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 listowelconnection@gmail.com

Tag: Church Street Page 1 of 3

An Irish Santa

St. Michael’s graveyard in Winter 2021

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Church Street

Church Street gets its name from the church which once stood at the top of the street. All that remains of that church now is the bell tower pictured above. The church itself was demolished and the stones used to build the new church in The Square.

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A Christmas Window

My photographs do a great injustice to Listowel’s lovely Christmas window displays. This one is Finesse, who always have a perfect interpretation of whatever theme is set.

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An Irish Santa Claus

Unlike the most famous inhabitant of the North Pole, this Santa is probably a man you have never heard of. Mattie Lennon in this essay is doing his bit to right that wrong.

The Irish Santa Claus

by Mattie Lennon

Seamus Maguire was born in Thurles in 1950: the only child of James and Eileen Maguire. He completed his education in 1969 and subsequently worked as a Bus driver, Prison Officer and Social Worker in Tipperary and Cork.

In 1979, The International Year Of The Child, he founded Youth-In-Need. It was meant to be a one off project to help three young people for six months. Seamus went on to pioneer many projects to help young and old at home and abroad. Over the years he was the recipient of many prestigious awards and commendations.

He headed an organisation which operated a soup-run in London.

While he and his volunteers were distributing soup, sandwiches and blankets to the Irish homeless, Seamus felt that the marginalized exiles needed more. In December 1979 when Jingle Bells was blaring from loudspeakers in cities around the world and Ireland was coming to terms with the buzz brought about by the cub-Celtic Tiger, Seamus was busy. The unsung hero from Tipperary was approaching the homeless in the English capital offering them the chance to ” go home for Christmas”.

Those who availed of his offer were taken to a hostel and given accommodation. Proper food for a few days and fresh clothes meant that many who had abandoned all hope of a homecoming would be able to meet their loved ones looking “fairly respectable”.

Amid all the hardship, Seamus and his crew experienced the odd humorous incident.

A volunteer worker from County Donegal, John Cassidy, told the following story to me; “In early 1992 we arrived in Hammersmith with a forty- foot lorry loaded with food and blankets for the homeless centres. As we were unloading on a road that was restricted to vehicles under three tons a policeman insisted we move or he would have us arrested and the lorry impounded.

After a few moments of heated discussion Seamus produced a document bearing the seal of both the Irish and British Governments and warned the policeman that it would cause a diplomatic incident if he continued harassing us. The policeman reached for the document that Seamus was holding, hesitated, looked at Seamus and said; “you have four hours to unload and get the truck out of here”.

Thankfully the policeman did not insist on checking the paper that Seamus was holding; it was a customs clearance certificate.”

I penned the following ballad about Seamus Maguire; it was put to music by John Hoban

SEAMUS MAGUIRE By Mattie Lennon

The soup-runs of well meaning people

Could not heal the souls or hurt pride

Of the Irish in alien doorways

With no one but God on their side.

Through decades of drink and misfortune

Returning was out of the frame;

The streets and the hills of their homeland

Were but specks on an ocean of shame.

Despondency fed by resentment

Ran loose like an unbroken colt,

‘Til a hero, unsung, from Tipp’rary

Gave the conscience of Ireland a jolt.

“We’ll bring some of them home for next Christmas,

Who haven’t seen loved ones for years.

All we need is the will and the courage”

He blasted at pessimist ears.

Chorus;

Dreams dreamt, under cardboard in Camden,

Of a whin-bush, round tower or turf fire

Were realised beyond expectation;

We were brought home by Seamus Maguire.

The captains of business he badgered

While his care-workers beavered away,

Collecting the cash and resources,

And then came the memorable day

When the “rescue coach” left Dublin’s quayside

In December of seventy nine,

Taking fifty glad hearts to the country

With their loved ones once more to entwine.

For the next twenty years every Christmas

Maguire and his team would ensure

That the birth of the Saviour was special

For those He called “Bless’ed”; the poor.

And many a parent died happy

Resigned to their ultimate fate

With the son or the daughter they cherished

United before ’twas too late.

Chorus 

The date on a gravestone in Thurles

Proclaims ninety-nine as the year

That God gave to Seamus Maguire

The reward for his mission down here.

And his name in more permanent fashion

Is forever inscribed in that tome;

The hearts of our destitute exiles

Who once had no hope of going home.

Chorus.

(c)  Mattie Lennon 2004

For a man who was so good to so many it is very sad that in the end, he died alone. It is equally sad that nobody saw fit to keep Youth-in-Need going after his death.

John Cassidy, who was one of his stalwart volunteers said,  “ . . . I feel his commitment to the less well off should be acknowledged in some meaningful way. To the homeless Irish on the streets of London Seamus Maguire was known as the ‘Irish Santa Claus’. “

Irish Santa Claus

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And the Wittiest 2021 Christmas T shirt….

Dunnes Stores.

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Stories of Old Listowel

Church Street in November 2021

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In 2007 Listowel had a large Polish population. This shop/ sklep opened on Charles Street to bring them a taste of home

Same view of Charles Street in Novemnber 2021

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A Listowel Fact

These facts that I am sharing with you were told to walkers on the late Jack McKenna’s Rotary Club walking tours of the town many moons ago.

The pump house on the banks of the Feale was originally designed to hold a water wheel which would operate a pump to lift water from the river to tanks in Ballygrennane. These tanks would provide a gravity flow water supply to the town. The flow of water to operate the wheel was to come from a point upriver known as The Falls. The water was to flow to the wheel in the pump house via a canal. The engineer who designed the system was fond of a drop. On the day of the grand opening, he went to the tanks in Ballygrennan to await the flow the water while the dignatories who had been invited to the grand opening waited at the pump house for the flow of water which would operate the pump.

When the sluice gates were opened there emerged the smallest trickle of water, nothing near the amount needed to rotate the wheel to operate the pump.

The engineer, up in Ballygrennane realised that his scheme was a failure. The story goes that he polished off his bottle of whiskey, scarpered from the scene and was never seen in Listowel again.

The town council had to install a steam operated pump which supplied the town with water for many years until the ESB brought electric power to Listowel.

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A Sign of the Times

On this old street lamp a very modern notice advertising outdoor dining

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That was then; This is now

2007
2021

In 2007 we had many many foreign nationals working in our area. Demand for money transfer services was such that a dedicated Western Union shop opened in Church Street.

Since then electronic money transfer has become even easier.

Yesterday I saw a man pay for his groceries using his watch.

We’ve come a long way since 2007.

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A Tragedy in The Estuary, A Street Sign and Warring Celebrities

Photo by Éamon ÓMurchú in Mount Usher Gardens

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Listowel Pitch and Putt Course

This course is always beautifully maintained. It’s a much appreciated local treasure.

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Where the streets have two names

Is Listowel the only town in Ireland where the streets have two names?

The Irish name translates as Upper Ashe Street.

The name in English translates as Sráid an tSéipéil Uachtarach.

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More Memories from Tom Linnane of Littor

from Shannonside Annual 1956

More tomorrow

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A Fact

(From my Book of the Year 2019/ The world’s weirdest news)

Led Zeppelin guitarist, Jimmy Page, has a long running dispute with his next door neighbour over, among other things, the allegation that he plays his music too loud.

Who is this neighbour?

Robbie Williams.

What music is he playing too loudly?

Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd according to a letter sent by Page to his local council.

Williams’ representative denied everything.

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Strange tales from Knockanure and Ballybunion

In rainy Mount Usher Gardens, photo; Éamon ÓMurchú

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More Shannonside Memories from Tom Linnane

(Shannonside Annual 1956)

On St. Martin’s Night it was customary

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Carroll’s of Course

Beautifully repainted building in Listowel’s Town Square

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Lower Church Street

Recent refurbishment at Perfect Pairs has uncovered this old name, Molyneaux.

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Ard Chúram News

Listowel has a new dementia day care centre, Fuchsia Centre

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A Colorado Story, Saving the Turf and a Few Shops

St. John’s, The Square, Listowel

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Turf Time

Photo: Noel Doyle

Mary and Paddy Tydings have their turf sorted in Dirha bog for this year.

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In Lizzy’s

Lizzy has been mega busy since she relocated to Church Street.

Rose O’Hanlon was one of the many customers who called to congratulate Lizzy and to see her new outdoor dining space. As you can see it’s very continental. The food is as good as ever.

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Colorado and the Cork Connection

“When we lose that chain of connection to our ancestors, through oral tradition, we’ve lost something so much more than information,” James Walsh.

James Walsh is an Irish American and he has made it his life’s work to research the Irish emigrants who made their way to Leadville, Colorado. Walsh discovered that the Irish Americans who descended from the Leadville emigrants knew little or nothing about their Irish connection.

People who have survived horrors often dont pass the the story on to their descendants. The memories are too painful. They just want to move on.

Walsh has spent 20 years researching these emigrants who ended up buried in a paupers’ graveyard thousands of miles away from their native Alihies on the beautiful Beara peninsula in West Cork.

Alihies is a small parish on the beautiful west Cork coast. It is a heavenly place to visit on a summer day in 2021 but in post Famine Ireland it was a poor and inhospitable place to live.

Alihies was the scene of wholesale emigration in the late 1800’s. Not only had the Famine ravaged the population but their one industry, copper mining had gone into decline. They fled to Colorado because it had a silver mining industry and they thought their skills would get them employment there.

“They arrived hungry and desperate and unskilled and uneducated and were ostracized,” Walsh said. “Many fled to places like Leadville because they knew there was a job here for them.” Walsh.

They were largely forgotten about until Walsh’s study of the Irish in Colorado brought him to the mining town of Leadville and to the Evergreen Cemetery.

Using Catholic church records, he discovered that 70% of the “paupers’ buried there in sunken unmarked graves were Irish. Of the Irish buried there the average age is 24 and over half are children.

10% of the population of Leadville in 1880 was Irish.

Leadville is now twinned with Alihies.

I learned this story on RTE radio by chance one morning when I heard Alan Groarke (Moyvane and Colorado) being interviewed about the memorial that the Irish Network in Colorado is planning to build in memory of these poor people who suffered so much. Alan is president of The Irish Network.

Mock up of the Irish memorial

In the centre of the Evergreen Cemetery will be a memorial. A spiral pathway will lead to the top of a mound where a sculpture will sit. It’s reminiscent of ancient Irish burial mounds. The names of each person in the plots will be carved into glass walls or onto plaques.  

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Then and Now on Church St.

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Vaping

This shop on William Street is one of this fairly new chain. CBD and vaping seem to be considered essential now. This shop was allowed to open during lockdown. We’ve come a long way from when this shop was ‘established” in 1853.

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