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

Tag: Christmas 2023 Page 1 of 2

Everyone is a Santa

In the Rose Hotel, Tralee

Christmas Tree in St. Mary’s , December 2023

The Mermaids

The Mermaids is celebrating. I think I saw a 20 on one of the balloons.

Carols on Upper Church Street

Listowel Folk Group adding a sprinkle of Christmas magic to Church Street on December 16 2023.

No, not Mr. and Mrs. Dickens, our own Tina and John Kinsella getting into the spirit of things.

Pierce Walsh was on hand with piping hot mince pies.

What a lovely gesture. Refreshments for the singers and musicians.

Another Great Long Read for Christmastime

                                       For Want of Wings

                                         A Christmas Story

It was the week before Christmas. Suddenly the frost had gently dropped like manna overnight and the meadow to the east of our house glistened in the morning sun. Even the haggard was radiant in its crystal grass-blades and the hill above was coated in a Christmas cloak. The furze slept their winter sleep. 

I looked out our front window. The view was stunning. All of North Kerry was emblazoned in white frost. The best window in Ireland, my uncle Mike had christened it once as he gazed out with his eternally satisfied demeanour. From Mount Brandon in the south west to Sliabh Mis and Carrantuohill to the south to the Paps in the south east. They were all there in their December furs. The window itself was now adorned with holly and crepe decorations and my father’s home-made candlestick. 

Although I was having an identity crisis with Santy for the first time, having reached the unfortunate use of reason, drifting out of the more predictable age of unreason, I was being infused with Christmas-ness by the frosty morning. Our PYE radio was playing “The Green Green Grass of Home” by Tom Jones (a song I always since associate with Christmas) and the seasonal motto was over our kitchen door proclaiming “God Bless This House”.

Just one thing was gnawing at my heart’s hinterland that morning. A group of us had planned to go out “in the wran” on St Stephen’s Day and I had planned to be one of the first in our area to take a guitar. The previous summer, I had planned to have a guitar by Christmas. There were always bits of electric wire lying around Mick Finucane’s ditches in his Gort below the Quarry to the west. And Mick was such a sound man, he wouldn’t miss a few bits of wire. I had heard about my cousins in Urlee who had made home-made fiddles by using vernacular items. So I brought home the lengths of wire, got bits of a butter box and crafted a home-made guitar of uncertain genetic descendency. It had three of Mick Finucane’s electric fence wires as strings and made a sound akin to a cat with serious stomach issue. It didn’t last long as the strings had a mind of their own and preferred the freedom of shrivellry. And I had worn my fingers away trying to play “Hound Dog”. It was the end of my short music career. I thought.

It need not be mentioned now that Mick Finucane’s cows were found wandering around the hill around that time. I wouldn’t know anything about that.

Now, as I looked out the window to North Kerry, I saw Ned Kennelly making his way up the crystalline path through Mickeen’s Field towards our house. His cap as always sitting at a slight nose-ward tilt on his head. His raised chin to counteract the angle of the cap. A lively gait in his nimble legs. The always-energy of his stride poured out to anyone he would meet. He exuded that bubbly pre-Christmas tingle. 

Mysteriously, he was carrying a fairly large package wrapped in newspaper, as far as I could make out. I intuited that something magical was about to happen.

It was that forgotten memory that boomeranged back to me as I headed out for a post-competition walk-jog on Monday night last along the Greenway in Tralee. I had been looking up some old photos during the day in search of sports photos from the 1960s. I came across a musical photo that had been hidden for the best part of six decades. Sitting outside our front door in the 1960s, getting ready for the “wran”. 

The rest of the St Brendan’s AC gang are too fast for me so they whizz off to do their 8K while I take the jarvey-journey along the magnificent greenway. They would pass me on their way back later with John Culloty way ahead, charging like a steam train. A runaway human steam train.

I settle into a nice waggly-walk but feel the reminders of the previous day’s national 10K masters championships in my back and shoulders. A glowing walking championships festival in St Anne’s Park in Raheny where masters and seniors walked together. Until the seniors sped away in their 20K and 35K voyages of wonder. I did a pb for the 10K with the help of the real walkers who sped by me at intervals in the up-and-down course.

Now as Monday night reveals a starry sky, the pains come out to share the recovery walk with me. “Your shoulder blades will ache for want of wings” the Romanian poet Nina Cassian had written some years ago. Definitely feel that way now as Sunday’s exertions take their toll. It will be more pronounced on Tuesday when the forty eight hour lactic slump will voice its existence. That poem by Cassian is called “Temptation” and the first line challenges with “Call yourself alive!”

If the body is not alive, the mind comes into play as I head west along the Greenway with the lights of Ballyroe rising up the hill to my right.

And the discovery of the old photo chases me out under the stars and so I recall Ned Kennelly coming in our front door all those years ago. No knocking on doors in those days. We lived “ar scáth a chéile” on our Lisselton hill, seven hundred feet over the valley of North Kerry. “God bless all here” he announced as he came into our kitchen. 

My mother had the strong tea pouring in no time but my eyes were on the packaged object which Ned had placed beside him. He chatted away to my mother about Christmasses long ago and how the price of candles had gone up and how the Christmas boxes were getting smaller. I got the impression that he was playing the waiting game with me…whatever was in the parcel was a funny shape, wide at one end and tapering away to slender at the other end. I could read the writing on the The Kerryman that it was enclosed in. A cord was holding the wrapping in place.

I was sitting on a thistle for what was like half my life with my legs hopping on the cement floor. I noticed that Ned was roguishly absorbing the intensity of my impatience. 

And then he turned to face me directly and I experienced fully how alive his eyes were. He says “I think you have music in you! You had better let it out, boy bán”! That expression was often used on our hill of people who were not good at cutting turf, digging spuds, shovelling out manure or pulling a calf from a cow. 

He had me trína chéile.

He began to tear the Kerryman pages away with a ticklingly crackling sound. Like the seventh veil, the last page came way and fell on the floor and there it was in Ned’s hands! A guitar! A beautiful brown and white guitar. With real strings. Six strings. And Elvis Presley’s name on it. A world of possibilities was held in those hands. 

I was struck dumb. My hands fell by my sides and I was disarmed. I was also confused as maybe Ned was showing me someone else’s guitar. He had a big family himself and he was probably going to ask us what we thought of their present…until he repeated the sweetest words: “I think you have music in you… and this is for you…”

He reached out the guitar and my arms accepted it gratefully. My mother said strongly “What do you say!” Not a question. An order.

                                                  Strings Attached 

The rest of that pre-Christmas day was a day with strings attached. It was a stringed Christmas. I am not sure what Santy brought to be perfectly honest a few days later on a frosty Christmas morning. I had an Elvis guitar and it came from my new hero, Ned Kennelly.

Later it was revealed to me that Ned had heard about me going west to Mick Finucane’s Gort in search of the golden fleece of the strings and my aborted guitar-construction. When his eldest son gave up his musical career, left his guitar at home and headed off to England, Ned had decided to gift the guitar to me on that magic week before Christmas in the swinging sixties. 

After a goose dinner on Christmas Day, I borrowed a wire clothes hangers from my mother’s wardrobe. I didn’t ask permission as it’s hard to believe how scarce wire clothes hangers were in the 1960s. Anyway, I didn’t want to bother her by asking as she was busy all day with food and washing up. My father was still recovering from his busy weeks as a postman so I grabbed the clothes hangers, ran out to the shed and fashioned the wire into a mouth organ holder. 

Then came St Stephen’s Day. With my two-day old guitar-friend, I headed down the hill on my monster-bike. On my head was a made-up cowboy hat that had been thrown away by my father, a bit of black polish on my face and a pair of wellingtons on my feet and a few pieces of crepe paper hanging loose. At Lyre Cross, I joined Mossy Henchy, Pat O’Connor and Tom Mulvihill. Off we went out in the “wran” as we called it. 

We cycled to every house from Lyre to Lisselton Cross, through Ballydonoghue and Kilgarvan, via Tullahinell and Asdee and back through Guhard, Farnastack, up Scralm and into Larha. Coining we were! I can see the faces of the audience that awaited in each house. Delighted to be honoured by musicians fulfilling an ancient tradition, they would throw the pennies at us after a few bars of music. We were stars. We were on tour. We were making money from music and we were mesmerising the population of three parishes. 

We had enough pocket money for the first weeks of the new year and the whole world was opening up ahead…

I smile now as I look up at the stars on my return jog into Tralee. There’s Venus and Mars up above me as far away as they were six decades ago. The lights of Tralee draw me towards the town as John Culloty, as expected, powers past me with a good quarter-mile to spare over Ursula Barrett, Ivan from Spain and Kenneth Leen. 

I see a falling star…

Well, my musical career never happened. After years strumming my Elvis guitar, even with new strings from Fred Mann in the small square in Listowel, it was revealed to me that I didn’t have a note in my head. Or in my hands. Someone told us after the day in the wran that we were given money to stop playing! The boys with me may have some musical talent, but my well was dry. 

The next Christmas, I found a drum at my bedside when I woke up on Christmas morning. I had obviously given hints to Santy that perhaps percussion rather than strings was how I could release the music in me. The drum however created logistical problems as I often got inspiration to play it late at night when my parents were trying to go to sleep. And my pet dog Spot attempted to accompany me with a terrier-wail that reached a high pitch. My father suggested strongly that if I went out the hill and played during the day, it might be a better idea.

The drum dream died too. I tried the fiddle later. It felt like a guitar that never grew up, so my fiddling doodled out. As did my dream of music.

I had to rebrand my borders and redefine my definitions. Life ensured that. As Albert Camus said “You will never live if you are constantly looking for the meaning of life”.

                                              The Methodology of Music

When I think back now, Ned Kennelly’s saying that I had music in me may not have been a mistaken reading of my child-psyche. Years later I would discover that music and art have many dimensions. Humble or otherwise, there is both in all of us. Some may find the means to express them in a day or a week. Others may take years. For many, it may take half a lifetime to find the methodology of the music, and it may come out in the most amazing ways, once you meet the moments and mark the miles.

Some months after that stringed Christmas, when I watched Ned fashion the treadle for a sleán out of a piece of raw ash, I began to understand what expressing the music meant. When I saw him putting a patch on a wellington so lovingly that the wellington became a friend of his hands, I understood it more. I began to see what he meant by music. When summer beckoned all along our hill, I saw him turn the green earth of the hill field to set spuds where furze bushes had grown only a generation before. I heard his music then too. The instrument of the spade and his keen eye were composing music with the earth that April day. 

As I listened to the words of Petula Clark singing “Downtown”, I hinged on the words “the music of the city”. Much later I was privileged to watch, live on stage on Broadway, “The Phantom of the Opera” with its haunting song “The Music of the Night”. Even this very Christmas Eve in Tralee parkrun (for which I was presented with a certificate for completing 100 of them), I could hear the music of the feet and hearts. Some as sweet as Sissel singing “Shenandoah” – although my own foot-music was more heavy metal than Chopin’s Nocturne, Opus 9. And what comes on the radio on the way home from the parkrun this morning but Cass Elliot singing “You’ve got to make your own kind of music”! Life re-pitched in its own chaotic creativity.

The generosity and the advice to make my own kind of music outlasted all the Christmasses of my life. The potential that Santy was there in all of us every day was the lesson I learned from Ned. It would carry beyond “Twixtmas” into the years.

Ned has long since gone to his eternal reward. I chatted with his son Eamon this Christmas Eve to tell him about the gift of neighbourly love that I was given on that Christmas week long ago. The guitar has now merged with nature but the abiding legacy of its gifting marches on.

As will my memory of Ned Kennelly who taught me how to put lyrics to the melody of life on a Christmas when my shoulders wanted wings.

A Craft Fair

Listowel Community Centre on Saturday December 16 2023

Fifi Shades of Cake with her scrumptious cakes…almost too good to eat.

This Killarney man had the most gorgeous rustic stables, all made from fallen wood and tree branches. My photo doesn’t do them justice. If you don’t already have a nativity set, this stable is a must buy.

If you are after knitwear for a small one, these are perfect.

This elf was guarding Santa’s door.

I met my lovely past pupil, Paulina, now the mother of two lovely children.

An Old Christmas Card

William MacNeely Christmas Card, 1949 

A Christmas greeting card from William MacNeely (1889-1963) from 1949. He was the Donegal-born Bishop of Raphoe from 1923 until 1963. Following his ordination as a priest, his first appointment was to the teaching staff of St. Eunan’s College in Letterkenny (1912-16). MacNeely subsequently volunteered as a chaplain in the First World War, serving with Irish battalions in the British Army from 1916 to 1918, seeing action on the Western Front, during which he was injured in a gas attack. He was appointed Bishop of Raphoe in July 1923 (at the relatively young age of thirty-five). He served as Bishop for over forty years. He died on 11 December 1963. The design of the Christmas card is most likely the work of Richard King (Rísteard Ó Cíonga), a renowned stained-glass artist who also contributed much of the artwork for the ‘The Capuchin Annual’ publication

A Date for the Diary

A Christmas Fact

In the 14th century, Christmas pudding was a type of porridge made using mutton and beef alongside spices, wines, raisins, currants and more. Over time, people slowly added more alcohol alongside eggs and dried fruit until we eventually ended up with the Christmas pudding we’re all familiar with today. 


Christmas in Cork

The big wheel for Christmas 2023 in Cork’s Grand Parade

Cork at Christmas

My next spot of Christmas travel was to my home by the Lee.

Finn’s Corner, early morning

St. Peter and Paul’s, beautiful old city centre church

This took me back to opening term masses here when I was in UCC. I wonder if that tradition is still observed.

Statue of Our Lady in the grounds of St. Peter and Paul’s.

This was my first sight of the Michael Collins statue.

A great likeness

Just a Thought

Here is a link to my reflections which were broadcast on Radio Kerry in the Just a Thought slot last week.

Just a Thought


Serendipity is the making of unexpected and pleasant discoveries by accident.

Front (faded) and back (vivid) covers of a book discovered in a charity shop and purchased for 50c.

A story from the book… Pail but not Wan

The Wran

I don’t know the year for this one.

With Tambourines and Wren boys

Wm. Molyneaux

(Continued from yesterday…)

But then, about the Wren.  How the wren derived her dignity
as the king of all birds.  That was the question.  An eagle issued a challenge between all birds, big and small as they were-wrens, robins, sparrows, thrushes, blackbirds, jackdaws, magpies, or else.  They commenced their flight this day-Christmas Day-The eagle, being the bravest continues her flight and was soaring first.  All the other birds were
soaring after, until, in the finish, after a lapse of time in her flight, the weaker birds seemed to get weary and could not continue their flight some  ways further. 
But the Wren pursued to the last. 
The other birds got weak and worn out and in the heel of fair  play, the eagle said that she was the king of all birds herself now.  The wren concealed yourself under the Eagles feathers, in the end of  fair play the Eagle got worn out.  The wren flew out from under the Eagles
feathers and declared yourselves the king of all birds.  That is how the Wren derived her dignity as being the king of all birds.  So we hunted her for the honour of it.  

Also, when St Stephen was in prison and as he was liberated the band went out against St Stephen, and it was a daylight performance and the wren, when she heard the music and the band, came out and perched yourselves on the drum.  That’s how we heard the story.

Anyway we made our tambourines.  You’d get a hoop made (in them days) by a cooper.  There is no cooper hardly going now.  You’d get this made by cooper for about half a crown.  I used to make my tambourines always  of goat’s skin.  You could make them of an ass foal’s
skin-anything young, do you see.  How?  I’d skinned the goat, get fresh lime and put the fresh lime on the fleshy side of the skin-not that hairy side but the fleshy side of the skin-fold it up then and double it up and twist it again and get a soft string and put it around it and take it with you then to a running stream and put it down in the running stream where the fresh water will be always running over it, and leave it so. 
You could get a flag and attach it onto the bag, the way the water wouldn’t carry it.  Leave it there for about nine days and you come then and you can pull off the hair and if the hair comes freely you can take up the skin and pull off the hair the same as you would shave yourself.  And then you
should moisten with lukewarm water.  You should draw it the way it wouldn’t shrink. You should leave it for a couple of hours.  You would get your ring and you’d have the
jingles and all in-the bells-you’d have them all in before you put the skin to the rim. You should have two or three drawing the skin to keep it firm-pull it from half-width, that would be the soonest way t’would stiffen.  Let the skin be halfwidth and put it down on the rim and  have a couple  pulling it and another man tacking it with brass tacks. 
That’s the way I used make my tambourines, anyway.  Ther’d be no sound out of it the first night.  I used always hang my tambourines outside.  And then the following morning t’would be hard as a pan  and a flaming sound out of it.  And then after a bit t’would cool down.  T’would be bad to
have them too hard, they’d crack.  Ah, sure I made several tambourines that way.

To be continued…

A Christmas Poem


John Betjeman

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
   The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
    Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
    And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
    The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
“The church looks nice” on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze
    And Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze
    Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says “Merry Christmas to you all.”

And London shops on Christmas Eve
    Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
    To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
    And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
    And Christmas-morning bells say “Come!'”
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true? And is it true,
    This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
    A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true? For if it is,
    No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
    The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
    No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
    Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

+ R.I.P. Maureen Sweeney+

As a tribute to a heroine who has passed away, here is her story from a previous blogpost…

Flavin Sweeney wedding  1946

 2nd, lL to R, Maureen Flavin Sweeney Blacksod Bay, 5th L to R Theresa Flavin Kennelly Knockanure, 6th L to R, Peg Connor Moran, Knockanure 

Billy McSweeney told us this story and it appeared in Listowel Connection in 2018

In my Grandparents time, Kerry people understood that they were cut off from the rest of Ireland by a series of mountains; they realized that they were isolated and had to look after themselves. Life was harder in Kerry than in the Golden Vale or on the central plains of Ireland. The mothers of Kerry especially, knew that they had to look to every advantage to help their children and prized education highly to that end. In the mid-19thcentury the people of Listowel welcomed enthusiastically the establishment of St Michael’s College for Boys and the Presentation Convent Secondary schools for Girls, not forgetting the Technical School. The people who read this blog are most likely familiar with the Census’ 1901 and 1911 and will have noticed that many homes in Listowel housed not only Boarders but also welcomed Scholars who came from the villages and isolated farms scattered around North Kerry. These boys and girls spent 5-6 years in the Listowel schools to be educated for ‘life’.

The upshot of this was that from Listowel we sent out many young adults who were a credit to their teachers to take their places in many organizations and many whose names became nationally known for their talents and abilities, especially in the Arts.

Let  me tell you about one such young girl, Maureen Flavin, who was born in Knocknagoshel, Co Kerry. When the time came for Maureen to go on from National school she was welcomed into the Mulvihill home in Upper Church Street who themselves had a young girl, Ginny, of the same age. Maureen and Ginny became fast friends and stayed so for life. 

When Maureen finished school in 1930 she wanted a job; couldn’t get one in Kerry because of the times that were in it, so she answered an ad in the National Papers for an Assnt. Postmistress in Black Sod, in North Mayo. Her references and qualifications were suitable and in due course, as she says, to her own surprise she was offered the job. This was to set Maureen on a course where she would be an integral part of one of the most momentous actions of the age. Mrs Sweeney, the Black Sod Postmistress, was married to Ted who was the Lighthouse Keeper, both operating from the Lighthouse building in Black Sod. They had a son, also Ted, who Maureen fell in love with and married in due course. They in turn had three boys and a girl and life took up a normal rhythm for the family; that is until 3rd June 1944.

The WW2 was in full swing at this stage with Gen. Eisenhower as the Allied Supreme Commander and Gen. Rommel the German Commander in Normandy. Rommel knew that an Allied invasion was prepared and imminent. Conventional Meteorological sources at the time for the US and German military said that the coming days would bring very inclement weather so that the invasion would have to be postponed. Eisenhower postponed the action and Rommel left Normandy for a weekend in Berlin based on the same information. The British Chief Meteorologist had however visited Black Sod some years previously and knew the value of Black Sod as the most westerly station in Europe and when a break in the weather was reported by Black Sod on 3rdJune he persuaded Eisenhower that 6thand 7thJune would be clear and to ignore the same conventional Met advice used by both the US and the Germans. Ted compiled the reports for the Irish Met Office and Maureen transmitted them. Maureen remembers receiving a telephone call a short time later from a lady with a ‘very posh English accent’ asking for confirmation of her report. Ted was called to the phone and he confirmed the readings, The rest, as they say, is history. 

(R.I.P. Maureen, who passed away on December 17 2023, aged 100. She was a recipient of the US Congress Medal of Honour)

A Fact

In one week from today it will be St. Stephen’s Day 2023


Shopping with a Two Year Old

Christmas altar in St. Brigid’s Parish Church, Kildare Town


Photoshoot with child in Kildare Village

It’s December 7 2023 and I am in Kildare Village because everyone assures me that it’s ‘magical’ at Christmas and the perfect place to take a few photos.

Aoife McKenna is my model. My model is aged 2, hates wearing a coat, won’t sit in a buggy, loves shops and is very independent.

Everyone knows you are meant to face Christmas installations in order to see them. What’s this turn around to Nana business.

Ah, there we are, Aoife, Nana and a reindeer in Kildare Village in December 2023.

More reindeer, which Aoife insisted were horses. Who ever saw a blue reindeer or a blue horse either for that matter. The coat is still on and we are shopping so two out of three ain’t bad.

There is a rule in the Kilkenny shop that you have to buy 2 items so clever Mammy bought 2 sachets of Christmas room scent to keep little hands occupied and to prevent breakages.

Aha, Sculpted by Aimee put the make up palette at child level.

Mmm, is this how I apply it?

Evicted by Mammy, unceremoniously from the shop. Now I’m here in the rain with Nana.

This is what we came for. Christmassy things to pose in.

Another shop, another eviction.

Photoshoot going downhill fast.

I’m tired of this. Take me home please.

Back in my happy place. Homeward bound.

Listowel Writers Week at the An Post Irish Book Awards

Simone Langemann and Eamonn Dillon of Listowel Writers’ Week with Mary ODonnell whose poem won the LWW sponsored award.

Brid Mason, Fr. Anthony Gaughan and Eamonn Dillon at the award ceremony.

Memories of Christmas in Ireland in the 40s and early 50s 

By Marie (Canty) Sham

Maria grew up in O’Connell’s Avenue Listowel. Here she looks back on a very happy Christmas time.

I remember

Going to the wood to cut the holly which grew wild, and the moss to put on the crib. 

Christmas Eve cleaning the house, the excitement of setting up the crib filling jam jars with sand and putting the candles in them, decorating them with crepe paper, putting up paper chains, my mother would have made a large Christmas pudding in a gallon and put it aside. 

The turkey or goose was bought at the local market and plucked by our neighbour Bill Boyle. He must have done it for everyone because the road would be covered in feathers. The innards were still warm when it was cleaned out, that was all on Christmas Eve so it was fresh.

We were not well off but we were lucky as my father was always working, we were not short of anything. At that time in Kerry there was a lot of unemployment.

The shops mam shopped in during the year gave a Christmas box. One shop would give tea, sugar and maybe a pot of jam. That shop was called Jet Stacks and it is not there now. The butcher Murphy’s would send Danny to deliver us maybe a large piece of lamb, of course it would be delivered by him on his bicycle with a basket in front.

I can also remember a donkey and cart outside the shops with a tea chest and all the shopping would be put into it. These people would be from the country and would not come to town again until after Christmas.

There was a shop called Fitzgibbons and we would pay in whatever we could afford for toys or anything else. I paid in sixpence a week for a sewing box and I still had it when I got married. Mam paid every week for the Nativity figures for the crib I have never seen anything so beautiful since.

The ham would be on the boil and with the crib set up. The candles would be lit by the youngest member of the house, I think at 7 o clock 

Our clean clothes would be kept warm over the range ready for midnight mass.

Going out on the frosty night and seeing all the windows with lighted candles was wonderful.

Home after mass a warm fire in the range a slice of the ham or maybe a fry! Our stockings would be hanging at the end of the bed. We did not get much; my dad was very good with his hands and would make things for us. He made a scooter once and a rocking horse.

My brother Neil wanted a mouth organ and it was like in the song Scarlet Ribbons, dad went to so many shops until he got one for him. I was too young to remember that but mam told that story.

Christmas morning I will never forget waking up to the smell of the turkey roasting.

Up quickly and look if Santa had come, our stockings might have an orange, we always got something. I remember getting roller skates; I also remember getting a fairisle jumper from Santa. The problem was I had seen my aunt knitting it. All the children would be out in the Avenue with their new toys to show off.

Before dinner our neighbour Paddy Galvin would come in to wish a Happy Christmas and mam would give him a bottle of stout. I think that was the only time he ever called in. We would have lemonade and stout in for Christmas.

Dinner was wonderful, our Mam was a great cook. There was Mam Dad, Nelie, Paddy, Doreen and myself. My brother Junie came along later, and after we would wrap up warm and visit the cribs; one in each church, hospital, convent and St Marys and bring home a bit of straw for our crib which I think was blessed.

More food when we got home 

Bed and looking forward to St Stephens day and the Wren Boys, no cooking on that day we finished up the leftovers.

What wonderful times!

A Fact

A sheep, a duck and a rooster were the first passengers in a hot air balloon.


In Kildare Village

Dandy Lodge in Winter 2023

Pres. Day in Pres. Listowel

November 21 was always a big deal when I worked in a Presentation school. It was lovely to see Srs. Consolata, Theresa and Eilish back in the school for Pres. Day 2023.

I took the photos from the school’s facebook page.

Kildare Village is No Place for a Two Year Old

The two year old hates wearing coats so the first struggle started before we left the house. When your Nana loves taking photos you just have to wear your beautiful red Christmassy coat.

Second hiccup; We were too early. Gates closed.

Nothing for it but to repair to the nearby coffee shop. Soother had to be unearthed to persuade her to leave the coat on.

To persuade her to relinquish the soother a smoothie is promised.

A piece of tea cake!

Some kind of unhealthy snack is next. The coat is still on but by now the hair bobble has been pulled out and lost.

Next bribe ( inducement) is a story.

Finally, it’s time to return to the shopping village. Coat is still on but by now it’s raining. Photoshoot back on track…kinda!

I’ll leave the story of how it all went pear shaped ’til tomorrow.

In Portlaoise Train Station

Victorian, I think

+ R.I.P. Sr. Helen Hartnett+

Every now and again I have felt that I was in the presence of a saint. If Sr. Helen is not a saint in heaven at the right hand of God, there is no hope for the rest of us.

Sr. Helen’s Listowel connection is strong even though she never lived here for long. Helen’s family moved to Listowel after she had already entered the convent.

Sr. Helen who passed away on December 2 2023 was a Salesian sister who spent her working life in South Africa, living and ministering among the poorest of the poor.

Sr. Helen “never missed an opportunity to do good.” She believed that every child deserved at least two good meals a day and she believed that education was the way to improve the lives of the children she worked with in the squatter camps.

Sr. Helen was frail in stature but she had the heart of a lion. She lived in a very politically turbulent environment in Johannesburg. She lived surrounded by staff and pupils who were constantly being indoctrinated by political activists to believe that she had no place in the school her order had built, and to which she had given her life.

The most frightening day of her life was the day she arrived to school to be met with open revolt. Teachers, parents and pupils met her chanting, “You are stealing our school and our money.” Terrified, she had to barricade herself in her office until eventually the police, through the intervention of a local supporter, allowed her to go free.

Badly shaken and, of course, hugely disappointed by her experience she, nevertheless went on to move to Capetown to revive a school building project post Covid. She was working on this in conjunction with Irish workers when she fell ill with cancer.

Helen’s family and her religious community looked after her well until God called her home.

So, if you were reading the death notices in R.I.P. ie and you saw someone you never heard of before, here is who this humble holy walking saint was.

Sr. Helen’s Listowel family, her brother Dan, sister Carmel, cousin Eddie Moylan and their families are very proud of her and the work she did. They will miss her gentle presence but are happy in the knowledge that she lived a good life of service to the most disadvantaged of God’s children. She was well prepared for death and accepted whatever God had planned for her.

R.I.P. Sr. Helen. “The day thou gavest Lord has ended.”

Another old card

I don’t think this one is an O’Connor one. Symbols are Ballyduff landmarks and the tone is very republican, The Irish greeting reads Nollaig maith suairc duit, roughly I pray/ wish a good merry Christmas to you.

Christmas Long ago in Ballyferriter

Christmas in Boulteens Ballyferriter by Maurice Brick (Facebook 2015)


                            There was a touch of frost, enough to stiffen the grass but it limbered with the noonday sun. The grown ups were in good humor and we were very sensitive to that. The farm work was done and only the cows needed tending. There was an easiness. 

A great day was when Mam and Dad went to Dingle to bring home the Christmas. Dad had rails on the cart. We were bursting with excitement upon hearing the cart coming with its iron band wheels which could be heard for miles. They had a sack of flour, a sack of yellow meal, various foods, wellingtons, some clothes, decorations and most important, sweets and biscuits and icing clad Christmas Cakes. They also had several bottles of Sandiman Port which were presents from Dingle merchants in appreciation of their custom through the year. 

Searching for discarded jam jars which we would wash and fill with sand to hold the candle we put in each window of the house. Holding the ladder for Dad as he retrieved some ivy from the gable end of the house. Going to the Reen, a field on our land that was reputedly a Fairy Fortress and had some scattered Holly Bushes. The house would be spotless and there was a silent buzz as we went about our chores. The turf fire was blazing and added to the glow. 

On Christmas Eve for dinner we had Langa (Ling), a long stringy fish that had hung for weeks from the ceiling. It was salty and boney but Mam’s white sauce with onions, pandy (potatoes mashed with generous helping of butter) and spices made it palatable. After, there was lashings of Christmas Cake with inch thick icing and we made short work of that. 

Going to Midnight Mass to St. Vincent’s in Boulteen was a treat. We went up the Tóchar a Bohereen and pathway through the fields. Dad had a lantern and led the way. At one point we climbed a few steps to climb over a claí (an earthen stone fence that separated fields) and on top you could see all the houses in the Parish with candles in the windows and it was like a glimpse of Tír Na nÓg (Land Of Youth) if such a place ever existed. 

The Church was small and comfortable. It was full and the smell of molten wax permeated the air. And there was a quietness. My Dad sang in the Choir and his cousin Paddy Brick, Riasc played the violin. It was magical listening to them, performing for us a hauntingly soft rendition of Oíche Chiuin (Silent Night) in honor of the Birth of the Baby Jesus. I remember now, I will never forget, Dad singing his heart out & Paddy Brick his cousin on the violin, watching one another with sideway glances making sure each of them was putting out the best. 

After Mass all the people greeted one another and offered Christmas Blessings. All was done in hushed and calming voices and that has stayed with me down through the years. My friend Pad accompanied us once going home by the Tóchar and he was given to speeching all the way. When we passed by the Cemetery he proceeded to name everyone who died in Gorta Dubha for the past fifty years. I shifted closer to Mam and Dad for the rest of the journey. 

At home, we put up our stockings for Santí and reluctantly went to bed. Dad went to the haggard and pulled a gabháll (bunch) of hay which he spread at the front door to feed the Donkey that was bringing the Holy Family for a visit to our house on Christmas Night. 

After a fitful night’s sleep we arose with excitement and checked our Santí stockings. We compared what we got and though at times it wasn’t much we were happy. Off we went running to every house in the the village. We’d get a piece of sweet cake or a bun and sometimes, even a sip of lemonade. We joined the other children and traipsed about joyfully in and out of the houses. It was Gorta Dubha and all the houses were ours. NOLLAIG SHONA……..HAPPY CHRISTMAS.

A Fact

Cheetahs can change direction in mid air while chasing prey.


In Kildare

Kildare, Cill Dara means the church of the oak. This oak-shaped light is in Kildare Town Square. They were erecting the Christmas tree on the day I arrived.

Another O’Connor/ MacMahon Christmas card

A John B. Keane Christmas Story

Today’s story comes from this lovely Christmas anthology.


Everywhere in Kildare Town there are references to St. Brigid, Horse racing, sheep, bogs and history.

I stayed in this lovely olde worlde hotel.. I got a real key for my room door!

Here is where my granddaughter will have her Santa experience with real reindeer who are old and getting some TLC here.

Decorated boxes are dotted all over the town.

Their football heyday is behind them but Kildare still celebrate this hero, Bill Squires Gannon.

A Winter Poem

Winter Walk in Courtown Harbour   by Mick O Callaghan

I strolled down the south pier in Courtown.

On a cool and windy December evening.

I see a white teddy bear hanging from the railing

Lit by its own solar powered lighting

With accompanying white notice

I stroll across to read its contents. 

It’s the Samaritans messaging. 

Spreading A light in the darkness 

Reminding people who might be troubled.

To remember 

That their family and friends love them

Writ in striking emboldened green lettering

With their text hello 50808 number in stark red

And Samaritans on 116123 writ underneath also in red

It’s a message of hope and love here at water’s edge.

Meanwhile the waves coming in off the Irish sea.

Are all thunderously rolling on to the sandy shore

 And powering their waters up the canal. 

Where the huge swell makes navigation impossible.

There is no inward or outward shipping traffic.

Along the pier the empty fish boxes

Lie piled up, neatly caged away.

The few boats in the harbour bob up and down.

In the choppy waters of the inner harbour.

It is a bleak scene with an icy wintry breeze.

Blowing its chilly breath across the waters.

All walkers are feeling the Baltic blast.

Though well wrapped up, Michelin person style,

Heavy coats, gloves, hats, and snoods

Were all the rage in the harbour fashion stakes

With people treading the quay wall walk.

Across the bay the lifeboat house is open

Yellow light flickers across the water

Reflecting and flickering on a white boat in the bay

I walk around to the North pier.

The area is awash with festive lights.

The summer cone machines lie dormant.

Safely wrapped up in the locked-up kiosk.

The Christmas crib is now in place. 

With its protective vandal proof Perspex front

While the Christmas tree is delivered

Waiting to be dressed up in all its finery.

With its lights and decorations

To show off its festive fashion regalia.

The amusement arcade looks bright and cheery.

Now transformed into a winter wonderland.

The Taravie Hotel is all aglow with Christmas lights.

Hanging like icicles looking so bright

A well-lit tree highlights the corner.

As I walk down towards the lifeboat house

Where the volunteers are busily engaged 

Stringing lights along the roof

To give their base it’s festive glow.

Courtown has entered the festive season.

With its welcoming well-lit Christmas environment

Bringing lots of festive bonhomie

Conviviality, geniality, and cheer to you and me.

A Fact

I told you about my new fact book but I haven’t completely abandoned my old reliable wacky fact source. So here;

Our eyes are always the same size from birth to death, but our ears and nose never stop growing.

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