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: Cork Page 1 of 6

Dress Dance in 1956

In Cromane by Chris Grayson

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A Grand Affair

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.

Teachers Dress Dance in Walsh’s Ballroom in 1956

The Ballroom Photographer

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.

Autographed photo of Bridie Gallagher

Kathy Reynolds (Fitzmaurice), Oakham, Rutland, UK and previously Moybella, Lisselton.    

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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.

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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.

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Craftshop the Méar, Scoil Realt na Maidine



The River Lee, Cork in January 2020

Photo: Chris Grayson



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Feeling Nostalgic


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.

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Scoil Realt na Midine 1960



Tralee, The Phone Box and some Cork Street Art

Kingfisher

Photo: Chris Grayson

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Tralee


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.

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The phone box

Mattie Lennon

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.

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On a Cork Street


Teampall Bán, Danny O’Mahony, UCC Artist in Residence and Hurling in Cork, Wexford and Kildare

 Ballybunion Castle Green with flags in July 2019

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Sean and Killian in the Square

On a break from Irish College on Sunday July 28 2019, Sean and Killian returned with me to the scene of so many happy summer photos from their childhood.

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Everyone Should Visit Teampall Bán

Lest we ever forget

This peaceful, prayerful spot should be a place of pilgrimage and reflection for everyone.

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Danny O’Mahony, UCC Artist in Residence




It has been announced that button accordionist Danny O’Mahony is the new Traditional Artist in Residence at University College Cork for 2019/20. The residency, which is supported by the Arts Council, begins this September, with O’Mahony delivering a series of concerts and workshops over twelve months. The School of Film, Music and Theatre at UCC will host O’Mahony for the duration of the residency. 

O’Mahony grew up in Ballyduff, County Kerry. In 2011, he released his debut album In Retrospect, followed by a duet record with concertina player Mícheál Ó Raghallaigh, As it Happened, in 2012. In 2009, O’Mahony reestablished The Shannon Vale Céilí Band, which has since won the All-Ireland Senior Céilí Band title at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. O’Mahony also presents a weekly traditional music show on Radio Kerry, called Trip to the Cottage.

Speaking about his new appointment, O’Mahony said:

It is a great privilege to be supported by the Arts Council and University College Cork in being appointed Traditional Artist in Residence for 2019/2020. To engage in this creative and integral position within the Music Department of UCC is an honour. My vision for this residency will be to stimulate new interest in the music and traditions of North Kerry. The creative space and energy within UCC will also provide the ideal platform for my own arts practice.



Source; The Journal of Music online

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Hurling 2019



My travels at the weekend took me to four hurling mad counties.

In Kent station in Cork they have these Irish Examiner ads up on the walls in the waiting area. They serve as a useful glossary of hurling commentary.

I took the  below photo in Bunclody, Co. Wexford on the day Paul Galvin was announced as Wexford’s new football manager. Galvin, a skilled dual player might be a good fit for a county which seems to love its hurling a little more than its football at the moment.

My journey home took me through Thurles. The tidiest best kept train station I have had the pleasure of stopping a while in was flying Tipperary flags from every available point. Spot the hurler on the platform.  From the logo on his kit back it would appear that he is a Cork hurler.


Dandy Lodge, Peggy Sweeney, The Saltiest Water and a Corner Stone

The Dandy Lodge in Listowel Town Park. Beautiful window boxes in place for the upcoming Entente Florale judging.

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Harp and Lion

Restoration work has started on this great Listowel icon. I’m looking forward to seeing it restored to its former glory.

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Today’s Pearl of Wisdom from my Charity Shop “Find”

Is the world’s saltiest water in The Dead Sea?

No, it’s not, according to this fascinating book. The saltiest water in the world is in Don Juan Pond in the Dry Valleys of  north eastern Antartica. It’s also known as Lake Don Juan. It’s a tiny lake whose depth is only 6 inches. It’s water is so salty that it doesn’t freeze even though the air around it is -50C.

The water is a whopping 40% salt, more than twice as salty as The Dead Sea. The water in Don Juan didn’t come from the sky. It’s too cold and dry there for rain or snow. The water seeped up through the ground and the upper layer of water evaporated leaving this salty residue behind. The lake was only discovered in 1961.

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A Reminder of Slower Times


Patrick O’Shea, who had a Listowel mother, was curious to know what this is. He saw if at a junction in Cork and he asked Facebook what it could be. He learned that stones like these were placed at the entrance to lanes and small roads to prevent horse drawn carriages from riding over the corner of the nearby building and wearing it away. The corner stone forced the horse to swing wide into the entrance and to take a straight path into the side road.

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Peggy Sweeney



When I posted this photo of Peggy and her family a while ago, Mattie Lennon saw it and remembered a lovely piece that he had written about Peggy and her relationship with the great Seán MacCarthy. Mattie sends us the piece here and I’m going to give it to you in two instalments.

Peggy will be singing the songs of Seán MacCarthy at the memorial weekend on the August bank holiday in Finuge…well worth a visit.

What could I say about Peggy?
Nothing but the truth.
I loved her songs and her singing
I heard away back in my youth.
Her songs were food to my Soul
Her voice was a thrill to my ear.
I loved her then as a child,
It was mutual and sincere.

I love her today as a friend
And the memories shared together.
Her songs still lift my soul
Like the lark warbling o’er the heather.
What can I say about Peggy?
Thanks for the joy she has given.
Blest be the dawn of our friendship
When Peggy was only seven. —-
Dan Keane

The above, written in perfect Copperplate, was handed to me by octogenarian Kerry poet Dan Keane when I told him I was writing a piece about Peggy Sweeney.

When I met and talked to the singer herself she spoke in equally glowing terms of Dan. But, then, she struck me as the kind of person who would have great difficulty speaking unkindly of anyone. Any mild criticism of a fellow human being seemed to be invariably followed by. “Ah … he (or she) is alright”.

Peggy was born in Rathea, Co. Kerry, the second youngest of seven children.

My hinted request for a D.O.B. [Date Of Birth] was met with Kerry specificness; “In the second half of the last century”.

When I point out that David Mamet, in his book True and False, claims that nobody with a happy childhood ever went into show business the tumultuous reply is like the Smearla river in flood. I am left in no doubt about her happy childhood, despite the fact that her father died when she was only six. Her grandfather was a very good fiddle player and by the time Peggy was a year-and-a-half old she was able to hum the tunes that he played for her. Her father was a dancing teacher and her mother, a beautiful singer, (who was very much a woman before her time), taught her all her songs.

She emphasizes that she grew up in a house of laughter, song and dance “which brought us all a long way, the day wasn’t half long enough for us and if I had to do it all over again I’d do the very same thing”.

Peggy can, in the words of Thomas Prior, ” … answer to the truth of a song”. When she sings “Rathea In County Kerry” written for her by cousin, Brian Burke, you get an example of that.

When I think of the days that once I spent
In the hills of County Kerry
Those happy days before I went
And took the Holyhead ferry.
Well we danced and we sang
‘Til the morning shone shone,
Though my grief I try to bury
For our lives were free in good company
In Rathea in County Kerry.

A story emanating from the Presentation Convent in Listowel has a two-pronged connection with W.B. Yeats (first it brings to mind his line:” I made my song a coat”). When Sister Austin asked Peggy to recite “The Sally Gardens” the quietly confident child recited a line or two and got stuck; only to then volunteer, ” I can’t recite it Sister … .but I will sing it”.

From an early age she competed. But competition is not her forte and she says: “I had to compete.” Adding modestly, “I won a couple of All-Irelands with the Lixnaw branch of Comltas”.

She competed, as a member of Scor, and left unbeaten in Kerry or Munster and believing that competition destroys the love of singing. “When I reached the age where I didn’t have to compete any more that’s when I really enjoyed singing”. 

More tomorrow.

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A Poignant Tarbert Story


from Tarbert.ie on Facebook

Tarbert.ie posted this photo with the following caption;

In 1985 a man was waiting for the Ferry in Tarbert when a group of children spotted he had a camera and asked him to take a picture of them…. the result was the below picture! 

He kept it safe over the next almost 35 years and now wants to reunite it with its subjects! 


Jennifer Scanlan saw the photo, recognised her brothers and their friends and solved the mystery;


The children are Derek R.I.P and Thomas OGorman with their friends, brother and sister, Josephine and Thomas.

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