Tuesday, 20 April 2021

A Kerry man on The Titanic, an artist, a memory and an important Zoom talk

A Bee

Andrea Hunt, Bray, Co. Wicklow, Irish Wildlife Trust


We are truly blessed who live by the sea


The Titanic...a Kerry Connection

(pictures and story from Historical Tralee on Facebook)

Did you know that the ships doctor on the Titanic was a Tralee man?  built 111 years ago now Over 109 years  since its sinking ,,,,,,,,,,, There were 2,224 people aboard the luxury liner when it left Cobh, or Queenstown as it was then known, and for 1,514 of these unfortunate passengers it would be the last time they ever saw land.

Since the sinking of the Titanic many of its passengers have entered the history books.

Some because of their heroism and some, like the vilified White Star Line chief J Bruce Ismay, for their alleged cowardice in the face of disaster and death.

The stories of the Titanic's survivors and its victims make for fascinating reading and shine a light on a class system that faded away just a few short years after the liner met its end.

Among these many stories are the tales of a handful of people from Kerry, from a renowned doctor to an impoverished emigrant servant girl, who have become part of the Titanic legend.

Perhaps the most interesting of the Kerry born passengers on the Titanic was the ship's doctor, Tralee-born William O'Loughlin, who lost his life in the disaster.

William O'Loughlin was born and grew up on what is now Ashe Street in Tralee and which was then known as Nelson Street.

In 1872 having completed his studies in medicine in Dublin and at the age of 21, he decided to pursue a career at sea.

He would spend the next forty years of his life serving as a doctor on a range of ships and liners eventually rising to the position of Dean of Medicine for the White Star Line, the company that owned the Titanic.

When the Titanic launched in 1912, Dr O'Loughlin had become something of a curmudgeonly and avuncular figure. At the age of 62 he was beginning to tire of life at sea and protested at having to constantly transfer between the many ships owned by the White Star Line.

When he told Titanic Captain Edward Smith that he was considering retiring, the captain chided him, called him lazy and told the Tralee man to pack his bags and come with him.

He was subsequently appointed as the Titanic's chief surgeon, a prestigious position that brought him into contact with many of the most famous and wealthy passengers on the liner.

During the Titanic's brief maiden voyage, Dr O'Loughlin regularly dined with the ship's designer Thomas Andrews and was often in the company of the ship's most prominent passengers.

On the night of April 14, 1912, just hours before the Titanic sank, William O'Loughlin was dining with some of ship's most famous passengers in the Titanic's packed main dining room.

Seated at the same table as John Jacob Astor, the wealthiest passenger of the Titanic, Captain Smith, Thomas Andrews and White Star Line Director J Bruce Ismay, Dr O'loughlin became involved in a lively discussion about the technical marvel that was the Titanic.

With the boat making record time, bets on when the liner would reach New York were made at the table prompting Dr O'loughlin to raise his glass and lead a toast to the ship.

His exclamation "Let us drink to the mighty Titanic" was greeted with cheers in the dining room with all diners enthusiastically joining in the toast.

Just six hours later the Titanic would be at the bottom of the Icy north Atlantic.

Dr William O'Loughlin, who had always said he wished to be buried at sea, never made it off the Titanic. He was last seen arm in arm with his two assistants quietly waiting for the "mighty" liner to plunge into the depths.


Senan O'Brien, Artist

Prints of the above lovely picture are available to buy from

Riverside Art Gallery

The artist is Senan O'Brien whose picture of Listowel Town Square in 1999 is doing the rounds on the internet recently. I included it here last week. 

I had never heard of the artist but I am now a firm fan since discovering him on the internet. I missed him when he held an exhibition in St. John's. My loss!


Memories and Expectations

I posted this photo last week in the context of famous people who were a familiar sight on the streets of Listowel.

In the picture are Fergal Keane and Éamon Ó Murchú. 

I'm posting the photo again because I have a story `about both men today.

The first story comes from Marie Shaw;

Hi Mary,

Fergal Keane’s uncle Michael Hassett and I were close friends for years in NY. We had dinner together once a week. I had to approve of any girl he was interested in. I remember one girl who worked at the Brooklyn Museum who confessed that she was scared to death to meet me but was delighted to hear that I liked her a lot. Their connection didn’t last which was a pity as they were perfect for each other. Michael sadly died in a fire in NYC at a young age. Fergal devoted a chapter in his book to him. Bittersweet memories.


My Éamon story is a happier one.

Online event
Thursday, 22 April 2021 at 19:30 UTC+01
Price: free
Public Anyone on or off Facebook
‘I have been greatly privileged that, in my journey through life, I have had as a guide “the Master”, my friend Bryan MacMahon. He provided me with a unique lifelong education as teacher and friend’.
Éamon Ó Murchú
In this illustrated presentation Éamon will comment on the life and times of Bryan MacMahon, his warm personality, the philosophy of life that permeated his teaching and writing, his many talents, and his lifelong contribution to his hometown of Listowel.
This lecture will be delivered live on ZOOM. For a free registration link email kerrywritersmuseum@gmail.com

Just a Thought

My last week's Thoughts as broadcast on Radio Kerry from April 12 to April 16 2021 are here:  Just a Thought

Monday, 19 April 2021

President Michael D. and fond memories of a kind gentleman

Cherry Blossom Time 2021


President Michael D. Higgins

Happy Birthday, a Uachtaráin

We, in Listowel, were honoured with a visit from our president on a few occasions. Here are some reminders.

Opening Night Listowel Writers' Week, May 30 2012

With Julie and Mary celebrating Listowel's win in Tidy Towns Competition


I searched out these Listowel photos for you when I saw the below post on a Charleville Facebook page.

From Charleville Heritage Society

President Michael D Higgins and his Charleville connection his father was John Higgins he was employed here in Charleville at Owen Binchy and Sons grocer shop.
John married a local women Alice Canty from Liscarroll. This is what brought the Higgins to North Cork. John himself was a Clare man. John joined the local IRA. His active period was 1920 to 1923.
After the War of Independence John joined the anti-Treaty side
and Civil War roared on here in Charleville.
Families picking different sides and tearing families apart and the Higgins were no different John was anti-Treaty, but Michael D's uncles Peter and Michael were pro-Treaty.
After the war people tried to get back to normal but it didn't happen for John as he employer refused to give him his job back.
John paid a high price for standing up for what he believed in.
He was arrested in January 1923 during the Civil War and interned in the Curragh. He was released later the same year in December.


Liam Dillon Remembered

My tribute to Liam evoked many happy memories and fond recollections for many people who knew him.

Here are just a few examples:

Hi Mary, very sad to hear of the passing of Liam Dillon. Liam and myself used to have great banter back in the day when I was a teenager. Coming from Colbert Street, John Joe's was our local shop. Sometimes Liam would ask me to help in the shop if it was extra busy, which I enjoyed. When I was coming to England in 1972, he gave me a few pounds as a leaving present, which was lovely of him, he really was a lovely man and I always called in to the shop to see him when I was home in Listowel. Ann was my Geography teacher in 5th and 6th year Secondary school.  May their souls rest in peace. Regards. Rose Sheehan ( nee Shine ). 


Hi Mary,

Lovely tribute to an old friend Liam Dillon. He was the ultimate gentleman and I always looked forward to meeting him and sharing a laugh. Whenever I went “home”, my first Stop was at his shop on Church St. No Irish money in my pocket but Liam made sure I had everything I needed to begin my vacation on Colbert St. I have an old fashioned habit of leaving the front door open whenever I am there. Liam would be passing by and ramble in for a chat and a cup of tea. We would chat about my aunt who owned that house and laugh about her habit of always having the door open. Even here in the US, my door is always open to the chagrin of many of my friends. Listowel has lost one of their own and he will be remembered and revered by all who were fortunate to call him friend. May his gentle soul RIP
Marie Shaw


Lovely words Mary. Eamon's eulogy was perfect. Delighted he quoted my father's poem, The Street.
Liam was very kind to my grandmother, Hannie Keane, No 45 Church Street.
Liam's mother and Hannie were great friends.
John Keane
104 Church Street


Mary, thank you for publishing Eamonn Dillon's eulogy.   I learned so much from it - amazing what a full life Liam and indeed Anne had.  Liam had so many interests that I wasn't aware of.  Definitely lives well-lived.
Kay Caball

Friday, 16 April 2021

The Races Remembered, Lofty Kelliher and Famous People I met once

 Photo; Sheila Horgan, Blackwater Photographic Society


Every Sunday in the 1980s

John Hannon's great photo of Lofty Kelliher on a Sunday morning


Murhur , Late 1980s


I found the following essay on Athea and District News 2019

The Races

By Domhnall de Barra 

It is Listowel Races time again and there is hardly a word about it. At one time it was one of the major events in our calendar and the highlight of many people’s year. Back in those days there were just three days racing but there was a week long festival in Listowel that attracted great crowds from Kerry and all the neighbouring counties. It was called the Harvest Festival as it coincided with the end of the harvest and an opportunity for farmers, who had toiled hard in meadow, garden and bog all the summer, to take a well earned break. 

Farming was very labour intensive in those days with very little machinery to help out. Most of the work was done with pikes, spades and sleáns and of course it all depended on the weather. We must have had better summers back then because there was no silage to fall back on so. Although it took much longer to do, the hay was almost always saved. There must have been bad years as well but I suppose we look back with rose tinted glasses so we only remember the good ones. 

Anyway, the hay saved and drawn in, the turf home from the bog and the spuds dug so now it was time for the races. At school we looked forward to them for weeks. We always got a day off and some of us even sneaked the other two. We would discuss how we would get there and what we would do then. 

It had nothing to do with the actual horse racing, oh no we had no interest in them, we just wanted to see the wonderful displays in the shop windows and sample all the joys of the fun fair in the Marked Yard. This yard was filled with all kinds of entertaining things like swinging boats, chairoplanes, bumpers and stalls that rewarded you with a prize if you could throw a ring over an object on display. There was what seemed like circus music playing in the background and there was a constant buzz of conversation mixed with the screams of those who were riding high on the swinging boats or crashing into each other in the bumpers. There was also a special smell about the place that I can’t describe but it lingers in the memory forever. 

Of course all these rides cost money and that was our biggest problem. Money was in very short supply in those days so there was no point in depending on what you got at home. You might  get a certain amount all right but that wouldn’t last too  long so other ways of financing our trip had to be found. For us it was the picking of blackberries. There was a factory in Brosna that made fruit juices. The best known of these was a drink called “Pep Apple” which was mostly exported to the US. They also made blackberry juice so they bought blackberries that were collected in local shops.

 Peggy Leahy, who had a shop near Cratloe Creamery, bought blackberries for the factory and paid us by weight so, as soon as the berries were ripe, we were out with our gallons along the hedgerows picking away. Now, picking blackberries might seem easy but it was far from it. On the first day we ate more berries than we put into the gallons until we got sick of them. It took what seemed like forever to fill a gallon and it came at a price. No matter how hard you tried it was nearly impossible to avoid the thorns that surrounded the bushes so that our hands finished up a mixture of black from the berries and blood from the thorns. But, we persevered and walked with our gallons full to the shop to collect roughly a shilling for our labour. The scratches soon healed and we had enough money for the races. 

Most of the people from this neck of the woods went for at least one day. Very few actually crossed the bridge to the island where the real racing took place but they had a great time strolling the streets, meeting the neighbours and taking the odd libation in the welcoming hostelries. 

At that time the train ran through Abbeyfeale to Listowel and would be full on race days. Many is the man who caught the train in Abbeyfeale or Kilmorna, got off in Listowel, went into the nearest pub, Mike the Pie’s, and didn’t leave until the train was  going back again but they were “at the races”. 

My father was a racing man and went to most of the race meetings in the country. He had a lorry at the time so I had no problem getting to Listowel. As we passed each corner and side road, people would climb into the back of the lorry. No health and safety in those days!!  

Eventually, as I got a little older, I went with him across the bridge to the course for my first taste of horse racing. The first thing that interested me was the buskers who lined the lane down to the bridge playing accordions, banjos and fiddles with caps thrown in front of them to receive the few pence from the passers by. It was a lovely sound that could be heard from the Square all the way to the course. 

My first impression was the array of colour to be seen, especially on the jockeys who were bedecked in every colour of the rainbow. Then there was the hustle and bustle of the betting ring where punters jostled with each other to get the best odds which were bawled out by the bookies who stood up on a little platform. Then there was the parade ring where jockeys mounted after getting instructions from the various trainers who stood in little groups with owners and close connections. The racing itself was exciting with cheers and moans from the crowd as a favourite won or a horse, well backed, fell at a fence. 

The sights and sounds lingered in my head for days. Yes, there was magic in the air in Listowel, something I fear is sadly lacking in our modern society  with all it’s technology and advances. There are times when I am really glad to have been born when I was and got so much joy from the simple things in life.


When meeting Famous People was an Everyday thing

Before Covid we used to have festivals galore. Meeting famous people was just accepted as a perk of living in North Kerry. Here are a few reminders.

Your blogger with Graham Norton at Writers' Week

Jerry Hannon with Dáithí ÓSé at Listowel Races

Colm Tóibín and Brendan Kennelly at Writers' Week

Fergal Keane and Éamon ÓMurchú at Writers' Week

Liz Dunn and Éilís Wren with Caitríona Perry at Women in Media

                           Me with Miriam O'Callaghan and Katie Hannon at Women in Media

Thursday, 15 April 2021

ACOT, Rachel Blackmore, Massgoers and other Old Ways

Photo; Paul Madigan, Blackwater Photographic Society


Remember ACOT ?


Rachel Blackmore in Mike the Pies

Mike the Pies and Pat Healy organise a very popular event every year at the outset of race week. Pat rounds up some of his friends who are jockeys and they participate in a question and answer session. Rachel Blackmore was one of those jockeys in 2018.


Going to Mass in Listowel in 1999

Cathleen Mulvihill posted this lovely picture recently in Glin Historical Society. The artist is Senan O'Brien. Cathleen tagged Whytes art auctions in the post but I couldn't find the picture on the site. If anyone knows the artist or anything about him will you tell us please.

This seems to  be the days before the Writers' Well


Make Hay while the Sun Shines

Picture and caption from John Corcoran on Facebook

My uncle, by marriage Vincent O'Carroll of Listowel, and my Grandfather the late Jimmy Lynch of Knockanure, and later Clahane Ballyard Tralee, here in a memorable moment caught in time, bringing home the hay in the early 1960's. 
Vincent O'Carroll now lives in Tralee..


Martin Daly's Cows

Martin Daly on his bike driving his cows home through the town for milking and back to pasture was an everyday sight in the Listowel I came to in the 1970s.

Photos: Anne Wixted

These  photos were taken on the Bridge Road in 1978 and show the late Martin Daly on his bike, driving his cows back down the Dog Track Road (now the Lodge etc.) after milking. The stone wall on the left hand side of the photo has been demolished now, and the Lodge itself has been relocated in to the Town Park." 


Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Cough Syrup, an old Horse Fair and The Healing Session

Photo: Colm Doyle, Blackwater Photographic Society


It will Either Kill you or Cure You


Horse Fair 1972


The Healing Session at Listowel Writers' Week.

Mattie Lennon remembers a much loved staple of Writers' Weeks past and Mattie's own role in them.

The annual Healing Session was held in John B. Keane’s on the Sunday of Listowel Writers’ Week. For many this marathon Open-Mic session was the highlight of the festival. As far as I know there was no laying of hands . . . although there is a dimly-lit area in the west corner of the bar! George Rowley , Author and Civil Servant , was Master-of-Ceremonies for two decades. His contract expired in 2009 and he informed Billy Keane that he would not be renewing it but he would assist in securing a successor. Billy agreed but with the stipulation that George’s successor would have to be the opposite of George in all respects.


He would have to be;


*Unable to sing, dance, play an instrument or write.

*Be unattractive to females.

*Come from a county which hasn’t ever been beaten in an All-Ireland Final.

*Have an agricultural voice.

*Be in employment but have a healthy aversion to work.

A shortlist was drawn up and everyone on it was an antithesis of George. Yours truly was included and I was interviewed by Billy Keane in Croke Park at half time of the 2009 All-Ireland football final.


I heard nothing for several months. Then on Sunday 04th June 20010 at precisely 12.30 P.M. Billy Keane invested George Rowley as Grand Master of the Healing Session. (I’m told that the sash and other investiture items were since auctioned for charity.) I was then unveiled as the new joint- MC. with Billy.


And I mustn’t have been too bad because I was retained  in that role until Coved 19 struck.

It was my job to recruit a continuous stream of performers . That wasn’t difficult. The place was always  like the Marquee in Drumlish, with “Cajon Queens from New Orleans and Marys from Dungloe.”


 On my first day my amateur status showed more than once. When introducing a singer/songwriter from the Premier County I got mixed up between the two “Ridings.” A poet from Rathdowney put me wide pointing out, “ . . . there’s also a sort of a no-man’s-land across Tipperary where there’s no riding. When I introduced Paddy Phelan as a reciter Billy Keane was in like a shot to point out that the term is “Recitationist.”


The marathon always  finished at five thirty and only because the patrons of the Island Racecourse were due in.  Picasso said “If it’s worth stealing I’ll steal it” but I always said, “If  you come to John B’s the Sunday of Writers’ Week, if it’s worth healing we’ll heal it.”


While driving home on the Bank Holiday Monday in 2010 I was still on a high.  By the time I got to Abbeyfeale I had cobbled together the following bit of a rhyme.



The Healing Session.

By Mattie Lennon


The Angelus bell o’er William Street

Put people at their ease.

‘Though signs of irritation showed

In the queue outside John B’s.

The man beside me shuffled;

His face was stern and dour.

“With the Sergeant that’s in Listowel now,

We’ll be here for half an hour.”

When the bolt was drawn, with a stifled yawn,

The landlord scanned the scene.

“I’m stuck” says he “will you do MC”?

‘Twas the voice of Billy Keane.

The author of “ . . .”Our Rivers . . .”

Was quickly in full flow

With Jim Gornal and his small flute

(It’s called a Piccolo.)

We had farmer-scribes from Breffni

And teachers from Mayo.

Some looked like Priests in mufti

(But you wouldn’t really know.)

There were busmen-poets from Dublin

Who knew the “Jimmy Riddle.”

And singers wearing mini-skirts

That wouldn’t dust a fiddle.

Mike Gallagher, reciting,

Wore a Western Seaboard grin.

Tom Donovan whispered strategies

In the ear of Mannix Flynn.

And that woman from West Limerick,

With a bust above the norm,

I think she misinterpreted

When I asked her to perform.

A man who worked for CIE

Read prose about rails and sidings.

When I introduced a poet from Tipp

I got mixed up in the Ridings.

Mallow men and Tralee lads

Would send each other up.

With some things left unmentioned

(Like the Sam Maguire Cup.)

A Minnesota actor

Was delighted with my touch

But a lad from near Dungarvan said,

“You curse too fucking much.”

Retrospective FF bashing

From Biffo through to Harney.

When John Sheahan entered with his Strad

I pretended he was Barney.

The others all could come and go,

Which put me in a rage;

I wouldn’t get a break at all,

I couldn’t leave the stage.

If someone reads an epic poem

Sure I could walk away,

Relax for maybe half an hour,

An’ have me cup o’ tay.

Christ. That won’t bloody happen,

I’ll stick it out instead.

Then Pat McDermott rescued me;

He’d do “The Slatted Shed.”

The rest went very smoothly

With Sonnets and Haikus

With the odd race-goer filtering in

With non-poetic news.

The Healing Session over

(With its myriad acts and strands)

Except in one dark corner;

The laying-on of hands.

Those things can last ‘till Monday

And keep you on a high

But without cop- on will ruin you

And leave you high and dry.

I knew ‘twas time for winding down.

 I needed to get real

When I tried to pass a Squad-car

On the road to Abbeyfeale.