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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Soap, a Bridge and a Ferry

Photo: Jim McSweeney, Mallow Camera Club


When Soap was Soap

If you remember this, you are as old me. This was ‘household soap”. It was manufactured by Lever Brothers in Port Sunlight outside Liverpool. it was used everyday for hundreds of jobs. If anything, and I mean anything, needed washing this was the go-to soap.

Scrubbing the doorstep, indeed scrubbing floors generally, was an activity undertaken by some on a daily basis. The scrubber knelt on the floor and with scrubbing brush and soap scrubbed every inch of the floor, mopping off the excess moisture with an old rag. These poor women (they were always women) ended up with a condition known as “housemaids knee”.


We’ll go racing again

We’ll cross this bridge again in 2022. I was delighted to see the sign advertising a June meeting and The Harvest Festival of Racing for September has been erected at the River Feale entrance to the racecourse.


Old Tarbert Ferry Postcard


From Pres. YearBook 1990


A Well Travelled Trip Adviser

(From RTE on the internet)

A Kerry man has made it into the review history books, as he’s named the best-travelled reviewer on Tripadvisor.

The review site has published a break down of its stats, as it reaches a milestone of publishing one billion reviews and traveller insights.

User @damienstack, from Listowel in Co. Kerry, Ireland, was revealed to have posted reviews for 176 different countries. If that wasn’t impressive enough, he has actually visited all 193 countries in the world!


The Colleen Bawn, Listowel Drama Group and Listowel Marching band

Childers’ Park Playgrounds in March 2020


Messages of Hope

Ballybunion in March 2020 photographed by Marie Moriarty


Old Listowel Drama Group Photos

from Máire MacMahon



The Tragic Story of The Colleeen Bawn who died in 1819

An article from The Clare People in The Clare County Library

(Sorry about the formatting)

The Colleen Bawn
(1803 – 1819) 

In the Autumn of 1819, at Moneypoint, Kilrush, were found the remains of Ellen Hanley. The victim, now known to story, drama and opera as the Colleen Bawn, was not quite sixteen years of age. Her body was washed ashore there six weeks after her marriage. She had been murdered at the insistence of her husband, John Scanlan, of Ballykehan House, near Bruff County Limerick.

Ellen Hanley is reputed to have been of outstanding beauty, and in addition, was of a bright and friendly disposition. She was the daughter of a small farmer at Ballycahane, near Bruree in County Limerick. Her mother died when she was six years old and she was reared by her uncle, John Connery (Conroy).

Soon after she became acquainted with John Scanlan he proposed marriage to her. Scanlan, a young man in his twenties, belonged to the ascendancy and being anxious about the difference in their social position she was unwilling to marry him. However, he calmed her fears and the marriage was arranged. She eloped from the home of her uncle in early July, 1819. There is some uncertainty about where the marriage took place. They may have been married at Limerick or in the Old Church at Kilrush.

Shortly afterwards, Scanlan tired of his young bride, and with his servant, Stephan Sullivan, her murder was planned. Using Scanlans boat Sullivan took her for a trip on the river. Armed with a gun, he lost his nerve just as he was about to commit the awful deed. He returned with Ellen to Glin. Scanlan plied Sullivan with more whiskey and convinced Ellen to resume the boat trip. In mid-stream Sullivan murdered her with a musket. He removed her garments and ring which he kept in the boat. She was tied with a rope which was attached to a stone and the remains were dumped in the Shannon. Six weeks later the body was washed ashore at Moneypoint. This appalling crime created feelings of horror and pity among all classes.

Both men had by this time disappeared but the full powers of the law were put in motion and Scanlan was the first of the two to be found, arrested and brought to trial. His trial took place in March, 1820. Owing to the high social position of his family, the trial created a big sensation. He was defended by the famous lawyer, Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator. It was assumed that there would be an acquittal as it was felt that one of the ascendancy should not suffer for a crime against a commoner. Nevertheless, Scanlan was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was taken from the Jail on March 16th, 1820, to Gallows Green, the place of execution at the Clare side of the Shannon. A carriage and horses were procured for the journey of one mile. Crossing the bridge, en route to Gallows Green, the horses stopped, and though the soldiers who accompanied the procession used whips and bayonet-thrusts they could not get the horses to move. Scanlan was obliged to leave the carriage and walk to the place of execution. He was duly hanged.

Sullivan was found shortly afterwards and his trial took place some four months after Scanlans. It excited almost as much interest as that of his master. He was tried at Limerick, found guilty and sentenced to death. On the gallows he confessed his guilt and admitted that his master was the proposer and that he was the agent of the murder.

Ellen Hanley is buried in Burrane cemetery, between Kildysart and Kilrush. The late Mrs. Reeves, of Bessborough House, which is situated near the graveyard, erected a Celtic cross at the head of the grave. It bore the following inscription:-

“Here lies the Colleen Bawn,

Murdered on the Shannon,

July 14th 1819. R.I.P.”

There is no longer any trace of this cross. It was chipped off, bit by bit by souvenir hunters.

 Many stories and sketches have been written about the Colleen Bawn, amongst them the successful novel “The Collegians” by Gerald Griffin. As a young reporter he had covered 

the trials of Scanlan and Sullivan for the newspapers and in the novel you will find them thinly disguised as Hardress Cregan and Danny Mann. Dion Boucicault also commemorates her 

in his drama entitled “The Colleen Bawn”. In Benedicts opera called “The Lily of Killarney” 

she is the leading character. The real facts of her life and death are not related in any of these. 

Thus ends the tragic story of the Colleen Bawn, a story of infinite pathos and stark, unrelieved tragedy.

Sean Byrne, The Kerryman Mural and Listowel Marching Band

Strickeen Mountain

Sandra Johnson shared this fab. photo to This is Kerry


Kerryman Building 2020

 The Kerryman with Mike O’Donnell’s great paperboy mural


Listowel Marching Band 1987

Photo: Charlie Nolan


A Family Hero

From the Dúchas Folklore collection

Martin Leahy’s Story

A great man 

My Uncle who lives with me says the strongest man he ever knew was Sean Byrne. He says although he was very strong he was as quiet as a child. 

There was a policeman in Abbeyfeale and he said that he himself was a good man and that he was stronger than any other policeman in the barrack. It happened one day that Seánwas in Abbeyfeale and that he was drunk, this policeman saw him and to show off his strength went up to arrest Seán. When he came up to Sean he said “You are drunk.”

 “I am” said Sean. 

“You are” said the policeman “and I must arrest you.” 

Sean went along quietly with him for some time and when he saw his opportunity he threw the policeman into a pool of water that was near at hand. Sean went home and policeman went into the barrack and he was never boasting after that. 

I heard about that there was a son of his at Latchfords in Listowel and that he too was a very strong man.

Martin Leahy st.v

Dromore, 27 . 6 . 1938

Information from my uncle,

Edmond Leahy, Bromore, Ballybunion.

He got it from his grandfather.

A Parade in the 1980s, Change is the peat industry in the 1960s and a Church Street skyline in 2019

At the Corner of Charles Street and William Street


Last of Danny Gordon’s St. Patrick’s Day in Listowel in the1980s Photos


Trinity College and Dame Street, Dublin in 1930

Photo ; National Library


Changing Times at Bord na Mona

A photo from the Foidin machine, taken in 1967. There’s also another one in the background. The Foidin or small sod programme, began work in 1965 and was an attempt to produce small sods of peat on milled peat bogs. This was because of a succession of bad summers during the 1960s. Much of the experimental work was carried out at Oweninny, Co. Mayo. However the machines were too big and the programme was dropped in the early 1970s. The seventies also brought a lot of dry sunny summers.

Photo and text: Tony McKenna


Look Up

Signs and shingles on Church St., Listowel in March 2019


Vincent Carmody on His Book Tour

Vincent met up with the Carpenter family, who are frequent visitors to Listowel, on his book tour cum holiday in the USA.

Photo: John Carpenter on Facebook

Listowel Marching Band, A Visit to Killarney House and a Seán MacCarthy song

Cahirdown, looking towards town


Listowel Marching Band 1987

Charlie Nolan shared this great old photo with us.

Wouldn’t it be great if someone could name names and tell us the story. I know the marching band brings back happy memories for a few forty somethings.


Killarney and Killarney House

Mons. Hugh O’Flaherty striding out beside the side entrance to Killarney House.

 In the garden

In Killarney House you can take a guided tour and learn all the history of the house which was once a stable. You will hear how the McShane family sold it to the state for a pittance and how the state spent millions restoring it to the beautiful national treasure it is today. You are not allowed to take photographs during this part.

Last month they opened 15 new self guided interactive rooms and that is where I took these photos.

There is lots of information on the ecosystems and the people in the National Park. It is all presented in accessible and varied format.

I took this through a window looking out on the vast lawns and gardens which link up with the gardens at Muckross House.

 Family photographs of Lord Kenmare (Killarney House was originally Kenmare House) tell us the interesting story of this family.

Lord Kenmare became Lord Castlerosse and he married Doris Delevigne. If that name is familiar it is because she  was a relative of the now famous Cara Delevigne.

All the signage and explanatory notes are in Irish and English. Edward V11 visited Killarney House when he was Prince of Wales. Queen Victoria visited too and more recently Charles and Camilla came here as part of their Irish tour.


A Seán Mac Carthy Song

This is a very sad song of a mother who is encouraging her daughter to make the pragmatic but awful decision to marry for money and security rather than for love. This was in an Ireland when parents who knew poverty and hardship themselves appreciated the importance of land and money. Love was a luxury. You were lucky if it grew in a made match but many unions were unhappy unless you could find the mindset to count your blessings and make the best of your lot.

Mattie Lennon shared the lyrics with us.


You are fair of face, dear Kate, now you’re nearing twenty-one,

I hesitate to spoil your dreams, when your life has just begun.

Your father, he is old, a grah, and I am far from strong,

A dowry from John Hogan’s son would help us all along.

Just think of it, my darling Kate, you would own a motor car,

You’d wear fine linen next your skin and travel near and far.

Hogan’s lands stretch far and wide, from Rathea to Drummahead;

He owns sheep and cows and fine fat sows; pyjamas for the bed.

I know he’s tall and skinny, Kate, and his looks are not the best,

But beggars can’t be choosers, love, when you’re feathering your nest!

He’s been to college in the town; his shirts are always new,

What does it matter if he’s old, he’s just the man for you.

I know you love young Paddy Joe, him with the rakish eye,

I’ve seen the way you look at him whenever he goes by.

I will admit he’s handsome, Kate, but he doesn’t own a car,

Sure, he likes to fight and drink al night above in Sheehan’s bar.

Did I ever tell you, Kate a grah,  that I was pretty too?

The summer days seemed longer then, and the sky was always blue!

I was only gone nineteen, and your father fifty-three,

But he owned the land on which we stand and he seemed the man for me.

There was a young man lived next door, I loved with all my might,

It was his face that haunted me when your father held me tight;

I longed, dear Kate, down through the years, for the soft touch of his hand.

But young love is no substitute for ten acres of fine land.

You will wear a long white dress and a red rose in your hair,

I will throw confetti, Kate, the whole town will be there;

You will make a promise true, to honour and obey,

I will stand on your right hand, and I’ll sell my love away.

Tears are not for daytime, Kate, but only for the night,

You’ll have a daughter of your own and teach her wrong fro right;

Rear her strong and healthy, Kate, pray guidance from above.

Then one fine day when she’s nineteen—she might marry just for love. 

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