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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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)

Stacks Mountains, Sonny Bill update

Photo by Donal Murphy of Mallow Camera Club from their People at Work project


The Stack’s Mountains  by John B. Keane (continued)

I returned every year to the
Stacks’ Mountains for those long summer holidays until I reached the age of
fifteen. I still frequently return to the warm secure home where I was reared
when Hitler was shrieking his head off in Berlin and innocent Irishmen were
dying in distant places like Tobruck and Alamain, men from The Stacks at that,
long before their time, in useless carnage, carefree boys whose only weapon
until that timewere the hayfork and the turf slean, who wanted only the right
to work and play and find a place at the table.

I had already written a short
book about the matchmaker Dan Paddy Andy O’Sullivan but if his name crops up
now and again, don’t hold it against me. Dan was to The Stacks’ Mountain what
bark is to a tree. Any cur síos about the Stack’s Mountain would be incomplete
without Dan Paddy Andy. Dan would, no doubt, have been the most famous name in
the area. The wealthiest is a man in England who doesn’t like having his name

The Second World War was the
best time to be in The Stacks Mountain. There was no man nor boy who didn’t
have a shilling in his pocket. There was an insatiable demand for turf and
Lyreacrompane was the home of it. Man, woman and child took to the bogs across
the summers and, for the first time in the history of that much abused, much
deprived community every person who wasn’t disabled or sick had a pound or two
to spare.

Buyers would come from
Tralee, Castleisland, Abbeyfeale and Listowel on the lookout for likely
roadside ricks to fill the wagons waiting at the railway depots in the
aforementioned towns.  Those who journed to the towns with horse, ass, mule and
pony rails were often met a mile outside with buyers with orders to fill. In addition, Kerry County Council initiated a turf cutting campaign in order to
supply cheap fuel to the many institutions under its care. This even ensured
jobs for townies if they wanted them.

In The Stacks there were no
villages but there were several shops such as Lyre Post Ofice, Doran’s, Nolan’s
and McElligott’s and, of course, there was Dan Paddy Andy’s famous dance hall
at the crossroads of Renagown. There were three or four visiting butchers and
fish mongers and occasional travelling salesmen. Mostly Pakistani with huge
trunks of wispy undergarments, scarves and frocks perched precariously on the
carriers of ancient bicycles. I remember two of these quite well.

There was Likey Nicey Tie and
Likey Nicey Knickeys. The latter often indicated that he was prepared to  exchange his wares for the favours of the
country ladies. As far as I know he never did any business in this fashion. In
our youthful ignorance we would stalk them as far as the cross of Renagown
shouting “Likey Nicey Tie”, Likey Nicey Knickeys and, most heinous of all,
“Likey Pig’s Bum.”

We had been informed by
hobside knowalls that these dark coloured salesmen would be damned if they ate
any kind of pig’s meat but doubly damned if it was the rear of the pig.  We
didn’t know any better. We were young and backward and wouldn’t know prejudice
from the prod of a thorn.


Continuing his winning ways

If you don’t know who Sonny Bill is or why a show horse with only the most tenuous of Listowel connections is featuring today, just go ahead to the next item or, if you have an hour to spare, look him up on the blog and you will get the whole story.

For anyone wondering how my favourite horse is doing in his new home, well, its all good news. He has started his 2017 showing season with two wins, one show champion win and one reserve, (meaning second overall for best in show). The photos were sent from the U.K. by Rebecca Collins.


When is a fountain not a fountain?

A while ago I posted this photo of Castleisland’s fountain. As we can see it is not actually a fountain in the traditional sense but it’s a Kerry fountain. Margaret Dillon took the time to remind me that there was also such a fountain in Listowel at Ballygologue cross. Listowel’s fountain was also a water pump.

In Castleisland’s case I wonder if the pillar behind the pump has anything to do with the water supply. Could it be some sort of folly?

Hay in Ahanagran, a New Stand at Listowel Racecourse and more about Sonny Bill

Harvesting at Rattoo

Photo; Bridget O’Connor


Saving the hay

This lovely old photo was of a group of haymakers in a field in Ahanangran, Ballylongfond was posted line by Liam O’Hainnín.

The group, and we dont have names, is heading out for a day in the hayfield or maybe returning home from saving the hay.

I was fascinated to see the implement that they had tackled to their horse. I called it a Tumbling Paddy, Liam knew it as a slide and Elizabeth Brosnan used to call it a Haveller. I have mentioned it before because I have very clear memories of my father working with one. It was a big wooden rake like implement which the horseman pushed along gathering the hay as he went. When he had the makings of a wynn gathered he put the horses reins over his head and he tumbled the slide over, dumping the hay in a cock to be later made into a wynn by the other haymakers. He then had to side step around the heap of hay, retake control of his horse and start gathering again.


A Brand New Complex at The Island

John Kelliher took the photos on the occasion of the opening of the new stand and food hall. I can’t wait to see it. Here are just a few of the many photos John took on the night.


Kathleen McCarthy has a gifted Pair of Hands

Patchwork is just one of the many crafts Kathleen can turn her hand to. Every stitch in this masterpiece of 683 patches was hand sewn by Kathleen and the quilt is fully lined. Surely a heirloom to keep in the family for generations to come.


Lest we forget

Jim Halpin recently posted this heartbreaking video from a page called Flashback .

The Grimsby Chums 1916


Update on Sonny Bill from his new home in the U.K.

The following is from this month’s Horse and Hound

His new owner has high hopes for Sonny Bill in his future career in showing……and you saw him here first.

Sonny Bill – An update from his new home; August 20 2016

The Road to the Horse of the Year Show

My birth surname is Ahern. In Irish it is Eachtigheirn, from each + tiarna which translates literally as “Lord of the Horse”. This family association with horses is definitely manifest in my brother, Pat, and his daughter, my niece, Elizabeth. They are at their happiest in the company of horses.

Elizabeth breakfasting with her beloved horses

They love all animals and there are always some cats and dogs about the place.

Everyone’s favourite….Freddy Ahern


The late Rosie

Screech’s kitten

But it is horses who are their first and last love.

Elizabeth hunting with the Duhallows.

Whenever I visit home there is often a horse peering over some door, or a farrier, vet or horse physio visiting.

The farrier is a regular visitor. Above he is shoeing Sonny Bill in summer 2014.

 Pat leading a horse to pasture

Another fellow peeps out, curious to see what is going on.

An early picture of Pat, on the left, on horseback

Pat and Elizabeth, under their brand EPA have had some moderate success buying and selling horses. They are a good partnership at training horses in the early stages of their careers in the ring.

Far and away their greatest success so far has come with their show horse, Sonny Bill.

Sonny Bill learning to follow without a lead rein

Getting him used to traffic noise he will encounter on the road

From day one Sonny Bill loved to work and learn new skills.

Elizabeth and Pat bought this horse as a foal from Breda Stud where both his mother and father live. Pat and Elizabeth spotted his potential from an early age and put  a lot of work into him to bring him to a certain stage. He now needed  expert help to get him ready for showing.

Enter Matt and Joanna Jones. 

On one of the wettest days of summer 2015 Sonny Bill, ridden by Joanna Jones, began his showing career at The Kingdom County Fair in Tralee. He didn’t win on his first day out but it was to be the only day showing in 2015 when he didn’t come home with a rosette.

Due to ill health, Joanna couldn’t ride him for the rest of 2015.

He formed a new partnership with Felicity Ward.

 Winning in New Castle West

Felicity and Sonny Bill at the RDS

Second in the RDS, Summer 2015

It’s 2016 and Joanna is well again. She and Sonny Bill win all round them.

The only stop to his gallop was the Dublin Horse Show, where he had a Michael Conlon moment when the judges overlooked his obvious merits  for a prize.

 By then he was already sold to his new forever home in the U.K.

Now comes the 21st century fairytale part. This is a story of social media and internet dating as Sonny Bill finds a new lady who loves him as much as (or maybe a teensy bit more than) Elizabeth does.

Before Sonny Bill,  EPA had a successful horse, Mr. Riordan, whom they sold to a U.K buyer. He was sold again, this time to Sue Walker. Another avid horse woman, Jane Collins, who has her horses in Walker’s yard,  was looking for a horse and Sue put her touch with Elizabeth.  Sue had seen Sonny Bill on the internet and she thought he would be just the one for Jane. .Jane Collins and Elizabeth Ahern became cyber friends on Facebook and there she followed the exploits of Sonny Bill  and all his winning ways. She fell in  love with Sonny Bill and determined to buy him. Nigel, Sue Walker’s husband came to Ireland to make sure Sonny was everything he appeared to be on line. The deal was done.

In true internet dating fashion, Jane never met Sonny Bill in the flesh until he was bought and in the U.K. Then it was love at first sight.

Long story short;  Sonny Bill travelled to his new home in the U.K. immediately after the RDS.

On Saturday last, August 20 2016, at Ashbourne Show in Derbyshire, on only his second outing since settling in Britain, Sonny Bill won his class and was declared Standing Hunter Champion of the show. This qualifies him for The Horse of the Year Show in October of this year.

In this competition Sonny Bill will be ridden by Katie Jerram. She is one of Britain’s top riders. The picture of her above is from the June issue of Woman and Home illustrating an article about the three riders who ride the queen’s horses.

Katie Jerram on Sonny Bill at Ashbourne Show

Everyone in the family is delighted for everyone involved in this success story.

We’re all on our way to Birmingham for The Horse of the Year Show 2016 and who knows………..?

My grandniece, Jessica, on Sonny Bill

Horseshoes are thought to bring good luck, aren’t they?

(photo credits: Jim MacSweeney, Willie Nunan, Tony Quinlivan, Rebecca Collins, Elizabeth Ahern and myself)

Cork Summer Show, Irish Clippies in Birmingham and Sonny Bill

The Old Order Changeth

I hope you are able to read the above letter. Even if you cant read it here, you will probably have heard its contents from mass goers in Duagh and Lyre. Fr Pat Moore is retiring from his post as parish priest of Duagh.  Fr. Pat is still very  confident of a return to full health but in the meantime, Bishop Ray needs to make arrangements for the future administration of the very big parish of Duagh and Lyrecrompane. The bishop spoke at masses at the weekend to explain how the new arrangement will work. Duagh Lyre will be part of a cluster of parishes sharing priests and administrative personnel.

I trust that Fr. Pat will soon regain his health and will continue as he has always done, to contribute to North Kerry life in so many ways.  Sláinte!


Cork Summer Show 2016

Saturday June 18 2016

Cork Summer Show has had bad luck with the weather in the past but this year the sun shone and, even though it clashed with a vital Euro match, people chose to spend Saturday in the open air at the show. There were the usual competitions for poultry and farm produce, needlework and baking. But these form a very small part of the show now and the word agricultural has been dropped  from the title. It’s actually a big sales floor, with a big stage for the continuous music, cookery demonstrations, best dressed lady competition and even a bit of jousting thrown in.

 John Spillane was giving it wellie when we arrived.

 A few drops of rain threatened as we were tucking in to our picnic but not enough to ruin a great day out.


That was Saturday. Twenty four hours later I was back at the show again. This time to lend support to Sonny Bill, my family’s horse. Buoyed by his recent success at Clonakilty he was coming to Cork with hopes high.

The weather did its worst. Rain of biblical proportions deluged down one us.

One of my favourite things to watch at the show was the farrier competition. This man below was my favourite. If he didn’t win I’ll eat my hat. He was an absolute perfectionist.

These are the judges inspecting how the hoof is prepared.

There are marks gained and lost at all stages of the process.

This was the first fitting.

Isn’t this clever? a magnet on the side of his apron holds the farrier’s nails.

Finally the shoe is fitted, nailed in place and everything filed smooth. It was fascinating to watch.

Now to Sonny Bill. You can see from my wet lens that he was showing in the worst of the bad weather. Showing is like a beauty pageant for horses and, as is the case with human beauty, not everyone sees beauty in the same way. In our eyes he was the most beautiful horse there but the judges placed him second.


Irish Girls who worked on the Buses in Birmingham

This photo and story surfaced in The Harp News in Birmingham recently and a friend sent it to Una Hayes in Listowel. Una is the lady on the far right of the photo. She is pictured with her fellow clippies on St. Patrick’s Day 1972. She was then Una Duggan. The photo was taken before she married Liam Hayes of Tannavalla.


Newcastlewest Pin In The National Museum

This 6th or 7th century bronze pin was dug up in Newcastlewest, Co. Limerick.


Sonny Bill Triumphs in Charleville

I chose to stay at home and watch the big match. You can see from the above that they could have done with a photographer.

Elizabeth’s message read…”Great day out today at Charleville Show. SonnyBill did the business in a very competitive small hunter class, followed it up with a win in the draught class and put the icing on the cake when winning the Champion Ridden Hunter of the show!!”

(Looks like red, white and blue were the colours of champions yesterday.)

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