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 firstname.lastname@example.org
On Friday July 7 2023, Tánaiste Micheál Martin was in town to officially open the new Fuchsia Centre at Árd Chúram.
This wonderful facility for older people who suffer from dementia will mean that more and more people are enabled to stay in their own homes for longer and the task of caring is eased for the family.
The committee who worked so hard to bring this project to fruition will leave an invaluable legacy to the area.
The celebration of the opening was planned for outdoors but poor weather forecast for the day meant that we were entertained indoors at the Árd Chúram Day Centre.
The HSE is a vital partner in the delivery of services to the older people in the community. Caroline Doyle of the HSE is here with Mike Moriarty of the Árd Chúram committee.
Caroline Doyle, HSE with Helen Moylan of Listowel Laundry for the Elderly and Marie Reen of Árd Chúram
Some of the friendly welcoming people who work in Árd Chúram.
Micheál Martin and Norma Foley enjoying the Cork/Kerry banter
(More photos tomorrow)
Modern Celtic Art in Listowel
Stephen Rynne had no connection with Listowel until he began studying the work of Michael O’Connor, illuminator.
When he came to town and discovered the many many local artists working in the celtic genre, he fell in love with the town.
In Kerry Writers’ Museum on July 6th he made his first foray into opening our eyes to the treasures around us.
On the left is Stephen Rynne and on the right is a great friend of Listowel Connection, our super researcher, David O’Sullivan. Dave has uncovered many stories related to Listowel artists and their prestigious commissions.
The local connection; Fr. Brendan O’Connor, son of the artist, was delighted to meet up with his Kerry cousins on the evening.
This beautiful piece, Michael O’Connor’s alphabet, was handed over to Kerry Writers’ Museum. It is not clear to us which alphabet it is, certainly not English, maybe Irish or Latin. Any insight would be gratefully welcomed.
Cara Trant on behalf of Kerry Writers’ Museum, accepts the piece from Stephen.
One of the dreadful results of the Famine was the devastation of the population due to deaths and emigration.
Worse was to follow in evictions and forced emigration.
Maybe your ancestors emigrated on The Nimrod or another of the ships that took so many of our fellowmen to the U.S and further afield.
This substantial premises on William Street is for sale
The light of other days
This lovely little old oil lamp may have lighted a lady’s way to bed or provided light enough to read a child a bedtime story. This lamp was much safer than a candle and provided more constant light for longer.
Many will recognise that this looks like a bicycle lamp or an old fashioned flashlamp. This particular lamp is a policeman’s lamp and its beam is directed downwards.
A Gorgeous poem about a Not so Gorgeous Plant
Paul Muldoon who translated this poem will be in town for Writers’ Week in a few week’s time.
I had never heard the word greidhlic before. Then I didn’t know what samphire was either.
Samphire photo from the internet
A Visitor who feels at Home
Stephen Rynne is a Celtic Art scholar and the acknowledged expert on the work of Listowel illuminator and calligrapher, Michael O’Connor. His interest in O’Connor’s work brought him to Listowel and once here, he was enchanted by the celtic artwork all around him. He was fascinated to find on further study so many extraordinary local artists working or dabbling in the area of celtic art. Pat MacAuliffe, Paddy Fitzgibbon, Tony O’Callaghan, Micheál Kelliher, Eileen Moylan and more creating in different media but all well rooted in the celtic tradition.
Stephen with one of Listowel’s landmarks on his recent visit to town.
I was telling Stephen about Listowel’s connection to the O’Rahilly family. In one of those ‘you couldn’t make it up’ moments, Stephen revealed that his family is connected to the O’Rahilly family.
Listowel owes a debt of gratitude to Stephen for elevating the work of Michael O’Connor, for diligently researching and tracking down the whereabouts of some of the more elusive artworks. Stephen has donated many of the O’Connor pieces to Kerry Writers Museum where we will all get to see them very soon.
Why had we never heard off Michael O’Connor until recently?
Answer: Because we had no Stephen Rynne.
Some of O’Connor’s most magnificent pieces were commissioned and created as gifts for prestigious people. These then lay in archives in places like The Vatican, JKF Library, family archive of the President of Israel, in President Eamon de Valera’s archive etc etc. Stephen has literally discovered O’Connor and has tracked down and even in some cases photographed some of these exceptional works. The next part of his mission is to bring as many as possible back to Michael O’Connor’s birthplace, Listowel.
The man who invented false eyelashes missed a trick. American film director, D W Griffith was making an epic film, Intolerance, back in 1916. He wanted actress Sheena Owen to have eyelashes that brushed her cheeks. A wigmaker wove human hair through gauze and gummed the fake eyelashes to poor Sheena’s eyelids. The film was critically acclaimed but it left Griffith with huge debts.
This is Susan Corr. She was in Kerry Writers’ Museum on Friday last, February 18 2023 bringing with her a very precious cargo. Susan is Ireland’s leading paper conservator/ restorer. She was in Listowel to bring the first tranche of Michael O’Connor’s artwork back to the house where he grew up.
Now in its new incarnation as Kerry Writers’ Museum it will be the repository of his exceptional bank of illustrations/ illuminations.
Here is my story in a nutshell. One Saturday in 2020 I had a phonecall from a man who introduced himself as Stephen Rynne. Stephen was sorting through his late father, Etienne Rynne’s, papers when he came upon a folder of correspondence and artwork. Stephen recognised that the artwork was of an exceptional quality. It was by Michael O’Connor, an artist whose name he had never heard. A quick Google of Michael O’Connor brought Stephen to Listowel Connection and there I entered the story.
Michael O’Connor grew up in No. 24 The Square.
The artist’s father was Dr. Michael O’Connor, a Listowel g.p., a religious man and a republican.
Dr. O’Connor was one of the local republicans who were interned in Ballykinlar in 1921. While in jail the Kerry men sent back newsletters to their families at home. These newsletters were embellished with Celtic borders, the work of Micheal Reidy of Killarney.
This was young Michael O’Connor’s first brush with celtic art. Of course, growing up in Listowel he was surrounded by the stucco work of Pat MAuliffe which is replete with symbols of celtic Ireland.
Stephen realised that Michael OConnor was a prolific artist. The more he delved into O’Connor’s corpus of artwork the more he realised that O’Connor was the top Celtic illuminator of his age producing work comparable to the work of the monks who produced The Book of Kells.
Why had no one in the art world ever heard of this genius?
Stephen found that much of O’Connor’s work was done for family and friends. He was happy to stay below the radar.
His biggest commissions were for the Jewish Irish community and official gifts presented to visiting dignitaries. These gifts are now lying in archives around the world.
O’Connor was generous with his talents, particularly to his Listowel friends.
He was a humble man. When asked for a short bio. to put in this booklet whose cover he illustrated for Listowel Emmets in 1960, his response was that he was a Listowel man and that is all people needed to know.
These are the words of his son, Fr. Brendan
We were so accustomed to his artistic creations that we didn’t fully appreciate the originality, skill and dedication he brought to his art. He had the humility to continue working at a very high level of achievement without seeking to be known or appreciated. The completed work was its own reward.
This is shown in particular in the “Breastplate of St Patrick” – a family heirloom which he produced for his own enjoyment in 1961 to celebrate 1,500th anniversary of the national saint.
The O’Connor family have very kindly donated this family treasure and other artworks to O’Connor’s ancestral home in Listowel.
Stephen Rynne took on a painstaking mission to search out and find as much of O’Connor’s artwork as he could. His search put him in touch with archives around the world. During the 1950s and 60s Michael O’Connor’s work was the presentation gift of choice to visiting dignatories. Examples of his work are in The Vatican, the JFK library, Liverpool cathedral, archive of an Egyptian emperor as well as in The Brazen Head pub in Dublin, TCD, UCD and other Irish locations.
Listowel was always close to Michael O’Connor’s heart. He joined with Bryan MacMahon in producing many Christmas cards and bookmarks.
His most outstanding collaboration and probably one of his best pieces is a collaboration with the Listowel writer in a magnificent presentation piece to Listowel Race Company. The lyrical words by Bryan MacMahon and illumination by Michael O’Connor make this a Listowel treasure.
On the left of the picture is Thomas O’Connell, chairman of the Race Committee with Michael Kennelly, Michael O’Connor, Dan Moloney T.D. and Dr. Bryan MacMahon on the occasion of the handover of the work to the race committee during race week 1958.
The Stokes family, descendants of Thomas O’Connell who have kept this important piece safely until a home was found for it, handed over the picture to Jimmy Deenihan, representing Kerry Writers’ Museum during Listowel Races 2022.
Pictured at the handover of the piece to Kerry Writers’ Museum on Friday September 23 2022 are Olive and Oonagh Stokes with Owen MacMahon and Jimmy Deenihan.
The O’Connor family, Listowel Race Company and others have very generously agreed to donate family heirlooms, and irreplaceable priceless treasures to Kerry Writers Museum.
The museum has secured some of the funding to mount this important exhibition.
Special airtight display cabinets have been installed. Susan Corr, conservator’s, services have been engaged.
Cara Trant and Susan on Friday February 18 2023 at the handover of the first batch of restored illumination.
Beautifully restored and mounted letter
Celtic detail and beautiful calligraphy on the magnificent breastplate piece.
Conservation work is a very specialised job involving matching colours, repairing of vellum with isinglass which is also a collagen and restoring old pictures to their original vibrant state.
The process is slow but the work has started and hopefully we will all get to see the first of these treasures before the end of 2023.
I am privileged to be a witness to this, by far the best story so far to come my way since I started blogging in August 2011.
Thank you, Stephen Rynne.
Thank you too, David O’Sullivan for all the invaluable research
Fís na hÓige Productions is a film and drama group based in St. John’s. During July they held a film making course.
Kiana Breatnach sent us these photos.
This could be the start of Something Big
This is No.24 The Square, Listowel.
Today it is home to Kerry Writers Museum.
Here is the same house in the 1950s when Dr. Michael O’Connor and his family lived there. The Morris Minor in front is the family car.
This is Fr. Brendan O’Connor pictured at the door.
He made a return visit to his father’s family home on September 19 2021.
In this photo sent to me by her grandson, Eitan Elazar, is Fr. Brendan’s grandmother at the same door in the 1950s.
This was the reason for Fr. Brendan’s visit and the “something big’ referred to in my heading.
It is St. Patrick’s breastplate, illuminated by the late Michael O’Connor, son of Dr. Michael O’Connor and father of Fr. Brendan.
Michael O’Connor had an enormous talent for illumination.
Illumination is calligraphy in the style of The Book of Kells.
Jimmy Deenihan, chair of Kerry Literary Trust presented Fr. Brendan with a copy of Bertha Beatty’s Kerry Memories. Bertha also lived in No. 24 The Square when the Creagh family owned it.
Also in the photo is Cara Trant, Manager of Kerry Writers’ Museum.
Bryan MacMahon and Michael O’Connor collaborated on several pieces. Jim MacMahon came to Listowel to meet Fr. Brendan and to see the treasures.
Fr. Brendan used his late father’s magnifying glass to show Jim some of the intricate detail in the breastplate. Michael O’Connor worked on this at the kitchen table in his Dublin home, after the children had gone to bed. He worked holding a magnifying glass in one hand and a brush/pen in the other. Under these less -than -ideal conditions he produced Celtic illumination work of the highest quality, work proclaimed by experts in this field as the best of its kind.
The hope is that after expert work of conservation, some of Michael’s work will be displayed in the house where he grew up.
Fr. Brendan O’Connor, me, David Browne , chair of Kerry Writers’ Museum and Stephen Rynne who is the driving force behind the project to bring the work of Michael O’Connor to the wide audience it deserves.
Stephen’s father, Etienne Rynne was a friend of Michael O’Connor’s and Aideen, Stephen’s mother, is willing to give her treasured piece of O’Connor’s work for display along with the other works.
Aideen is holding the piece in my photograph. It is an illuminated papal blessing scroll presented to her and her husband, Etienne, by Michael O’Connor on the occasion of their marriage.
Maybe there are other people with a Listowel Connection or not who have a piece of this original artwork in their possession. Stephen, who is co-ordinating the project is anxious to trace the whereabouts of as many original pieces as possible.
Maybe you have one of the 6 Christmas cards with words by Bryan MacMahon and illumination by Michael O’Connor that were produced by Oriel Press. The original artwork for these has been lost but maybe you have kept a card and it is now part of this extraordinary story.
Friday, September 24 2021 at Listowel Races
Photos by Bridget O’Connor
These ladies were the finalists in the Best Dressed competition.
And the winner is….
This photo is from Listowel Races site. The lady is Maritess McCarthy.