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: Kerry Ancestors Page 1 of 2

Young Scientists in 1983, landlords and Tenants and Extension planned fro Pres. Secondary School

January with the ladies in Ballincollig Regional Park


From the Archives

Young Scientists in Listowel in 1983 pictured in The Kerryman


Some Facts Stranger than Fiction

The oldest bridge in Paris is Pont Neuf meaning new bridge.

The first woman to play golf was Mary Queen of Scots.

Agatha Christie was a keen surfer.


Landlord and Agent

Kay Caball is the acknowledged expert in the area of Kerry ancestors. Her book, Finding Your Kerry Ancestors and her website, My Kerry Ancestors and her blog

Kerry Ancestors blog

are required reading for anyone researching their Kerry roots.

Here is a small section of a series of blogs on Landords and Tenants;

“In Ireland we are very much aware of the importance of ‘the land’.  Who owned the land? Who rented the land? How  did the system work ? These are just some of the questions that my colleague Jim Ryan of Flyleaf Press and Ancestor Network has answered in his definitive article on Irish land records or Rentals in his recent blog.   

Jim has kindly given me permission to reproduce his blog in sections. I will publish these over the next few weeks, finishing with a list of surviving Kerry land records and where to access them as in my book Finding Your Ancestors in Kerry.

Agents.  The practical day-to-day management of estates was usually the work of land agents,  also known as estate agents.  These could be hired by large estates as members of staff, or contracted as  external estate managers.    There were several large land or estate management companies that  could be hired to perform this role.  Some of these external companies managed hundreds of small estates on behalf of their owners.  Agents provided the estate owners with regular rental reports detailing rental income due and received.  These reports were particularly important for ‘absentee landlords’ who did not reside in Ireland.   These were entirely reliant on their agent to manage their estate business and to keep them informed of issues that might affect their income.  Land stewards, sometimes referred to in documents,  were staff who worked under land agents.

Agents were generally reviled by tenants.  A popular contemporary quote was that ‘Landlords were sometimes decent men,  but agents were devils one and all’.   This is not entirely fair as there were many agents who were respected by their tenants,  but a larger proportion performed their function through coercion and threat of eviction.  In their defence, the historical evidence suggests that most were not provided with the funding or authority which might have allowed them to assist their tenants to improve their farming methods or land,  or to facilitate access to markets etc. Further background to the complex roles and circumstances of the land agent can be found in 2 books:    Landlords, tenants, famine:  the business of an Irish land agency in the 1840s.  Desmond Norton. UCD Press 2006. ISBN 978-1-904558-55-2;  and  The Irish Land Agent 1830-60:  the case of Kings County.    Ciaran Reilly, Four Courts Press 2014.  ISBN 978-1-84682-510-1

Observations.   Most rentals have an ‘observations’ column which is variable in its use.  Some rentals contain no observations,  others are used by the agent or landlord for their own accounting notes, while others are used by agents to provide information to their landlord on the circumstances of a particular tenant.   These include brief comments such as ‘good tenant’,   ‘lazy tenant’,  ‘promises to pay’, ‘pauper‘ etc,  but may also contain more valuable family history information  such as  ‘died in August‘,  ‘emigrated in December‘,  ‘a son of Luke Murphy of Ballinamore’ etc. 


Good News for Pres. Secondary School

Chairperson of the Board of Management, Shay Downes with Principal, Eileen Kennelly following the announcement this week of Department approval for two state of the art science labs, specialist rooms and classrooms. Exciting times ahead!

More from The Green Guide., Living Literature, Dublin Kerry Association


More from the Little Green Guide of 1965


Living Literature  at The Seanchaí

This is Angeline, the actress, with Jerry, the John B. Keane fan before the start of our Living Literature Tour on Saturday July 21 2018

We were in The Seanchaí for a tour of the rooms dedicated to North Kerry Writers. If you get a chance to take this guided tour, I’d highly recommend it. Angeline, our guide, was full of enthusiasm for the work of the featured writers. She sang, played, recited and acted to bring to life the work of the various writers. She was brilliant and we all greatly enjoyed the tour.

 In the room dedicated to Bryan MacMahon she told us the story, recounted in The Master, of Bryan getting a young mahout to bring a baby elephant to the school. This seems really extraordinary to today’s young people but a photo in the John Hannon archive shows a parade of elephants through the town to advertise the arrival of a circus.

Elephants on Market Street photographed by Johnny Hannon.

Paddy stepped up to the plate to play Byrne to Angeline’s Big Maggie in the excerpt from the John B. Keane Play.


Dublin Kerry Association

I missed this one earlier in the summer when Fr. Anthony Gaughan was presented with an award and the Kerry gang in the capital came out in force

Fr. Gaughan with Miriam O’Callaghan and Keelin Kissane


Seán Keane in Finuge

The highlight of the Seán Maccarthy Memorial Weekend was Seán Keane in concert Neil Brosnan was there and he met Brendan Kennelly with his sister and niece.

Photo; Neil Brosnan

 This photo and caption are also from Neil Brosnan on Facebook.

Sean McCarthy ballad competition sponsors, Mike and Sue Nilsson, with prizewinners: Joe Harrington, 1st, Caroline O’Callaghan, 2nd, and myself in 3rd place 


Yesterday, August 5 2018 in Listowel

Kerry Ancestors, Sheehys of main Street and Altered Images

Bridge Road, July 2018


My old Friends Remembered

There is a lovely little shady corner in Listowel Town Park dedicated to the memory of three great Listowel brothers. I first came to know Martin, Michael and John Sheehy through the internet where I came to know them as men who retained a great love for their native Listowel even though they all had spent more years away from it than in it.

I “met” John first when I started contributing to the Listowel thread of My contributions to that forum were very much an early form of this blog. I used to post photographs and snippets of news and John invariable replied and encouraged me. There was a time when he used to return “home’ every year but that time had passed by the time I knew him so we never met.

John still retained a great grá for his hometown. His time growing up in Main Street and summering in Ballybuinion held very special memories for him. Of course his twin brother Jerry still lives here and once when I posted a photo of Jerry, John emailed me to tell me to urge him to wear his cap because it was getting very cold.

I kept up a correspondence with John right up to his untimely death. He shared many stories and photographs with me over the years and I regarded him as a friend.

The Sheehy brothers were one of those extraordinary Listowel families who raised bands of really intelligent men. Marty was probably the brightest of them. If I recall correctly he achieved a first in Ireland in Leaving Cert Greek (or was it Latin?). He went on to forge a very successful career in medicine and later medical insurance in the U.S. I met him often on his annual trips home. He was very appreciative of what I do and gave me every encouragement to keep going with the news from home.

Michael used to come every year for Listowel Races. He and his family were regulars every day on the racecourse. He told me once that Listowel Connection was one of the highlights of his day.

They have all passed to their eternal reward now. Whenever I am in the park I will sit on their seat now and remember them and say a prayer. I think they’d like that.


Beautiful Paintwork at Altered Images

I was delighted last week to spot Fred Chute back painting again. This beautiful painting of the plaster work of Pat McAuliffe is done best by a Chute and Fred is the best of them all.

I hear that we are going to see many more of these old facades preserved, repaired and repainted in the future. They will add greatly to the overall beauty of our lovely town.


Strange Tales from the Petty Sessions

Did you read lately how Stormy Daniels was arrested for allowing a person to touch her while she was performing in a skimpy costume?

She broke an Ohio law that says that nude employees cannot touch or be touched by patrons other than family members while on the premise of a “sexually-oriented” establishment where they appear on regular basis.

The charges were later dropped.

Believe it or not our ancestors were very quick to take to the law to sort out their disputes and Kay Caball found some very interesting cases when she read through some of the transcripts of the Petty Sessions courts.

Nothing as ludicrous as the Ohio law but some interesting cases nonetheless and you can read about them in Kay’s very interesting Kerry Ancestors’ blogpost:

“Did your Kerry Ancestor pawn a coat, own a wandering pig, or ‘commit a breach of the Sabbath’?  While Genealogy in its purest form is defined in the English Dictionary as ‘a line of descent of a person or family from earliest known ancestor’, my training in Family History and Genealogy goes much further.  We don’t just concentrate on the dry details of date of birth, marriage and death without trying to find out how the person lived, in what circumstances, what was going on in their lives around their Kerry location at the time they lived and/or emigrated.   And lots more – if we can get a flavour of their personality, all the better.

One way of doing this is checking the Petty Session Registers.

The Petty Sessions handled the bulk of lesser legal cases, both criminal and civil. They were presided over by Justices of the Peace, who were unpaid and often without any formal legal training. The position did not have a wage, so the role was usually taken by those with their own income – in practice usually prominent landowners or gentlemen. Justice was pronounced summarily at these courts, in other words, without a jury.”

This is just a flavour. Read the full post here;   

Kerry Genealogy in The Courts


Molly at Convent Cross

One of the advantages of having a dog is that it forces you to get out and walk. While Molly is with me for her Kerry holiday she obligingly poses for me at local landmarks. Here she is on the seat beside one of the oldest postboxes in town.

A Fun Fact about a postbox

For three weeks in 1979 Ballymacra, Co Antrim had the world’s most inconvenient post box.

In March 1979 workmen replaced the telegraph pole to which the pillar box was affixed. The workmen did not have the keys needed to release the clips that held the box in place so they raised the box over the top of the old pole and slipped it down the new one. 

The new pole was thicker than the old one and the box came to rest 9 feet above the ground. It remained there for 3 weeks and in that time people using the post box accessed it by stepladder.

Source: Foster’s Irish Oddities by Allen Foster

Kerry in the 19th Century, a new face at Writers’ Week H.Q. and Mary Young of Ballybunion

Chris Grayson took this photo of Blennerville in Winter


Family Historians Read On

If your New Year resolution is to get down to documenting the family tree and if your ancestors come from Kerry, here is the best place to start

Find my Kerry Ancestors

Listowel native, Kay Caball, runs this website which is full of good advice and handy resources for tracing Kerry ancestry.

Here is an example of one of her interesting posts from her very entertaining blog;

A few pointers to life in
Kerry in the 19th century:

         Very few Irish people knew (or even cared about) their exact
year/date of birth. Even when they wrote down a definite date, that was just a
guess.  They weren’t trying to fool anyone or be evasive, it was just
never of any imprtance at home and only on emigration did it become necessary
in the new country for identification purposes.   So rather then
settle on a particular date, take dates in a range, from x to y.

         Most Kerry people married within neighbouring townlands. 
 They met through neighbours, relatives, friends.   In the first
half of the century, Kerry men and women mostly married in their early
twenties.  After the Great Famine 1845-1852, the average age was thirty
and over.   After the Famine,  the more land they tenanted or
eventualy owned, dictated that ‘matches’ were made. These were the middle to
‘strong’ farmers.  To marry into a farm, a girl had to have a dowry which
in turn would provide the means for the husband’s sisters to get married
themselves.   A man marrying into a wife’s farm (known  as a
‘cliamhán isteach), needed to have cash/youth (preferably both) with a view to
keeping and developing that farm.

         For most of the nineteenth century, travel in County Kerry was
walking or by horse or donkey & car.   A person walking will
average 3 – 4 miles per hour, a person riding or on a horse or donkey cart will
average 5 -8 miles per hour. Thus a person could travel up to 12 miles each
day, have time to socialise or conduct business (market day) within a 12 mile


         The nearest port for emigration, with ships mostly to Canada,
was Blennerville, the Port of Tralee
from 1828 until 1867.    The railway came to Tralee in 1859. Stopping
in Rathmore, Killarney, Farranfore and Tralee it was then possible to travel to
Queenstown or Dublin by rail and onwards from there with most ships from
Queenstown bound for New York (some via Liverpool).  Limerick Port was
also used.   Charles Bianconi’s
long cars started to serve Tralee to Cork at first c. 1828 and eventually
called to Killarney, Killorglin and as far as Glenbeigh.  Mail cars also
operated between Tralee, Dingle, Castleisland, Killarney and Listowel. 
These would be used mostly by ‘the gentry’, ordinary folk could not afford


         Taking into account the travel limitations, ask yourself where
they might have attended church, where would they have gone for market and fair
days and to purchase the ticket for their emigration?  Where did they go
for court and legal affairs?  Were there actually roads in their native
townlands?   As late as 1828, the Kenmare to Derrynane road was seven
hazardous hours on horseback and according to Daniel O’Connell, best approached
by Killarney or by sea.  Getting to north Kerry from Limerick was best
acheieved by boat to Tarbert and thence by poor and boggy roads to Tralee.

         Why did your ancestors emigrate?  To get work is the
immediate answer. Opportunities for education, particularly in the first half
of the century,  were very limited, especially if you lived outside the
main towns, and while education was highly prized, it was not always possible
for all the children in large families to avail of it.  There was no
employment for the vast majority, no land available to acquire and absolutely
no ‘opportunities’ as they are now called.

         Who paid the passage and why did they decide on particular
locations?   This is probably one and the same question.  Single
people emigrating got the fare
from relatives already in the emigrant country, which would be paid back after
arrival and employment.  This ‘passage money’ would then be re-cycled on
to the next brother or sister whose turn would come to take the 
boat.   The location was not chosen by the emigrant, he/she choose to
go where there were already relatives, neighbours and friends who would try to
have jobs already lined up on arrival.  Different Kerry parishes are well
known for providing large numbers of immigrants who settled in the same
destinations.  West Kerry and Ballyferriter/Dunquin/The Blasket Island
natives almost all went to Springfield, Massachusetts.   Ballymacelligott
natives went in large numbers to New Zealand and the Beara Peninsula people
went to Montana.   The Five Points, Lr. Manhattan became home to
hundreds of Lansdowne Estate emigrants.


         Why are names of our ancestors all spelled in different
ways?   Standarised spelling was not the norm, poor education meant
that a lot of people could not read or write in English.   A majority
of Kerry people spoke mostly Irish up to the Great Famine with those in the
Dingle Penisula and South Kerry continuing to do so.  If a clergyman or
government official wrote your name down as he heard it and you were unable to
read or write yourself, you just went along with that spelling for the rest of
your life and indeed so did your descendants.   I have just been
tracing a family of ‘Corrigans’ who turn out to be ‘Corridons’ in Kerry and I
could quote many more such examples.  And we won’t get into the Sullivans
(or O’Sullivans)
who ordinarlily went by a ‘branch’ name at home and still used that on arrival
in the U.S., making it very very difficult to find ancestors later.

         Aother query often received.  Yes both ‘Sullivan’ and
‘O’Sullivan’ are the same as well as all the other ‘O’s  – O’Connor,
O’Connell, O’Driscoll, O’Neill, etc.,(Connor/Connell/Driscoll/Neill).

                  Last but not least, if your ancestor seems to have married two
different ladies, or two different men, check that the first has died, or that
the Church marriage register (pre 1864) or Civil Marriage record (post 1864)
denotes widow or widower as No, we didn’t have divorce in Ireland (or Kerry)
until June 1996.


A New Face in Listowel Writers’ Week Office

 Sinead MacDonnell is the new kid on the block. She joins Eilish Wren, Maria McGrath and Máire Logue. This is the team who will be organising the festival for 2018.

Writers Week will run from May 30th to June 3 2018


Who is Mary Young?

On my “Twelve Cribs of Christmas” tour with my Christmas visitors I made it to Ballybunion. Above is the lovely crib in their magnificent church.

This was my first opportunity to see and photograph the new statue of Mary Young. Apart from the fact that the image made me feel cold (it was a freezing day in this exposed space), I’m not at all sure this sculpture is appropriate in its current location.

We are used to statues of saints in the grounds of our churches. It will take me a while to get used to a statue of a rich benefactor, dressed for a ball rather than a trip to mass.

Who was Mary Young?

According to a report in The Kerryman at the unveiling of the statue, Mary was a very generous contributor to the parish of Ballybunion.

She was born, Mary O’Malley, in Kilconly. She married John Young, an English tea planter whom she met in Clare where she was working and they lived in Dublin.

After John’s death, she inherited his great wealth. She came to live in Ballybunion. She lived at Doon Road for 12 years. When she returned to Dublin in the early 1880s she gave her house to the the parish to be used as a school.  The Sisters of Mercy built a convent and ran a school there for over 100 years.

Mary returned from Dublin and built herself a new house in Church Road and she suggested to Fr. O’Connor that they build a new church to be called St. John’s “in memory of her husband”. 

Mary used much of her inherited wealth to build the church. It cost €8,500.  It was built in the style of Pugin which was a style very popular at the time.

The church was designed in 1892 by the Dublin-based architect George Coppinger Ashlin (1837-1921). Building began in 1894, but Mary Young died later that year before the church was completed, and she is buried with her husband in Kilehenny Cemetery. The first Mass in the church was celebrated on 6 August 1897, when Saint John’s was completed. 

(source: Patrick Comerford )

Her contribution to Ballybunion is enormous and she richly deserves to be remembered and honoured. 

However I wouldn’t have put her on her own in a low cut ballgown on a cold seat outside the magnificent church she helped to build.


New Face of Tralee, 2018

Photo by Dave Curran on Facebook

Kerry Ancestors, New Kingdom and Road Works on Main Street

The trees are in their autumn beauty

The woodland paths are dry

Under the October twilight

The water mirrors a still sky.  

W. B. Yeats

Rose hips by the river Feale

Trees in Listowel Pitch and Putt course

Autumn fruits


Are you searching for Kerry Ancestors

Every now and again I am contacted by people who are researching their family history and are planning a trip to Kerry to find their Kerry roots. i always send them first to the website of Listowel native, Kay Caball. Kay is a recognised expert on genealogy and she has a particular interest in Kerry families.

Kay’s  website My Kerry Ancestors is the very best starting point. There you will find lots of tips and links to help you to do the search. If you hit a stone wall, there is no better person than Kay to help you circumnavigate it.

Kay’s latest blogpost is a must read for anyone planning to visit to continue a search that is well under way. The more work you do at home before you set out for the emerald isle, the more productive will your visit be.

I’m reproducing here that great piece of advice from one who knows, in the spirit of, if you learn from the mistakes of others, then you are less likely to repeat them.

“To-day I would like to give a few hints to any Kerry descendants who have an idea or who are even at the planning stage of coming to Kerry to walk in the footsteps of their ancestor who emigrated from there, probably in the 19th century.   I get a large number of online enquires from the United States, Australia New Zealand and Canada from great and great-great grandchildren of Kerry emigrants who are passionate about visiting, finding the ancestral home if possible while here and ‘walking the land’ where their forefathers were born and reared before leaving, never to return.

Many descendants have done some research, many have done no research but all have the same impression – that somehow there are records in Kerry that will allow them to find the elusive family and associated townland.  This year in particular, I have had a number of emails from descendants arriving in the next week and hoping that all will be revealed during the visit. This is not the case and I hope this blog to-day will set the record straight.

The first bit of research should be done at home and you need to start this research at least six months prior to the proposed visit to Kerry. ‘At home’ means in the records available in the U.S., Australia or New Zealand or wherever the emigrant settled. You need to come with a parish or townland of origin.  I would like to quote from

Seek to discover the immigrant’s Irish origins using U.S. (Australian/Canadian etc) records. Consult family papers, parish registers, vital records, censuses, naturalization papers, passenger lists, probate records, city directories, local histories, and many more historical documents. Every community where the immigrant lived created records that may provide meaningful information. To begin your U.S. records search on, start here


Fitzgerald tomb, Molahiffe

To-day I want to give you an example of the right way to go about this.   Peggy Nute whom I will quote, has given me permission to record her research and visit which was very successful – what every genealogy visitor would like to achieve.

Peggy initially contacted me last March asking me to take on a commission to trace her grandfather  John Fitzgerald.    She had very little information except an older relative had stated that ‘John Fitzgerald was from Cty Cork and came to the USA as a young boy of 14-15’.  However his marriage certificate 20 Sept 1866, when he married Frances Ellen Barnett in Charleston, Mass., stated that his parents were listed as William Fitzgerald and Mary Connors from Ireland’.  Peggy believed herself that ‘all family records point to the fact that he was from Tralee and born Sept 1845’.

I started by accessing baptismal records for Counties Cork and Kerry but I also took on board the fact that the (a) port of embarkation in 1860 could have been Queenstown and many descendants looking at shipping records assume incorrectly that Co. Cork is the home location of all passengers and (b) the date of birth recorded at death is never exact – it could change by up to as much as 8 years.

After an exhaustive search of both Irish and U.S. records and much emailing back and forth to Peggy for further clarifications, I identified the elusive John Fitzgerald, baptised in Killarney on 17 September 1843.  Identification of townland and land records followed.  William Fitzgerald, John’s father was occupying land in the Parish of Molahiffe in 1853.   All of this research and clarification process took up to six weeks.   Peggy then made plans to visit, booked her hotels in Killarney, booked a driver, Helena,  to take her to Farranfore and to visit the surrounding townlands.

Peggy and her husband eventual arrived in August and the visit was an outstanding success. Arriving in Firies and making local enquiries led them to the Fitzgerald family of Gowlane.  They were received most hospitably    They were treated to tea and members of the family then took them to Molahiffe graveyard and showed them the tomb of their Fitzgerald family.   Peggy got phone numbers of other older Fitzgeralds in the parish who were not home at the time and she intends contacting those also.

So it takes time, research at home and well-laid plans to locate accommodation for a few days ‘on the ground’ of  the target parish.   I continually tell descendants that Irish people and particularly Kerry people have no problem at all with genealogy tourists turning up in villages asking questions, one contact will lead to another and another, tea or something stronger will be part of the search experience and you will find your roots and feel part of the great Kerry diaspora.”


New Kingdom Facelift

 Pity about the fada over the wrong A


Road works on Main Street


Deserved Recognition for Radio Kerry

Radio Kerry has been named Local Station of the Year at the PPI Radio Awards

Your voice in the Kingdom also took silver for Innovation and bronze in Best Short Feature for the ‘Just Once’ series. 

Plus, Weeshie Fogarty has been honoured with a bronze medal in the Sports Broadcaster of the Year category! 

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