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: John B. Keane Page 1 of 19

Different Kinds of Art

Snow – Killarney – 17-01-2023 Photo: Kathleen Griffin


Incidents at a Fleadh

When researching Listowel Marching Band stories for us, Dave O’Sullivan came upon this amusing account from John B. Keane in The limerick Leader


It’s the Little Things

I am blessed in my friends. I have a friend who, when she makes scones, makes me some and a friend who, when she makes marmalade makes me some. Thank God for friends.


Celtic Art

Work is still ongoing at Kerry Writers’ Museum in preparation for the Michael O’Connor exhibition planned for later this year.

As research continues, and Stephen Rynne is locating examples of O’Connor’s work here there and everywhere, Dave O’Sullivan has unearthed this really interesting article about our great illuminator.

In this article, OConnor cites celtic artwork he saw in newsletters from Ballykinlar as an early influence on him.

Dr. Michael OConnor was one of several republican prisoners interned in Ballykinlar Internment Camp during the War of Independence. Another prisoner was the “Michael Reedy” referred to in the newspaper article.

Google had nothing on Michael Reedy, Killarney artist. I knew that Frank Lewis would be the man to know something about him. I was right.

Frank told me that he went by the name Micheál O’Riada and he told me that this artist had a huge influence on Eamon Kelly, Seanchaí. Frank pointed me to the exact pages in Kelly’s autobiography, The Apprentice where he tells of the massive influence this artist woodworker had on him.

The library didn’t have the book in house but they ordered it for me. In the meantime I knew that my friend, Éamon ÓMurchú was a great friend of the late Éamon Kelly. He was sure to have the book.

Eamon scanned the pages for me and then the library came up trumps as well.

“Meeting this man, Michel O Riada was his name,
was the means of changing the direction of my footsteps and
putting me on the first mile of a journey that would take me
far from my own parish. He taught me and others the craft
of wood and in time we passed examinations set by the
technical branch of the Department of Education….”

“O Riada didn’t tell us, but we discovered that he had been
interned in Ballykinlar Camp during the trouble. While there
he made an illuminated book in Celtic strapwork design in
which were the names of all the prisoners. This book is in
the War of Independence section of the National Museum.”

Reading further I discovered that O’Riada’s ” Celtic strap work” adorns shopfronts in Killarney and “as far away as Listowel”.

ORiada also introduced Kelly to music, acting, astronomy and the great big world in general.


Something for the Weekend

Barbara Derbyshire sent us this invitation:

The Just Write creative writing group in Listowel is celebrating its 20th year in existence. I was not there at the beginning, but am now a member. We are celebrating this great achievement at St John’s Theatre on Saturday 28th January from 2pm until 4pm. There will be some music and readings and general mingling! There is also a book stall where members will be able to sell some of their published works. John McGrath is hosting and we’re hoping to have a bit of a party. It’s free to the public and if you feel you would like to come along, you would be more than welcome, of course. There are a few original members there, I think – Helen Broderick and Dee Keogh, Teresa Molyneux, Ena Bunyan. Marian Relihan now facilitates the group. There will be some poems read which were written by members who have passed away.

Helen Broderick shared online this early photograph of the group


A Miscellany

At Bishopstown Scout hut


What Lies Ahead?

My daughter Clíona spotted this sign in Cahirdown on her way home to Listowel for the weekend.

I took the photo and appealed for captions.

Catherine Moylan won with the one I’ve chosen as the heading.

She was also a close second with

Ground control, major wrong!

Geraldine O’Connor was also in the running with Fake News

I like Breda OSullivan Ahern’s “No true road but a destination.”

This sign on the approach road from Tarbert is sure to raise a smile in the midst of roadwork disruption.


Presentation Girls Reunion

On the evening of their reunion the convent girls from the sixties remembered their previous reunion. There was talk and remembrance of the ladies who had passed away since then.


We’re a Sound Town

The radio station Today Fm has awarded Listowel the accolade of September’s Sound Town. Cora O’Brien of Listowel Community and Business Alliance convinced the judges that Listowel was one of the best towns in Ireland to live in. We’re Sound Out!


One Brave Lady

Get up, dress up and show up could be the motto of the lady on the right of these photos. She is Mary O’Halloran and she has Motor Neurone Disease. She is living with it and trying to do all the things she enjoyed before. Her lovely voice has gone but she retains her enviable sense of style. She is a regular at Listowel Races and she came back in style this year, earning herself a place on the stage as a finalist in the Ladies Day fashion competition.

My friends, Peggy O’Shea from Firies and Bridget O’Connor from Ballyduff joined me to lose some money and spot some style on Friday Sept. 23 2022.

My great friend, Jimmy was joined by his friend Ted for the day out.

Lilly and her dad Simon were enjoying the racing.


I wonder what John B. is so certain of in this lesser known poem I found in a penguin anthology of Irish verse.


A Fact

Carnivorous animals will not eat another animal that has been hit by a bolt of lightening.


A Different Kind of Race

Listowel Town Square


More Sustainable Fashion

This is part of the huge crowd at the races on Saturday Sept 24 2022. Listowel Racecourse is so vast and well laid out that there is always plenty of room for everyone and while demand for bars and toilets etc. leads to queues, these are never too long and this year everyone was in great good humour due to the sunshine and the blessed release from Covid restrictions. The best way to teach us to appreciate something is to take it away from us for a while.

Mary, Orla, Imelda and Joan were busy in the marquee organising the sustainable fashion event on behalf of Listowel Tidy Towns.

The ever stylish Helena was busy getting every entrant signed up.

Out on the course John Kelliher, who did a marvellous job of photographing all the colour and excitement of race week in Listowel, obliged me by posing with my friends and his, Maria and Anne.

This gorgeous lady was relaxing in the sunshine.

Local people in the marquee observing it all.


A Poem for this Time of Year


That Famous Walking Race

The walking race from Tarbert to Listowel was a much anticipated and keenly contested attraction in the 1960s. there are apocryphal tales of fellows going astray, fellows taking short cuts and there is one tall tale of a contestant who “borrowed” a bike for part of the journey.

King of the Mailroad Walking Race: Tarbert to Listowel.

John B Keane who gave a commentary on the race. Derek Johnson (Clonmel) winner and Dr John Walsh, race promoter. September 1961.

From the archive of the late Tony Fitzmaurice, Ballybunion.


The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen

Photo from St. John’s Asts Centre on Facebook

Frances Kennedy was crowned Queen of the Wren at a great night of traditional music, dancing and merriment in Listowel Town Square on Friday Sept.23 2022


John B. Keane

A Corner of Listowel Town Square


Limerick Leader Nostalgia

Text and photo are from Limerick Leader’s Nostalgia Column published on June 30 2022

By Tom Aherne

NEWSPAPERS HAVE always been a part of my life even from a very young age, and each week a few were brought into the house.
They included the Limerick Leader, Sunday Press and a few daily papers for the sports reports and previews. As soon as I was able to read, I was attracted to their contents with sports a main interest. 
One became familiar with the writers’ names and the topics they covered and eagerly looked forward to their weekly contributions. John B Keane the man from Listowel in north Kerry was one of those writers.
His weekly column in the Limerick Leader ‘Out in the Open’ was a must read from an early age. This came about because of the connection with my father and John B Keane, who were corresponding with each other. John B had a number of people from different areas who he would feature in his column. The news from their area he would use to form the contents of his weekly offerings with his own observations and twists. For a person or place to feature in his wide-ranging column gave a lift to all back in the dark days of the 1960s and 1970s. Being a pub owner he also found material from his interaction with his customers.
Talk in the bar often provided inspiration for him, with stories colourful language and phrases straight from the tongues of his customers finding their way into his plays and books. John B in his writings immortalised many characters from around the locality including Dan Paddy Andy, the matchmaker, Sonny Canavan and his talking dogs, the Ballaugh bachelors, Joe Quaid from Athea, who rose from the dead, Jackie Faulkner, Paddy and Ruckard Drury and the events around Listowel north Kerry and West Limerick.

When John B was 17 and a student in St Michael’s College he wrote his widely renowned poem, The Street. At a class in his Leaving Certificate year the students were asked to recite a poem by the teacher, and he recited The Street. When asked who wrote it, he received a beating because the teacher who had a violent temper did not believe him. The poem was included in his book The Street and Other Poems published from Progress House Dublin in 1961. Verse one:
I love the flags that pave the walk
I love the mud between
The funny figures drawn in chalk
I love to hear the sound
Of drays upon their round
Of horses and their clock-like walk
I love to watch the corner-people gawk
And hear what underlies their idle talk.

John B Keane was born in Listowel to William Keane, a teacher in the local school and Hannah Purtill on July 31, 1928. His mother, Hannah, came from a nationalist family and worked as a draper. During the Civil War, Hannah was a member of Cumann na mBan and ran messages for the IRA. He was the fourth eldest of a family of ten, among five brothers and four sisters including RTE and Abbey actor Eamon who died in 1990. He attended Listowel National School and St Michael’s College Listowel. 
The initial ‘B.’ stood for Brendan, a name taken on confirmation after St Brendan the Navigator. He worked as assistants to Chemists William Keane Stack, WH Jones and O’Donovan’s Chemist Rathkeale for a short time. He emigrated to England in 1951 and worked in a ball-bearing factory in Northampton. In 1955 he returned to Listowel, buying a public house for £1,800 and married Mary O’Connor, whom he met at a dance in the Astor ballroom during the Listowel Races in 1945. They did not get married until six years later and they had four children, Billy, Conor, John and Joanna.

In 1959 John B’s first play, Sive, was produced by Listowel Drama Group. The production won the All-Ireland Drama Festival in Athlone and toured with it throughout the country. He followed with a yearly succession of plays that included Sharon’s Grave, The Highest House on the Mountain, The Man from Clare, and the Year of the Hiker. The first production of The Field was staged at the Olympia in Dublin in 1965, with Ray Mc Anally as the Bull and Eamon Keane as the Bird. This work was inspired by the murder of north Kerry farmer Moss Moore in 1959.

The first production of Big Maggie was staged in 1969 and his first novel The Bodhran Makers was published in 1986. In 1990 Jim Sheridan adapts The Field for the big screen , with Richard Harris as the Bull, Brenda Fricker as his wife Maggie and John Hurt as the Bird. The first production of Moll was in 1991, and a year later Durango A Novel was published and later adapted for television with Brenda Fricker. 
On May 30, 2002, John B died, aged 73, after a long battle with cancer at home in Listowel.
Noel Pearson said that John B was unique and connected with people. He was a literary master, but his gift wasn’t just that he had a way with words, he had a way with people. Niall Tóibín who played the Bull Mc Cabe in The Field remembered John B for his wit and the pleasure he gave to people across the country. John B said I was the smallest Bull he had ever seen but that I’d scare the ‘shite’ out of the devil. It is probably one of the best compliments anyone has ever paid me in all my years on stage. Brenda Fricker said I am honoured to have worked with his beautiful words , so full of music, sadness and joy.
Brendan Kennelly poet and close friend paid him a hand -written tribute which can be seen in John Bs bar. The last verse follows:
God bless your heart
God bless your pen
God bless your spirit free
I thank the God
Who gave my world?
The spirit of John B.

A portrait of the late John B Keane was unveiled in the bar of the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin on May 29, 2014. The porcelain blue and white painting depicts writer and playwright John B at various stages of his life, with his wife Mary standing in the background watching him. ‘’ Sure, isn’t it a grand place to be keeping an eye on the man himself’’ Mary Keane said. ‘’ I am absolutely delighted with it – It’s a kaleidoscope of his life as it captures everything about him. It was painted by renowned artist Cian Mc Loughlin and commissioned by MCD’s Caroline Downey and Denis Desmond.

It is now twenty years since the death of unquestionably rural Irelands greatest spokesman John Brendan Keane, playwright, novelist and essayist. Gone but not forgotten he continues to entertain the Irish people through the performances of his plays by drama groups throughout the land, plus his books and vast number of writings. When it came to wit , humour, and a way with words, he was definitely the daddy of them all.


Cinema Update

Here is the latest picture and statement from the committee.

Update: Following advice from the Department of Rural and Community Development and Minister Heather Humphreys, Friends of Listowel Cinema in collaboration with a well known businessman in the town submitted a proposal to Kerry County Council yesterday under what is known as The Town and Villages Renewal Scheme.This scheme funds projects that “bring vacant and derelict buildings and sites back into use as multi-purpose spaces. This includes former state owned property that is no longer being used and is made available to the community. Multi-purpose use includes enterprise spaces, arts, tourism, youth hubs and other community uses” as part of Our Rural Future – Ireland’s Rural Development Policy 2021 – 2025 and the Government’s recently published ‘Town Centre First’ policy.Our proposal seeks funding for a multipurpose tourism and arts venue in Listowel to include a 60 seat cinema, military museum and community cafe.And just like in Top Gun: Maverick it requires two miracles, the second one entirely dependent on the first. We will know by July 22nd if KCC have forwarded our proposal to the Department who will have the final say.

Thank you for your continued support.


Back on Track

The train will run for the summer on weekdays, 1.00p.m to 4.30p.m. Last train at 4.00 p.m.


Old Days, Old Ways

Listowel Town Square in May 2022


Carroll’s of William Street

On William Street this shop is being renovated and, keeping true to Listowel tradition, attention is being paid to the upper stories.


First Holy Communion Time

I don’t have a date for this class photo but since its all boys it has to be after Scoil Real na Maidine moved into the new school.

Before the boys moved into their new school they used to go to the convent until communion year and then transfer to the boys school. Marie Gorman kept this lovely souvenir of her First Communion Day. The cohort of boys seems small by comparison with the girls.


Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Listowel in 1972

Photo shared by Mike Hannon

Joan Kenny and a friend from Dublin, Eileen Kelly, enjoying a wafer ice cream at the fleadh.

Back in the day, you could buy this delicacy in a shop. The shop assistant took a block of ice cream from the fridge and with a big knife, usually kept close by in a jug of cold water, cut a slice of ice cream and put it between two wafers for the customer.

Joan and Eileen appear to have got a very generous slice.


The Maid of Erin, Then and Now

Mike Hannon shared the old photos. I took the recent one last week, May 2022.



Official Opening and Blessing of The New Stand

Photos shared by Listowel Races on Facebook.


Lovely Listowel Shopfront


A Thought for U.S. Politicians

In the wake of the Uvalde Elementary School massacre, a rabbi posted this thought.

In Judaism there are many actions that are preceded by a prayer. If one says the prayer and then does not do the action, e.g. eat the bread that one has blessed, that is considered a sinful act.


Pub Theatre returns to John B.’s

Pub theatre has made a welcome return just in time to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the death of the great dramatist. John B. Keane passed away 20 years ago today.

His spirit and memory is still very much alive, never more so than at this time of year, Listowel Writers’ Week.


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