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: Mary Young

In Ballybunion

One of the lovely welcoming park benches in Childers Park Listowel

Church of St. John, Ballybunion

St. John’s in Ballybunion is one of the most magnificent churches in the Kerry Diocese.

Mary Young, whose seated statue is placed facing the church was one of the main benefactors.

Mary has left us all a spectacular legacy.

This beautiful window is above the main altar.

Water Safety

I don’;t fully understand it either, but it sounds nice.

Nettle Soup

Pic and text from

Here is something that many of you will have heard already – eating nettles in May. My grandmother would always have one feed of them cooked up with the bacon and cabbage. I’ve heard others who say that you were meant to have three feeds of them. Good for the blood apparently – full of iron. I make nettle soup with them and you’d never know they were in it once mixed with other vegetables. 

Text: Michael Fortune

A Fact

Nelson Mandele’s name at birth wasRolihlahla which means troublemaker.


Ballylongford and Ballybunion

Listowel Town Square early morning in September 2023


Mary Young, the biggest donor towards the building of St. John’s church in Ballybunion sits (frozen) outside the church she helped to build.

St. John’s is almost a cathedral in terms of size and splendour.

The magnificent chancel window

Beautiful windows donated by local families.


Ballylongford Active Retired Group

Ballylongford ladies at their weekly meeting on September 29 2023.

I interrupted their Bingo session.


When Harvest was a Critical Time

Traditionally harvest was the time, stores of food were laid down for the winter. In the days before all year round vegetables and fruit, people worried about bringing home a good harvest to see everyone over the winter.

Jer Kennelly found this great account of the panic to secure winter food supplies in the troubled post war years.

I wonder does anyone remember this time or remember hearing older people tell of it.

Rush to save Irish Harvest before October 1st 1946

(from New York NY Irish American Advocate, September 28 1946)

Most critical week in the nation’s battle to win the harvest opened .Sunday, Sept. 15. With the nation’s food supply still in danger it is imperative in the next few days that the energy and effort of the country be stretched to the limit.

Listowel farmers, taking full advantage of the dry spell, saved most of the wheat and oat crops. At the Masses in Listowel church appeals were made for more volunteers. 

The party of 25 French Scouts camping near Listowel are taking part in the local harvesting operations.

The 4,100 volunteers who left Dublin yesterday for the county areas and South Meath were not sufficient to deal with the work available.

All Sports Postponed for critical weeks of harvest.
Over 200 harvest volunteers were despatched yesterday from the offices of the Cork Co. Committee of Agriculture—76 from the Army, 41 members of the F.C.A., and about 90 others of Military. City firms and a number of motorists provided transport.


For the Diary


A Fact

The first mention of tennis in an English sporting magazine was in 1793


Music, Ball Alley Art, a Ballybunion Sculpture and Brendan Kennelly Essay

Clochar strand by Éamon ÓMurchú


Irish Music at the Ball Alley

These three pictures celebrate a very important part of Irish Culture; traditional music.


Unseasonal Poem


A Rare Brendan Kennelly Essay

The late Brendan Kennelly wrote an introductory essay on North Kerry parishes for Vincent Carmody’s North Kerry Camera. Vincent has shared it with us.


A Fact

In Kentucky there is a fundamentalist Catholic theme park. The centrepiece is a replica of Noah’s Ark. It is one of the largest wooden structures in the world. In 2017 and 2018 there was really really heavy rain in Kentucky.

Landslides at the theme park damaged the ark and the company who ran the park sued for rain damage.


Mary Young

I took my recent visitors to see the incongruous sculpture of a lady dressed for a ball sitting in front of one of the most magnificent churches in the diocese.

Here is the answer;

A mark of respect for Mary Young


December 09 2017 12:00 AM

The Killahenny Heritage, Historical, and Arts Society commissioned and recently unveiled a statue of Mary Young (née O’Malley), in honour of her significant contribution to life in Ballybunion.

Born in Kilconly, Ballybunion, she was unable to find work near home, and after finding employment in Clare, she met her husband John Young, an English tea-planter.

After John’s death, she returned to Ballybunion, living at her home on Doon Road for some 12 years. Upon a return to Dublin in the early 1880s, she wished her home to be used as a school; there, the Sisters of Mercy established a convent on the back of her generosity, and they would continue their involvement with St Joseph’s School for over 100 years.

“On her return from Dublin, Mary built a house on Church Road, which later became Dr. Hannan’s house,” Catherine Hayes told The Kerryman in the days following the momentous events.

“Returning from Dublin, she had another house built on Church Road which would become Dr Hannan’s house. After meeting with Fr O’Connor, she proposed the building of a new church to be named St John’s in memory of her husband. 

“She died on August 19 1894 and is buried  in Kilahenny Cemetry.  We the Killahenny Heritage, Historical and Arts Society wished to publicly honour Mary Young and acknowledge her immense contribution to Ballybunion,” Catherine added.


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

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