This blog is a personal take on Listowel, Co. Kerry. I am writing for anyone anywhere with a Listowel connection but especially for sons and daughters of Listowel who find themselves far from home. Contact me at

Tag: Earl Grey scheme Page 1 of 2

All Regions, Wren Boys and the Earl Grey Scheme

Mary Keane cut the tape to officially open Craftshop na Méar yesterday.


Remember when there was one of these in every house?


Martin Chute was putting the finishing touches to the All Regions computer shop sign. Another lovely Listowel paint job.


3 generations of the Murphy family joined the gang in Craftshop na Méar last week.


This is an old photo of Kilocrim Wren Boys from Vincent Carmody’s North Kerry Camera. I’m including it here to introduce a request. A student from UL has contacted me to look for an account of winners of the Wren Boy competition at The Harvest Festival down through the years. She is doing a project on the Brosna Ceilí Band. Apparently this band was formed originally to take part in the Wren Boy Competition.


A picture paints a thousand words

In 1903 this Bengali woman carried a British merchant literally on her back. Look at her thin little frame, her bare feet and the pannier tied around her head. Both people in this photo accepted the situation as their lot in life.


Kay Caball points out an inscription on a headstone to Julie Evans a descendant of one of the “orphan girls. The photo was taken during the filming of the recently aired episode of Tar Abhaile”

Kay Caball, formerly Kay Moloney of Listowel has announced some great news on her blog:

“I am delighted to tell you
that I finally finished my book on the 117 Kerry Girls who went to Australia in
1849/1850 and it will be published by The History Press Ireland in Spring 2014.

The Kerry Girls: Between the Famine & The Crown

The Story of 117 Kerry Girls sent to Australia on the Earl Grey

This is the true story of
117 Kerry girls sent out to Australia in 1849/1850 from Workhouses in Dingle
(20), Kenmare (25), Killarney (35) and Listowel (37), under the auspices of the
Earl Grey ‘Orphan’ scheme.  The majority of these Kerry teenage girls were
not in fact ‘Orphans’ as many had one parent alive.   Their
emigration has become known as the ‘Earl Grey scheme’ after its principal
architect, Earl Grey, Secretary of State for the Colonies in Lord John
Russell’s Whig government at the time of the Great Irish Famine

The Imperial government
saw it as an opportunity on the one hand to clear out some of the overcrowded
Irish workhouses and on the other, to provide much needed female labour and
potential marriage partners for colonial settlers.  In the two years that
the scheme was in place, over 4000 Irish girls were sent to the other side of
the world.

This book seeks to bring
to the notice of the public both here and in Australia, the circumstances that
lead initially to the Kerry girls confinement   in the workhouses,
their ‘selection’ and shipping to New South Wales and Adelaide, their
subsequent apprenticeship, marriage and life in the colony.   While
it is not a ‘Famine’ book, it sets out the terrible circumstances that they
left behind in Kerry and the mixed reception afforded to these ‘useless
trollops’ following their arrival.  We ask if their emigration was an
opportunity or a tragedy?  Did they become pawns in a political struggle
between Imperial and Colonial interests?

It is estimated in
Australia that there are 277,173 descendants of these 117 girls.  The
Chapters are interspersed with remarkable pen pictures of a number of the
girls, provided by their descendants.   These pen pictures show the
human side, the different personalities and their reaction to the changed
conditions of their lives.   If you haven’t seen the story of Bridget
Ryan, one of these girls,  on the recent TAR ABHAILE documentary, you can
access it on TG4 Player.  It is highlighted on the
boxes on right and Bridget’s story is on Episode 3. Link

My research into the
project over the past two years, included identifying the girls from the four
workhouses and matching these with shipping and baptismal records.  
Further research took place through the individual Minutes of the Boards of
Guardians of the workhouses, Tralee/Kerry 1848/1850  newspapers,
Australian 1848- 1851 newspapers, British Parliamentary Records  etc.,

September 1 2013

What is it about Dublin versus Kerry?

The answer is  here


Seamus Heaney R.I.P.

Writers’ Week shared this photo of Seamus Heaney on the occasion of his death on Friday August 30 2013. It shows the poet with Michael Lynch, Máire Logue, Eilís Wren and Joanne Keane-O’Flynn.

One of my favourite Heaney poems is Scaffolding. It is appropriate here for many reasons.


Masons, when they start upon a building,

Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,

Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done

Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be

Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall

Confident that we have built our wall.



Maidhc Dainín ÓSé  R.I.P.

When I was a teacher of Gaeilge in Pres. Listowel a high point of the year was always our trip to The Seanchaí during Seachtain na Gaeilge to hear Maidhc Dainín read from his autobiography and to play a few tunes for us. Here is my photo from 2008 of the great man with Mary Moylan, Ciara Dineen, Aoife Kelliher, Angelina Cox, Catherine Lyons and Elaine O’Connell.


Meanwhile down under….

This picture was sent to me by Julie Evans. Some of you will remember Julie, descendant of Famine orphan, Bridget Ryan. That is Julie on the right of Minister Deenihan and her cousin Barbara is second next to her. They were with other descendants in Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney for the Famine commemoration last month, August 2013. I’ll be telling you lots more about Julie and the story of her ancestor and the other Famine girls anon. Meanwhile Kay Moloney has a very succinct account of the Sydney commemoration on her blog


This is a new second hand shop on Church St.

There have been lots of comings and goings since I last posted here. I’ll try to bring you news of some of them over the next few days and I’ll fill you in on where I’ve been as well.

Bridget Ryan, Tar Abhaile and Pilgrim Hill

Lovely photo from my friend in Ballybunion Sea Angling. This one was taken last week.


It all started with a Google search in 2008

In a suburb of Sydney, Australia in 2008 a part-time teacher
named Julie Evans was researching her family tree. She knew that her great
great grandmother, Bridget Ryan had left Ireland in Famine times as part of the
Earl Grey Scheme. Bridget was one of the “Famine Orphans” who were sent from the
workhouse in Listowel to settle in the other side of the world.

The Earl Grey Scheme was devised by the British Government
to solve twin problems at opposite ends of The Empire. Workhouses in Ireland
were massively overcrowed and struggling to cope with the numbers of  starving people arriving daily. Meanwhile far
away in Australia, colonists were decrying the lack of suitable (white) female
house servants. Earl Grey decided to identify suitable girls in Irish
workhouses, to kit them out and send them to Australia. The Australian people
were to foot the bill for the scheme. The definition of orphan was very loose.
Some girls had one living parent and some even had two. Bridget Ryan, it would
appear, fell into the second category.

Julie knew all this when she Googled Listowel Co. Kerry,
Ireland and she found this website maintained by Jim and Mary Cogan.  She sent off
an email and thus began an adventure whose latest twist was a TG4 project
called Tar Abhaile (Come Home).

When I received Julie’s email in 2008, I knew little of the workhouse
and nothing at all of The Earl Grey Scheme. A correspondence began and we emailed
to and fro, filling in more and more of the story until 2011. North Kerry Reaching Out was set up and I began this blog. One of the  aims of NKRO was to help the diaspora with
research into their family trees. Julie was one of this diaspora whose story we
took on board. We soon discovered that Bridget Ryan was no ordinary orphan and
her story began to take on many aspects of a soap opera. There was crime and
punishment, poverty and wealth but with a little smattering of social grace and
ladylike accomplishments.

Through this blog I made contact with an avid historian and
genealogist, Kay Caball. Kay grew up in Listowel . She is writing a history of
all the Famine Orphans who left from Kerry workhouses. She and Julie formed a
partnership to advance research into Bridget’s background.

Fast forward to 2013 the year of The Gathering and RTE is commissioning some TV programmes about descendants of emigrants.  

So, Julie Evans, her husband Glyn, her third cousin, Jeanette
Greenway from California and Jeanette’s daughter, Peta arrive in Ireland; Julie
to participate in the making of the TV documentary and her cousins to learn
more about their ancestor, Bridget Ryan.

Over two days last week we filmed hours of footage which
will be distilled  into 12 minutes of a Tar
Abhaile programme to be aired on TG4 in September or October. Don’t worry, I’ll keep
you posted.

I can’t spoil the programme by telling you the story but I
can tease you by telling you that it is an interesting tale with a few elements
to illustrate the adage that truth is often stranger then fiction.

As they say in the worst journals, “Watch this space”.

Julie and Glyn


Date for the diary:  Pilgrim Hill is coming shortly to a cinema near you.

In cinemas April 12th 2013. Pilgrim Hill is the debut film from Gerard Barrett, winner of the 2013 Irish Film and Television Academy Rising Star Award.

Jimmy Walsh is a farmer in rural Ireland. Like the landscape he inhabits, his life is bleak and hard. Looking after an ageing sick father, life is passing him by as he comes to terms with his changing circumstances. Loneliness and isolation are his continual companions, along with his modest herd of cattle.

A young twenty something neighbour is one of the only links Jimmy has to the real world. In him, Jimmy sees what he could have been, as he realizes what he is, a middle aged bachelor farmer with vanishing opportunities and on the verge of living the rest of his life alone on the side of a cold un-nourishing hill.

A final blow is dealt to Jimmy when it seems that life can’t get any worse. He is barely able to articulate his situation, yet his honesty and vulnerability speak to the loneliness that haunts the human condition in all of us.


Local Heroes

These are some of the volunteers who cleaned up the approach roads to the town on Saturday. This is what the Tidy Towns Committee posted on their Facebook page:

“An old bike, a baby seat and nearly 80 bags of rubbish collected on KWD County Clean-up on approach roads into the town. Thanks to everyone who helped out, we had 30 volunteers out early in the morning.”


Good news announced on Radio Kerry

“A proposed respite centre in Kerry
is to receive funding from the GAA. The centre, which will be the first of its
kind in the country,  will provide respite for children affected by rare
diseases and their families.

‘Liam’s Lodge’ is named after
4-year-old Kerry boy Liam Heffernan who suffers from Battens disease. His
sister Saoirse died from the disease at the age of five in 2011. Their parents,
Mary and Tony Heffernan from Keel/Castlemaine, actively raised funds for the
treatment of their children and are now behind the respite project. When it
opens in 2015, Liam’s Lodge will initially cater for 520 families each year and
is planning to provide help for over 1,500 families a year when all phases of
the project are complete.  The GAA is contributing €20,000 to the centre
in Blennerville. Tony Heffernan says the GAA’s funding is a huge boost to their


On this day, April 15 1912 this magnificent ship, Titanic with the loss of 1517 lives

Happy New Year 2013

THE place to be on New Year’s Eve is Sydney Australia. They do the very best firework display. Julie Evans, friend of this blog lives there. She enjoyed the display and sent us these photos.



As usual, on the first Thursday of the year there was a horse fair on the streets of Listowel.

Jer took a video. 

and I took a few photos


Jer. was also at the Ballyheigue Races. 


I am slowly getting through listowelconnetion correspondence after the break and I will respond to all in due course. If there is anything that readers can help with, I will post it in the next few days.

The first interesting letter is from Brisbane

Hi Mary,

My name is Kath. I just came across your Listowel Connection
blog, with the Irish famine orphans to Australia. I noticed that you are
originally from Kanturk. My 4x great-grandmother, Catherine Fitzgibbon and her
sister Elizabeth, were from Kanturk. They were both shipped out under the Earl
Grey Scheme, on the Maria in 1850. Catherine was 18 and Elizabeth 19. Their
parents William and Judith were listed as deceased. Neither of them is listed
on any famine memorial, and I know little of their life in Ireland, having hit
the proverbial brick wall. I am wondering if you would be able to give me any
hints, tips, basically anything, that could help. I would be very grateful as I
would love to know more about these women and what their lives were like,
including the area they grew up in.





This is a great site for anyone researching Ireland during WW1:  lots of links and resources.


After a 50 year wait Duagh became North Kerry football champions yesterday. I don’t pretend to know anything about football so I’ll let my photos do the talking.

The sun sets on the 2013 NK Championship
the constant toing and froing to the shop.
The queue at half time
Small section of the huge crowd

cars everywhere
Every vantage point taken

nervous fag at half time
section of the stand

Hunting, Orphan Girls, farmer poverty, Navillus and Sandy

To celebrate the start of the hunting season, I am posting this really unusual photograph of the Waterford Hunt on the Villierstown ferry in 1928.


An update on the fascinating story of the Irish Orphan Girls  comes from Kay Caball. Kay is making a study of the Listowel girls and where they went and she can elaborate on what Karen Semken wrote.

“The Margaret Stack that Karen mentions was from Ennistymon and her picture (attached) is included in the splendid new book – Atlas of the Great Irish Famine.   The Listowel Stacks were Margaret Stack of Kiltomey, who is listed to travel on the Thomas Arbuthnot in the Minutes of Board of  Guardians 11 September 1849 but she is not listed as having arrived on the Thomas Arbuthnot.   There is also a Mary Stack, Kilmore  listed to travel on the Tippoo Saib –  Minutes of Listowel Board of Guardians 7th March 1850 and she is also listed on arrivals on 29th July 1850, her parents are listed as both dead.”

“Karen says ‘Mary Griffin arrived on the Thomas Arbuthnot, not the Tippoo Saib’    Karen is mixed up there and I don’t blame her as she may not be familiar with our geography and also the girls were not great at the reading or writing and when they told the Australian officials where they came from, it often made absolutely no sense with their Kerry accents.   I have the arrival sheets for both sets of Ships.  The Mary Griffin who arrived on the Thomas Arbuthnot was from Dingle. A ‘Mary Griffin‘ was chosen to go on the Tippoo Saib by the Inspector and is listed as such in the minutes of the Board of Guardians.  There is also a Bridget Griffin listed on the same sheet.  None of these names have addresses at that point.  When the Tippoo Saib arrived there was no sign of any Mary Griffin and Bridget Griffin is listed as being from ‘Stow’.    So it would be very hard for Karen to understand – if you say it yourself Mary, in Kerry speak -“Shtow” in other words is Listowel!”


More from our correspondent from The London Standard of 1880

“Once he got
to Cahirciveen, the correspondent travelled with Father Brosnan PP, and saw the
poverty that existed in the locality. 
Father Brosnan contended that Poor Law relief was of no value to them,
as it stripped them of a portion of their independence and dignity.

It was a
Fair Day on the day of his arrival at Cahirciveen, and Fr Brosnan took the
opportunity to introduce him to many of the local farmers in attendance at the
fair.  Their issues were mostly to do
with fairness of rentals (rents bearing no relationship to the actual valuation
of the land), penalty raises of rent for land improvements, and the need for security
of tenure for their farms.  Having
listened to a few case histories, a farmer piped up: “Me case, your reverence,
happened 16 years ago”, to which Fr Brosnan replied “Ah get out with you.  We can’t listen to stories 16 years back”.

conclusion was that many Kerry tenants were rack-rented, particularly on
estates held by middlemen (and most particularly those under Trinity
College).  The indebtedness of tenant
farmers had a knock-on effect on the local economy, through debt owed to
shopkeepers and other providers.

He also
pointed to the good work being done of some estates to promote good farm
husbandry, and the development of diverse kitchen gardens, particularly on the
estates of Lords Lansdowne and Kenmare. 
This was a theme he expanded on in a second article, in the Evening Post
on 27 November 1880, with particular reference to improvements wrought by
landlords such as William T Crosbie (Ardfert) and Pierce Mahony (Dromore).  The landlord view had been that a great many
of the problems faced in relation to land tenure were related to the nature of
subdivision of plots of land to unsustainably low acreages.”

Much of this will find a resonance with us today, particularly in the knock -on effect of farmer poverty with shopkeepers, vets etc.  suffering this very same scourge in present times.


Good news for Listowel cyclists

A new bike shop is about to open in the premises where the Polish shop traded up to recently.


This sign on Jim Halpin’s door was giving folks a  chuckle at the weekend.


There are many with a Listowel connection who work for this huge New York construction company. This is a photo of the relief tent they have constructed where they provide food and shelter for people made homeless by the superstorm, Sandy.

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