Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Monica Garner, A Strange Souvenir of the Papal Visit and some of the colour of Listowel Races 2019

Raceweek 2019

Huge crowd on Wednesday for The Kerry National

 There were all kinds of modes of transport employed for The Races. I went to the course on shanks mare.

You could run into local people and famous people on The Island.

Speaking of transport, apparently, in other nearby countries, you can customise your numberplate to make any kind of statement about yourself.



This is NOT fake news. This award wining play is coming to St. John's on next Thursday , Sept 19 2019 at 8.00p.m.

Richard Walsh is from Ballybunion. Come out and support one of our own.

Nominated for Best Performance & Best Production, Dublin Fringe 2018

Do you believe everything you read in the news? Are you a sceptic? A conspiracy theorist? Gullible? Did you come down in the last shower? 
When there are more than 3 million articles written about the events of any single day worldwide, how do we begin to know which of them to trust? And should we challenge authority? Can doing so lead us closer to the truth, or farther away?Join a performer, a drummer, and a writer as they attempt to uncover the real events of one day that were reported in the local, national and international news. 
If knowledge is power, then why do we now, with more access than ever before to information, feel less in control? Oneday is a high energy performance that playfully examines our unraveling and chaotic relationship with the news. 


Does Anyone remember the Mackessy family?

Monica Garner has been in touch and I'm hoping someone can help her with photos or stories of her parents and grandparents.

I love reading the emails that you produce, they bring back happy memories for me too, even though I have lived in England nearly all my life, I'm now 66 years old.

My Mum was Mary Mackessy before she married my Dad John Ryan in Listowel in 1951.  Dad was from Tipperary

I can always remember going on holidays to visit my grandparents Michael and Catherine Mackessy , they lived in a small house on Convent Street just across the river from the racecourse.  My Grandmothers name was Catherine Patt before she married and went on to have 8 children although sadly 3 of them died.  

My Mum, Mary was the eldest and  worked at the convent until she married, then moved to live in England with my Dad. Then came Josie who worked in the offices of the local haberdashery shop. After marring Andrew Hartnett they also  moved to England and settled here until my uncle died at a young age.  Josie then moved back to Listowel and lived in Charles Street with her 4 children.

The next sibling was Christie who lived with his parents and worked as a carpenter making the wooden traps that went behind the pony and traps.  He worked in a large shed in the garden overlooking the river - such happy memories.   Richard was the next child (known as Dick).  He worked at the Covent and became the head gardener after his Father died. He always lived in the family house on Convent Street, having never married.

The youngest child was Margaret (known as Peg) she went on to marry Sean Kirby, also from Listowel.  They moved to England and had 2 children.  Eventually they moved back surprise, surprise  to Listowel where they opened a bed & breakfast on Convent Street, living there until they passed away.

My grandad worked at the convent and was the head gardener until my uncle (Dick) took over after his death.  My grandmother worked at the convent as a cook.  I can also remember an uncle (John Martin) who lived opposite my grandparents, I think he was the brother of Michael, my grandfather.  I can also remember an Aunt Alice (O'Conner) who lived in O'Connell Road/Avenue.

While typing this it has brought back so many happy childhood memories.  

My daughter is composing a family tree for my Grandsons and it would be great if anyone can give me anymore information about these wonderful people.


Believe or Believe it Not

"Papal Visit Loo Seat. This is a memento of Pope John Paul ll's visit to the Phoenix Park in September, 1979. The week before the big day, we went with my father to see how the preparations were going. The new Papal Cross was impressive but as teenagers we were far more intrigued with the construction of rows and rows of long drop toilets by teams of carpenters. No portaloos back then! Oval shapes were cut at regular intervals from plywood benches large enough for a bottom, but not so large as to lose a small child. Plywood walls were erected to form cubicles and doors were added later. We took home this oval cut out and it has been used ever since as a breadboard or pot stand, not lavished with care but well used and certainly a family treasure. On the day of the papal mass in 1979, we revisited the toilets. The queues were massive, but we were very relieved with the facilities."

Thanks to Helen Bacon
Like this post? Well you will love the National Treasures book!!! Order it now by by visiting: www.nationaltreasures.ie/shop



This is me receiving the final draft of my new book from Paul Shannon at Listowel Printing Works.

My new book you ask?

Yes, it's called A Minute of Your Time and it's a collection of my reflections as broadcast in the Just a Thought slot on Radio Kerry. The reflections are accompanied by photographs.

It's a lovely full colour hard back book which will be launched in St. John's, Listowel on Saturday October 19 2019. You are all welcome.

If you can't get to St. John's you can pre-order it by contacting me at listowelconnection@gmail.com

Monday, 16 September 2019

Listowel Races 2019, Graveyard Prayer and Orphan Train

Raceweek  2019

It was a great week with Listowel bathed in glorious sunshine, huge crowds, great racing, fashion, glorious expectation of another All Ireland Football victory; it was roses roses all the way for race week 2019.

Here are the first of my photos. from Wednesday.  I am slowly sorting myself out after the hectic week.


What I'm Reading

I'm reading this book, Orphan Train and I'm learning about something that I, and I'm sure many American and Irish people didn't know about.

"The Orphan Train Movement was a supervised welfare program that transported orphaned and homeless children from crowded Eastern cities of the United States to foster homes located largely in rural areas of the Midwest. The orphan trains operated between 1854 and 1929, relocating about 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, abused, or homeless children.
Three charitable institutions, Children's Village (founded 1851 by 24 philanthropists),[1] the Children's Aid Society (established 1853 by Charles Loring Brace) and later, the New York Foundling Hospital, endeavored to help these children. The institutions were supported by wealthy donors and operated by professional staff. The three institutions developed a program that placed homeless, orphaned, and abandoned city children, who numbered an estimated 30,000 in New York City alone in the 1850's, in foster homes throughout the country. The children were transported to their new homes on trains that were labeled "orphan trains" or "baby trains". This relocation of children ended in the 1920's with the beginning of organized foster care in America." (Wikipedia)

Some of these children were Irish. Their families had come to the U.S. seeking a better life or fleeing famine and sometimes they fell on hard times and couldn't support their children or some of them died and there was no one to care for the children.
The scheme was well intentioned and many children found happy homes but many did not. Some became no better than slaves or indentured servants in their new homes. 

Some who came through this system told of how the train would stop in a town on its journey and prospective "parents" would come out to see what children were on offer. Babies were easy enough to rehome, but older children were often separated from their siblings. There are tales of towns where the children were put up on a stage and a kind of auction held for them. Apparently this is where the term "up for adoption" comes from. If they didn't find a home in the town they were put back on the train and they tried again in the next town.

Most of the children who were relocated were white. Most had no birth certificate and poor enough knowledge of who they were or where they were from.
The Orphan Train Heritage Society was founded in 1986 to preserve the history of this scheme.



The old people used to have a prayer for every occasion. Some prayers were called urnaí, a kind of charm as well as a prayer. This is one of those. It was said passing a graveyard. The gist of it is; You were once like us. We will one day be like you. May we all flourish in God's kingdom

Ag dul thar Reilige

Go mbeannaí dhíobh, a fhoireann,
Go mbeannaí dhíobh is Muire,
Bhí sibhse tráth mar sinne,
Beimidne fós mar sibhse,
Go rabhamar uile faoi mhaise ag Rí mhór and Cruinne

Friday, 13 September 2019

Lizzy's Little Kitchen, Races 2016 and jostle stones in Kanturk

Lizzy Meets  a fan 

My sister in law is a great cook and an even better baker. She loves all cookery programmes but she especially loves Lizzy Lyons on a Sunday morning. When she and her two friends visited Listowel recently one of the highlights of the trip was  lunch in Lizzy's Little Kitchen. It did not disappoint and getting to talk to the lady herself was the icing on the cake.


Races Story from The Archives

David Looby, The Wexford People in David Looby is a journalist with The Wexford People. The photo and the essay below recount his experience of his trip "home' for the recent Listowel Races 2016:

I've lately joined the ranks of the school drop parents.
You know the sleepwalking types who are half-human, half school bags and lunch boxes. The ones that look immaculate on the first day, but revert to tracksuits and bearded, red eyed grumps by day two (the men that is!).
My daughter couldn't wait to get started and barely looked over her shoulder at The Good Woman and I as we left her behind with her wonderful teacher and all her new classmates. 
I had a week off last week and, owing to some convenient amnesia and force of habit, imagined a week of leisure, down at the Listowel Races catching up with friends from my primary schoolgoing days, throwing back pints. 
The holiday got off to a rocky start as I picked up a dose, followed by The Little Fella getting a fever. My plans were falling apart as I came to terms with the reality that I was tied to school drop off and pick up duties every day, along with toilet training and night 'lifts' to the toilet. Undaunted, Tuesday saw me arrive at the heart of zen-like peace in the South East, St Mullins, from where I jogged to the second lock gates and continued walking until the third lock but couldn't make it as far as Graiguenamanagh as I had to be back from the school pick-up (and I was shattered). I drank in the sweeping views under a milk white sky, taking my time on my way back. 
Wednesday was a doctor's appointment for The Little Fella, followed by a morning enjoying the cafe life of Wexford with him, during which I picked up a new book before going home and lapping up the sunshine. Thursday was a walk from Slade to Hook Lighthouse and CD shopping.
Determined to get away at the weekend I hatched a plan to visit friends in Dublin, my first trip to the city in three years would be amazing, I told myself, only to discover via Whatsapp that said friends were heading to Kerry. 
With a daunting list of work to do around the house ahead of our children's birthday party this weekend, I started to feel the walls closing in around me. The holiday was half way over and drinks needed to be organised to cap it all off, but where?
For years I've been trying to get back to Listowel for the races. Every year growing up in Listowel, the races and Fleadh Cheoil meant a week off school and the arrival of 'the bazaar' in town, along with a colourful host of characters, enjoying marathon sessions. Back then the town was buzzing and there was a wonderful atmosphere as you crossed the bridge over the River Feale to the racecourse, to the lilting sound of 'throw me down something' from Travellers who enjoyed the good fortune of (some) punters. 
Such sounds could not be heard over the thunderous Feale river on Saturday when, accompanied by my financial turf adviser, (my Dad), I returned to the race track on a glorious Autumn day. My tactic of backing horses with fun, quirky names was abandoned on the advice of my father so I went with 'good' each way prospects, all of whom came nowhere. After the races we walked the streets of the lovely north kerry town stopping into the institution that is The Shebeen pub, where people were relaxing in the great company of its owners, chatting about this year's festival, which had a record crowd for Ladies Day on Friday. I returned to Wexford on Sunday night exhausted after a great escape (and a few too many) in Kerry.
Wexford People


Jostling in Kanturk

A loyal blog follower was visiting my hometown of Kanturk and he photographed a few jostle stones for us.

The stones were in a laneway leading to the back of the old RIC barracks, later a Garda station and now a furniture and carpet shop.

Horses and carriages would have gone down this lane to get to stables at the back of the barracks. These stables were later used as cells for prisoners.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Classy's Bus, Repurposing in 2015 and Main Street Listowel in Sept 2019

Ta Dah! Isn't it gorgeous ?

Classy's Bus

On the Friday of Raceweek, Ladies Day there is a complimentary bus service from the Square to The Island. It is customary for ladies who are entering the Best Dressed Lady Competition to wear footwear that is totally unsuitable for walking to the course or for walking any distance anywhere. So the directors of Listowel Races lay on a shuttle bus for the afternoon.

In homage to this, Lynch's coffee shop set up this window display.


Upcycle recycle in 2015

Today's Races story is from Listowel Tidy Towns alternative fashion event in 2015. 

This is how I told the story on my blog in September 2015

This fashionista, Anne Leneghan from Cork is looking fabulous in green. Anne and I are old friends and I took the below photos of her on the racecourse before the event.

Anne was wearing a vintage dress in a beautiful green brocade. She had accessorized it with vintage gloves and handbag, both worn originally by Anne's mother. But the piece de resistance was Anne's hat which was made for her by her friend, milliner, Maria Stack. The base is a piece cut from the dress when the girls decided to shorten it. The next bit was made from an old handbag and the "feathers" are not feathers at all but some things they sourced from an artificial flower display. Anne's beautiful vintage earrings are connemara marble and marcasite.

Maria Stack, whose family were so successful at this event in 2014 had suffered a family bereavement. So Maria was here on her own to support her friend, Anne. Maria is always beautifully turned out and a great supporter of Ladies Day and Vintage Fashion Day.

Anne is on stage describing her up cycling and restyling story to Orlagh Winters.

The judges loved her too but she didn't win. She'll be back again this year with another fetching outfit and another story.


Lower William Street and The Small Square

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Kingfisher, A jockey fatality, a Fancy Dress Parade and the Harp and Lion is finished

Takes more Than a Sign to stop Him

Photo: Chris Grayson

This lad is not called a Kingfisher for nothing.


A sobering thought from John O'Flahery's great book about Listowel Races

First jockey to be killed in Listowel. The year was 1896.

The man in question was a 21 year old jockey from Fedamore, named Michael Prendergast who was tragically killed during the last race on the second day when his mount “Castlequarter”, crashed into a corner post after jumping the last fence. 

The accident happened when Prendergast was trying to drive Castlequarter inside the eventual winner, Tantalus, as they approached the final corner post. As they neared the post, Castlequarter swerved to the right and would have gone inside the post if Prendergast had not snatched him up. This momentaery delay cost him his life, for, when he straightened his horse, he found that the gap had almost been closed by Tantalus and his rider. 

Courageously, Prendergast tried to squeeze through the tiny space, but, instead, he only succeeded in driving the horse on to the post with shattering force. He was propelled from the saddle and struck the ground violently with his head, knocking him unconscious. 

He was removed to Feale View Hotel, the home of the Hon. Secretary, Michael O’Connor, with blood streaming from his ears. Despite being attended to by a number of doctors, he died without regaining consciousness, at 7.00p.m. on Friday August 29. His young wife, whom he had married only a few months before, was at his bedside. 

The terrible accident, which prematurely ended a very promising career, was all the more pathetic, because, up to then, Prendergast had been enjoying an outstanding meeting, during which he had notched up three winners, including the two feature races. 

Perhaps the accident might not have happened at all had the stewards not disqualified the winner of the first race that day, Antelope, because he had come inside one of the posts.  In trying to avoid the same fate, Prendergast earned the unenviable distinction of being the first jockey to be killed at Listowel. Incidentally, his mount, Castlequarter broke his neck in a fall at Croom the following year.


Down Memory Lane

Eileen Sheridan sent us this good one.

Front row.
Babe Joe Wilmot,Tadgh Brennan, Maisie McSweeney
Back row
Maureen Horgan Ethel Ryan
At the side Jerry Flaherty


The Sign is done. The Harp strings are painted and while he had the ladder up,
 Martin gave the Lion's face a cat's lick. Passing pigeons are a menace.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Harp and Lion in Sept 2019, Raceweek Memories nd First Storytelling Festival

Harp and Lion, Listowel's Most Beautiful Shopfront

The next stage in the transformation is the sign painting. Martin Chute, Mr. Signs, is doing a magnificent job.

I took this photo on Sept 5 2019 when there was still some work to be done.

While I was photographing Martin, Liz MacAuliffe came by and stopped to admire the work.

I think both their ancestors would be happy with how it looks today.


Raceweek Memories

by Vincent Carmody

Apart from the fine fresh air and friendship that you will have in abundance at the races, the only other thing free for the week is the free draw each day, entry forms to be found on the day’s race card.
Race card kiosks are located in several areas of the enclosure.

In my previous lookback, I mentioned Paul Kennelly of Woodford.  He used to be assisted in putting up the decorations by several of his sons. One by one over time, they emigrated to seek their fortunes in England. Like many before them, they worked hard and prospered. Murt, having done well, decided to become a racehorse owner. Among the horses that he owned was Bregawn. In 1983 Murt achieved what most owners and trainers would only dream of, by winning the Gold Cup in Cheltenham. It could not happen to a nicer man and family.

The weekend prior to the races would see an influx of returning emigrants arriving at the Railway Station. The Races was the one time of the year where anyone away would make an big effort to return back to town and meet up with old friends. 
Tuesday used be the first day of the three day meeting. Many lads, like myself, would be down early outside the Race Company Office in the Square; our mission, to collect race cards for the day. This was another money making project for us young fellows. Each card would be sold for one old shilling and we would take three old pence for each one sold. On getting the cards, a bee line would then be made to the Railway Station, where each race day morning at least four packed “specials” would arrive.  It used be like London's Euston station. We used work in teams of three, with one always ready to cycle down to the Square to get fresh supplies. 
Here we were also introduced for the first time to the Dublin fruit and sweet sellers. We used to call them the Molly Malones. Afterwards we got used to their cry, “apples, pears and ripe bananas!”. 

Any cards we had left after the railway station would be sold around the streets. 

One year I decided to go into business on my own, running a bicycle park. A bike would have been the most common form of transport for a lot of country men in the mid 1950s. Each day of the races from mid-morning droves of country men from the northern end of the county would come down the Ballylongford Road to the town. By taking up a position on top of the bridge I could easily canvas likely contenders who would have dismounted and walked up the far side and who wanted their bike parked safely for the day. Having secured a customer, I would take him down to our yard, give him a ticket, get paid and then rush back up to the bridge again. By early afternoon customers would have dried up so it was then off over to The Island. 

Our racedays were spent like most others out in the field opposite the stand. Not like today, where the field is used as a carpark, it was in those days similar to the opposite enclosure, albeit without a stand.  It had  bookies, bars, Tote and every other facility, even including swinging boats. Evening time offered the magic of the market, and for the week the cinemas would run a second film showing. 

Back to the bicycle park. The less said about the bicycle park the better. Having got my sister to help out in the early part of the evening, I then had to take up duty. On that particular night it was after five in the morning before the last bike was claimed. My mother and father said they had no sleep with all the comings and goings, so that finished that idea.

A friend, Dr. Philip O Carroll, now domiciled in Newport Beach in California, reminded me of Bryan McMahon's classic Listowel ballad, 'Lovely Listowel' first printed by Bob Cuthbertson and sold on an original penny ballad sheet. I have a copy and I would like to share it with all of those Listowel people around the world who could not join us this year.

Oh, Puck may be famous and Galway be grand,
And the praise of Tramore echo down through the land,
But I'll sing you a ballad and beauty extol,
As I found it long ' go in the Town of Listowel.

I've been to Bundoran, I've rambled to Bray,
I've footed to Bantry with it's beautiful bay,
But I'd barter their charms, I would, pon my soul,
For the week of the Races in Lovely Listowel.

There were Bookies and Bagmen and Bankers and all,
Biddy Mulligan was there with a green-coloured shawl,
And a cute little boy pitching pence in a bowl,
Took me down for a crown in the Town of Listowel.

The Hawkers were kissing and bleeding as well,
We had Hoop-La and Loop-La and the 'oul Bagatelle,
And silver-tongued gents sure I'd bet they'd cajole,
A pound from a miser in the Town of Listowel.

Beyond on the course there was silk flashing past, 
The unfortunate nag that I backed he was last,
When he ran the wrong way sure I lost my control,
And I prayed for the trainer and Lovely Listowel.

Oh night time, how are you-the night sure 'twas day,
And the stars in the sky sure they looked down in dismay,
And they sez to the moon then in accents so droll,
'You're done, for the sun shines to-night in Listowel'

And you'd travel the land to see maidens so rare,
With buckles and pearls and grace I declare,
In my troubles and toils there is one can console,
she's a wife, be me life, from the Town of Listowel.

My rhyming is over, God bless those who heard,
For I'll take to the roads and go off like a bird,
And before I depart well you all must pay toll,
So three cheers for the Races and Lovely Listowel.

Inaurgural International Storytelling Festival

This is some of the line up of storytellers for a marathon storytelling session in Kerry Writers' Centre on Sept 7 2019. Missing from the picture are local storyteller Bryan Murphy and balladeer, Mickey McConnell.