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: Stephen Connolly

Old History and Recent History

Bridge Road in June 2023


History in Kiskeam

Opposite the school in Kiskeam they have a little history park with its own stone circle.

Fr. John J ÓRiordáin on Walsh

Ogham stones, the salmon of knowledge, history and myth remembered.


Now that the Dust has Settled

Here is a piece that Stephen Connolly wrote for The Irish Times before Writers’ Week 2023.

It was still daylight on January 4th when I left Dublin on my way to Listowel, but dark by the time the budget flight arrived into Farranfore. Until I got the job as the first ever festival curator at Listowel Writers’ Week, I didn’t know that there was a flight from Dublin to Kerry. It was the first of many things I was going to learn.

It’s a bizarre thing to have a new job announced in the national press, more so if it comes with a tag to say that your appointment “follows controversy”: a controversy I knew nothing about when I sent in my application. It’s even more bizarre to then walk into a town where you know nobody at all, but for whatever reason I wasn’t nervous. My love for Listowel was immediate and the first thing I noticed was the intricate plasterwork on the lintels above the windows of the buildings around the town with the names of business owners past and present: O’Connor, Molyneaux, Carroll, Keane.

I was living a few miles out of town on a road where a bus runs twice a day: if you got the second bus into town you would have already missed the last one back out again, so I was making the most of my time in Listowel itself getting to know as many people and places as I could. Mike the Pies, the amazing pub and even better music venue, was recommended to me by my friend Paul Connolly from The Wood Burning Savages and it was one of my first stops.

What really caught my eye, though, was a framed old poster with ‘IMPORTANT AUCTION of a modern two storied LICENSED HOUSE’ in beautiful, eccentric wood type: the kind of thing that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Paula Scher’s work for New York’s Public Theatre. It was marked with “Cuthbertson, Machine Printer, Listowel” at the top and the word Listowel itself appeared at least five times on the single poster. There was something about the various weights for the letterforms in the old wood type and the idiosyncratic syntax of it all that sparked something in me, and I knew immediately that it would influence the festival’s artwork.

I got talking about it to the owner, Aiden O’Connor, and before too long he told me about his uncle Michael O’Connor, a previous landlord and son of the eponymous Mike the Pies, who “collected posters, and made posters himself”. He told me that Michael had donated “quite a lot of them to a gallery in Limerick”. When I had a look online, I found that there was an archive of almost 3,000 posters from various cultural institutions across Europe spanning several decades that formed a permanent collection in the Limerick City Gallery of Art. “There’s more of them,” Aiden said. “Give me a minute and I’ll show you.”

I couldn’t believe what was hidden away above the pub, but it’s going to form an exhibition during Writers’ Week called The Uncollected Posters of Michael O’Connor. The singer-songwriter Jack O’Rourke had been amazed by Michael O’Connor’s story, too, and wrote Opera on the Top Floor about him: Jack will be playing at the opening night of Writers’ Week, when the winners of the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award and the Pigott Poetry Prize will be announced and the John B Keane Lifetime Achievement will be presented to Stephen Rea.

Mike the Pies was the first of many incredible discoveries during the first few weeks in the Kingdom and it was easy to see why this heritage town has been a cultural centre for decades. I’d read as much as I could about the history of Writers’ Week, particularly the ethos on which it was founded, and it resonated with what I’ve been trying to do since I was a teenager. I knew that if I was programming acclaimed best-sellers like Liz Nugent and Louise Kennedy, I’d have to be thoughtful in my approach to debut writers (there will be events with Michael Magee, Nithy Kasa and Fergus Cronin, to name a few). When I was inviting Paul Muldoon to read poems and have a conversation with Paul Brady, I knew that inviting emerging talents like William Keohane and Jess McKinney would be as important to the continuation of what the festival is all about.

In Kevin’s bar on William Street there’s another Cuthbertson poster, this one from 1937, advertising “the first all-night DANCE”: the dance was organised by local undertakers and the room used to store coffins became a cloakroom for the night (through to dawn, presumably). This kind of thing wasn’t a one-off, and I felt like it gave me a certain permission to make use of some slightly less-conventional spaces. Among the prestigious names in fiction and poetry, we’ll be putting on an event with the authors of Bad Bridget: Crime, Mayhem and the Lives of Irish Emigrant Women (a best-seller in the non-fiction charts) in the historic but working courthouse in the town; we’re putting on an event in Kevin’s bar where anyone called Kevin can turn up and do a turn (Kevins in Kevin’s: an Omnium Gatherum of Kevins); we’re putting on a performance of Minimal Human Contact, the play in Irish by Kneecap’s Naoise Ó Cairealláin, in Mike the Pies. I can’t wait to see all of this unfold in Listowel.

Stephen Connolly is Festival Curator of Listowel Writers’ Week, which runs from May 31st to June 4th



Molly and I visited the beautiful Pitch and Putt course.


Writers’ Week 2023

Bridge Road in May 2023


Witty Window

Harp and Lion Antiques in Church Street.


May Images from Childers Park


Choosing Kerry

These lovely people have bought a house in Beale and are relocating there shortly. Unfortunately they will miss Writers’ Week 2023. Maybe next year.


Will Collins, Scriptwriter

This photograph is from 2015 when Will Collins was a guest at The Children’s Festival during Listowel Writers’ Week. In it I am beside Will’s wife Karen and his lovely mom and dad are on the right of Will. Luke is in the buggy.

Will today is even more famous than he was back then. Here’s why.

Will Collins, who grew up a stones throw from my family home, co-wrote an episode of the Star Wars Visions’ series alongside Jason Tammemägi. 

The programme, which is currently streaming on Disney Plus, is titled Screecher’s Reach. 

The episode formed part of an ambitious project that allowed filmmakers and animators all over the world access to the Star Wars universe.

Will’s previous screenwriting credits include the Oscar nominated feature animations, Wolfwalkers and Song of the Sea with Cartoon Saloon.

Will got to live out every Star Wars fan’s dream with a trip to the George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch located north of San Francisco.


Man of the Moment (and girlfriend)

Stephen Connolly, curator of Listowel Writers’ Week 2023, is being helped at every step of his new venture by Manuela.


Saturday June 3 2023

If you join me outside The Listowel Arms Hotel at 10.00 a.m. we’ll take a short stroll to the Tidy Town seat and we’ll have a few songs there.

Then we’ll take the short stroll to the castle steps.

That’s the walking part done.

We’ll be entertained and informed. Hopefully the sun will shine on us and everyone will have a good time. I’m looking forward to it.


Opening Night Writers Week 2023

Opening Night will start at 8.00p.m. The doors will be open at 7.00p.m.

Jack O’Rourke will entertain us. Prizes will be distributed and the John B. Keane Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to distinguished actor, Stephen Rea.

Ger Holland is the official photographer but I’ve got permission to snap some local folk for Listowel Connection.

I’ll be taking annual leave to enjoy the festival and then some more annual leave to recover.

See you back here soon.


Last word on the toilet for now

Tuesday May 30 2023

Nearly there but no electricity yet so unfortunately it looks like it won’t be ready for Writers’ Week.

You saw it here first! the kindly Kerry County Council staff gave me a sneak peak. No super loo this…a bog standard wheelchair accessible public toilet.


Connecting us to The Past

Listowel Pitch and Putt Course on Jan 14 2023


An Artefact

New York NY Irish American Advocate

14 Aug 1943

A polished Flint Scraper of the Neolithic period, 2000-1800, B.C., was found recently in Ballyegan bog by Wm. Scanlon, Balldonogue, Liselton, North Kerry.

It was under the fourth sod of turf, roughly four feet deep.

This Scraper the the usual size, about one by one and a quarter inches. It Is neatly polished and is slightly hollowed on the flat side for the two fingers, with a protrusion for the thumb on the other. It shows traces of being much used, as the edge is severely indented. 

Flint is not indigenous to the South of Ireland, and an article of this type, which was very valuable in its own time, must have had an interesting history to find its way to the lower banks of the Feale.

This Scraper may be seen among an interesting collection of samples of the geological formation of this country, with foreign specimens of rock, at the Technical School, Listowel.

[Jer Kennelly found this very interesting account in the newspapers archive. I wonder does anyone know any more about this.

Is the find talked about in the Scanlon family?

Is the scraper still in Coláiste na Ríochta?

Was anything ever found out about its origins or how it made its way to Ballydonoghue?


Celtic Crosses

On a stroll through St. Michael’s graveyard you will notice the popularity of the Celtic Cross as a grave memorial in the past.

Today, of course, it is synonymous with an All Ireland Football medal.


He Came, He Saw, He Conquered

Post ands picture from Listowel Park run

New course record 


Parkrun is an event for all, walkers, joggers and runners alike. The emphasis is on participation and fun. However, now and again we celebrate running talent. Stephen Connolly hit the ground running when he set a new record for the Listowel 5,000 metres Parkrun with a time of 15:48 breaking the existing time set by Feidhlim Kelly in 2017 by 7 seconds. Stephen, from Belfast started running in 2018 and has run under 15 mins for 5,000 metres on the track and won the Ulster Steeplechase Championship in 2021. He was also a member of the team that won the Ulster Senior Cross Country championship in 2022. He is a member of the Annadale Striders in Belfast and trains with a group called the Waste Land Track  Club.

As the recently appointed Curator of Listowel Writers Week, you will see Stephen around Listowel up to the Summer. We hope he’ll join us again in at Listowel parkrun. We noticed a slight improvement in all our participants times as we upped our pace as he glided past 


Congratulations Stephen! 

Pictured with Stephen, are our hi-viz heros who insured Stephens time was accurate, Dan Dalton and Robert Purcell with our Run Director of the day, Jimmy Deenihan.


Cliffords and their silverware

No words!


Of Cabbages and Kings

Bench surrounded by wild garlic in Gurtenard Wood, Listowel a few years ago

This photograph is meant to lift the spirits.

It says “if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’


Spare me a Minute

My late mother -in -law had a phrase for this time of year, the hungry gap. It was referring to that time of year when few fresh vegetables apart from hardy greens were available in the greengrocers. That was in the era before freezers and food miles.

These days are also a hungry gap for your blogger as life is quiet and the weather is so inclement that only the brave or foolhardy venture out.

This is my excuse for including the following story which has absolutely no Listowel connection except that lots of Listowel people are talking about it.

This is the amusing window display in Bert’s Books in Swindon on January 10 2023. There is no such display in Woulfe’s.

I have not read the book and I dont intend to but I’ve seen snippets and I watched one interview.

It seems to me that Harry is casting himself as some kind of universal saviour with a message for us all .

He is hoping by sueing them to warn the paparazzi off and thus save us all from their intrusion. (Personally they’ve never bothered me that much)

By revealing the number of people he killed in Afghanistan, he says he hopes he is helping prevent the problem of suicide among war veterans.

There is one glaringly obvious saving mission he could embark on. His mother died tragically in Paris as she was being driven through a tunnel which allegedly had a dodgy camber, by a driver who had that day taken drink and drugs and was ordered by his boss to drive a powerful car with which he was not familiar. She was being pursued (‘chased” is Harry’s more emotive word). BUT she was not wearing a seat belt. Now a seat belt may not have saved her life considering the speed at which the car was travelling, but it just might have.

That’s my tuppence worth.


Listowel Marching Band

Listowel Marching Band 1987…Photo: Charlie Nolan

Those were the days! Someone must have the stories. I’d love to record the origins and the history of this piece of Listowel history.


Irish Antecedents Remembered

Kay Caball has done extensive research on the Famine girls from Kerry who were relocated to Australia. Here some of the other Irish girls are remembered at a ceremony last November. The account is from an online blog, Tinteán.

Descendant participants of VOICES with Irish Ambassador. L-R front: Julie Merrington, Ian Bowker, Noeleen Lloyd, His Excellency Ambassador Tim Mawe, Alicia Burnett, Sue Jacques.
Back: Gavan Duffy, Mark McAuliffe 

The Irish Famine Orphan Girls Commemoration event, held at Famine Rock in Williamstown in November, marked a return to the in-person event which has been an annual commemoration since 1998.

The special guest speakers included the Ambassador of Ireland to Australia, His Excellency Tim Mawe, who was accompanied by his wife Ms Patricia McCarthy. Two other guest speakers were the newly-elected Mayor Cr Tony Briffa and Cr Pamela Sutton-Legaud, both from Creative City Hobsons Bay, the major supporter of the event.  

This year, the commemoration committee searched for a new way of ‘bringing the girls to the table’, as it were, to somehow let the girls share their story with us, rather than us telling their stories.  This led to the creation of special presentation titled VOICES, written by Siobhan O’Neill. 

The presentation followed the journey from Famine to Australia – from Hunger to Hope – that was taken by the orphan girls of the Earl Grey Scheme. Each part represented the story of one orphan girl from each of the six ships that came to Melbourne. It was crafted in the first-person, and delivered by descendants of those six orphan girls. 

The presentation was led by committee member Noeleen Lloyd, herself a descendant with three orphan girls in her family. 

The featured stories included were:

  • Famine – Bridget ‘Biddy’ Kildea, a 15yo from Gleneely, Co Donegal, who arrived on the Lady Kennaway in 1848 with her sisters Margaret aged 18 and Ann aged 17. Biddy told us about famine, eviction, and the spectre of the workhouse in Donegal. Her story was read by her second-great-grandniece, Alicia Burnett.
  • Workhouse – Margaret Ryan, 15 years old from Roscrea, Co Tipperary. She was among the girls who arrived on the Pemberton in 1849.  She told us about her lost family, life in the Roscrea Workhouse, and talk of a new scheme to send girls to Australia. Margaret’s story was read by her second-great-granddaughter, Julie Merrington.
  • Earl Grey Scheme and Journey – Catherine Foran was 15 years old, and had lived in the Waterford Workhouse from the age of nine. She came to Port Phillip on board the New Liverpool in 1849. She told us of her six years in Waterford Workhouse, being chosen for the new scheme, and the epic voyage to Australia. Catherine’s story was shared by her second-great-grandson Gavan Duffy. 
  • Arrival and employment – Mary Margaret Hunt, a 17yo from Limavady, Co Derry, came to Australia on the Diadem in 1850. She told us about her hopes for employment, creating a successful life here, and the opportunities she envisioned in Melbourne. Margaret’s story was shared by her great-grandson, Ian Bowker. 
  • Building a new life – Lucy Ellis was 16 years old and from Newry, Co Down. She was one of 35 girls sent from the Newry Workhouse to Australia. Lucy arrived in Port Phillip on board the Derwent in 1850. She told us about getting settled in a new country, finding love, creating a home and raising a family on the plains outside Melbourne. Lucy’s story was shared by her second-great-granddaughter, Sue Jacques, who travelled to Melbourne from Queensland for the event. 
  • Legacy and Generations – Margaret O’Brien was a 15-year-old from Nenagh, Co Tipperary. She arrived, along with her 17-year-old sister Bridget, on board the Eliza Caroline in 1850, the last ship to bring girls with the Earl Grey Scheme to Port Phillip. Margaret told us about the lives she and her sister created here, both marrying Irish convict brothers, and the joys and hardships of their new life in North East Victoria. Margaret’s story was shared by her third-great-grandson, Mark McAuliffe.  

While the stories featured were interpretations based on facts in the lives of the named girl in each instance, they are essentially the stories of all Irish orphan girls. In giving the girls a voice, the Irish Famine Orphan Girls Commemoration 20222 paid homage to the courage and legacy of all of these remarkable young women.

Siobhan O’Neill

Siobhan convenes the Irish Famine Orphan Girls Commemoration Committee


From my Inbox

My 2X Great  Grandfather, John Murphy, was from Listowel, Ahabeg, County Kerry. He married Johanna Cronin after arriving in the United States.  They were successful pioneer farmers in leavenworth County, Kansas.  I am planning a trip to Ireland in the SPRING  and am interested to find if the Murphy Farm House Bed And Breakfast could be home of relatives. 

Janice Fitzgibbon Hughes

Any help for Janice would be appreciated.


TY Work Experience and Loving it

My granddaughter, Aisling, is in town this week doing her TY work experience in Listowel Writers’ Week office. Here she is, dead excited with the curator, Stephen Connolly, as they check out venues for this year’s programme.

Here she is at Listowel Courthouse where Stephen is composing this excited tweet

“too excited to wait to share this news: we’ll be doing an event with the authors of @badbridget (crime, mayhem and the lives of irish emigrant women) on the 1st of june in the town courthouse, pictured here with the work placement pupil aisling who is helping out at @writersweek”

I wasn’t familiar with Bad Bridget but I am now. I can’t wait for this enticing event.


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