Listowel and The Famine

One of the marvellous aspects of Writers’ Week is the variety of activities on offer. Friday May 31 2013 was our day for learning all about the Famine in Listowel. Below is a photo of some of the crowd gathered at the Listowel Arms to take part in a walk led by John Pierse, Michael Guerin and Kay Caball. This walk was to take us to places of interest connected with the Great Famine. We were lucky to be in the company of three “experts” in various aspects of Listowel in Famine times.

I’ll share with you a few of the more shocking facts I learned.

  • In the worst week of famine times, 66 people died in the workhouse in Listowel.  Many more died on the roadside, in their houses or in the fields.
  • The workhouse was so overcrowded that every shed and outhouse was pressed into service as an auxiliary workhouse and many more of these auxiliary workhouses were set up in the locality.
  • The people were starving, yet the river Feale was teeming with fish.
  • 3,000 people are buried in Teampall Bán graveyard. We know the names of only 3.
  • There is another Famine Graveyard at Gale.
  • The 4 Presentation Sisters did extraordinary good work sheltering, feeding and clothing the starving. Their role is often ignored by historians.
  • The present hospital chapel was part of the dining area of the workhouse.
  • Prostitutes and their children were segregated from other women and children in the workhouse.
  • The Famine lasted longer in North Kerry than it did elsewhere. It went on into 1850 and 1851.

Michael Guerin
walkers approaching the Presentation Convent
Kay Caball
in the grounds of the old workhouse


Later on Friday May 31 2013 we continued with our Famine education with a seminar in The Plaza. If we had local experts in the morning, we now had local, national and international experts in an excellent forum, ably chaired by Mike Lynch.

Left to Right: Thomas Keneally, Kay Caball, William Smyth, Mike Murphy and Mike Lynch

The Moloney family out in force to hear one of their own do us all proud as she took her place among Famine scholars.

Between 1845 and 1852 over one million Irish people died. At least 250,000 fled the country. The authors of the Atlas of the Great Irish Famine have done us all a great service in making this truly awful episode in our history more real for us. Their maps have gone some way toward explaining why so many people died and toward explaining what determined if you would die, leave or survive.

We, the descendants of Famine survivors owe it to our brethren to remember them.


Here are some of the people who slaved away behind the scenes at Writers’ Week .


This is Edmond Harty of Dairymaster. This weekend he is in Monte Carlo in contention with 49  others for the title International Entrepreneur of the Year.

Go néirí an t-adh leis.