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

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Brazil and Lyreacrompane

Photo: Listowel Big Bridge at night by Mary Dowling

Wish you were there?

One week Listowel Food Fair, the next Fazenda Churrascada São Paulo Brazil.

Our very own celebrity chef, John Relihan, is savouring the joys of cooking in Brazil and sending back these gorgeous pictures.

A Sad Christmas for One Irish Emigrant in 1960s London

Christmas in an Irish house in Kentish Town in the 1960s

by Maurice Brick  for Irish Central December 2021

I was wiping the mud from a 20-foot length of half-inch steel reinforcing bar with a wire brush and cursing the frost from the night before, which made it harder. I had, by then, passed the “barra liobar” (frozen fingers) part and the blood was circulating well despite the freezing cold. Steel is about the coldest thing you can handle in freezing weather.

It just didn’t seem like Christmas at all. I received a card from home the day before and Mam said how they were looking forward to Christmas and going to Dingle for the day with Dad. The lads were fine, she said, and they were wondering why I wasn’t coming home and she told them work was tight in England and maybe I wanted to put a bit of money away. Poor Mam, she always thought the better of me.

Today was payday; at least there was something good about it. Tomorrow, Friday, was Christmas Eve, so we had money for a good booze-up if nothing else for the weekend. There were six of us staying in a boarding house in Kentish Town and since we were all from the other side, the mood, to say the least, was somber.

There were two from Donegal and they worked in the tunnels and made tons of money. The work was hard but, I’ll tell you, they were harder. There were three of us from West Kerry and we worked straight construction – buildings, shuttering (concrete formwork) and the like. That was hard work, too, but not as tough as the tunnels with the compressed air. The other fellow was from Clare, a more respectable sort of chap and he worked for British Rail as a porter.

I tried the tunnels myself once. I persuaded one of the Donegal fellows to get me a start and to tell the truth it was the money that enticed me outright. But my venture was a disaster. I started and descended into the tunnel and while there the compressed air hit me like a shot after an hour and my ears screamed with pain.

They were worse again when I entered the decompression chamber and I couldn’t wait to get out. I gained a great deal of respect for the Donegal fellows after that. They both wore a medal-type apparatus around their necks that gave the address of the decompression chamber of their tunnel.

On Christmas Eve, we worked half a day. The foreman was a sly bastard. He was as Irish as we were, but when the “big knobs” from the Contractor’s office appeared on site he affected such a cockney accent that you’d swear he was born as close to “Petticoat Lane” as the hawkers plying their trade there on Sunday.

Anyway, we all chipped in and gave him a pound each for Christmas. This gesture did not emanate from generosity but rather preservation. Our erstwhile foreman could be vindictive and on payday, he would come by and ask for a light and you would hand him the box of matches with a pound note tightly squeezed in there and all would be well with the world.  Not a bad day’s take as there were twenty in our gang. But the job paid well and no one complained.

When I got to the house on Christmas Eve, I paid the landlady and took a bath and dressed in my Sunday best. I waited for the others and we all sat down to dinner. It had some meat and lashings of mashed potatoes, “Paddy Food” they called it. It didn’t bother us much for we knew we would have steak in a late-night café after the pubs closed anyway. The six of us were dressed and ready to go at half six and we headed straight for the “Shakespeare” near the Archway.

After a few pints, there we went to the “Nag’s Head” on Holloway Road. However, we encountered a group from Connemara there and rather than wait for the customary confrontation – for some reason there was animosity between those from the Kerry Gaeltacht area and those from Connemara, which was also a Gaelic speaking area in Galway – we decided to forego it on Christmas Eve. But we assured each other that the matter would be taken care of in the very near future. Just as I was leaving one of the Connemara chaps said, “láithreach a mhac” (soon, my son) and I responded, “is fada liom é a mhac” (I can’t wait, my son).

We ended up in the “Sir Walter Scott” in Tollington Park and I barely remember seeing a row of pints lined up on the bar to tide us over the period between “time” called and when we actually had to leave. This period could last an hour depending on the pub governor’s mood.

We ambled, or rather staggered, into the late-night café sometime after midnight and the waitress gave us a knowing glance and said, “Steak and mash Pat, OK” and we all said “yes.” Some of us said it a few times just to make sure we had said it. It was then I thought, Jesus, I never went to Midnight Mass. That bothered me. I had always gone to Midnight Mass, but it was only last year I started drinking and it went completely out of my head.

We had our feed of steak and left and we decided to walk to the “Tube” at Finsbury Park and that would bring us to Kentish Town Station. Somehow, we made it and truthfully I don’t remember a moment on that train.

We arrived home at two and as quietly as possible reached our rooms. One of the Donegal fellows pulled out a bottle of Scotch and passed it around and we just sat on the beds and took turns taking swigs descending deeper and deeper into the realm of the absence of coherence of any sort.

I remember thinking again about missing Midnight Mass and I must have voiced my disgust a number of times to the annoyance of the others and one of them asked me to “shut the hell up.” I approached him and hit him right between the eyes and he crumpled to the floor and fell asleep.

The others struggled and lifted me onto the bed and everything just blanked out and I remember awakening on Christmas Day and the fellow I hit was nursing a bruised cheek by the window. I asked him what happened and he said he didn’t know and that he thought he bumped into something in his drunken state. I told him that I thought I hit him and that I was sorry.

He came by my side and sat there and I thought I detected a tear or two in his eyes. He looked at me and said, “You know, this is no friggin’ way to spend a Christmas, is it?” And I said, “You’re right” and I shook his hand for I thought he was a better man than I. 

A December Poem

Mick O’Callaghan is describing a scene in Gorey but it could be anywhere these days.

On looking out the window in December

It’s Saturday morning in December 2023

I pull the blinds and the room is ablaze with light.

The sun beams blindingly into the room

Glinting off the white hoary frost

That has painted our lawn white overnight.

It’s a uniform speckled green and white.

Looking like a very chilly sight

But with postcard beauty glowing bright

I see the birds flying aimlessly about.

Blinded by this changed white environment all around.

Our house sparrows, blue tits, coal tits,

Robins, chaffinch, wrens, and blackbirds too

Are flitting about in vain searching for food.

On this rock-hard inhospitable ground 

I pity them in their frantic hopping around, 

I locate scraps of bread and overripe bananas.

I chop them up into small pieces.

And toss them randomly out on the lawn as feed.

Their whiteness blends into my whitened lawn

Now I see we have new visitors.

Starlings and crows swoop down.

In a co-ordinated cacophonous cawing raid 

Cleaning my lawn of food left out for the smaller brigade.

I look up the garden and see empty peanut feeders.

I go out and fill them full of nuts.

For my little feathered friends

They quickly appear chirping excitedly.

 Clinging on to the meshed side of feeders.

They peck, they feed and fly off.

Quickly returning to peck and chirp again.

 Saying, thank you, in birdie notes, most melodious.

They are happy with their newfound food source.

On a cold December morning

Mick O Callaghan

2/12/2023

A Fact

Today’s fact comes from this marvellous publication. You can see why this journal appeals to me. It’s full of really interesting and random facts and adventures.

Ablaut reduplication;

Now what’s that when it’s at home?

It’s the rule that says in phrases like shilly shally, mish mash, tip top etc. the word with the “i” always comes before the word with the “a” or the “o”.

Think of a few yourself and you will see that this is an authentic God’s honest fact wherever English is spoken, be it in the court of King Charles or in The Elm Bar in Lyreacrompane

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History and Food

Harp and Lion Antiques, Church Street

In Listowel Garden Centre Christmas Shop

If you haven’t been there yet, do drop into the Christmas shop and be a child for a while.

Stairs are no obstacle to this explorer.

Aren’t these Victorian carol singers only gorgeous?

My first time in a ski lift.

In Kanturk Library

I made my first visit to the beautiful new library in my hometown. This is the children’s corner.

There I ran into my cousin, Donal Desmond. Donal is profoundly deaf. He was joined in the library by Eric Johnson, a fairly recent resident of Kanturk. Eric was a teacher of the deaf in Canada for 27 years. Eric signed for Donal so we didn’t have to do all the usual writing to communicate.

I was back in the library later that day for the launch of Seanchas Duhalla. Here I am with Noreen O’Sullivan of the Duhallow Heritage Society.

Denis Twohig is the chairman.

I met my old friend, Mary Lynch, chatting to Noreen Meaney

I met Mary Corbett for the first time in years.

Catching up was great.

The magazine committee have published the story of my Uncle Bernie and the combine harvester which you read first here on Listowel Connection.

There are lots of great stories in the book. i can’t wait to read them.

A gem from Facebook

Listowel Food Fair Food Trail 2023

Stop number 2 on our trail was in John.R.’s

Jimmy, Pierce and the wine expert.

They certainly believe here that we eat with our eyes. Feast your peepers on this spread.

John Relihan with John Mangan of the organising committee

John and Thalita with our host, Pierce Walsh.

The people who brought us this wonderful feast….John R’s lovely workers.

Having gorged ourselves here we moved on to Daisy Boo.

A Fact

Every known dog, except the chow, has a pink tongue. The chow’s tongue is black.

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Cafés and Coffee

in Daisy Boo Barista on Church Street

Listowel Food Fair Food Trail

Jimmy Deenihan lead us from café to restaurant to take away on Saturday as he showcased one of his pet passions, Listowel food.

My friend, John Relihan, internationally renowned chef and meat expert was also on the trail. I was documenting it for you.

John brought his womenfolk, Mary Ann, proud mother, and Talitha, proud wife.

At each stop (there were 5 ) a member of staff told us a bit about what they do. My friend, Anne Marie ORiordan told us all about Thyme Out Café at Listowel Garden Centre.

It was a super start to the trail. we got a cuppa while we were waiting and then we got samples of all their wares, savoury and sweet. I heeded the lesson of former years and held back at the first stop. The food was lovely and the staff are so efficient and welcoming.

Here I made the first of my new friends. This couple travelled from Dromid to enjoy the delights of Listowel eating.

We drank the coffee and things got better and better.

On to John R.’s tomorrow.

A Listowel Legend Remembered

I took this photo of the late Toddy Buckley and Noreen a few years ago.

Toddy was remembered by the Pitch and Putt Club in a post lately.

Photos and text: Listowel Pitch and Putt Club

Brilliant photo by Brendan Landy shared by the club.

This month marks the fourth anniversary of the passing of Toddy Buckley. Toddy Buckley shot a course record of -13 (41) in June 1982, a record that holds to the present day. Toddy was more than just the course record holder at Listowel Pitch and Putt Club. He was part of the fabric of the place and worked hard on and off the course to further the cause of the club. He took a particular interest in juvenile pitch and putt and acted as a mentor to many juveniles in the 1980s/90s. A big thank you to Mary Buckley, daughter of Toddy, for presenting the club with this lovely memento of Toddy’s remarkable achievement. 

PS: for the eagle-eyed of you, the card was signed by Willie Enright. The course of time has meant that Willie’s signature is now barely visible.

Kanturk’s Newest Success Story

On my recent visit home I called in to Catch Up Café. You may have read the story or heard Jack on radio. But for those who don’t know this great story here it is.

In my photo are Jack Tobin and his mother, Sonia, who run Catch up café in The Square.

This quirky little café has grown in popularity since its opening in April.

Above are some of the jokey signs that set the tone for the place. The decor is black and it looks like a city café.

Now the reason Catch up Café is in the news is because Jack launched his very own Coffee there on Friday evening, November 10 2023.

Jack is 24 . He has lost 10 years of that 24 to drug addiction. He was born in Cobh where he started smoking cannabis at a young age. He spiralled downwards into addiction until a day in 2021 when he knew it was make or break.

His family had relocated to Kanturk hoping to take him away from his drug taking suppliers and companions. He found new contacts and new suppliers and he was worse than ever.

He had been introduced to catering at the Cork Life Centre where he completed his education. His mother gave up her job as a Home Ec teacher, Jack went through rehab. and together they opened Catch up Café under Jack’s management.

A landmark event in the story of Jack and the café was the launch of “The Recovery Blend” of coffee blended especially for the cafe by Soma in Cork.

An exemplary young man from an exceptionally supportive family. I hope Kanturk continues to be good to them.

A Fact

Roy C. Sullivan of Virginia USA was struck by lightning seven times in his life.He suffered a burnt left shoulder, legs, chest and stomach, burnt hair (twice) and lost a toenail and both eyebrows.

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Tarbert ESB, Listowel Food Fair 2019 and proposed Food Hub and John Relihan

Winter 2019

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Do you Remember this?

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Opening of ESB Power station, Tarbert


Glin Historical Society found these photos in the Kennelly Archive from

19th June 1970.

The official opening of the ESB power generating station at Tarbert by An Taoiseach Jack Lynch. Most Rev. Dr. Eamonn Casey, Bishop of Kerry, performed the blessing ceremony.

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More from the Sunday Fair at Listowel Food Fair 2019

Frances O’Keeffe designs and knits the most amazing tea cozies. They are all just beautiful.

Frances’ attention to detail is astounding.

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Down the street at The Seanchaí there was a great children’s fair going on.

It was Remembrance Sunday and the wreath laying was taking place at the memorial plaque.

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North Kerry’s Own Celebrity Chef


I ran into John Relihan and his mom, Maryanne, in The Square. John is always so friendly and approachable despite his fame in the culinary world. He is now an executive chef which means a little less cooking and lots of globe trotting, last week in London, next week in Florida.

John and his mom were in Listowel for the food fair and they ran into Jimmy Deenihan who has done so much for the food business in Listowel. He is the driving force behind the new food hub which it is hoped will being jobs and prosperity to our region.

What is a food hub?

I asked the same question when I first heard of it and here is the answer from last week’s Kerry’s Eye:

A tale of St. John’s clock, a few Listowel photos and John Relihan at Fifteen in London


Great Hunting Weather



Duhallow Hunt       Photo; Willie Nunan



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A Tale of Protestants and Catholics United by a Clock


 My story started with this old postcard. I posted it here a few weeks ago. On the same day as it appeared I was on Radio Kerry giving my Just a Thought. Just a Thought is a minute’s reflection broadcast on Radio Kerry on weekday mornings. It is broadcast first at 7.30 a.m. during Kerry’s Full Breakfast. One of the presenters of this programme is Elaine Kinsella. Elaine heard my “Thought” and realised that it was her old teacher whose blog she now follows. So Elaine opened the blog and the first thing she saw was this old picture of Listowel Town Square. “I wonder,” says she, “when this photograph was taken.”

Later on the same day, I met my friend Junior Griffin. Junior didn’t know when exactly the photo was taken but he was sure that it was before the 1940s because he had observed that the numerals in the St. John’s clock were illegible and he knew all about their being repainted.


Junior is a great man for a story and he didn’t let me down on this occasion either.

The man second from left in this photo (kindly given to me by Patsy O’Sullivan) is Archdeacon Wallace and he was the last Protestant rector of Listowel parish. Junior remembers him as a great community man and on the very best of terms with his Catholic neighbours.

One of these Catholic friends was Junior’s dad, John Griffin. Now John was the local expert at mending clocks and watches. So it was to Bridge Rd to the Griffin house that the archdeacon came to get his clock seen to.

Junior remembers the whole undertaking well.

In the 1940s it was forbidden for a Catholic to enter a Protestant church. Mending the clock would not involve entering the church as there was no access to the clock from the church. To solve this problem John Griffin constructed a kind of primitive cherry picker. This contraption was a kind of cage that he would enter on the ground and using pulleys and ropes he would hoist himself up to the clock in order to access the movement of the clock.

Junior’s mother was worried sick that some harm might come to her husband in this makeshift hoist so she sent Bert and Junior to the Catholic church to light candles and to pray that no harm would come to their dad.


Bert, R.I.P. and Junior

Mr. Griffin repainted the numerals and he brought the two huge hands home to paint them. Junior remembers that the big hand measured five feet and the small hand was 3 feet long.

There remained one final problem to solve but John Griffin was a dinger at solving problems. If he couldn’t do something himself, he knew someone who could.

The last piece of repair work needed was the vital pin that held the hands in place and allowed them to turn as well in order to tell the time. This was a job for an engineer and John Griffin knew just the man, his friend Michael Graham. Michael lived in Dublin but he had a Listowel connection in that he was married to a North Kerry woman.

Michael made the vital pin. The clock was in working order again. 

Now there is a lovely postscript to the story, Junior told me that Michael Graham, the man who made the vital pin was married to Canon Declan O’Connor’s aunt.

Canon Declan with Jimmy Hickey.

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Listowel Arms from Convent Street



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St. Patrick’s Hall, Listowel




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Star Pupil




Fifteen Graduates is a Facebook page for graduates of Jamie Oliver’s apprentice programme. This is what it says about our own John Relihan

“Great to see graduate John Relihan at Fifteen today. John has become a Food Ambassador for Ireland and he has been busy travelling all over the world in that role. For St Patricks Day on the 19th of March this year John will be back cooking in Trafalgar Square again – we will send an email out soon as he will be looking for other graduates to come along and cook with him on the day as well. Keep up the great work John “

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