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 email@example.com
The marvellous men who layed out this course, planted the first trees, and maintained it for so long, would be more than proud to see the magnificent shape it is in today.
Isn’t it absolutely pristine?
Ballybunion Community Market
If you are looking for that different souvenir of your holiday in Ballybunion or a beautiful hand knit layette for that new baby; if you are looking for the best of vegetables, preserves, confectionery or Kombucha, Ballybunion Community Market is the place to go. It’s in the field opposite McMunns.
There is Irish music to entertain you. Emily of Simply Devine Preserves told me that they will have new stalls added each week so it’s well worth a trip back.
Sonny Canavan’s Dog
Mattie Lennon tells a John B. Keane yarn.
Kerry Pride Festival
Last Weekend June 16 to 18 2022 was Kerry Pride Festival. While most of the Listowel events were happening at The Family Resource Centre , some local traders were also flying the rainbow flag.
And the winner is……
Healyracing turned the camera away from the horses to snap Charlene Brosnan as she is announced winner of The Best Dressed Lady competition at Killarney Races on July 15 2022
Some of the finalists against the backdrop of the Killarney Mountains. Photo: Healyracing
Church Street gets its name from the church which once stood at the top of the street. All that remains of that church now is the bell tower pictured above. The church itself was demolished and the stones used to build the new church in The Square.
A Christmas Window
My photographs do a great injustice to Listowel’s lovely Christmas window displays. This one is Finesse, who always have a perfect interpretation of whatever theme is set.
An Irish Santa Claus
Unlike the most famous inhabitant of the North Pole, this Santa is probably a man you have never heard of. Mattie Lennon in this essay is doing his bit to right that wrong.
The Irish Santa Claus
by Mattie Lennon
Seamus Maguire was born in Thurles in 1950: the only child of James and Eileen Maguire. He completed his education in 1969 and subsequently worked as a Bus driver, Prison Officer and Social Worker in Tipperary and Cork.
In 1979, The International Year Of The Child, he founded Youth-In-Need. It was meant to be a one off project to help three young people for six months. Seamus went on to pioneer many projects to help young and old at home and abroad. Over the years he was the recipient of many prestigious awards and commendations.
He headed an organisation which operated a soup-run in London.
While he and his volunteers were distributing soup, sandwiches and blankets to the Irish homeless, Seamus felt that the marginalized exiles needed more. In December 1979 when Jingle Bells was blaring from loudspeakers in cities around the world and Ireland was coming to terms with the buzz brought about by the cub-Celtic Tiger, Seamus was busy. The unsung hero from Tipperary was approaching the homeless in the English capital offering them the chance to ” go home for Christmas”.
Those who availed of his offer were taken to a hostel and given accommodation. Proper food for a few days and fresh clothes meant that many who had abandoned all hope of a homecoming would be able to meet their loved ones looking “fairly respectable”.
Amid all the hardship, Seamus and his crew experienced the odd humorous incident.
A volunteer worker from County Donegal, John Cassidy, told the following story to me; “In early 1992 we arrived in Hammersmith with a forty- foot lorry loaded with food and blankets for the homeless centres. As we were unloading on a road that was restricted to vehicles under three tons a policeman insisted we move or he would have us arrested and the lorry impounded.
After a few moments of heated discussion Seamus produced a document bearing the seal of both the Irish and British Governments and warned the policeman that it would cause a diplomatic incident if he continued harassing us. The policeman reached for the document that Seamus was holding, hesitated, looked at Seamus and said; “you have four hours to unload and get the truck out of here”.
Thankfully the policeman did not insist on checking the paper that Seamus was holding; it was a customs clearance certificate.”
I penned the following ballad about Seamus Maguire; it was put to music by John Hoban
SEAMUS MAGUIRE By Mattie Lennon
The soup-runs of well meaning people
Could not heal the souls or hurt pride
Of the Irish in alien doorways
With no one but God on their side.
Through decades of drink and misfortune
Returning was out of the frame;
The streets and the hills of their homeland
Were but specks on an ocean of shame.
Despondency fed by resentment
Ran loose like an unbroken colt,
‘Til a hero, unsung, from Tipp’rary
Gave the conscience of Ireland a jolt.
“We’ll bring some of them home for next Christmas,
Who haven’t seen loved ones for years.
All we need is the will and the courage”
He blasted at pessimist ears.
Dreams dreamt, under cardboard in Camden,
Of a whin-bush, round tower or turf fire
Were realised beyond expectation;
We were brought home by Seamus Maguire.
The captains of business he badgered
While his care-workers beavered away,
Collecting the cash and resources,
And then came the memorable day
When the “rescue coach” left Dublin’s quayside
In December of seventy nine,
Taking fifty glad hearts to the country
With their loved ones once more to entwine.
For the next twenty years every Christmas
Maguire and his team would ensure
That the birth of the Saviour was special
For those He called “Bless’ed”; the poor.
And many a parent died happy
Resigned to their ultimate fate
With the son or the daughter they cherished
United before ’twas too late.
The date on a gravestone in Thurles
Proclaims ninety-nine as the year
That God gave to Seamus Maguire
The reward for his mission down here.
And his name in more permanent fashion
Is forever inscribed in that tome;
The hearts of our destitute exiles
Who once had no hope of going home.
(c) Mattie Lennon 2004
For a man who was so good to so many it is very sad that in the end, he died alone. It is equally sad that nobody saw fit to keep Youth-in-Need going after his death.
John Cassidy, who was one of his stalwart volunteers said, “ . . . I feel his commitment to the less well off should be acknowledged in some meaningful way. To the homeless Irish on the streets of London Seamus Maguire was known as the ‘Irish Santa Claus’. “
Halloween 2021 at Scoil Realta na Maidine, Listowel
Halloween, Irish or American Style
I loved this column in Monday’s Irish Examiner. Enjoy!
Sheeple is a derogatory term to describe people who are docile and easily led. It is often used by people who oppose mandatory vaccine certs or any other government imposed restrictions that they disagree with.
“Do your own research” is a slogan used by people who are anti vaccine. Basically they are saying distrust the science and find like minded people on the internet.
Stylish New Shop on Market Street
This poem will take you back to the bad old days.
Eamon Kelly, Seanchaí
Some of us who were lucky enough to hear and enjoy The Seanchaí in our youth. Mattie Lennon tells us something about the man who was the consummate Irish storyteller
Brendan O’Shea (O’Sheas Tailoring, Lower Gardiner Street, Dublin) told me the following story:
At the end of September 2001, Eamon Kelly brought a suit in to Brendan for some alterations. The suit was fifteen years old. Prior to one of his trips to America, Eamon had it made by another Dublin tailor who left the jacket minus an inside pocket and the trousers without belt-loops or a back-pocket. Now, Eamon, the perfectionist, asked his fellow-Kerryman to rectify the sartorial omissions, which he did.
When Eamon died on 24th October 2001, he had left detailed instructions with his wife, Maura, about the funeral arrangements and which suit he wanted to be laid out in. Yes, you’ve guessed it!
Did the man who wrote so lovingly of Con-the-tailor, who made his first Communion suit, and who had portrayed an unforgettable tailor in “The Tailor and Ansty” want to somehow, bring the work of a Kerry tailor out of this world with him? I don’t know. And neither does Brendan O’Shea.
As his coffin left the church, the Congregation gave a round of applause. The show was over and this time there was no encore. The final curtain had fallen on a one-man show, performed by a man of many parts. Actor, storyteller and writer, loving husband, devoted father and great Kerryman.
Shortly before his death, while lecturing North American Literature and Theatre students in the art of storytelling, he said: “My journeying is over. If the humour takes me, I may appear in some Alhambra, where angels with folded wings will sit in the stalls, applaud politely and maybe come round after and say;’ that was great’ “.
As he walked into that great Rambling House in the sky, can’t you imagine the opening line?: “Ye’re glad I came”.
Savannah McCarthy, International defender
Savannah McCarthy of Listowel is establishing herself as a regular in the starting XI for the Irish Ladies Football team.
The Lion King or The Lion Queen
In the time between Disney’s 1994 version of The Lion King and its 2019 remake the world’s population of lions had halved.
Zoologist, Craig Parker, of the lion research centre at the University of Minnesota told National Geographic that lion societies are matrilineal. The lionesses rule the pride while the males come and go. It would have been Sarabi who hand over her dominion to Nala, Simba’s mate.
Work is in progress at Carroll’s of William Street. Lovely job!
Parents in the U.S. noticed that their children were talking with British accents. They took to social media to describe what they called the Peppa Pig Effect. Not only were the children speaking in English accents, they were using words like lorry and petrol instead of truck and gas.
Linguists pointed out that saying a few words in a different accent doesn’t mean you have acquired the accent. The effect wears off when the kids start interacting with other children.
Asdee, A Village on the global Map
Photo of some of the committee by Dominick Walsh and background story from every news outlet in Kerry.
“We’re absolutely over the moon really, we’re ecstatic. It’s a huge honour for a small village in North Kerry, and it’s recognition of what the committee and wider community have done over the years as part of the Asdee Development Association,” said John Kennedy, chairman of the association.
Mr Kennedy said the secret ingredient of the winning plan was buy-in from everyone in the community.
So what have they won?
They have won gold in an international competition for their five year community development plan, all done by consultation and facilitation with the local community.
Talk of the old days and old Radio Eireann programmes reminded Mattie Lennon of a piece he wrote once about one of the most familiar and best loved voices on radio in the 1950s and 60’s, Eamon Kelly, The Seanchaí.
It was 1959. The National Council for The Blind of Ireland gave my visually impaired mother a wireless. It was our first radio. At the time my contemporaries were clued in to the highlights of Radio Luxemburg and the Light Programme. But, always one to live in the past, I had a preference for the folk programmes on Radio Eireann. My adrenalin was really let loose by the prologue to one in particular:
The rick is thatched The fields are bare, Long nights are here again. The year was fine But now ’tis time To hear the ballad-men. Boul in, boul in and take a chair Admission here is free, You’re welcome to the Rambling House To meet the Seanachi.
The Seanachi was, of course, Eamon Kelly.
I was to follow Eamon’s stories, on the air, and later in Dublin theatres, through his one-man shows, for decades.
His trademark introduction was: “In My Father’s Time” or “Ye’re glad I came.” In between tales of “The King of England’s son” and “The Earl of Baanmore” he would tell his own life-story.
And those who knew his style could always differentiate between the fact and the fiction.
He was born in Rathmore, Co. Kerry, in March 1914. In his autobiographical work “The Apprentice” he tells of how the family moved when he was six months old. He was brought to Carrigeen on Maurice O’Connor’s sidecar. (Of course when he’d be wearing his Seanachi’s hat he’d tell you he remembered it).
Eamon grew up in a Rambling House and in later life said: ” … my ears were forever cocked for the sound that came on the breeze. It wasn’t the Blarney Stone but my father’s house which filled me with wonder”.
He was only a child when this country gained independence but he had his Kerry ear cocked long before that to accumulate stories such as this: ” ‘Will I get in this time’ the sitting MP said once to one of our neighbours, coming up to polling day.
‘Of course you will’ the neighbour told him. ‘Didn’t you say yourself that it was the poor put you in the last time and aren’t there twice as many poor there now?’ “
Eamon didn’t lick his storytelling ability off the ground. He said of his father that he was ” … a friendly person, a good talker. Neighbours and travelers were attracted like moths around a naked flame into his and my mother’s kitchen”. Their kitchen had ” … all the rude elements of the theatre; the storyteller was there with his comic or tragic tale, we had music, dance, song and costume”. When he left school Eamon became apprentice to his father who was a master carpenter and wheelwright.
The young apprentice missed nothing; seventy years on he could mimic a verbose mason who described how to put a plumb-board against the rising walls to “ascertain their perpendicularity”.
He also began taking a correspondence course with Bennett College in England. Then it turned out that the architect of a hotel enlargement project that he was working on was the craftwork teacher at the local Technical School. Eamon enrolled for a night course. The teacher’s name was Micheal O’ Riada and, in his autobiography, Eamon told how he ” … was the means of changing the direction of my footsteps and putting me on the first mile of a journey that would take me far from my own parish. He taught me and others the craft of wood and in time we passed examinations set by the technical branch of the Department of Education in carpentry, joinery and cabinet making. He taught the theory of building and how to read plans: he taught solid geometry which holds the key to the angles met with in the making of a hip roof or staircase”.
No matter how far from home Eamon was working he cycled two nights a week to Tech. He was soon to learn that Micheál O’Riada’s interests were not confined to sawing and chiseling. He introduced his pupils to books, writers and the theatre. On the head of this Eamon went to see Louis Dalton’s company, at the town hall, in “Juno and the Paycock”.
“It was my first time seeing actors on a stage and the humour, the agony and the tragedy of the play touched me to the quick”.
He was mesmerized by the actors and ” … their power to draw me away from the real world and almost unhinge my reason long after the curtain had come across”.
Micheál O’Riada was impressed with Eamon’s reaction to the theatre. He discussed O’Casey, Synge and Lennox Robinson with the young carpenter and advised him if he ever went to Dublin to go to the Abbey Theatre.
Mr. O’Riada also told him that if he kept making headway in his studies and passed the senior grade in the practical and theory papers he would enter him for a scholarship examination, to train as a manual instructor, in Dublin. Since Eamon had left school at fourteen, he also had to do additional study in English, Irish and Maths. He passed his scholarship examination, and the interview in Dublin, with flying colours.
He trained and worked as a woodwork teacher for years until he became a full time actor. His first acting role was as Christy Mahon in “The Playboy of the Western World” along with the Listowel actress, Maura O’Sullivan. He would later marry, and spend the rest of his life, with Maura.
They moved to Dublin and Eamon was employed by the Radio Eireann Repertory Players and later by the Abbey Theatre Company. He drew large audiences in villages during the ’50s as he traveled around Ireland with his stories. He was to spend more than 40 years as a professional actor. Working with the top actors and leading producers of his day, he performed in New York, London and Moscow. As a storyteller, his vivid and evocative descriptions are unsurpassed. Whether it was about an emigrant-laden train gathering speed before fading from view at Countess Bridge or sparks flying when the blacksmith struck red hot iron, nobody could tell it like Eamon. Once, in the Brooklyn Academy, while telling one of his famous stories he mentioned an Irish town and drew a graphic word-picture of emigrants at the station. From the audience he heard; “Divine Jesus” and a man crying. Ever the professional, Eamon instantly changed gear, swung to comedy and in seconds had the homesick exile laughing.
Watching him on the stage, the Paps-of-Anu and Dooncorrig Lake almost materialized around you. There was a temptation to look up for the rising ground above Barradov Bridge.
In the Peacock Theatre in the 1980s, you were standing beside the young Eamon Kelly as he made a Tusk Tenon at the workbench beside his father or walked barefoot on the submerged stepping-stones with his first-love, Judy Scanlon.
As Anette Bishop described it in the Irish American Post: “It’s a case of the past returning to raise a charming blush on the cheek of the present”. Everything Eamon Kelly did was tried, tested and honed to perfection. And he always expressed appreciation of the crafts, skills and talents of others. “The correct actions of a craftsman sawing, planning or mortising with the chisel were as fluid as those of an expert hurler on the playing field”.
When rehearsing for Seamus Murphy’s “Stone Mad”, which he adapted as a one-man show, he spent days observing stonecutters at a quarry in the Dublin mountains. In the course of the show he “lettered” a stone on stage.
With little or no interest in money himself, he was always on the side of the underdog and the marginalized. He was playing S.B. O’ Donnell in “Philadelphia Here I Come” on Broadway, in January 1972, when he heard the tragic news of Bloody Sunday. There and then he decided to play his part in trying to rectify man’s inhumanity; he became a vegetarian.
Eamon was shy, by nature. And even in his eighties he would be, by far, the most nervous artist backstage. This was because he was a perfectionist. A year before he died I saw him in a hotel about to do a piece he had performed hundreds of times. With the utmost humility he asked a staff member about facilities to do a last minute rehearsal: “Do you have anywhere where I could talk to myself for a while?”