way to go!
God bless whoever gave us oldies free travel. It’s brilliant and I found lovely obliging young lively people willing to offer help with luggage and with getting on and off the train. The gap I was asked to mind was at times was fairly sizeable.
I was early for the train so I had a wander around Kent station. I was delighted to discover this.
Wow, what an interesting piece of postbox history.
Not too far away from the postbox is this symbol of a different age.
The steam engine was all decked out for Christmas.
I have upped my game with the facts. My friend Catherine, who loves fun facts as well, has lent me her more reliable book of weird but true facts.
First weird, true and outrageous fact;
There are more plastic flamingos in the U.S.A. than real ones.
Seats and kneelers at the front of the church have now been upholstered. Tried one out and I must report that they are very comfortable indeed.
by Kathleen Jo Ryan and Bernard Share
Below is an extract from an essay by Bryan MacMahon on the Irish people he knew.
We had a great time in St. John’s on Saturday, November 11. Vincent’s latest book is probably his best and most important book yet.
Kathy Buckley, a humble Listowel girl, daughter of Lar, the local cooper, ran the White House kitchen under three US presidents. Vincent has done a marvellous job of research on this one and the beautifully presented book is full of information, photographs and interesting stories from behind the scenes.
Finbar and Cathy Mare were in charge of sales.
Some of Vincents old Listowel friends gathered for the launch
John Cahill, Anne Crowley, Owen MacMahon, Elizabeth Moriarty and Kay Moloney Caball.
Katie Hannon launched the book for her childhood postman. She caught up too with Canon Declan O’Connor, a fellow Duagh native.
Our Wonderful Tidy Town Team
Photo; Tidy Town
Just some of the Tidy Town stalwarts at the presentation of local prizes last week.
Fact of the Day
With delight I bring you today’s fact, sent to us by Vincent Doyle
Listowel Garden Centre is a very interesting place to be at any time of year but at Christmas time it’s required visiting.
I was in the lovely café last week to meet up with friends.
Some of my old friends were just finishing up their regular meet-up. They are just back from their trip to Belfast to visit the Titanic Museum.
Remember my visit to Canty’s Forge mural? Karen Trench of Lyreacrompane Heritage Group pointed me in the right direction for the full story.
This is the photo of the official opening from the heritage group’s page.
Here is what they have to say about the photo and the forge;
The gable of the old forge building on the main road through the area now carries a mural depicting a forge scene from the past. The Lyreacrompane Heritage Group commissioned Mike O’Donnell from Tralee to do the artwork and it is now catching the eye all those passing by.
“People immediately recognise the image of the ‘Bull McCabe’, a character in John B Keane’s play, The Field”, Kay O’Leary from the Heritage Group told The Kerryman. She went on, “There is much debate as to which murder in the area ‘The Field’ is based on but the character of the Bull McCabe does point in one direction and John B knew the Lyreacrompane area and its happenings and secrets from a young age!”
The other image on the mural that has people asking questions is of a young girl watching the horse being shod. Joe Harrington from the Heritage group explains that this image represents Amelia Canty (1874-1955), who played an important role in the War of independence in North Kerry. He credits Kerry historian, Mary McAuliffe with unearthing the story. Amelia was born in the original Canty homestead near the forge which had been set up by her father. In her forties she worked undercover in RIC barracks in Abbeydorney and Listowel and in a witness statement to the Bureau Military History in 1955, Patrick McElligott, Commander of the Volunteers in North Kerry during the War of Independence, said that; “It would have been nearly impossible to carry on in such a hotbed of spies and informers without her aid”.
Some of the older people still remember the Forge in Lyreacrompane and the mural brings back many childhood memories. It seems that the wet day was always the busiest at the forge as farmers, unable to work in the wet weather, used the time to get horses shod, gates and farm machinery fixed and catch up with the local news. Those gatherings at the forge were an important opportunity for social gatherings back then. Canty’s Forge closed in 1951 and on Sunday last, the extended Canty family gathered to view the mural, remember olden times and pass on the story to the younger generation.
In the photo. On the left; Jeremiah and Shay O’Connor, Cathy and Evelyn Canty, Donagh and Rian Horgan, Mike Horgan, Donal Canty and Leah and Ava Canty. On the right; Finnán and Daire Canty, John, Betty and Patsy Canty, Catherine Canty Horgan and Sean Horgan, Margaret Canty Kerins, Heather O’Connor and Padraig Canty.
Looking forward to Listowel Food Fair
We don’t have long to wait now for our annual festival of all things food related.
The Miss Bunyans had a knitting business in the house next door to the hotel but I don’t think they lived there. At the back, my Dad had a boxing school where he encouraged young lads to box. Mr Fitzmaurice’s office was next but the family consisting of Mary & David, again our age, lived at the top of Church Street. The Enright Dental practice was the next house which was lived in by Toddy the younger dentist and his wife Peggy and their boys who were younger than we were.
Mr McElligott lived in the first of the two houses with steps up. He rented the house from the Dennehys who lived in Singapore but of course he went back out to Mount Rivers also. Dr Dennehy came home sometimes with his daughter Mona . He had been a great friend of my father and encouraged him to go to Trinity College, Dublin. Dr McGuire worked from the next house and the contrast between the two houses was striking as Mrs Edith McGuire kept that house looking lovely . We were very much in awe of her as she was English and considered exotic! The four McGuire boys were younger than we were but of course also ended up playing in the Square. Sitting on those steps is a fond memory as copies of the Beano and Dandy were shared. We were not allowed comics by my mother so this was great.
Wolfgang and Anita Mertens with me in Listowel Arms Hotel in May 2023
Wolfgang Mertens noticed that change and modernisation is a constant theme with me in my reflections. Wolfgang has studied Bryan MacMahon and he sent me these extracts from The Master. MacMahon also deals with the subject of changes he has seen in his lifetime.
A Limerick Hurling Poster Before the Final
They skinned them alright. Congrats to our neighbours.
The first ever football World Cup competition began in Uruguay in 1930.
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
HARVEST RACING FESTIVAL
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.
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