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
There I am in the midst of the lovely 6th class girls in Presentation Primary School, Listowel on World Book Day 2023. The girls were dressed as their favourite characters. I came as myself.
I was a VIP guest as part of their Creative Schools’ Cluster project.
I was welcomed to the school by my friend Mrs. Anne Brosnan and the class I spoke to is now being taught by someone I taught back in the day, Miss Julieanne Galvin.
Behind us on the interactive whiteboard is our good friend, Jimmy Hickey. I told the girls about Jimmy’s exploits in The National Concert Hall. They don’t read Listowel Connection so it was news to them. Jimmy is their dancing teacher.
It’s not all male writers in Kerry Writers’ Museum. This female Kerry writer is there too. She is a little known but very learned journalist and writer, deserving of a wider audience.
A Little bit of the USA in Cork
When I’m on foot I notice things that were there all the time but I never spotted before.
This happened to me lately when I was walking on Western Road in Cork and I came upon this sign.
Maybe it is my imagination but doesn’t that white car look a bit American as well.
My friend took these as the ferry came up the Lee estuary.
In the Ballybunion Market
I was in the Ballybunion outdoor market on Saturday July 9 2022. I met the lovely entrepreneur, Sarah Fitzgerald of The Green Green Gate.
Sarah was being helped in her enterprise by her lovely Mammy, Peggy Fitzgerald.
I bought elderflower cordial. Delicious!
“Where did she get the name for her business?” you ask.
Here is the answer in Sarah’s words:
The Green, Green Gate was a half way meeting point between my house and the local sports field on my family land.!!! We didn’t have phones to keep in touch back then so my friend, cousins and I would arrange to meet there in the evening or weekends.
The Green Green Gate simply marked the start of many adventures and fun times for us all. It was our Gateway to Fun !!!! The fields, the forest, the bogland, the stream, the trees and the wide open spaces were our computers and phones of today’s children.
How lucky were we !!!!!
A Few More Irishisms
from this book…
Church of the Immaculate Conception, Blarney
Blarney is one of those churches where, if you gave a generous donation to the cause you got a plaque on the wall. Other churches put names on windows or pews.
I’m presuming this is the man who set up Blarney Woollen Mills. It used to be known as Mahony’s Mill.
Town this Week
Flags, bunting, green and gold everywhere and I expect to see much more of the Kerry colours flying in the next few weeks as we near the All Ireland.
Thank you Seán OShea, the Cliffords, Spillanes et al for lifting all our spirits.
One of the highlights of the North Kerry social calendar used to be the Teachers Dress Dance.
Kathy Reynolds shared the link to Tony Fitzmaurice’s photographs of the 1956 dance and an abridged version of an essay first published in The Ballydonoghue Parish Magazine 2021 outlining the work of the ballroom photographer and Kathy’s efforts to reunite the photographs with their subjects or their families.
Teacher’s Dress Dance 18th Nov ’56 Band; J McGinty.
That was my introduction to the ledger where the late Tony Fitzmaurice (RIP), Ballybunion, kept a record of his semi-professional photography. In the back of the ledger was some headed paper and this introduced me to “Tony’s Photo Service & Kerry’s Youngest and Best Ballroom Photographer”!
Tony was my father’s first cousin and I was familiar with his photography all my life. As a small child his special dark-room partitioned from the bottom of the kitchen was a source of fascination. As an adult I became more aware of his photography as it was a hobby we shared and he was generous with his advice as I developed my interest. On holiday or at any event Tony always had a camera to hand but it was only on his death in 2019, when his widow Madeline asked my family to look after his photography, that I found out about his life as a Ballroom Photographer.
His ledger recorded every detail of his semi-professional photography business which co-existed alongside his job as a Kerry County Council employee. The ledger gives us a look at the work of a 1950/60s Ballroom Photographer. The Teachers Dress Dance on the 18th November 1956 with music by Joe McGinty was his first professional engagement. A 10 minute video showing photographs from the event can be found at https://vimeo.com/666457253 Can anyone recognise teachers from their childhood? Looking at some of the posters in the room and as most of the money for the photographs came via Jim Walsh I assume the venue was Walsh’s Super Ballroom, Listowel, where Tony was resident photographer. His card with a unique number given to everyone he photographed tells us that proofs could be inspected at Mr. Jim Walsh’s, William Street, Listowel. Photographs were available in two sizes, Postcard (3.5 x 5.5 inches) or large (6.5 x 8 inches) costing 2 or 3 shillings (10 or 15p). Photographs were relatively expensive back in the 1950/60s when you consider that today a standard 6×4 inch print can be printed for as little as 5p at my local supermarket and the 8×6 for just 15p.
In the 1950s not many homes had a camera and so the Ballroom Photographer had a good market. The accounts for the teacher’s dance show that 70 photographs were taken and 90 prints were sold making a gross profit of £7 3s 9d on the night. Of course the capital cost of cameras, flashguns and darkroom equipment had to be covered as well as a payment to the Ballroom owner. The 1957 Teacher’s Dance was much larger with about 350 people present, 380 prints sold generating a gross profit of £24 13s 8d. In addition to the teachers other groups had annual dances such as The Post Office Staff, Macra na Feirme and North Kerry Farmers.
In his 6 years as a semi-professional photographer dances at the Super Ballroom occurred mainly from September to May with the busiest period being Listowel Race week with dances from Sunday to Thursday night with approximately 800 photographs taken. Over the 6 years the most popular act was Chick Smith with 23 appearances followed by Denis Cronin and Mick Delahunty with 12 and 11 appearances respectively. International stars of the 1950s and 60s such as Eddie Calvert and his Golden Trumpet, Johnny Dankworth, Anne Sheldon and Winifred Atwell also made appearances. Tony’s ledger notes that Bridie Gallagher appeared 5 times drawing audiences of 1,500 to 2,000, indeed on 11th December 1960 Tony notes that the ballroom was too crowded leaving one to wonder just how big the audience was. St Patrick’s night and St Stephen’s night also drew large crowds but not every night was a success. One such night received the withering comment “poor crowd — hopeless band”.
Although dances at the Super Ballroom accounted for most of Tony’s photography (26,600 negatives carefully stored) during these 6 years he also photographed local events, a few weddings, friends and family. One such event was in December 1959, children sitting on Santa’s lap at McKenna’s, Listowel. This will cover children from across North Kerry and the images can be found at https://vimeo.com/647951277 . It is my intention to try to reconnect the photos with the people or communities they came from. The easiest way for me to share them is as video slide shows, all are or will be titled North Kerry People 1..2..3 etc and they can be found by searching the internet for North Kerry People Vimeo. The 26,000+ Super Ballroom negatives is a very long term project, it will take many long winter days to scan them but I would like at some time to make the archive available in North Kerry for social history purposes.
Many thanks to those, too many to name, who have already helped put names to many faces.
Kathy Reynolds (Fitzmaurice), Oakham, Rutland, UK and previously Moybella, Lisselton.
Graffiti or Street Art
(Image and text from Yay Cork)
Asbestos’ mural on South Main Street has been featured in the Street Art Cities’ Top 100 list. The mural has won great admiration since its completion as part of the Ardú Street Art Project in 2021, and is now eligible to be voted for as the best piece of street art in the world.
Tim Marschang, who is the organiser behind the list and the competition, explained how each work was selected, saying: “For the past 12 months Street Art Cities selected some of the best murals across the globe and shared it on their popular Instagram Story polls letting the audience decide.” Over 100,000 votes were counted.
“This resulted in a list of 100 most popular artworks of 2021. And it’s literally a global list with murals from every corner of the planet, from Denmark to South Africa, From Lima to Brisbane, take a look and pick your favourites.” If you want to support Cork and Asbestos, you can vote here. Voting closes on February 6th.
A Coup for a Writer with a Listowel Connection
Photo of Colm Tóibín by Barry Cronin
Colm Tóibín who is President of Listowel Writers’ Week has been appointed Laureate for Irish Fiction 2022 to 2024. He is a very popular choice nationally and internationally but especially in Listowel.
Isn’t Barry Cronin’s photograph gas?
At Writers Week 2019 I photographed Colm Tóibín with Rick O’Shea, John Boyne and Joseph O’Connor. I hope photo ops like this will come my way again in 2022.
Today Im back in 2013 in Craftshop na Méar in Church Street. Happy Days!
We used to have this mascot pig in the window. The shop owner, Robert Corridan, brought him all the way from the U.S. where he used to be blue and was the mascot for one of Robert’s favourite restaurants, The Blue Pig. The late Dan Green, who was a great supporter of the shop, named him Crubeen.
Mary Boyer and Una Hayes were looking after the shop on this day, which, judging by the stock, was near Christmas time. The beautiful crochet work on the top left is the work of Brigitta who now runs Scribes.
Maureen Connolly is sitting by the range working on one of her crochet rugs Beside her in his bawneen is Dinny.
One day as we were having a Christmas event, Alice Taylor dropped in to listen to the songs and stories.
These are some of the Rose dresses on display in Kerry County Museum until October.
These are some of the Rose bushes in the nearby Tralee Park. As you can see the new gardener and his team are getting to grips with the sadly neglected rose beds. He has a huge task on his hands but the park is coming back to life again and, hopefully it will soon be restored to its former glory.
The phone box
A public phone in Foley’s Bar in Castle
The US presidency is a Tudor monarchy plus telephones.(Anthony Burgess)
The day of the familiar Irish phone box is drawing to a close. Earlier this year the powers-that-be decided to reduce the number of post boxes from 4,850 to 2,699. Since usage of the public phone has fallen by 80% in the past five years, how long before the total demise of the phone box? The Kiosk, especially in rural areas, provided a valuable link with the outside world. But, in the words of Clinical Psychologist, Marie Murray, “ What of their psychological significance rather than their utilitarian worth? What role did they play in the lives of people? What privacy did they afford, away from the home telephone for those lucky enough to have a telephone in the house but unfortunate enough to have no privacy using that instrument at home?”Dr. Murray goes on to say that phone boxes , “ will become but quaint memories of an older generation regaling their grandchildren with tales of trysts at the local telephone box or romance conducted through whispered confidences in that semi-private box in the middle of the village or at the end of the road . . . ”
In the days when one went through the Operator there was the story of the Cavan man who phoned his friend looking for the loan of a tenner only to be told, “It’s a bad auld line, I can’t hear you.” When the request was repeated it was, once again, met with,“ I can’t hear you”. At this stage the Operator cut in with, “I can hear him perfectly”. The answer was ready, “You give him the loan of the tenner, so.”
The first “public” phone in our area was in the Post Office in Lacken where most of the calls were to the Priest, the Guards, the Doctor, the Vet or The A.I. man (or “the collar-and-tie-bull” as he was known.) The Post Office was also a shop which opened late so nocturnal communications pertaining to illicit relationships could sometimes be conducted, albeit in whispered tones. (Or so I’m told.)
Lacken eventually got a Phone-Box and conversations could be carried out in a stentorian voice without fear of “ear-wigging.” Some “coins” used were not Legal Tender (or even legal.) Washers of a certain diameter and “push-outs” from galvanised junction-boxes, used by electricians, would suffice. (Or so I’m told.)
By “tapping out” the numbers on the top of the cradle (1,9 and 0 were free) one could get through to any number. (Or so I’m told.)
When Decimal-Currency was introduced in 1971 it took a while to have the Phones adapted. The new Decimal 1P coin was exactly the same size as the old sixpence and worked very well. (Or so I’m told.)
Another favourite trick was to block the return-chute with a piece of rolled up twine and to return for the proceeds when a number of people had pressed “Button B” without getting any refund. (Or so I’m told.)
Nowadays when I hear the Dublin joke, “What do Northside girls use for protection? A Phone-box”, it reminds me that at times in rural Ireland the Phone-box was often utilised for erotic pelvic activity while parallel with the perpendicular. (Or so I’m told.)
When a not-too-well-liked person would be retiring it would be said, “They’re holding his retirement do in a phone-box”.
On one occasion, in a neighbouring parish, a female who was presumed to have contracted a “social disease” used the phone and civic-minded local woman immersed it (the phone, not the female caller) in a bucket of Jeye’s Fluid. This caused a malfunction which the P&T engineer couldn’t find a cause for. A local wag said, “you were poxed to get it workin’ agin.”
When Mobiles were getting plentiful and it looked like the humble Phone box would soon be redundant I made a suggestion to Eircom as to the possible utilisation of same . . as Condom-Dispensers. And I even had an idea for cost cutting in the area of signage; by using some of the existing logos and slogans. For instance; wouldn’t the Eircom logo, with very slight modification, look remarkably like a rolled-up condom? And where would you leave slogans like, “Let your fingers do the walking”. Do you think they acknowledged my suggestion? They didn’t even phone me.