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

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Halloweens of Old

Old Presentation Convent chapel in October 2023


Remembering a Great Athlete


Just a Thought

Link to my last week’s reflections on Radio Kerry;

Just a Thought


Halloween in the Old Days

Mick O’Callaghan reminisces about Halloween nights during his Kerry childhood.

I remember in school we were reminded to pray for all the saints that had no special day assigned to them on the calendar. The church had set November 1st aside as a special day for this remembrance and they called it All Hallows Day with the day before that called All Hallows Eve or Halloween. November 2nd is called All Souls Day .We really prayed for these saints and visited the church. This was very much part of our formative years.

My father and uncle told us it was a pagan festival from Celtic Ireland. Samhain was the division of the year between summer and winter when the other world and ours were closest and it was the time when the living and dead were closest. Druids dressed up as spirits to avoid being carried away during the night in case they met spirits.

This is where all this dressing up at Halloween comes from with children and adults dressing up in scary costumes.

When I came to the east coast in 1967, I was amazed at this dressing up tradition when everyone dressed up and went out on the town with children doing Trick or Treat. I had never experienced such a massive Halloween community event during my childhood in Kerry.

     The big event there was the celebration at home with the barmbrack taking centre stage. Barry’s Bakery did a huge trade in these. They were rich curney loaves made with the fruit soaked in barm, the left over from fermenting beer and ale giving it that rich taste. There is probably a newer recipe nowadays. Each brack contained a rag, a coin, and a ring or a pea. If you got the coin, you were in for a rich year ahead. The rag was an omen of a poor year ahead while the ring designated love or happiness and the pea meant that you would not get married that year. It was all good fun. My mother was always so careful when cutting the brack to warn us about checking each piece carefully.

      My father used cut out a turnip and placed a candle in it. This was to remember the light given to Stingy Jack by the devil to guide him around in the darkness because he would not be allowed into heaven or hell after he died because he tricked the devil, and he was not in favour with the good lord above either.  At least that is what I told the children every Halloween during my teaching years. The Jack o’ Lantern tradition is also mixed up in this area. The Irish brought this tradition with them when they emigrated in their millions to the USA during famine years, I believe, but because the USA is more pumpkin than turnip country the pumpkin took over from the turnip. The carving of the pumpkin was also very much part of American Halloween and Thanksgiving Festival with pumpkin pie and soup and whatever else you can think of.

Now we too have pumpkins everywhere and ne’er turnip in sight.

In my youth we enjoyed snap apple at home, and this was great fun also. An apple was tied on the door jamb with a string, and we had to try and slow it down and bite it. It was such a hygienic game, I don’t think.

     My uncle would arrive every Halloween with his sack of lovely eating and cooking apples. He told us that in times past apples were offered as sacrifice to the gods in thanksgiving for a good harvest. He got a big basin, filled it with water and put apples in. Our challenge was to dunk in and get out an apple by biting into it while our hands were tied behind our backs. 

     He also placed some coins which naturally fell to the bottom of the basin so there was quite a lot of water splashed about in our efforts to get the dosh, but it was all good innocent fun. Could you imagine doing that now with covid and sanitiser. No thank you very much.

     My father always grew Kale or curly cabbage and was forever hoping for a blast of frost pre-Halloween so that the cabbage would be ready for the colcannon. This was a special favourite meal. The potatoes were taken from the pit and the fresh onions were brought in from the shed and my grandmother Curran always sent in the proper home-made salted country butter to add to the mash. The eventual colcannon meal was scrumptious. I still love colcannon.

Then there were the ghost stories when my father would emerge with a white sheet thrown over him and with the light down told us exaggerated stories of the banshee with a bit of wailing thrown in which scared the living wits out of us.

Nowadays things seem to have changed with the sweet companies producing millions of small bars and sweets to fill the bags of the Trick Or treaters. We now have Halloween lights and baubles to equal Christmas.

Nuts come with an allergy warning; I was asked last year if I had gluten free sweets.

Mick O Callaghan


More from Walkabout , a 1980s guide to Listowel


In Tattoo Shop Window

Church Street, Listowel


Bridget Ryan, Listowel to Sydney in 1850

Sue Greenway, on the left, came to Listowel from her home in California to learn more about her ancestor, Bridget Ryan, who travelled from Ireland to Australia in 1850.

Kay Caball has the whole story in her Kerry Ancestors blog today.

Here is the link;

Bridget Ryan

What a story!


A Fact

Listowel Emmets football team scored 22 of their 24 points from play in Sunday’s defeat of a higher ranked Ballymacelligott team in the County Junior Championship 2023.



Mill Lane in October 2023



Some retailers seem to have bypassed Halloween and gone straight to Christmas. Not so my friends in Vincents.

Nancy and Mary posed for me with their scary new shop assistant.

Harp and Lion Antiques’ ducks are ready for trick or treating.


In Ballincollig

When I visited my Cork based family recently Lakewood closed tournament was in full swing.

Competitors, including Anne, Bobby and Sean Cogan, supporters including 2 grannies on the far right.

Carine, Sean and Bobby with their French visitor, Cecile (Carine’s Mum)


A Dan Keane Poem

Listowel Castle today


Storytime in Listowel Library

Saturday morning is a magical time in Listowel library.

Aoife and her Mammy were there on Saturday October 21 2023

Librarian turned storyteller, Maria, had a captive audience of small folk in the palm of her hand with her animated engaging storytelling. The enthusiastic audience participation made for a great session.

Storytelling was followed by craft. Our little lady was a bit young for that activity but I’d highly recommend this marvellous free session for Saturday morning entertainment.


A Fact

There are more Siberian tigers living in captivity than in their native habitat.


Old RTE Guide, Larry Gogan, The Far East and Mike the Pies

Listowel Castle

Winter 2019


Old RTE Guide

The very first RTE Guide 1962

Back then we had one channel for a few hours every day and when a programme was gone it was gone, no catch up, no recording or player. Programmes were in back and white. We thought we were made up.

Photo from The Journal

Take a quick trip down memory lane with me…Charles Mitchell, Don Cockburn, Wanderly Wagon, The Fugitive, Rawhide, Living with Lucy, The Cosby Family, Quicksilver, continuity announcers, Film board of Canada cartoon fillers, Is dona linn an briseadh seo, Nighthawks, Seven Days etc.etc.etc.

This week we lost Larry Gogan. Larry never appeared much on TV but he was a voice from my childhood.

Recently we’ve lost Gay Burne, Brendan Grace, Marian Finucane and now Larry. It feels very much like the end of an era.

Marty Whelan, Larry’s friend, shared this old photo of 2fm DJs. I recognise Larry, Marty, Philip King (front right ) and Gerry Ryan but I dont recognise the 2 in the cars at the back.


Magazines in Schools

My talk of The Imeldist has opened the floodgates of memory for many. While I’m yet to find someone who remembers The Imeldist people tell me that they remember The Far East, The Africa and The Messenger (which I think is still going strong).

Anyone keep any of these?


Mike the Pies on January 9 2020

I don’t think Martin got the opportunity to do any more painting over Christmas but I’ll keep you posted if there are any changes.

Shop windows, Flowers at the Courthouse, Christmas Customs and A Christmas Craft Fair

Listowel Castle December 2019


Some Lovely Shopwindows

Listowel shopkeepers make a great effort with their window displays always.

Cheryl’s lovely crochet crib figures are on the NCBI window.


McKenna’s Winter Wonderland


Work at Listowel Courthouse courtyard

They look like flowerbeds in the making.


Christmas Cleaning from the Dúchas collection

The first job always seemed to be the cleaning and painting.

Christmas Customs

It is an old custom to clean up the house the week before Christmas, to white wash it and paint all the furniture. All the old people like to go to Tralee for the Christmas.

On St. Stephen’s day boys flock together and go around with the wren. They dress up in various kinds of clothes and get a dead wren and a bit of holly. They go from house to house and sing and play and dance. The people of the house give them some money and sometimes give them drink.

The old people put up holly around the windows and mantles for Christmas. On the Eve of each holiday candles are lighted through out the Christmas.


Christmas is a merry time for young and old. Five days before Christmas the people go to a town or village for their Christmas supplies.

The first sign of Christmas is the houses are whitewashed and the places cleaned. On Christmas Eve the candles


Mike’s Murals

Mike O’Donnell’s own photo of himself painting the old Kerryman masthead over the door of The Kerryman building


Listowel Tree 2019


Christmas Craft Fair

I never got round to posting these last week. This was the Christmas Craft Fair in Kerry Writers’ Museum with some lovely things to buy.

The heavenly Elle Marie ODwyer is a new face at Listowel craft fairs. I love her new song, Christmas by the Lee. Have a listen.

Our local historian, Vincent Carmody was there with his chronicles of old Listowel and old Newcastlewest

Anne and Katie’s snowmen and candy canes were very popular.

Frances O’Keeffe is the best knitter and knitting designer I know. Her cupcake dolls are a new addition to her range and they’re gorgeous. I also love this Rhode Island Red hen tea cozy.

This lady had beautiful large or small Christmas arrangements.

Piseoga, a Rainbow and the Opening of Moyvane Church in 1956 and A minute of your Time Launch nears

Listowel Castle, October 2019


More Folklore from the Dúchas collection

More Piseóga from Lyreacrompane in 1936

27. It is said that you should not throw away feet-water at night.

28. It is said that you should never sweep the dust of the floor out the door.

29. If you see a sod falling out of the fire it is said that someone will come into the house soon after.

30. If a sod falls out of the fire and sparks hop out of it, it is said that money will come into that house.

31. If you see two cocks fighting it is said that you will have strangers. (to visit)

32. If you see two looking into a mirror together it is said the two will fight.

33. If anyone goes to the well after 12 o’clock on Little Christmas night (January 6)it is said that that person will be dead before the next morning.

34. If you get meat you should never return it.

35. You should never kill a pig on a Monday for it is said that the meat will get bad.

36. Some people say that if you throw a cake of bread against the door on New Year’s Eve, it is supposed to keep the hunger away for that year.

37. Some people bless the cattle on May eve, expecting that they would not die during the year.

38. If you put your dress on wrong in the morning it is supposed that you will have good luck for the day.

39. If a widow’s curse will fall on you it will stay on you.

40. If you steal anything out of a forge it is said you will never have a day’s luck.

41. If you put on your right shoe first in the morning it is said that that you will have good luck for that day.

42. If a spider hops on your shoes or on your clothes it is supposed that you will get new shoes.

43. If you break a cup on Monday it is said to bring bad luck.

44. If a ring falls from a person who is getting married it is said that that person will not have a day’s luck during life.

45. If you go on a journey you should if possible go into a church before you perform it.

46. If you met a greyhound at night it is said that he is a devil. (A person was ill one night and they sent for the priest. When the priest was coming he saw a greyhound singing inside a fence and it was said that that was a devil singing Cailín Deas Crúidh na mbó and that song was never sung again.)

47. If you give away a black cat it is said that you give away all your luck.

48. If a spoon falls from a table it is supposed that a lady will come in.

49. If a knife falls from a table it is supposed that a gentleman will come in.

50. You should never refuse good money for a horse. (A few weeks ago a man refused thirty pounds for a horse and a few days after, the horse fell and broke her leg and the owner of her shot her.


A Rainbow over a Shed

Could there be a pot a gold behind the cowshed?


Opening of Moyvane Church in August 1956


Still Promoting A Minute of Your Time

Yesterday I gave a few sneak peeks to local people. The reaction was invariably good from the hairdressers, the pharmacy, the theatre and the bookshop.

Danny and Yvanna

Brenda of Woulfe’s Bookshop liked what she saw.

Máire Logue of St. John’s is enjoying her promotional copy.

Oonagh thought it was one of the nicest books she has seen launched in Listowel in a long time.

Listen out for me today Oct. 17 2019 talking to Deirdre Walsh on Radio Kerry.

Below is the link to the piece I did with Mary Fagan on Horizons.

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