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Frost and Holly

December morning 2022


Still More Photos from the Garda Centenary


Bringing Home the Holly

As he trains for his next race, David Kissane ruminates about times gone by when Christmas outings had a different purpose but were no less gruelling.

Dec 11 2022

The road to the Hill…Now read on

Bringing the Holly

                                                By David Kissane

Bang! My father’s bike got punctured just outside the University. The University of Lisselton. 

This is the first thing that comes into my mind this frosty morning as I head to Banna, driving very carefully, to do a 10K walk ahead of the national 10K road championship in Dublin next Sunday. I gingerly get out of the van and head for the safety of the sands. What a beautiful morning! Crisp and clear and honest above the head. After a week struggling with a man flu and no voice, this is like a dash to freedom with four layers of tops, all gloved up and a raw hunger. In our house, I have tried to get man flu defined as a serious ailment. With no success. 

I settle into a race-walk mode and transition from flu to fluency. I recall the burst ball in the England v France World Cup quarter final last night and decide that was what spurred the memory of my father’s burst tube on a frosty day in December 1965.

You may never have heard of Lisselton. If you’ve heard of Jason Foley, 2022 GAA All-Star full back, then it may help to know he is from Lisselton in the Parish of Ballydonoghue. You may not have known there was a university in Lisselton. Most people definitely won’t know that fact. In December 1965 when my father’s front tube went bang, there was a university in Lisselton. Before MTU, Tralee. It’s a long story. Well, it’s a short story really!

There was a well-established Christmas custom in our house. On the Sunday after December 8th since he was a young man, my father would head off on his trusty Raleigh to bring home the holly. It was no short journey. From the side of Cnoc an Fhómhair to the source of the holly, Sallow Glen near Tarbert was a fair distance. Thirteen hill and dale miles there and thirteen dale and hill miles back in the dark of the December night. 

He had worked on Hanlon’s farm near Sallow Glen when he was in his twenties. He fell in love around the area and the green and lush wood was to be his pre-Christmas pilgrimage every year. I always thought it was about more than holly, although holly was an essential part of the decorations at a time when Christmas trees were not a custom and fairy lights were yet to shine on our hill.

Initially my uncle Mike used to cycle with my father on these pilgrimages. My brothers had been allowed to accompany him on his Noelly journey later while I, as the youngest in the family, had to watch them go and await an eternity of their return with the red and green magic. My sisters did not qualify to share the journey. It was a man thing.

And then came the first day of December 1965 and the announcement by my father that I was to share the journey with him. I was twelve years old. I became a boy-man that day.

I had become the owner of a second-hand bike the previous summer. My brother Seán tells me that he gave me the £5 note that purchased the bike-animal from Mickeen Lynch in Killomeroe. (There are many advantages in being the baby of the family. Older siblings gave you things.) 

There was a smile on Mickeen’s face when he handed over the bike. A Hercules. By name and nature. A tank of an animal made more for war than peace. So high, I had to cycle by placing one of my legs underneath the bar and leave the saddle redundant. A piece of contortionistic twisting that possible stretched muscle and bone for football and athletics in later years. A balancing act ideal for discus throwing. A weird thing to look at, though and I became a cycling legend on our hill before my time.

So the day came. The voyage of St Brendan of Ardfert to America or that of Maol Dún of Irish folklore would hardly equal the heady level of expectation on that December Sunday. Home from early mass, my father made his version of ham sandwiches. Usually my mother did all the food in our house but the holly day was all male. When I say ham sandwiches, I really mean an inch layer of butter on each slice of home-made mixed bread with three thick slices of ham nestling in between. A pig in between two bread vans, my father called it.

Off we headed down the hill after my mother had drowned us both, especially me in holy water from the blue font inside out front door. Left at the bridge and on to the better road and then “bang!” as that puncture happened. My father uttered a strange new word of a semi-religious nature that I hadn’t heard before. I was indeed growing up now that he would allow me to listen to his secret language. Luckily, the tyre/tube explosion had happened outside Moss Enright’s house. The University of Lisselton. 

Every Sunday and holy days of obligation after second mass, the young bucks of the Parish of Ballydonoghue (of which Lisselton was once the centre) would gather in this small thatched intimate two-roomed cottage. The owner, Moss Enright was a blind man who never saw the changing colours of the hill above but could see into your soul. He lived alone but on Sundays his house became a rambling house for the teen and early twenties – boys and young men only. The house acquired the name of “The College”. Later it was upgraded to university status. Why? Well apparently a lot of learning went on there. Mainly about boy-girl relations. There were rumours of The News of the World being read there which had pictures and stories that were not in The Kerryman. Fellas who didn’t know certain things were asking questions and getting answers. Interesting answers. Sometimes slightly exaggerated by the wily older “lecturers”. What, where, how and when was the first word in many of the questions and the expressions “hayshed”, “liquor is quicker” and “jiggy jig” seemed to occur quite a lot. Allegedly. Mothers raised their heads and looked down their noses and rooted for their rosary beads when Moss Enright’s house was mentioned. 

And the fact that young fellas went there after second mass seemed a special affront to the strict ethos of the world that we thought we knew. The culture of unspeakability was in force. 

My father had a decision to make. Seek help in the den of iniquity or turn back home. I think he may have blessed himself as he made the fateful decision, quickly enough. I concurred. No knocking in those days. My father lifted the latch and walked in. I could hear the devil giggling in front of the fires of hell as we entered the small living room which was half the house. The smell of turf from Ballyegan bog in the fire to our right had a devilish aura about it. I distinctly remember a voice breaking off in the middle of a sentence that had “mini-skirt” in it and then a silence fell. Male eyes looked at my father and then at me. They ate our presence. They were all seated on the sugán chairs which Moss himself made. He could see with his carpenter’s hands.

I was about to bolt when Moss asked “Who’s there?” He guessed from the silence that we were not regulars and my father said “Moss, my bike…” and Moss immediately said “Jim Kissane, come in and sit down!” And before we knew it, four or five fellas were turning the bike upside down and applying sharp-smelling solution to the tube and lighting a match to heat it and applying a patch and soon we were on the road again.

They may have been dancing with the devil, but they could certainly fix a puncture.

As we thanked them and left, I was endowed with awe as to how the story of the mini skirt developed and what the question was that gave it substance. I did look back once. At the little sash window of wonder that looked south to Lisselton Cross. A lookback of pre-memory. 

I was to look back many times like that in my life-post-Lisselton University.

Onward we pedalled, right at Gunn’s Cross and left just below it at Lyre Cross and up Boland’s Hill. Past Fitz’s shop on the right that supplied groceries to the local population of Farnastack and beyond since before the Emergency, otherwise known as World War 2. Our family had shopped there with the ration books which ensured a measure of tea and sugar and flour. Most times. People on our hill sometimes went without the basics while the world powers rattled bullets at each other. The price of neutrality, or being a small nation. There was always torching for birds at night or the turnips or the hens and ducks which were sacrificed for the bare kitchen tables. 

But now it was 1965 and the world was different. We had butter and ham sandwiches to look forward to. 

We had to dismount near the top of Boland’s Hill and my father reminded me of the famous local poet, Robert Leslie Boland who once resided there. A local poet who wrote like Keats when necessary. He also wrote a sonnet about piles. The only poet in the world to write a poem about piles. Apparently he had to write it while standing up. He also wrote a poem about Brown and Mageen who had owned a shop long gone by the 1960s. He was yet to be recognised as a major poet by the ones who think they know. 

On the farm also on our left was the stone structure of Boland’s Loft. Another den of iniquity, my father said with a new trust in my cognitive capacity. He was telling me a story rather than preaching. Dances took place when the loft was empty. Priests tried to close it down because men and women came together there. Dancing was a dangerous thing and priests had been told by their mothers, the church and by their superiors that dancing meant hell. I tried to figure this out and concluded temporarily that all good things were sinful. It was only one pm and already life was becoming incredibly interesting.

My brain was purring as we remounted our iron horses just after Boland’s Quarry which had supplied stones for local roads. To our right was another quarry across the fields, Lyons’s Quarry. 

“I worked there myself” my father said and he added that a rat had run up the leg of a worker’s trousers while he was sitting down to his lunch. “What happened then?” I asked with wide eyes in the frosty air.

 “The rat came down again…there wasn’t much to see there!” he quipped and I reddened while interpreting that one. 

Onward past Guhard and Tullahinell, along uncertain narrow roads where I had never been before. I was informed of a Healy man who married one of my aunts on a farm here in Tullahinell and who was buried somewhere in England. The story in between was not revealed so I nodded silently as my nose began to run with the cold. Cycling doesn’t really warm you up, I said to my father and he silently agreed. 

As we cycled down towards Ahanagran Cross, the blue Shannon revealed itself to the north and soon we were in Ballylongford. 

“We can’t leave with the curse of the village” my father declared as he jumped off his bike outside a public house on the right. Before I could ask the meaning of that, we had entered the pub and I was told to sit on the high stool at the bar. Another first. I distinctly recall the smell of porter and pub that pervaded. A conversation started between my father and the few others who were having an after-mass drink (what time did mass finish in Bally?) and a glass of sparkling Nash’s lemonade was placed in front of me by the barman who sensed he had another new possible customer. 

With refreshed heads, we headed out of Ballylongford and onward to Sallow Glen, past Lios Laughtin Abbey where we stopped to pray for a silent moment. Before I could ask why, my father was already on his bike.

The first sight of the wood was enthralling. A place of mystery and verdant cover with all sort of possibilities and holly somewhere. In those days, it was not an issue to go through a farm or a wood and pick holly. My father had warned me that he would pick the first holly when we found it. He would ensure that he would show me how to cut it properly so that twice the amount of produce would grow on that branch next year. He had warned me also that he had come there a few rare years and found no red berry holly at all…an October frost had enticed the birds to eat every berry they could find. This challenged my confidence until we started searching. 

We were searching for a long time. An hour passed as we wove through brambles, briars and branches, but all green and brown. Not a berry in sight. A briar with a sting like a wasp tore through the back of my hand as exhaustion and despair knocked on my heart’s door. My father examined the wound and spit on his hanky and rubbed the blood off. I guessed he was not impressed with my undernourished enthusiasm or my dipping stamina. I had to follow the leader to be safe. I had visions of being abandoned and lost for years in the bowels of Sallow Glen. Eating berries, if they could be found and wood bark and ciarógs. Drinking water from the stream that rippled somewhere on its way to the Shannon. Emerging from the wood as a hairy old man, unable to express myself, filthy and smelly and making animal sounds. A bit like after finishing a marathon…

And there it was! All of a sudden, a huge holly tree stood majestically before us, a riot of red and green. 

“A Mhuire Mháthair!” my father exclaimed. My eyes opened to the gift which Sallow Glen had bestowed on us. He had told me stories on winter nights about the Celts worshipping trees, about Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna having adventures in the great forests in the days of old. Now I believed him. I swear to God that at that moment the low December sun shone through an opening in the wood and lit up the holly tree and turned it into an altar of light, a fire of nature and a blessing and an affirmation that we had found the holy grail. He blessed himself and so did I. 

I watched him take out his pen-knife and lovingly accept the small branchlet of scarlet berried wonder from the tree. It felt more like the tree was gifting it to him. Then he motioned to me to take out my little excalibur-not of a pen knife that I had bought in Behan’s shop at Lisselton Cross and gently showed me how to accept the holly. I thought I was in the presence of a spirit and was uplifted and enthralled and almost said thank you to the tree.

Years later the experience would be replicated in other sharing moments. It started in Sallow Glen.

Then , when I was still under the spell, my father said “enough”. I opened my mouth to say “more” but he raised his finger and shook it towards my brain. That was that. Like all good experiences, less was more.

The eating of the well-buttered sandwiches and the cold tea from the bottles on a fallen tree trunk, untouched by time, was magic. We ate in silence as in the bog or after a rare experience. A robin came right up to us to check out why we had invited ourselves to his/her wood. We threw a few crumbs and there was the beam of low sharp sunlight breaking through again and shining right in the little bird’s eyes. I was able to see the colours of his middle eye and I think I became a half robin at that moment. That day just kept on giving.

As I rose from the tree trunk full of everything, my father said “Hang on a minute”. I sat back down silently. He shifted his hat on his head and said emotionally “You know the graveyard in Lios Laughtin that we passed on the way here?”

“Yeah” I said lowly. 

“Well”, he stated with a fierce sincerity “you have a little brother who is buried there. He was only four. I think of him when we come this way for the holly. I think he knows it too”.

I had heard silences and broken conversations at home when death had been mentioned and might even have decided not to remember such things. But I heard it now. And I was to remember it.

We went over to the bikes and secured our barts of holly on the carriers. The weight of the moment was lifted when my father failed to get his leg over the bart of holly on the carrier of the bike and fell over in a heap. Cue the laughing by us both…but I had to wait till he laughed first!

My father was never the same, but he was always himself. 

Soon we were back on our bikes and heading back the thirteen starry miles home, partly by a different road. Despite the shine of a possible frost on the narrow road, a gratitude attitude pervaded my being. What threads were making up the fabric of that day! The sun set at this stage as December suns don’t hang around and a chilly breeze faced us from the north west. I felt warm inside though, happy to be here and not always wanting to be there.

When we passed Moss Enright’s later, the house was dark and Moss was asleep in his own darkness. I wondered what inner luminosity his dreams bestowed with the visions he got from the words of others. Of the visions supplied by his gifted carpenter’s hands. Or the deeper visions given only to those who are blind.

I looked up the hill and whispered to Moss, and to my lost brother, the first words that came into my head. A sky of stars, the plough pointing to the north star, lights in Kennelly’s, Linnane’s, Henchy’s, Kissane’s, Healy’s, Sullivan’s, Lynch’s, Linnane’s, Deenihan’s, Bambury’s and Barry’s houses. And Christmas was coming. 

Now I am back on Banna with the 10K nearly done. People are basking in the December 2022 sun. Damien and Adrienne McLoughlin wave as they pass…a lot of athletics knowledge in the McLoughlin house. The huge success of the Irish cross country squad in the European championships in the past few hours in Turin is mentioned. Then two young women raise their arms to the sun as they pass by and kiss each other. Moss Enright would have smiled behind his closed seeing eyes. Unknown people like him helped to create the open world we have in Ireland in 2022 and beyond. It can’t be an accident that Kerry rhymes with merry! A normal Sunday for most of us and later we will say that we didn’t do much today. The writer Montagne would comment “You say you have done nothing today…have you not lived?”.

Last week we put the name of Joseph Kissane on a new headstone on the family plot. A bright and crisp Sunday lies ahead. My 69th Christmas on earth is coming too and next Sunday I will walk the walk in Dublin for our little brother Joseph who never saw his 5th Christmas.


Athea at Christmas 2022

Photo: Athea Tidy Towns


GAA and More

Listowel Courthouse and Library in July 2022


Planning Your Weekend?

Two local festivals are back in full swing next weekend. Here are the details.


The GAA is all about Family

Pic: Kerry GAA Fans Facebook page

There are some families that are steeped in GAA lore. Football is in the DNA of OSés, Griffins, Cliffords etc etc. But Pat Spillane’s farewell speech has to be the most poignant reminder of how much winning an All Ireland medal can mean even to families who have biscuit tins full of them under beds.

“My father never saw us play. The three sons have 19 All-Ireland medals and his two grandsons today, Killian and Adrian, have two more. He would have been a proud man, 21 senior All-Ireland football medals brought in to his house. It’s just a special day. A special day.”


Stephen Fernane in this week’s Kerryman tells us why he also remembers his father on Ireland final day.

Photo; BBC Sport

Ogie Clifford in the Sam Maguire cup with his father, David, and his uncle, Paudie in Croke Park on Sunday, July 24 2022.


Summers Past

“…Oh, for the touch of a vanished hand,

Or the sound of a voice that is still….”

This lovely photo is from The Irish Examiner archive. It was taken in a meadow in Wilton in Cork but it could be anywhere in Ireland in the 1950s and 60s.

I remember the gallon of tea and the sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper from a sliced pan.


Obituary to a Man who Kept Lartigue History Safe

by David Kissane for The Ballydonoghue Parish Magazine

The Ballydonoghue Parish Magazine was saddened by the death recently of one of its original members, Mick Barry of Ballingown. Mick was an advertisement for mental and physical vigour, with a curious mind and a challenging nature.Well into his 90s, he had a long and interesting life, spent mostly on his farm in Ballingown where his father had passed away when Mick was quite young.

He was well rooted in his own townland and parish, and knew every inch and every person in the locality. He fulfilled many roles in his long lifetime, from farmer to enginerer to mechanic to historian to taxi driver to husband to father to grandfather to philosopher to much more.

He was a fear iol-dánach, a man for all seasons of human life. He was a valued companion of his friend John B Keane, a writer who valued the Kerryness of Mick. Mick contributed this Kerryness to his work with Listowel Writers Week and the Ballydonoghue Parish Magazine. His creativity was displayed on many occasions in his membership of the latter, creating the concept of the photo-story where he took an old photo and generated an article about the people in it, the time it was taken and the latent emotive potential around it. In times of doubt and division at a meeting, he could unentangle the algebra of issues and cast light on the possible road ahead.

An hour spent in Mick’s company always became three hours as he had the ability and nous to draw one into the fresh pastures of his tales, memories and histories. He was also, of course a humorous man and a rogue when it suited! A twinkle in his eye at the start of a story meant that his listener was going nowhere fast.

He was inspired by many things in the parish around him, not least the sulphur green and the bottle green and the lime green and the sea green of the Hill that looked down on him sometimes under a cobalt blue sky. He had the sunny side of that Hill as his first vista every morning, drawing a deep energising breath as he indulged his eyes over its raw and changing face for over 90 years. It was under that Hill that he recreated a section of the Lartigue Train to relive the Lartigue experience of the late 1800s and early 1900s, to the amazement and delight of neighbours like Páidín Roche and Joe Kennelly.

To see Mick in the company of his late wife Sheila at a meeting or on a night out was to experience a team of two who worked well together. They added a colour and texture to many a Lisselton night. Together they rinsed the mundane from many a flat ordinary occasion and rendered it special with a half smile, a knowing nod or a ripened word.

The BPM offers its sincere sympathy to the Barry family.


Jerry Kiernan Commemorated

Photo credit; Éamon ÓMurchú in The Silent Valley, Co. Down


Jerry Kiernan Plaque

Jimmy Moloney, Mayor of Kerry unveiled a plaque to Jerry Kiernan. The late Jerry was probably Listowel’s greatest athlete.

Jerry Kiernan’s sons with Jimmy Moloney, Mayor of Kerry
Family and friends who attended the unveiling.


Morning has Broken

by David Kissane

Memories of the summer of 1972 concluded


There were a few breakout occasions in those last days in St Michael’s College. There was one Saturday, never talked about “publicly” since, which brings a smile to the eyes even now. Especially now. A week before the curtain came down on our classes. A history lecture was announced for Leaving Cert students and it meant a trip to Tralee. A bus was organised and the craic was good. Freedom was in the air. We arrives a bit early for the afternoon lecture and someone suggested that a visit to a pub to get a sandwich might be an idea. A sub-group of us headed that way. Others went a more reliable direction. 

A sandwich was the extent of food service in most pubs in those days. Unfortunately Perri crisps were the only item on the lunch menu that Saturday and someone said that his mother took Guinness for nourishment. A nod was as good as a drink so glasses of Guinness were ordered nervously. The barman considered all of us to be of reasonable age. Which most of us were in those days. It is reported that a clear liquid like Poitín was produced at some stage but history does not record that fact.

Suffice it to say that we were a little late for the lecture. It was a very good lecture though, on early modern Irish history, and history took on a new and stirring atmosphere that afternoon. Under the influence of alcohol on tender brains. The Nine Years’ War was never fought so clearly and the Great O’Neill became greater. When the lecture was over and questions were solicited, the standard of questioning by some of our group was exceptional. What did the wives do while the men were away fighting the English? What would an Irish leader say to rev up his men before a battle? Did Queen Elizabeth really fancy Grace O’Malley? And Henry the Eight…well we went to town on him!

In the end, the lecturer praised our corner (at the back of the room) on the quality of our interest in history and the depth of our knowledge. He said history was safe in our hands. We nodded and embraced the applause.

Some of us took notes on the lecture. They were written in a script not known up to then. Like thorny wire that had been over-run by a mad bull.

The sting in the tail came when the pub gang missed the bus home – in those days, five o’clock was five o’clock – and it was very late that night when I staggered in home.

My father had a look at me the following noon and commented that another great battle had been lost in Irish history. I appreciated his analysis. 

On the following Monday, our history teacher likewise praised our interest in the lecture and wryly added, with a trademark wink, “And I’d say Kissane and friends learned a bit more than history on Saturday last!”

I recalled with gratitude that comment when I attended his funeral thirty years later. Rest in peace Mr Molyneaux Junior.

Earlier, during the Lent of that year, there was the trip out to the annual retreat to the Redemptorists in Limerick. Always a good occasion for discussions and evaluation, the few days were a welcome break from class routine and we never felt that religion was being forced on us. Well it was 1972. A visit downtown one evening, perhaps without permission by a group of us, caused a bit of a stir but was handled positively by the brothers, who engaged with us and our moderate rebellistic intentions.

But again we missed the bus home and had to thumb the coast road on a wet and cold March afternoon. Light in the soul but heavy in the body.


No awards night in 1972. No graduation ceremony. We ended classes on the Friday before the exams began and there was a guarded feeling of “yahoo!”. After all, the big test was yet to come. But as a group of us walked freely down Church St for the first time with no classes around the corner, I recall Neil Brosnan singing “Mammy Blue” and there was a lyrical quality in our gait. We were sailing to Byzantium with a new version of ourselves and when the Convent girls passed us going the other direction – how come the Convent girls always seemed to be going in the other direction! – a vague and exciting hope was dripping from the Listowel air.

Then the isolation of the few days before the first exam and the worry of have we done enough and where are my maths notes and I’ve forgotten all my Keats quotes and steel guitar strings pinged nervously in our backbones and huge butterflies grew in our stomachs and soon the exams were over and then an explosion out the gate and down into town. 

A few of the previous year’s Leaving Certs had adopted the fashion of getting their hair permed. I decided to go for it after a lot of “willIwontImaybeIwill” indecision. Eventually I made up my mind to have the perm done that last day of second level education. My then flowing locks (where are they now!) had gone wild in the daily cycle to the school bus and back. It’s amazing the amount of flies and midges that could get stuck in long hair. The only challenge was it had to be done in a hairdresser’s  – ie, a women’s hairdressing salon. No barber would do that sort of thing. In fact, barbers didn’t like fellas who let their hair grow. For obvious reasons. 

I excused myself from the gang and headed into a hairdresser’s in Church Street to have the hair-curling experience. Opened the door and four women turned towards me from their perming and locked me in their gaze. A variety of curlers on their heads. Their eyes went right through my resolve. I felt like Moses at a disco. “What can I do for you?” the hairdresser asks, with a wink at her customers. “Ah, I have the wrong shop!” I blurted and made a hasty retreat back to the boys outside Flavin’s Bookshop, making some excuse to them about no bookings available. Hallo real life. Gulp.

I was going to retain the fuzz for that summer of ’72 and for some summers afterwards. With the help of hairspray it learned to lie down for short periods but more often than not, it retained a spirit of its own and ran free around the ears. And beyond. Upwards and outwards. It was a hairy time indeed to be alive in 1972. 

We went in somewhere for a bite to eat and didn’t seem to hang around town too long. For a classmate, Mike Bambury and myself, it was down to Kennelly’s travel and book tickets for the boat from Dún Laoire to Holyhead for two days later. No other students were doing anything like that and it was a magic feeling. I had a sister in Birmingham who would put us up for the summer. I had already spent two summers working there so the confidence cup was brimming and the teaspach was high. 

                                                  Bridge Between Two Worlds

And so the very next day the two of us started thumbing a lift in Listowel, right outside St Michael’s College, our Cape Canaveral of take-off. We looked in the gate, past the apple trees then in their June bloom and up the window of the classroom most of us would never see again. Funny old feeling it was. We didn’t realise it fully then, but in that moment, looking in at the College, we were standing on a bridge between two of our worlds. The world behind us, of being a student and the world ahead of being an alumnus. There were already bridges crossed, and many more to come. Sometimes these bridges are hidden from us as we cross them and don’t reveal themselves for years. Crossing from the early morning cycle down the hill and the yellow bus and walks up Church Street and Roly Chute’s shop and  the old wooden desks and the sport and the ambling lunchtimes and the return home and the chat on the bus and the walk up the hill and the homework and the notes.

In that moment of tranquility we were subsumed inwards to the echoing stairs, to the ring of the hand-bell that was rung between classes, to the buzzing classroom, to the teachers who had kept the faith of believing in the art of teaching life through subjects and sport and activities. The five years spent in the college concertina-ed together in one packaged ball of memories. The fusion of the dark days when we went to school with burdens with the days of illumination and progress. The search-for-identity days and the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnell days. And the nights in between. All flowing together now and ready for the next stage over the Moon River we crossed at that moment. The mundane and routine were to become exotic and special. 

I don’t know if we said goodbye or thanks to any of our teachers in the weeks before, on the final day of either class or exams. If we didn’t, we quietly thanked them now in our minds for being educational ambassadors to us.

While we were trying to resolve the paradox of these rushing feelings that June day, one of the teachers came walking past, enjoying his summer holidays and asked us where we were off to. “Birmingham!” we declared in unison. He checked if we were serious and when the truth dawned, he said “Fair play to ye. Good luck lads!” and walked on down past the sports field and the graveyard. 

We thought of our class-mates who had walked out the gates of the College for the last time that June of 1972 who visualised their own pathways ahead. We had a hierarchy of individual needs and expectations as all students finishing their second level classes this week of June 2022 have: a secure career, to walk on the Great Wall of China, to own a house, to build a business, to own a castle, to create something fulfilling, to win an All Ireland medal, to find love…

We would be tumbled and humbled and rebuilt many time in the years ahead but for the first time in our lives, the town and the College seemed like a small place. 

It was that day we left the Listowel and the St Michael’s that we had known for five years. Forever. 

                                                              Thumbs Away

Thumbs out and we got a lift quickly and were in Limerick in a few hours. God be with the days of thumbing lifts! The stories and the characters and the legends. 

Into Limerick and searched the streets knocked on a bed and breakfast door and got a double room to save money and on with the bell-bottoms and orange shirts. Combed the fuzzy hair as best we could and out on the town with a couple of girls whom we had met in the Gaeltacht the previous summer and a rocking night was had by all. 

Train to Dublin the next day with fuzz inside the heads as well as outside and the “boat” to Holyhead that night.

And then came the summer of our lives. Morning had broken indeed all of fifty years ago.


A Few More from Writers’ Week 2022

This is the team who kept the show on the road at LWW 2022

Claire Keegan won the big prize at this year’s festival. Her lovely little book, Small Things Like These won the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year.

Gabriel Fitzmaurice accepted his Lifetime Achievement Award from Evan Mc Auliffe on behalf of the sponsor, Lyrath Estate


Then and Now on William Street

Wangs 2007

Moloney McCarthy Accountants



Galvin’s of William Street


Mr. Jiggs

This is Mr, Jiggs happily grazing in his field in Kanturk. He didn’t win any competitions ( He didn’t enter any). He is included in the blog today because it’s summer, a slow news day and he is an auld pet.


More St. Michael’s Memories from 1972

Morning has Broken by David Kissane

What a different world it was in May 1972! The carnivals were in full swing and some of our class went to Finuge Carnival to have a fling before the exam. Some even got lucky! They said. And others pushed it to the limit and took one of the many buses that shunted to the dance in Shanagolden on Saturday May 20th. Some craic on that bus on the way there. Bigger craic on the way home. Even a few students headed for the “Gay Bachelor Festival” in Ballybunion during the Leaving Cert to help alleviate the stress of revision. Yeah right. 

And there was the 13th of May fair in Listowel. An ancient event no doubt inspired by the festival of Bealtaine. The fire-festival of Baal. Horse dung and life all over Market Street. Women who still wore scarves, even shawls and men who wore caps and spit on their palms and bought and sold. Visits to the Bargain Stores and Cavendish’s. Echoes of Kavanagh’s “shops and stalls and markets and the Oriental streets”. Child of Prague statues and duffel coats and a glass of Guinness in Stack’s Hotel. Chats in The Sheebeen. 

The balladian beauty of a fair day. The exotic came to town.

We watched it all on our way down to the school bus in the evening. 

Listowel Writers’ Week was also coming to life in that year and John B Keane and Bryan MacMahon were to the forefront in the town where big crowds were gathering for the novel festival. Some day, I said to myself…but I recall spending a half-day-off down by the river rather than attending any of the festival’s talks, in the belief that you need something to write about before you can write about it!

And what about the clothes we fellas wore both at school and after. No uniforms. Boots if we could afford them under bright-coloured bell-bottom trousers and orange-coloured shirts with massive collars. Ties straight from Woodstock akin to the wildflower gardens of today. Peace man! Polo-necks and tank tops were a speciality. The polo-necks were a divil in a sweaty ballroom. The heat rushed up to the neck and had nowhere to escape. Thank god for the Hai Karate anti-perspirant. Strong as a horse it was but a right hoor for attracting doctor bees if you laid down in a meadow of a Sunday afternoon. Then there was the hair! Long and wide and directionless. Like furze bushes on a windy night. Side-locks that would sweep out the stall for you. 

                                                     Outside the Walls

While study was more in our minds than most other things in the latter months of our second level education, we were glued to our one-channel TVs for major news events. The deaths of 13 people in Derry on Bloody Sunday on January 30th was a riveting event and was discussed in our class at length. A suggestion by one student that we should organise a protest fell on deaf ears. Too avant-garde for the majority. Mr Rochford organised a class debate sometime later and the event gave us the opportunity to hone our argumentative edges. A rare and educational avenue which put riches in our store. 

The debates on Ireland joining the European Economic Community was a little prolonged for any dramatic focus by our heat-seeking mental faculties, but it did broaden our horizons, although 6,ooo plus people in North Kerry wanted to change the future by voting against joining Europe in the referendum that May. Interesting. Raidió na Gaeltachta was launched that year and, being a possible topic for an essay, was devoured with gratitude. Apollo 16 landed on the moon (no big surprise) in April. Black September terrorists. The Vietnam War reached an emotional peak for much of the world, and for us as we sat down to our Leaving Cert exams, when the Associated Press photographer Nick Ut takes his Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a naked 9-year-old Phan Thị Kim Phúc running down a road after being burned by the chemical napalm. The Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty was signed between the US and Russia – it is not forgotten by our age-group what a real threat nuclear war had been up to then. 

A world of hope and fear. Was it ever otherwise.


P.J. Kenny and Street Leagues

This photograph is from 1927. It shows the Greenville team, winners of the McGrath Cup. Street leagues go back a long way in Listowel.

Mr. P.J. Kenny’s name is synonymous with the organising of street leagues in more recent times. P.J. continued his involvement with the leagues in Scoil Realta na Maidine, even after his retirement from teaching.

On Monday last, June 20 2022 the school honoured his huge commitment with the presentation of an engraved vase and a special cake.

The teams that contest the leagues nowadays represent The Boro, The Ashes, The Gleann and The Country.

The 2022 senior league was won by The Boro

Ogie Scanlon was the winner of the Brendan Guiney Cup. The cup was presented by the late Brendan’s sister, Rose, and brother, Jim.


A Poem


Writers Week, Horses and More

Convent Street Clinic, June 2022


Listowel Writers’ Week Opening Night 2022

Catherine Moylan was an excellent M.C. for Writers’ Week Opening Night. She told stories, entertained, thanked and presented. Opening Night can easily slide into a long list of names and presentations. Not so on June 1 2022.

Dominic West brought a bit of Hollywood glamour to the occasion. He wasn’t in Listowel as a big star though. He was here as one of our own. We were left in no doubt that he was hugely honoured to open a festival once headed up by his father in law.

There was a great variety in the entertainment offerings on the night. We had traditional music and dance from Celtic Steps.

At the other end of the scale was this mellow voiced local singer


More from 1970s St. Michael’s

Morning has Broken by David Kissane continued;


It was rare enough in our Leaving Cert Year to have classroom visitors but one notable visitor was Bishop Eamonn Casey. He was a man with an huge presence and a confidence and twinkle in his eye which was hugely influential. He didn’t stand at the top of the class: he came down the middle and sat on our desk, with a “push in there a bit, lads!” to Michael Carmody and myself. He rolled up his sleeves and I remember his hairy arms swimming in animated gestures as he enthralled us with his wisdom.

“Take stock every now and again, lads!” he advised as he closed his mighty fist enthusiastically. We would have followed him to the end of the world at that moment and we would be into our adulthood before we heard of his affair with a woman and its subsequent domino effect. Many of us still remember him as an outstanding human being. The paradox of Irish life. The paradox of life.

Another visitor that final year was the examiner from the primary teacher-training college to evaluate our singing abilities. We had been receiving voice-training from a kindly nun at the Convent (we treasured those visits to the Convent!) for some of us it was asking the impossible. In fairness to her, she never told any of us that we couldn’t sing. On the day of the test, in I went to the little room at the top of the stairs while a few students waited outside for their turn. “Now sing “The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls”’ the prim examiner requested. The walls were thin and my voice was thinner and I started in a key that was above the door and I could hear the boyos tittering outside and I forgot the second line and I made up my own words with a hint of rap to the age-old Thomas Moore song and it was like trying to take a goldfish for a walk and the examiner sympathetically asked me to “please stop”! If he had only asked me to sing my version of “Morning Has Broken” or “Without You” by Neillson or “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash! All big at the time. 

The test confirmed that I would never top the charts! But many of my classmates did pass the test on their way to careers in primary teaching. I would have to stick with my always-number-one-choice of secondary teaching where I could sing whatever I liked in and out of class.


The sporting pages of my dreams were wiped bare those last months in St Michael’s. The last action for me as a footballer was for the College senior team earlier in the spring. Honoured to be appointed captain for the first Munster Colleges competition. It was also the last action. We lost by a point in Tarbert GAA pitch to a Clare side. Possibly Kilrush CBS. Annoyed as I had scored two goals for the first time of my life in a competitive game. I was no Páidí Ó Sé who was to star for the college later. Most of the team I had soldiered with for the previous two years, bringing two county medals, had gone their destined ways: Jerry Kiernan, Jimmy Deenihan, Mick O’Connell, Tim Kennelly, Tommy Flaherty and more were not easily replaced. Good teams were to follow, though. Johnny O’Flaherty and John Molyneaux were to create winning sides again after we had been scattered to the four winds. 

Worse was to gallop like a wild horse towards me six weeks before the Leaving Cert. It happened on a Saturday evening when I was flattened in a junior football game. I got a good feel for the Moyvane GAA field that evening, especially when my face was left smelling the grass after a clash with a man older in years and stronger physique. Broken collar bone bent ribs and I discovered what it was like to have no power in my preferred right hand. A drive to hospital in Tralee in Johnny Bunyan’s (soon to star for Kerry hurlers and footballers) car and a lift home after midnight from Seán Hilliard and the Leaving Cert on the horizon. After a few days I realised I would be well able to write ok but sport was finished for the summer. A comeback after three weeks in a lunchtime fun soccer match in St Michael’s, still wearing the “sling”, did not help at all and delayed the healing process. Didn’t know it at the time, but there was to be no active sport for two years.

Didn’t change the history of sport but a massive gap had been bulldozed in something I enjoyed. I did feel side-lined on those dreamy late May evenings when I would look due south down the hill to the Ballydonoghue GAA field, two miles away to the right of Lisselton Cross. Moss Joe Gilbert’s Field where our generation had played the game on Sundays and every buzzing evening if we could. My injury ostracised my chances of playing and my parents wouldn’t allow me leave the house anyway. I could see the players moving to and fro around the field from my hill doorway with the sweet-scented air of early summer in my brain from the dancing wild flowers in our fields nearby. Even still the regret haunts, but of course it is allowed to do so. The awful regret that those precious evenings of early summer could not be fully enjoyed. Bryan MacMahon, a past pupil of St Michael’s himself, wrote in his novel “Hero Town” of  “the dynamism inherent in the torture of spring: spirit ok, body not ok”. The recollection of that feeling would drive me wild every other May month of my life to ensure that May was fully embraced. 

The Kerry Colleges athletics championships were held in the Town Park (Cows’ Lawn) in Listowel (our training ground) on a Sunday in mid-May and had no Jerry Kiernan for the first time in years. The impetus behind a star athlete had been lost and only John Hartnett from our Leaving Cert class won an individual medal (in the triple jump). John was also top of our class in all the term exams. (We were always placed 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc in those exams.) St Michael’s did make a mark in the younger age-groups on that green and sunny Sunday and won the best school award in the junior category with J Stack collecting the best athlete trophy while a certain B Keane was prominent also.

I heard about the performances on Monday but it was a case of “non, je ne regrette rien” as the study train had to be inhabited and embraced. 

A sporting birth in 1972 escaped the notice of our class. It was the first Kerry Community Games athletics finals and no one suspected then that it would rock the country in the years to come. It brought athletics to the parishes where clubs did not exist in the years following and when the history of sport in Ireland is completed, Joe Connnolly’s Community Games must surely have a chapter of note.

Many of the children of the class of 1972 would benefit from the movement that originated in Kerry when we were stuck in the books that month of May.

One teacher who wasn’t a class teacher with our group but who made a big impact in sport was Brian O’Brien. Always a character, he lit up athletics and football trips and was noted for borrowing our sandwiches as he never seemed to bring his own! 

Just as I complete this section on sport, the news comes through that one of our class-mates and sporting colleagues, Eamonn Carroll has passed away. Eamonn was a flyer in the sprints and often lent me his spikes for the middle distance when I had no pair of my own. He was a flying half-forward in football also and he helped us to a couple of county championship medals in Inter Cert and Fifth Year. He always had a smile on his face. When we lose a class-mate, we remember. Rest in peace, Eamonn.


I Love this one


Charity Fundraiser

The Corinthian Challenge has a Listowel Connection.

Fiona Dowling from The Six Crosses, who now lives and works in Kildare has been chosen as one of 14 riders to compete in this year’s Corinthian Challenge.

The Corinthian Challenge is a series of three races, the first of which will be run on July 17th at The Curragh. The next two races are at Gowran Park and Leopardstown. The purpose of the challenge is to raise money for the Injured Jockeys Fund, a cause close to the heart of all who are connected with this dangerous sport.


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