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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.


A cd and a Statue

Ann OMeara, Mallow Camera Club


IWA Shop

Upper William Street


A Very Talented Lady

I came across this lately.

Will you look at where I bought the cd.

This cd is a treasure. Frances is a storyteller and raconteur as well as a singer. We are lucky to have such a multi talented lady in our midst.


A Statue

Photo from The Examiner

On the left is the recently unveiled statue of Maureen O’Hara in Glengarriff. On the right is the real Maureen O’Hara.

Now this is the second attempt at sculpting this lady’s likeness. The first statue was rejected as being “a poor likeness”.

Reproducing someone’s likeness in bronze is notoriously difficult. There have been some famous disasters, Princess Diana and Ronaldo among them.

George Best’s statue divided opinion in his native Belfast.

In Listowel we are lucky to have excellent statues of our two most famous literary figures, John B. Keane and Bryan MacMahon.

John B.’s statue was featured recently in The Examiner’s series; Munster in 30 Artworks. The statue is an excellent likeness of the playwright.

This is Seamus Connolly, the artist responsible.

Here is Seamus on the day of the unveiling, June 2 2007.

Both these photos are from The Examiner article. The full article is here;

Munster in 30 artworks; John B. Keane statue in Listowel


Computing, The Early Days

From 1983 Pres. Yearbook


Éadaein, Kerry Airport’s Favourite Passenger?

We are tired of hearing of the struggles of travellers in Dublin airport these days. Édaein O’Connell has an answer in her article in The Irish Independent. Look out for her in Peig Sayers Bar.


A Titanic Fact from Vincent Doyle

Hi Mary, just been reading your story regarding the Titanic and I remember a funny story a friend told me some time ago, he said that when they found the wreckage in 1951 they were amazed that the swimming pool was still full.


   Best regards,   Vincent  Doyle.


Family, Theatre and Other Stuff

Photo; Teddy Sugrue of Mallow Camera Club


More local drama in St. John’s this week. The old ones are the best!


Family reunion at Easter

Lovely to be back in the bosom of my family. Molly Madra makes herself at home on my gilet.

I took on the Rummikub champion again. My 3 last tiles are hopeless, all over the place and I am heading for defeat. Cora, because she is a lovely child, shows me how to win. So a victory of sorts, at last.

This is us on a night out. Remember the two boys at the front in the photo? Our days in Listowel in the Lilac Studio, Kennedy’s Pet Farm, The Donkey Sanctuary and Athea or Tarbert Fairy Trails seem very long ago now.


Last of My Extracts from Pres. Yearbook 2002 ’03


Christmas Then and Now

A bank vole in Kerry photographed by Chris Grayson

Criostóir Grayson is an excellent wildlife photographer. He is lucky to have this little lady in his garden. Here is what Conserve Ireland says about the bank vole.

Bank voles are very small rodents which are often mistaken for mice. They have small compact bodies generally about 15cm from head to tip including a 5cm long tail and can weigh from 15 to 40 grams, they have small eyes and ears and a blunt nose. Their tails are shorter than mice and are covered in fur with their blunt noses also being the main physical difference between the two. The fur is a chestnut red or brown on the upper body with their undersides being a bluff to grey colour. Juveniles will have a more grey to brown fur colouration. The fore feet have four toes while the slightly larger five toed hind feet leave small tracks up to 2cm in length which are quite similar to the footprints of mice. Bank voles are not a particularly vocal species but will emit a limited range of squeaks when communicating using high frequency ultrasound which humans cannot hear. The bank vole has a well developed sense of smell which is important for receiving information on individuals who have used territorial scent markings in an area.


Join us Online in St. Mary’s, Listowel at Christmas 2021

All masses will be live-streamed on the parish website

Listowel Parish


Above is advice from a campaign called Don’t Buy It. Apt at Christmastime.



Gerard Stack who wrote to us about Walsh’s shop came from the above shop. Like many other shops in Listowel there was a shop on the street and a totally unrelated business, often run by the man of the house, in the back of the premises.

Now Walsh’s shop was in the premises that is now Chutes’ Stores/ Milano. It used to be Cavendish’s. This was a popular TV and electrical brand. Anyway, Gerard remembers that, at Christmas this big shop sold bikes and toys. They invited the nearby children in to try out the toys and this party was sometimes covered by The Kerryman.

Photo of Walsh’s at Christmas from Mike Moriarty

I told this story to Pierce Walsh (no relation). He thought maybe he was too far from the shop to get the golden ticket. He was in Church Street. He did remember, however, that, for one Christmas before he went to South Africa, Xavier MacAuliffe had a toy shop. Does anyone else have memories of that one?

Back in 1920;

Dave O’Sullivan found this great old ad.


Don’t They Know it’s Christmas Time?

I was home in Kanturk when I snapped this picture of Woody looking longingly through the window at his family’s Christmas tree.

Meanwhile thousands of miles away another EPA horse is living the dream. He is to appear in a Hollywood movie with Dwayne Johnson.

His new owner sent a picture of the co stars at their first meeting; The Rock and EPA Cullen.



Butte Independent 1927

“Tis Christmas Eve in Kerry, and the Pooka is at rest

Contented in his stable eating hay;

The crystal snow is gleaming on the mountains of the West,
And a lonesome sea is sobbing far away;
But I know a star is watching o’er the bogland and the stream,
And ‘tis coming, coming, coming o’er the foam;
And ’tis twinkling o’er the prairie with a message and a dream
Of Christmas in my dear old Kerry home.

‘Tis Christmas Eve in Kerry, and the happy mermaids croon
The songs, of youth and hope that never die;
Oh never more on that dear shore for you and me, aroon.
The rapture of that olden lullaby:
But the candle lights are gleaming on a hillside far away.
And peace is in the blue December gloam;
And o’er the sea of memory I hear the pipers play
At Christmas in my dear old Kerry home.

‘Tis Christmas Eve in Kerry, oh I hear the fairies’ lyre
Anear the gates of slumber calling sweet.
Calling softly, calling ever to the land of young desire,
To the pattering of childhood’s happy feet; 

But a sleepless sea is throbbing, and the stars are watching’ true
As they journey to the wanderers who roam —
Oh the sea, the stars shall bring me tender memories of you

On Christmas Eve in my dear old Kerry home.

D. M. BROSNAN, Close, Castleisland, Co. Kerry.


Take a look at this old footage

John B. Keane remembered in John Lynch videos


Slán Tamall

I’m taking my leave of you today for 2021. A big shout out to all my helpers, supporters, my technical support team, my researchers and contributors. There would be no Listowel Connection without you. Thank you to everyone who wrote to me, met me or in any way offered a word of thanks, support and encouragement. It is all appreciated.

Have a lovely peaceful Christmas.

Go mbeirimid go léir beo ag an am seo arís.


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