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: Teampall Bán Page 1 of 3

Orphan Girl’s story revisited

Corner of The Square with Feale sculpture


Amy Sheehy’s artistic guide to The Garden of Europe

Next time you are in the Garden of Europe take a closer look at these guide signs.

The artwork is beautiful, well worth closer inspection.

Schiller with the last rose of summer 2023


Visitors to The Workhouse

Barbara and Sue are from California and they came to Listowel on foot of the following story.

This is what I wrote in 2011;

It all started with a Google search in 2008

In a suburb of Sydney, Australia in 2008 a part-time teacher
named Julie Evans was researching her family tree. She knew that her great great grandmother, Bridget Ryan, had left Ireland in Famine times as part of the Earl Grey Scheme. Bridget was one of the “Famine Orphans” who were sent from the workhouse in Listowel to settle in the other side of the world.

The Earl Grey Scheme was devised by the British Government
to solve twin problems at opposite ends of The Empire. Workhouses in Ireland were massively overcrowded and struggling to cope with the numbers of  starving people arriving daily. Meanwhile far away in Australia, colonists were decrying the lack of suitable (white) female
house servants. 

Earl Grey decided to identify suitable girls in Irish
workhouses, to kit them out and send them to Australia. The Australian people were to foot the bill for the scheme. The definition of orphan was very loose. Some girls had one living parent and some even had two. Bridget Ryan, it would appear, fell into the second category.

Julie knew all of this when she Googled Listowel Co. Kerry,
Ireland and she found this website  (link no longer works) maintained by Jim and Mary Cogan.  She sent off an email and thus began an adventure whose latest twist was a TG4 project called Tar Abhaile (Come Home).

When I received Julie’s email in 2008, I knew little of the workhouse and nothing at all of The Earl Grey Scheme. A correspondence began and we emailed to and fro, filling in more and more of the story until 2011. North Kerry Reaching Out was set up and I began this blog. One of the  aims of NKRO was to help the diaspora with research into their family trees. Julie was one of this diaspora whose story we took on board. 

We soon discovered that Bridget Ryan was no ordinary orphan and her story began to take on many aspects of a soap opera. There was crime and punishment, poverty and wealth but with a little smattering of social grace and ladylike accomplishments.

Through this blog I made contact with an avid historian and
genealogist, Kay Caball. Kay grew up in Listowel . She is writing a history of all the Famine Orphans who left from Kerry workhouses. She and Julie formed a partnership to advance research into Bridget’s background.

Fast forward to 2013 the year of The Gathering and RTE is commissioning some TV programmes about descendants of emigrants.  

So, Julie Evans, her husband Glyn, her third cousin, Jeanette
Greenway from California and Jeanette’s daughter, Peta arrive in Ireland; Julie to participate in the making of the TV documentary and her cousins to learn more about their ancestor, Bridget Ryan.

Over two days last week we filmed hours of footage which
will be distilled  into 12 minutes of a Tar Abhaile programme to be aired on TG4 in September or October. Don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted.

I can’t spoil the programme by telling you the story but I
can tease you by telling you that it is an interesting tale with a few elements to illustrate the adage that truth is often stranger then fiction.

As they say in the worst journals, “Watch this space”.

Julie and her husband, Glyn in Listowel for the making of the documentary.

Long story short…Bridget Ryan’s father was a bigamist, her mother’s family were respectable and used influence to get her on the Earl Grey scheme. She arrived in Australia in 1850, married and had a big family whose descendants are now scattered around the world.

That was 2011. Fast forward to 2023.

One of those descendants, Sue Greenway, on the left and her friend Barbara came to Listowel to see what they could of the places where Bridget left from and to get a sense of what life was like in the Ireland Bridget left behind.

We went to the hospital chapel, the last remaining bit of the workhouse. The ladies posed for me beside a giant sunflower, a symbol of the hopeful future that awaited Bridget and the other “orphan” girls in Australia.

In Teampall Bán the ladies were saddened to read the awful account of Famine Times in Listowel.

They sat beneath the tree of contemplation surrounded by the unmarked mass graves of so many who were left behind when Bridget set out for her new life.

Listowel Tidy Towns have done us all a great service in keeping this sacred place so beautifully. Everyone I visit it with is truly impressed.

If you want to know more about the orphan girls and the Earl Grey Scheme, Kay Caball’s book, The Kerry Girls, Emigration and the Earl Grey Scheme is a great read.


Teampall Bán in the 1980s guide


Gorey Ghouls

Wexford County Council decorated the town of Corey with some larger than life witches for Halloween 2023

Photos: Mick O’Callaghan


A Fact

The word barmbrack comes from barm, the lees left behind from ale brewing. The dried fruit was soaked in this barm. Brack comes from the Irish breac, meaning speckled.


Story Behind The Rose of Tralee Festival

Rewilded meadow in Childers’ Park in August 2023


Then and Now

I’m sure plans are afoot to redo the mural. In the meantime, the blank wall has its own significance. The Famine was a time of wiping out, whole families, whole neighbourhoods “bánaithe”.


Date for the Diary

September 14 to 17 2023


The Rose of Tralee

Mick O’Callaghan writes a very entertaining blog

A Rambler’s Blog

Last week he filled us in on the back story of the Rose of Tralee.

The Mary referred to in this love song was Mary O Connor who was the beautiful daughter of a local shoemaker living in the appropriately named Brogue Lane at the bottom of Rock Street, Tralee. For visitors to the town of Tralee many of you will have seen The Brogue Inn which is the territory we are speaking about.

She got a job minding children at age 17 and there she met William Pembroke Mulchinock, who was a protestant, and, in those days, mixed marriages were frowned upon. William was wrongly implicated in the death of a Daniel O Connell supporter, and he was forced to emigrate to India where he worked as a war correspondent. He returned to Ireland in 1849 to marry his Mary having got engaged to her before he left for India. On the day he returned to Tralee, there was a funeral of one Mary O Connor aged 29 years. William was broken hearted. He later met Alicia Keogh whom he married, emigrated to America, and had a family. This marriage broke up and William returned to Ireland in 1855. He turned to alcohol, did some writing, and died in Ashe Street, Tralee in 1864 aged 44 years.

It was in his final years here that he penned the last verse of The Rose of Tralee

In the far fields of India mid wars dreadful thunder

Her voice was a comfort and solace to me,

But the cruel hand of death has now rent us asunder,

I’m lonely tonight for my rose of Tralee.



The sign says that the closure is temporary.


A Fact

An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain.


In Kanturk, Cork and Listowel

An image for today, August 15 2023 , feast of The Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven. Photo taken in Teampall Bán in August 2023


Kanturk Arts Festival

This is the scene in the O’Brien Street Park in Kanturk in summer 2023

This is a lovely way to spend a bit of time. I photographed some of the poems for you so I’ll be sharing them here now for a while.


End of an Era

Last week I was at two funerals. Both deceased were nuns. Slowly I am witnessing the end of a way of life I thought would continue forever.

Sr. Mary Salmon was the sister of Listowel’s Michael. Her life was one of service to the communities in which she lived. She was a member of a very small order of sisters, The Little Sisters of the Assumption. They live among the people they serve and give witness to God’s love in a practical way.

Sr. Mary was a nurse and though a succession of roles, eventually a director of home care services in the north of Cork city. She had many friends in the neighbourhood and it was lovely to meet her friends from the rosary group she set up 40 years ago and her more recent friends from the active retired group all come to celebrate her life at her funeral mass.

Sr. Mary was active right up to her final few days. She loved her family, her community and her beloved Mayo. May she rest in peace.

Sr. Benedict O’Connor was my colleague in Presentation Secondary School, Listowel.

She passed away after a long life of service to education in Kerry and in the U.S. Sr. Benedict loved books, she loved reading and encouraging others to read. She kept abreast of what was happening in the world by reading the newspaper and she loved to do the crossword.

Many Pres. past pupils will remember her in the school library, where she was in her element. She loved to encourage girls to read the classics and she encouraged many a reluctant reader to take up a book .

In her final years she lived in a silent world, being profoundly deaf. She still attended mass in St. John’s nearby to where she lived in Pres. Tralee and she lived as full a life as she could. She accepted her cross and was resigned to death when it came suddenly at the end.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam uasal.


An Old Ad.

( shared by Liam OHainnín on Facebook)

Listowel’s first department store?


Just a Thought

My reflections which were broadcast last week on Radio Kerry are here;

Just a Thought


A (Mad) Fact

In the 19th century madness was an occupational hazard of hatmakers. Hence the phrase “as mad as a hatter”.

Mercury was an ingredient in the solution that was used to treat the felt that was used in the making of hats. Mercury poisoning attacked the central nervous system causing trembling, irrationality and confusion. People just thought that all hatters were mad.


Teampall Bán

Beautiful butterflies and moths photographed in Ardgillan by Éamon OMurchú.


Teampall Bán

Teampall Bán has been undergoing some changes so I was delighted to have an opportunity to visit with my houseguests. It is always an opportunity for a history lesson and a time for reflection on our many blessings in life today.

Killian and Cora are standing at the magnificent new gate sponsored by Beasley Engineering. As you can see the painting isn’t quite finished yet.

The Celtic Cross is beautifully repainted.

Last time I visited the gable wall mural was looking a bit shabby. This time it had been painted over. The mural with its dark sky and gaunt crosses added a sombre air to the place and was very much part of the experience for me. Maybe they will be able to get someone to redo it.

The tree of contemplation.

The “scores on the doors” are blood chilling.

The quiet little chapel is perfect for prayer and reflection.

It’s hard to call a place of such awful sorrow a visitor attraction. In the manner of war cemeteries and and holocaust museums it is a reminder to us all of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man. I believe we should market it more. It’s a truly hauntingly beautiful place. Credit for its upkeep goes to Listowel Tidy Towns and friends.


Flocks of Birds

Thank you, Rose McGinty for sharing this


R.I.P. Sinead O’Connor

A verse of a traditional song in tribute to the sweetest singer of them all

I’ve seen the lark soar high at morn,
Heard his song up in the blue.
I have heard the blackbird pipe his note,
The thrush and the linnet too.
But there’s none of them can sing so sweet,
My singing bird, as you,
Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah, Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah
My singing bird, as you

Below is the poem Sinead’s brother, Joseph, said at her funeral ceremony. Sinead, in her internet rants, was wont to refer to her f…ing family. There is no doubt her family loved her dearly, if she could only have believed that.

There’s a blackbird in Dun Laoghaire

When I’m walking with my sons

Through the laneways 

Called ‘The Metals’

By the train-tracks. 

And he sings among the dandelions 

And bottle-tops and stones, 

Serenading purple ivy, 

Weary tree-trunks. 

And I have it in my head 

That I can recognise his song, 

Pick him out, 

I mean distinct 

From all his flock-mates.

Impossible, I know. 

Heard one blackbird, heard them all. 

But there are times 

He whistles up a recollection. 

There’s a blackbird in Dun Laoghaire – 

And I’m suddenly a kid, 

Asking where from here to Sandycove 

My youngest sister hid. 

I’m fourteen this Easter. 

My job to mind her. 

Good Friday on the pier – 

And I suddenly can’t find her. 

The sky like a bruise 

By the lighthouse wall. 

We were playing hide-and-seek. 

Is she lost? Did she fall? 

There’s a blackbird in Dun Laoghaire 

And the terror’s like a wave 

Breaking hard on a hull, 

And the peoples’ faces grave 

As Yeats on a banknote. 

Stern as the mansions 

Of Killiney in the distance, 

As the pier’s granite stanchions, 

And Howth is a drowned child 

Slumped in Dublin Bay, 

And my heart is a drum 

And the breakers gull-grey. 

The baths. It starts raining. 

The People’s Park. 

And my tears and the terns, 

And the dogs’ bitter bark. 

There’s a blackbird in Dun Laoghaire, 

And I pray to him, then, 

For God isn’t here, 

In a sobbed Amen. 

And she waves from the bandstand, 

Her hair in damp strings, 

And the blackbird arises 

With a clatter of wings 

From the shrubs by the teahouse,


Where old ladies dream 

Of sailors and Kingstown 

And Teddy’s ice-cream. 

And we don’t say a word 

But cling in the mizzle, 

And the whistle of the bird 

Getting lost in the drizzle. 

Mercy weaves her nest 

In the wildflowers and the leaves, 

There are stranger things in heaven 

Than a blackbird believes. 

– Joseph O’Connor, 2010 


John Pierse R.I.P.

By the Feale in August 2022


+ John Pierse R.I.P.+

John Pierse’s Tidy Town colleagues changed their window display as a tribute to one of their stalwarts, John Pierse.

John’s nephew, Roibeard Pierse, captured the essence of John when he said that John was a man who would do the hard work and step away when the photograph was being taken. That was the John I knew. For a man who was often seen with a camera and who appreciated the importance of a photograph to document a historic moment, he was himself very camera shy.

However when I looked for photographs to illustrate my small tribute I found that I had quite a few, mainly of John in the company of like minded people.

I took this photo of John with his friend and collaborator, John Lynch on the first occasion I saw Bliain dár Saol, an invaluable documentary of life in Listowel in 1972.

The importance of this film was recognised again lately when it was shown on three days during Heritage Week 2022. The film, beautifully scripted and narrated by Eamon Keane, records The Fleadh with which John Pierse will be forever associated , the Wren and other traditions whose memory is still alive today.

With friends, Pat and Leisha Given at a book launch

John Pierse was a scholar who loved learning. This class phot0 of a group of Listowel people at a conferring in UCC on the completion of an adult outreach diploma has both Mairead and John in it. John was a life long learner. He was generous in sharing the fruits of his learning and I am one of many who has learned much from him.

With Kay and Arthur Caball

Kay Caball worked with John on many of his history projects. There was a deep mutual respect and friendship between these two avid historians.

Eileem Worts R.I.P. , John Pierse R.I.P., Joan Byrne, Breda McGrath and Mary Hanlon

One of the projects close to John’s heart, a labour of love, was his book, Teampall Bán. He has done the town an invaluable service in trawling through documents and records to put together this thorough account of the Famine in the Listowel area. In an act typical of the man, he donated all the profits from the book to Listowel Tidy Towns’.

This book will stand as John’s legacy to future generations.

With Finbar Mawe

John had a huge library of history books and maps. He was a great supporter of local authors. Here he is at the launch of Vincent Carmody’s book adding another to his collection.

John loved the company of local people who shared his love of the town and its history. With him here are Kieran Moloney, Paddy Keane and Michael Guerin.

With John in this photo taken at an event during the military weekend are Kathy Walshe and Dr. Declan Downey.

These two photos I took after an event in the hospital chapel, forever a reminder of Famine times in Listowel and North Kerry.

This is the last photo I took of John Pierse. We were in a brief respite in pandemic restrictions and we were both out early in the morning to see how Listowel was faring in these extraordinary times. John was his usual chatty self. While suffering under the privations of enforced isolation, John was putting his time to good use with his books.

In his 86 years in this life, John lived a fulfilled life. He packed more into one lifetime than anyone I know. He is part of Listowel’s rich history now. He will be greatly missed by his beloved gentle Mairead and by all his family.

I am glad I got to know him.

“Lives of great men remind us

We too can make our lives sublime

And departing, leave behind us

Footprints in the sands of time.”

Go gcloise tú ceol na naingeal go síoraí, a John.


Going to the Creamery

This photograph which was shared originally to Rockchapel Memories by Charles MacCarthy shows the scene at the creamery in Rowles, Meelin sometime in the 20th century.

That scene, or versions of it, was repeated in villages and rural areas all over the country when men made the daily trip to the local creamery. Judging by the size of the milk churns, these men were not rich but happy farmers making a living on small holdings in a remote part of North Cork.

The ritual of the morning at the creamery involved the exchange of news and gossip. Men looked forward to what was often their only social interaction in the day. It took a few hours to get to the creamery and back but in those days people weren’t in a hurry.

This photograph was also shared on line. Sorry I cant remember by whom. Was it you, Brigid O’Brien?

It is a later time when tractors and the odd car had replaced the horse or donkey and cart. The ritual was the same though and chat was still a big part of going to the creamery.


Tina Kinsella was entertaining her sister in Lynch’s Coffee Shop. Bernie was on holiday from Wexford.


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