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: potatoes

The Blackthorn, Home Guards and A Lost Child

St. John’s, Listowel on a quiet Covid Sunday in May 2021


The Blackthorn

A Blackthorn Stick photo by Paddy Fitzgibbomon

I have noticed that you often don’t hear or think about something for ages and then suddenly it seems to be everywhere. It was like that with me and the blackthorn stick.

Paddy sent the picture and then everywhere on my walks I seem to see the snow white flower of the blackthorn in every ditch. It is interesting that the blossom of the blackthorn is snow white and the blossom of the white thorn is pinkish white.

Blackthorn blossom in Childers’ Park in May 2021

The fruit of the blackthorn is the sloe. It is sometimes made into wine.

Whitethorn blossom in Childers’ Park in May 2021

The fruit of the white thorn is the haw, good food for the birds. Thew bush is also known as the hawthorn.

According to Joe Kennedy in The Sunday Independent May 30 2021 the blackthorn is beloved of fairies and fighters. In the 19th century it was cultivated and honed as a weapon According to Kennedy the root was dug, seasoned in warm ashes, pickled in brine and rubbed with oil. A writer named William Wright claims that a magpie was shot and its blood used to polish the cane until it became ‘glossy black with a mahogany tint.” That last bit sounds a bit farfetched to me.

The blackthorn stick was the weapon of choice of faction fighters and it features widely as a weapon in the serial battles between the Cooleens and the Mulvihills in the 19th century.


Lizzy is Moving


Early Potatoes

Raymond O’Sullivan grew some early spuds in Newmarket.

Here is what he says about them.

Home Guard, developed during World War ll in the Dad’s Army days, and now the most popular ‘early’ potato in Ireland. Planted on the 1st March, digging 92 days later on the 1st June. Just about ready – you must take the little potatoes with the big ones.


Resting, Remembering and Waiting

This piece of creative writing comes to us from Marie (Nelligan) Shaw of Listowel and the U.S.

Farm tasks in the 1940s, O’Connell’s Ave. grotto and More from Storied Kerry Meitheal in Killarney

Evening in the Small Square


Out of the Blue

This is the beautifully repainted Catch of the Day. Blue seems to be the favourite colour of shop owners for 2018.


Tough Tasks on the Farm

The following extract is taken from Jim Costelloe’s great rural memoir of Asdee in the 1940’s and ’50s

Anyone who has spread fertilizer by hand from a bucket will surely agree it was a horrible task. One’s face, eyes and clothes were covered with the basic slag when finished. The worst part was the taste in the mouth as a lot of it went down our throats. Face masks were never used and our lungs must have been congested judging by the amount that went up our nostrils and into our mouths.

Another unpleasant and tough task in my youth was trying to light the kitchen fire with bad turf and wet sticks on a cold frosty morning. Without the fire there was no heat whatsoever in the house and no way of boiling the kettle for a sup of tea.


The Grotto

I love it when this happens. I take a picture and I post it on here. It evokes a memory for someone or someone goes and looks up the history and they share it with us here in Listowel Connection. It’s a bit like how Facebook used to work.

Marie Nelligan Shaw wrote; “Remember well when the grotto at the junction of O’Connells Avenue was blessed and dedicated. The yellow house on the right of the photo was occupied by a lovely lady named Mrs Collins. She took very good care of it while she lived.”

And Jer Kennelly found this;  

Kerry Champion 14 August 1954

Consecration of Listowel Shrine erected at O’Connell’s Avenue, Listowel. Erected by voluntary labour. Statue and railings were donated. Subscriptions were mainly from the residents, all the organising committee are from the Avenue. (See paper for full report, blessing on Sunday next)

Kerry Champion 21 August 1954

Beautiful Grotto at O’Connell’s Avenue was blessed by P J Canon Brennan, P.P. V.F accompanied by two curates Frs Dillon and Moore. Windows in the avenue were also decorated. 

Kerry Champion 1928-1958, Saturday, September 04, 1954; Section: Front page, Page: 1

Bishop’s Visit to Listowel

Most Rev. Doctor Moynihan, Bishop of Kerry visited Listowel on Friday evening last and went to O’Connell’s Avenue to see the Marian Year shrine which has been erected there. His Lordship was accompanied by Canon Brennan who blessed the shrine on August 16th last.


Storied Kerry

Storied Kerry is the brainchild of Frank Lewis. He gathered together a meitheal of Kerry people to start this new story in the life of Kerry on Saturday, October 27 2018.

The stories told  on Saturday were all excellent. They were told in the old style with a one person storyteller and an attentive audience. Above is master story teller, Seán Lyons, who regaled us with a Halloween appropriate tale, set in a graveyard. It was a story about motivation. If you fall into a newly dug grave at Halloween there is no better motivator  to get you out again than meeting up with the previous occupant.

Storytellers, Batt Burns and Frances Kennedy were there.

Part of the North Kerry contingent, Frances, Joe Murphy and Mary Kennelly

Frances told us a tale of smelly feet and smelly breath in her unique and always entertaining style.

Frank and Joe share a funny moment.


Ireland’s Fittest Families

For people reading this who don’t live in Ireland, Ireland’s Fittest Family is a reality tv show on RTE, in which families of four adults compete against each other in gruelling army boot camp like tasks. Each week one family is eliminated until we are left with Ireland’s fittest family. The families are mentored by well known retired sports personalities.

The Listowel connection is the involvement of Roibeard Pierse and his three children in this year’s contest.

The programme started airing on TV on Sunday October 28 2018 and the Pierse family which the programme calls The Pierses did very well.

The photo above is from the programme’s Facebook page and below is what they say about The Pierses;

From Kerry, the Pierses are making a bid for a win for the Kingdom. Father Riobard (50) works as a solicitor and is a keen runner, focusing on 5ks. He also co-founded the Listowel park run and is the manager of Cliona’s Listowel Emmets u16 ladies team.

His son Oran (20) became the U18 Munster Cycling Champion in 2016. Has also won the Senior Kerry Road Race League and raced internationally for the Munster Team.

His brother Ciarán (18) Plays Gaelic football with UL freshers team and Listowel Emmets seniors. A good leader himself, he captained Listowel to victory in the minor county league in 2017 and has played in two All-Ireland finals in the community games. Cliona (15) does one better, having taken part in the All-Ireland community games finals five years in a row in athletics, Gaelic football, soccer and futsal twice. She also plays soccer with the Listowel Celtic team. 


A Tender Moment

This has to be one of the nicest photographs from the recent presidential election. I dont know who took it.

In the horrible bruising campaign for the Presidency of Ireland in 2018, when even the candidate’s dogs were dragged into the carnage, Sabina Higgins was the loyal, dignified and loving presence by her husband’s side. She is everything I would want in a first lady.

Central Hotel, the next Sonny Bill, Looking after the potatoes in Asdee and a Meitheal to launch Storied Kerry

William Street Upper


Maid of Erin, Main Street

This building in Listowel’s Main Street has one of Pat MacAulliffe’s best known works on its shopfront. Hardly a day goes by without some tourist stopping to photograph this symbol of Listowel.

Below are some of the details on this intrinsically Irish stucco.

Irish wolfhound

Shamrocks and celtic knot work surround the slogan which translates as Ireland forever.

A round tower

Under the rising sun the bare chested maid is resting on an Irish harp, the official symbol of Ireland. The rising sun at “Fáinne Geal an Lae” is an often used republican symbol of the dawn of a new day for Ireland. A warrior woman as in Dark Rosaleen or Caitlín Ní Houlicháin is also a frequently employed symbol for a free Ireland.


Do You Remember Sonny Bill?

If your answer to the above question is no, move right along, please. Nothing to see here.

If the answer is yes, Sonny Bill was that beautiful horse that they had at my home place in Kanturk and who was eventually sold on to an English buyer. He is now enjoying a stellar career across the Irish Sea.

This beautiful foal, seen above running with his mother, is Sonny Bill’s last full brother. Sadly, their dad has passed away so there is a great weight of expectation on these young shoulders. 

He is still with his birth family but will be coming to his new home soon at the EPA stable . It’s not really possible to tell if he will be as good as his brother but watch this space and I’ll update you if he begins to realise his potential.


 Looking after the Potato Pit

The following extract is taken from Jim Costelloe’s great rural memoir of Asdee in the 1940’s and ’50s

The potatoes were stored in long pits in the kitchen garden beside the house when I was young. There were Kerrs Pinks and Golden Wonders for human consumption in a small pit, but the long pit was of Aran Banners for the farm animals and the domestic fowl. These pits were covered with straw and rushes to protect the potatoes from the winter frost. With the coming of Spring growth, the potatoes began to sprout and if left untouched they would grow long stalks, get soft and lose their nutrition. To prevent this from happening they would have to be turned. The work was done by hand and it entailed stripping the cover off the pit and rubbing the sprouts off each potato individually before repitting the whole lot.

The job is always done on a day following a night of grey frost. That was always a sunny day with a bit of drying and also, there was generally no threat of rain. Down on one knee handling thousands of potatoes on a frosty date is not the most exciting of jobs. The cold east wind and the damp semi hard ground added to the discomfort. The only exciting thing about it was the stripping of the rushes and straw where we suspected rats were hiding. The scurrying of the rats and our attempts to kill them with pikes  are memories now. How those same rats would destroy a pit of spuds if left unhindered is amazing. Rodine was a rat poison in those days and was very effective.


Storied Kerry

Storied Kerry is a movement you will be hearing lots more about from now on. It is a drive to preserve and celebrate our stories, all our stories and all forms of story telling to all kinds of audiences.

On Saturday last, October 27 2018 Frank Lewis, the founder of Storied Kerry gathered together a Meitheal in Killarney to get this show on the road.

This man is Rory Darcy, a school principal, a philosopher, a story teller and, as we discovered later, a marathon runner.  Rory welcomed us to his school, St. Oliver’s national School, Ballycasheen, Killarney.  St. Oliver’s has pupils from many different countries on its rolls. It welcomes and celebrates them all. There were flags of all the countries behind Rory as he spoke to us and he told us of an initiative started in St. Oliver’s and now practiced in many Killarney schools were the parents of the children, some of them from refugee centres help out with meals in the school and the children get to talk to and interact with a diverse group of parents as well as fellow pupils.

Behind Rory also there was a fish tank. This tank is a kind of symbol of what St. Oliver’s stands for. There are fish of all shapes, colours and sizes in the tank. There are big bubbles helping to keep them alive. These are big acts of kindness but there are also lots of tiny bubbles, standing for small little acts we do to help each other out. The story of St. Oliver’s was a lovely way to start the day.

The next treat for us was a performance from Siamsa Tíre’s seminal show, Fadó, Fadó. It was pure magic. I’m definitely going to see the full show the next time it’s on in Siamsa.

The dancing and singing told the story of the meitheal oibre who came together to reap the harvest as it was done by our ancestors long ago.

This multitalented performer edged his scythe with a whet stone. He also played the fiddle and sang the most moving rendition of “Ar Bhruach na Carraige Báine” I’ve heard in a long time.

This man brought the corn to thresh.

This implement is called a flail and it was used to beat the corn from the ears.

Every action was accompanied by dancing and the rhythmic music of the farm work as well as more traditional music played on the fiddle, the accordion and Uileann pipes.

A familiar face in the front row.

( more from Storied Kerry tomorrow)

Painting the Community Centre, Changes at Bank of Ireland and Olive Stack’s mural

Morning in Listowel Pitch and Putt course


Molly is still enjoying her trip to Listowel


Painting work continues at Lisatowel Community centre


I Met the Hannons in The Square

Danny, Eileen and Maurice out for a stroll in the July sunshine


Aspects of The Listowel Arms Hotel


Changes at Bank of Ireland

They’re changing the interior layout of the bank. I’ll keep you posted.

Olive Stack’s mural is still intact.


The First of the Beal Spuds

Photo: Ita Hannon

Do you remember when the first of the new potatoes would come into the grocery shop and the grocer would boil a muller of them and plonk them outside the door?

 There was no better advertisement.

Ita Hannon’s photo took me back to those days and I just know that there is many an emigrant mouth watering at the sight.

New business, Ballybunion on the Wild Atlantic Way, and Listowel Military Festival 2017

Theresa Collins of Mallow Camera Club is the photographer.


New Pharmacy at The Gold Corner

Work is underway on Doran’s Pharmacy due to open soon at this location.


Ballybunion on the Wild Atlantic Way

These details from the WAW sign point out some of the reasons for  the universal appeal of Ballybunion. I count myself blessed to have it on my doorstep.


Setting the Spuds

(from Jim Costelloe’s Asdee…..)

Potatoes were grown in drills but the
belief existed that, because the ridges were made in virgin soil (bawn) they
produced better crops. To prepare the soil for drills, which were always made
in broken ground or stubbles, the garden was ploughed as normal. It was later
harrowed with a spring harrow, rolled, harrowed again and again rolled. The
area was then ploughed again, and rolled and again harrowed to make sure there
were no lumps in the soil and that the earth was fine and loose. The process
helped the germination and crop growth of the seed potatoes. When the ground
was ready, the drills were opened using a double boarded plough.

Farmyard dung was then drawn from the dung
heap beside the cowshed with the horse and butt car. It was later spread on all
the furrows with four prong pikes. The drills were now ready for the sciolláns
so all members of the family were called on to spread the seed. The seeds were
laid on the dung in the furrows and the drills were split so that the furrows
with the potatoes on the dung became drills and the drills were the new
furrows. There was less manual work with drills although the spreading of the
sciolláns was severe on the back. The varities of potatoes sown then included
Aran Banners for fowl and farm animals, Kerr’s Pink, Aran Victors (blue ones)
and Records. The early variety, Epicure was set in the kitchen garden near the


The Siege of Jadotville

Sheila and Leo Quinlan (son of Pat Quinlan) with Ann and Jim Halpin

Jim Halpin is a man who does more then anyone in Listowel to make sure that  the men who served their country are remembered. He has put his money where his mouth is and invested heavily in his excellent military history museum on Church St. and every year he organises a reunion and celebration for his friends and old comrades in The Irish Army Reserve.

Jim invited me to an event he had set up for Friday April 28 2017 in The Seanchaí. I felt privileged to attend.

Kathy Walsh, Dr. Declan Downey and John Pierse at The Seanchaí

After a cheese and wine reception, the dignitaries and honoured guests were piped into the auditorium.

Aoife Thornton, our current mayor, made a presentation to Leo and Sheila Quinlan.

Dr. Declan Downey filled us in on the background to Jadotville and the travesty that followed.

This was the early days of Ireland’s peacekeeping involvement with the United Nations. The African country of Congo had freed itself from its Belgian and French colonisers and was now a republic. The oil and mineral rich Katangan province was backed by rich oil and mining companies in its bid to form an independent state within Congo. The United Nations was called on to help maintain peace between the state forces and the rebels.

Conor Cruise O’Brien was the UN man on the ground when the UN peacekeepers were sent in. O’Brien had no experience as a diplomat and, according to Downey, made a very bad job of it.

Commandant Pat Quinlan, a Kerryman, was the man in charge of the UN compound in Jadotville in Katanga. He and his small band were charged with keeping the peace between the Congolese and Katangan troops whose ranks were swelled with mercenaries brought in by the vested interest in mining and oil.

The siege lasted 6 days with Quinlan’s A Company outnumbered 20 to 1. Orders from O’Brien were to keep fighting even though the Irishmen were inflicting heavy casualties on the Katangans. The peacekeepers had become peace enforcers.

Eventually when they had run out of ammunition and food supplies, every bullet having been fired twice, and Quinlan was left completely on his own, he made the only decision he could to protect the lives of the men in his charge; he surrendered.


We were shown the film starring Jamie Dornan which brought all of this story to life for us. After the surrender the men served a month as prisoners of war while the UN and the Congo debated what to do with them. Eventually they were released and came home to an ignominious lack of welcome. Despite continuous campaigning their heroism was ignored until nine years after Quinlan’s death. In 2016 Quinlan’s reputation was restored and his men honoured by the Irish state which they served so loyally and so well.

At Listowel Military Festival 2017 the surviving members of A company were honoured guests and after the wreath laying ceremony on Saturday April 29 2017, they were invited to stand as their fellow veterans marched past in a gesture of respect for them.

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