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Tag: Wren boys

Willie Guiney’s Life in Running and Our Toy Shop on Telly

Blue tit by Criostóir Grayson


Listowel’s Oldest Toy Shop

A bit of the shops history from Vincent Carmody’s book

From the RTE Guide

9.30 on Rte One on December 22 2021


Another Toyshop, Another Time

My name is Gerard Stack formerly of 51 William Street.
As a young boy I remember being in Walsh’s shop which was located across the road from us in William Street.
At Christmas they would have a toy section and they would invite the children from around the town to try out the toys and there would be photos taken.
The shop was owned by Jim Walsh and his wife and they had a Cavendish dealership, but at Christmas they turned into a Christmas Wonderland for all of the children in town.
Jim’s brother was  Dr. Johnny Walsh who had a GP practice in the square.
It would be great to see some of those old photos if they are available.



(The following photo and essay I sourced on Facebook)

Running for Love

                                          A Portrait of Willie Guiney

                                                  By David Kissane

New Year’s Day 1990. Luton, outside London. A dark cold morning of a brand new year. Six thirty am. The phone rings in the hall downstairs. The head still groggy from celebrating the night before. Who the hell could be ringing at this early hour? Hallo? 

“Hallo” a voice said. “Is that Willie?”

“Yeah, this is Willie…”

The voice on the phone said “This is Eddie Mangan in New York…” An awkward silence followed in the sharpness of that morning…

The news that followed is the news that no human being ever wants to hear. It is the news that no human being ever wants to deliver. Its impact is written in the stone of the memory.

As best he could, Eddie Mangan from Ballylongford, calling from New York told Willie Guiney that Willie’s brother Brendan had been involved in an accident. Was it bad? Yes it was. Brendan was dead. Killed in a hit and run before midnight. The bells were about to ring  in the new year. A new year that Brendan Guiney would never see…

Brendan Guiney was only twenty four. His life was over before it began. “He was my first and best friend” Willie says. They went everywhere together as kids around Listowel. A good footballer too. Captained Listowel Emmett’s in the 1985 North Kerry championship final against Tarbert. Then Brendan emigrated to New York and was crafting a good new life there. And then…

Willie flew to New York and arranged the return of his brother’s remains back home. Brendan was laid to rest. Then there were what Yeats called “the dragon-ridden days” before the slow journey to healing began for the family. Running played its part. Like the friend that it is during painful times, running came to Willie’s aid. 

One day he put on his runners and saw part of the road to resurrection ahead. It would take him thirty five miles around North Kerry. On the route would be the six football grounds where his lost brother had played football. But it wasn’t just a run of recovery. It was a charity run and Willie raised over €5000 for St Mary of the Angels in Beaufort. 

That run around the hedged and ditched roads of North Kerry taught Willie that the motivation of human love can drive one through marathons, miles, mountains. He would run for love for the rest of his life.

A few weeks ago Willie was running in the Tralee Half Marathon. Fine Sunday morning. St Brendan’s AC had been asked to supply a water station. And we did. Kirstie Nowak, Danielle Faulconbridge and daughter Noelle dispensed the water, sweets and fruit as the runners reached Ardfert. On runs Willie Guiney. No stranger to runs around Ardfert. He had been a strong finisher in the 11th Banna 10K only a few months ago when summer was in middle age. Heavy hallmark bandage around the left knee. “Morning lads!” he says and stops for a chat! In the middle of a gruelling half! Told us he appreciated the support and was struggling with injury but he loves the distance and couldn’t miss it. Stood for a few photos and thanked us again and waved goodbye and headed off down towards Ardfert cathedral and Barrow and in to the finish in Tralee. Running for love. It was one of the highlights of that Sunday morning and one came home later with a better version of one’s self. 

                                                       Beginning to Run

Willie Guiney was born in Listowel and attended the local schools, including the Listowel Technical School or the “Tech” as it was lovingly known for generations. Great school for sport and for developing the whole person. Especially the physical intelligences as Professor Howard Gardiner called the intelligence that created carpenters, plumbers and builders. The trades people who are very difficult to find now. When did you last try to get a plumber?

Willie left the Tech at seventeen and got a job straightaway in Spectra in Listowel. A growing business where you put in your rolls of film and came back a few days later and marvelled at the prints you were handed back in a neat folder. Willie loved the job and his boundless energy was appreciated by management and his co-workers. In the evenings he found boxing a huge outlet. Strong body and the right attitude. Garda Pat Healy’s coaching resonated with the youth of the town and Willie won boxing matches in the rings of Dingle, Castleisland and Tralee and was a silver medallist in the Munster middleweight division. 

Then a job in Tarbert in Kelly’s Butchers ensured a happy time, popular with customers as he displayed his undoubted linguistic intelligence. Willie has the gift of the geab which means popularity in any Kerry community. And living in Tarbert in a flat at the back of Donie O’Connor’s Bar made a huge contribution to the person Willie was to become. 

If you meet and mix with athletes, the chances are you will fall for athletics. Into Willie’s life jogged Sonny Fennell from out the road in Tarmons. Look at Sonny and watch him run and you know running is a good thing. Sonny came to fame with an All Ireland win in Belfield in the national intermediate cross country of 1975. Six miles of power-running and came home nearly a hundred metres in front of 250 other athletes. American career and glamour. In many ways the Steve Prefontaine of Kerry. 

Willie often went for runs in the nearby GAA field in Tarbert. Then Sonny saw him and so began a lifelong love of running. Of course running after Sonny was like a non-greyhound chasing a hare. See you later Sonny. But the bonding and the craic and the sheer helium of running with sonny’s gang caused an amazing metamorphosis. A kind of fantasy. And he grew into the sport. He got faster and inherited endurance. I have something to offer here, Willie thought. A Bach sonata was rising in the background.

And the craic and stories shared around athletics in those days. There was the story of an athletics man who came to live in Kerry and had innovative ideas. The ideas didn’t go down well with some and he was told “There’s no need to bring that bullshit into Kerry. There’s enough of that here already!”

A year after Willie began chasing the sonic Sonny around the roads and fields of Tarbert, he got a silver medal in the Kerry BLE novice cross country championships. “I was actually leading with a few hundred yards to go but I got a bloody stitch!” he says. Learning curve. The need to discover a side of the world that existed beyond himself took him further.

He joined An Ríocht at the age of twenty in 1984 and found it great to be part of a team in a strong club. In that same year he ran race of his life to finish third in the county ten mile road championship in Listowel in a time of 53 minutes. It was a proud day for him to chase the talented Griffin brothers from St John’s AC home in his home town. Place is important to Willie. Roots are primal. Around those times he had great battles with Noel Stack of Moyvane. Willie’s father came from Moyvane and his uncle Willie was still living there in the 1980s so he was delighted to beat Noel in the Moyvane U21 four mile road race in a time of 21 minutes soon after. The good times went on with a 73 minutes run in the Tralee half marathon. 


In 1985, Willie emigrated to America, to Boston where he lived for the next two years, working in construction. He loved Boston. He took his running with him and ran the Boston, New York and Washington DC marathons. He returned home in 1987 with his then girlfriend and now wife Kathleen Devane from Lispole whom he met while in Boston.

After a short break, the couple were off again, this time to London where they lived for the next few years. Again he took his running with him. He was honoured to be able to come home for the National Marathon in Tralee in 1989 with the help of sponsorship from the Burns family who owned businesses like the famous Galtymore. He was delighted to finish third Kerry man that day, behind John Griffin (St John’s AC) and Willie O’Riordan (St Brendan’s AC). He was especially glad because the long working hours in construction meant he had little time for serious training. But anyone who worked on a building site in England those days was never short of fitness!

The year 1990 was the year his brother died and meant another change in Willie’s life-trajectory. After the funeral, he and Kathleen returned home to Listowel, never to emigrate again. Got into shape and won a sackful of medals in road and cross country. 

Then came the hill running phenomenon of the 1990s. Willie won two Munster titles in the rugged and beautiful sport. He then won the Connacht title in 1997, which included a climb of Nephin in Mayo carrying a severe ankle injury acquired a few weeks previously. John Lenihan was to become the star of the mountains in those years but Willie was never too far behind.

And around this time Wille took stock of his life-path. “So much of life is waiting…making room for dreams” says Cork author Billy O’Callaghan in his book of short stories “The Boatman”. Willie concluded on some of those long runs on winter evenings around Listowel that there was one ambition he would like to fulfil. To wear the green singlet for his country. He believed it was in his power and his province to do it. There were two athletic organisations in Kerry in the 1990s, BLE and NACA. The former was the official organisation from where recognised international selections were made. Willie decided that his only opportunity to run in a green vest would be to join the NACA.

And so in 1995 he went south to Desmond Currans AC and said goodbye to An Ríocht. Not an easy decision and one which could carry baggage. He knew that would be so but the next year he achieved his dream. He was selected on the official Irish team for the world hill/mountain running championships in Austria. Proving that he could do it again, he trained hard and competed harder and was invigorated and was selected again for the Irish team to compete in the Czech Republic in 1997 and then for the European championships in 1998 in Turin in Italy. In each event he acquitted himself with honour. He had arrived.

Memories are treasured from Sundays of gold. While competing in the Kerry NACA cross country championships in Cahersiveen in the latter half of the 1990s on one of those fiery cross country afternoons, he and Ger Ladden were involved in a titanic struggle towards the end of the race. Ger was after purchasing a brand new pair of spikes for the event. The two runners were so close that Willie accidentally stood on one of Ger’s spikes and ripped a hole in it! Years later, Ger met Willie and at the end of the conversation asked him “Do you remember the day in Cahersiveen that you made a bloody big hole in my brand new spikes in the middle of a twenty-acre field!” 

Willie was to continue to compete for Desmond Currans AC until the unifying of BLE and NACA in the year 2000 and Kerry Athletics was born. This brought athletics in Kerry and in Ireland into the unified position that exists today and Wille rejoined An Ríocht AC when Desmond Currans AC ceased after 2000.

So the dance went on for the running man who now lives in Dromerin in the Parish of Ballydonoghue on the banks of the Feale as it heads west, a few miles from Listowel. A lot of running went on. By now Willie has run 73 marathons and would love to run 100 before he drops down to shorter distances. The following are his personal bests: 5K – sub 16 mins; 4 miles – sub 21 mins; 5 miles – sub 27 mins;10K – sub 33 mins; half marathon – 73 mins and full marathon – 2 hours 35 mins.

Since running his first marathon in Dublin in 1984, Willie has raised €1,000,000 for charities in Kerry and Dublin. In the runs of love,  he has found it very motivating to help people with any form of disability: Goal; Crumlin Hospital; Temple St Hospital; St John of God, Tralee; Kerry Parents and Friends, Listowel; St Francis Centre, Listowel; Listowel Community Centre; Foyle Hospice in Derry; Ballybunion Sea and Cliff Rescue; Enable Ireland, Tralee; St Mary of the Angels, Beaufort; North Kerry Wheelchair Association; Tarbert Association and Áras Mhuire, Listowel and there are more.

Willie values the support of family in his exploits in the running world. His wife Kathleen, daughters Noreen, Katie, Martina and son Liam are all treasured and understand his commitment. 

Nowadays it is a positive philosophy of training to have a variety of venues on which to “rexpress” (run and express) oneself. Willie’s favourite places include the Town Park in Listowel (aka The Cows’ Lawn); Frank Sheehy Park; Ballygrennan Hill; Ballydonoghue GAA pitch in Coolard while his favourite roads would be around Finuge and Mountcoal en route through Listowel and home to Dromerin, to the same area where his mother lived. 

A life lived on a running base. In the dawning days of involvement, there was the joy of discovery and camaraderie. Wherever there was a road or a field to run, there was summer. Then came the ways of the world and Willie realised he needed running. There followed the realisation that the world around running can have the face of an angel and the heart of a mountain stone. Nothing is promised. Expected recognition may prove as slippery as an eel in a North Kerry stream. In an individual pathway everyone is right. There is no truth, there are only points of view. That realisation is often the end of the running road for many. They run out of road. For those who persist, there is redemption road. Do it for somebody else, somebody who needs the spirit of it. Do it for yourself too of course and be true to the best version of you that you want to be. And that’s why Willie does it.

So now he heads out towards Finuge and Mountcoal, his back to Cnoc an Fhómhair to the north and his face to Stack’s Mountain to the south and its November 2021 and his daughter has just graduated from college and his son is playing with Ballydonoghue and all the world is bright. The early winter beauty of the countryside wraps itself around him as the adrenaline is released. The worst he has to fear on the run is “careless drivers on bloody mobile phones not watching the road”. When the adrenaline subsides and the bones creak, he digs deep and cherishes the gifts that life has thrown his way, of the loved ones no longer here. And he runs for them. 

Yeah, Willie Guiney runs for love.

Willie Guiney with his proud mother


Wren Boys, Listowel shops and Christmas Things

December 2019


Some Listowel Shops at Christmas 2019


A Christmas Tradition

Wren boys by Vincent Carmody

The wren-boy tradition on St. Stephen’s Day is unfortunately, now nearly a thing of the past. Now, only a few small groups, or individuals carry on a tradition, the origins of which, are lost in the mists of time. In the time of the big batches of wren-boys, under the leadership of their King, these groups would traverse the country roads all day, and as evening and night approached, they would head for the larger urban areas to avail of the richer pickings in the public houses.

The North Kerry area was well catered for, with two large groupings in the Killocrim/Enismore and Dirha West areas, There was also a strong tradition in the Clounmacon side of the parish.

Some time after the wrens-day, it was the custom to organise a wren-dance. When the date was picked, a house offered to host the dance. The dances were all night affairs, with liberal quantities of food and drink provided. 

In the early 1960’s I spent three years in London,  during which, I worked in a pub, The Devonshire Arms, in Kensington, for a year or so. At this time, The Harvest Festival Committee, under Dr. Johnny Walsh, organised the wren-boy competitions in Listowel. Mr Johnny Muldoon, of London, had met Dr Johnny in Listowel and told him that he would organise two dances in his Dance Halls in London, provided that the Listowel committee send over three or four wren-boys to be in attendance. During their stay in London, Dan Maher, who managed the Devonshire, invited the Listowel contingent to the pub. On the particular evening I was serving in the lounge bar. (the pub was a gathering place for many film and TV actors who would have lived nearby). Suddenly Dr.Johnny threw the double door open, and in came the Listowel wren-boys, led by the leader, Jimmy Hennessy. Jimmy, wearing a colourful pants, had only some fur skin over his shoulders and chest and a headpiece with two horns. The others followed, faces blackened, and wearing similar outfits, all beating bodhrans. To say the least, those present did not have an idea what was happening.  To this day, I can hear the remark which one man, Sir Bruce Setan, (he, of Fabian of the Yard) at the counter said to the other, Christopher Trace (of Blue Peter fame), Blimey, they’re coming in from the jungle. They will kill us all.
There was no one killed, and I think that Jimmy Hennessy enjoyed drinking pints of Guinness and pressing the flesh, surrounded by people he usually saw, only in the Plaza and Astor.


My Christmas Things

This is my new favourite Christmas thing, a beautiful Jim Dunn Christmas scene.

My second favourite Christmas thing is my Woodford Pottery crib.

And finally my little Judy Greene nativity

Knitters party, Tidy Towns Unveiling, Wren boys part 4 and some photos of local people

Knitwits Christmas Party in Scribes

Una Hayes and Maureen Connolly

Patricia Borley and Mary Boyer

Katie Heaton and Anne Moloney

Helen O’Connor and Pat Barry

Peggy Brick, Kathleen McCarthy and Una Hayes

Jane Anne Sheehy, Eileen O’Sullivan and Eileen Fitzgerald

Maria Leahy, Anne Moloney and Joan Carey


New Kids on The Block

This business  has opened at the corner of William Street and Charles Street in the premises that used to be Jerome Murphy’s


Sunday December 11 2016 at the Unveiling of the Tidy Towns’ Sculpture

At 5.00 p.m.we turned our backs on the Coca Cola truck and headed across the Square to the island outside The Listowel Arms for the unveiling of the sculpture to celebrate the work of Listowel Tidy Towns Committee in bringing glory to town. Readers of Listowel Connection already knew what the piece looked like but the committee covered it up again for the big reveal.

Kerry County Council and the Enterprise office had a hand in funding so Aoife Thornton gave the first speech on their behalf.

Canon Declan O’Connor, P.P. Listowel blessed the piece and blessed the work of the Tidy Town committee.

Ta da! There it is.

The artist, Darren Enright stood proudly among the onlookers as his work was praised.


That was then; this is now

When another sculpture was unveiled in The Square in December 2010 we had snow on the ground

This year the sun shone and we had temperatures of 13 and 14.


A Few More People I photographed on November 25


North Kerry Wren Boys by Wm. Molyneaux in Shannonside Annuals

Part 4

We had great times with the
same Wren, so we did.  One St Stephen’s
Day I was out with Coolkeragh.  They were
a good crowd.  We were travelling on,
whatever.  I don’t know that anyone of us
knew the names of the people where we were at all. 
But still is was a good place. 
Well, any torn down house or anything, we’d say to ourselves that we
wouldn’t go in there at all.  

So this
house, anyway, we crossed it.  It was a
small little pokeen of a  house.  Myself and the player were talking.  We said to ourselves we wouldn’t go in there
at all-you know.  There would hardly be
no one there at all- poor looking. “Cripes,” says I (as if I had the knowledge)
“ “I imagine,” says I, “but I see an old woman walking around
the house, and now  that old woman might
only get insulted.  We want nothing from
her,” says I, “but she might get insulted if we didn’t go into with
the Wren.”  “Well, by God, that’s
right, Williameen.  “We go in

In we went.  This poor little woman was inside.  A very small little house entirely.  She had a few coals down.  I went up to the fire, myself and the player.  He was Willie Mahoney over in Coolkeragh and
a good player he was.  The Dickens, I
went up.  I was inclined to
“hate” the tambourine over the coals. 
There wasn’t as much fire there as would heat it.  Stay, I told him play away.  He played away.  He played, I think, a hornpipe.  God he was a good player!  We were at it for a bit, and with that,
whatever look I gave, there was the poor woman and the tears rolling down her
face.  “Stop, let ye,” says I
to the crowd.  “Stop, let ye, there
must be something wrong here.  Will ye
stop!”  I turned around to the old
woman: “well, poor woman,” says I “there must be something wrong
with you or with someone belonging to you. 
And if we knew anything like that,” says I, “we were not going to come in at all” says I “if
we knew what we know now….  When we see
the tears in your eyes we wouldn’t have come in at all….

At that she started, at the
top of your voice: “Yerra,Wisha, Weenach!oh!oh!OH!..It isn’t any dohall I have
at all about the Wran Boys!….Yerra, Wisha… husband, Tom….he’s inside in
the Listowel ‘ospital with a sore leg. 
And, and if Tom was here today, wouldn’t he be delighted to see the fine
crowd of fine respectable Wren boys that made so much of me as to come in here!
Wait a fwhile ‘til Tom ‘ll come home and if I don’t be  telling him that…..oh!oh!oh! and she went on
at the top of her voice.

I turned around to the crowd:
“lads,” says I, “have ye much money around ye? “agor, we have”
says the captain,  we could have up to
about five pounds, (it was early in the day) “Are ye all satisfied to give
this poor woman,” says I, “half of what ye have?  The day is long” says I, “and
we  will make enough to maintain us
through the night.”  And they said
they were agreeable.  The cashier was
just starting to pull out his purse and off she started again: “oh!  No! 
No!  Wait awhile now and I must
turn around and give ye something.  She
had long stockings on her, and she stuck down her hand in one of them-down,
down, and then she got hold of something and she started pulling and pulling
til she pulled up a big cloth purse-as sure as I’m telling you there would a
quarter sack of male fit inside it!  And
I couldn’t tell you what money was inside it. 
Up she pulled the bag anyway and reached a shilling to myself.  “No, ma’am,” says I, “put that in
your own pocket.”  Then she started
again: “oh!  No!  No! 
No!  If you don’t take that now,
decent boy!  Oh,Yerra  Wisha 
after what ye had done for me! 
Yerra, Wisha, the best friend I ever had in all my life would not do
what ye’re after doing for me.  That the
Almighty God and the Blessed Virgin Mary may save and guard ye! Bless and
protect ye! And that you and yer crowd might be going around on the Wran,”
says she, “ for the next 100 years without a feather ou of ye.”

That happened, for a God’s
honest fact.

(more tomorrow)


Home Alone

A Christmas poem from Mary McElligott


‘What will I do Mrs Claus?”

Santa rubbed his head.

He really was exhausted.

His legs felt like lead.

His head was pounding,

He was frozen to the bone.

Mrs Claus was too busy

To listen to him moan.

He was like this every

I suppose you’d say,

She’d listen, support and

Take out his long sleeved

Christmas Eve was looming,

Three more sleeps to go.

Was it his age? She

Gosh, t’was hard to know.

Mrs Claus was high

Changing sheets and beds.

Five hundred elves was no

The last time she counted

One hundred stayed all

But in October that count
went up,

Hard work for Mrs. Claus,

To get it all set up.

She cooked and cleaned
their dorms.

She worked out their Rota,

24/7 their job,

Hard, juggling that quota.

She loved it though, being

Loved caring for the

They were like their

When they didn’t have any

Some poor elves were

In the North Pole for a
whole twelve weeks.

She often saw tears

Down their little cheeks.

She had one big job to

She did it through the

It was she who got the
elves their gifts,

Brought them their
Christmas cheer.

She made several trips
down south.

There was a great service
from The Pole

But her favorite place to

Was a place called

It was so tidy and clean,

So pretty, down by the

And even more beautiful at

What with all those blue
lights in the dark.

She’d buy all their gifts,

Hats, scarves and gloves
for the elves.

She’d pack them in huge

Leaving a bit of space for
a few bits for themselves.

She loved Christmas Eve,

Santa gone, the elves in

She’d open up her cases,

Deliver gifts as she’d
quietly thread,

Up and down, between the

One hundred in each dorm,

Over and back until the
cases were empty,

Finishing up near dawn.

They all get a Christmas

50 Euros and of course,
some sweets,

After all it was Christmas

And you’d have to give
them treats.

She’d only just be gone to

When Santa would land in,

She’d leave out coke and

Waiting for him, dozing.

‘How was it Santa?’ she’d

‘Everything go all right
with the reindeer?’

“Absolutely perfect Mrs

Thanks to you. Merry
Christmas, my dear.”


Friends Reunited

I had a lovely morning meeting with some old friends recently. Some I met by arrangement and some by chance. It was delightful to renew old acquaintance at the end of 2016

I first met these ladies when we were all teenagers. Heres to the next time, Jill, Assumpta, Eileen and Peggy. 

Little did we think back in the 1970s that we would sit in The Malton, Killarney in 2016 discussing the merits of free travel.

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