Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas in Kerry

Christmas Greetings

Listowel artist, Olive Stack's beautiful Christmas card

A Very Happy Christmas to all my blog followers and collaborators. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who helped me during the year by sending or giving me photos, stories, encouraging emails and helpful suggestions. I am grateful to everyone who interacts with me about the blog but I also appreciate all the "followers" who just use the blog to stay in touch with Listowel. 
This is the last blogpost for 2014. I look forward to getting back to work in 2015. Do remember that I can't do it without help so keep rummaging in those old photo boxes.


People love to hear this old Bryan MacMahon poem at this time of year

Kerry Candlelight

I am standing here in Euston, and my heart is light and gay,
For ‘tis soon I’ll see the moonlight all a-dance on Dingle Bay. 
So behind me, then, is London, with the magic of its night,
And before me is a window filled with Kerry Candlelight.

‘Tis the lovely light of glory that came down from heav’n on high,
And whenever I recall it, there’s a teardrop in my eye.
By the mountainside at twilight, in a cottage gleaming white,
There my true love sits a-dreaming, in the Kerry Candlelight.

She’ll be waiting by the turf fire; soon our arms will be entwined,
And the loneliness of exile will be lost or cast behind,
As we hear the Christmas greetings of the neighbours in the night,
Then our hearts will beat together in the blessed Candlelight.

Now the train is moving westward, so God speed its racing wheels,
And God speed its whistle ringing o’er the sleeping English fields,
For I’m dreaming of an altar where, beside my Breda bright,

I will whisper vows of true love in the Kerry Candlelight.


More Innocent Times    

This Christmas story comes from a Listowel emigrant who remembers happy times growing up in Kerry...

Now the tradition of Christmas and Santy Claus evidently is different in every house, but in the Stack house it was, is and always will be a big deal.
When I was a little boy Santy Claus personally delivered my presents every year. That didn't happen to all the boys in my class . And despite the strict criteria for the year of not being naughty and being nice,  which I might not always have adhered to, he never left me down. He would always call between 9 and 10 on Christmas Eve.

We would have all been washed and have the new Christmas outfit on and most years about 7 the whole family would take a drive and see all the lovely Christmas lights , That is a lovely single white bulb in the every window of every house and the odd posh one might have a red bulbs.
We would return home and instead of going to the living room we would retire to the sitting room  which we used to migrate to for the two week Christmas holidays. The rest of the year it was reserved for priests, guards or water bailiffs ( nothing to do with me) . 

We then would chose what to watch on TV1 or 2 but we were always a little anxious as we knew a special visitor would be calling. At some point either my mother or father would say “Be quiet. Was that a knock ?”  We would all freeze , then turn down 1 or 2 and listen and we might hear a faint bell or another knock this time much louder. We would run to the door, turn on the outside light and see large bags of presents spread all over the lawn. When we were very young Santy would be by the door and as we got older, I suppose he was getting older as well he would be further away each year until I remember him being at the front gate waving . While we were always grateful, as children we were normally more interested in the contents of the bags on the lawn than Santy himself.

Christmas 1983 the world changed forever. Despite several doubts there was always an explanation ! , Santy would always come to our house on Christmas Eve but people on our road could be Christmas Day. Santa doesn't use roads !!
At 6 o clock that Christmas Eve my father said he wanted to talk to me.
I was curious as we walked down the hall , to see what I had done wrong cos I'd usually pull up a couple of weeks before Christmas . We sat on my bed and he told me Santy wasn't real . Reeling from the shock as a 12 year old would I enquired was I still going to get presents this year. He said yes. That made me feel better and when I enquired who was the fellow calling to my front door banging windows and ringing a bell for the last few years he just said JET.

That was when Christmas began. As I had a younger brother and sister still not in the loop Santy was expected as usual. My father and I sneaked out of our house and went next door to Jet’s house , where it was like the The North Pole with bags of presents for different houses within a 10 mile radius.

Now at 12 I got to see Santy face to face. First he had granny's pinkish dressing gown on with a big pillow inside and a mask that was more like Freddie Kruger than Santy but a big red hat, plenty lipstick on the cheeks a bit of white paint for a beard . He was perfect. Unless there was a full moon then you'd want to stay well back from the front door. His first call that night was our house and after that I had the job of riding shotgun on Santa’s  sleigh, a Renault  9 at the time, of calling to about 9  or 10 houses in my locality, where there was small children waiting for Santy .

Years later after Jet , one of his neighbours and someone Jet had played Santy to, revived it and did a great job for a few years and when he went on to have his own family he roped some of his friends into the position . 

A relative of Jet Stack 


Christmas in Clounmacon

(Photo;The Advertiser)


Fungi at Christmas

His friends at Fungie Forever visit the Dingle dolphin almost daily so be sure to check in with them over Christmas.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Sean Hayes, Famine Graveyard and local yearbooks

 Seán Hayes and the Listowel Connection

This is the U.S. actor, Sean Hayes who will be familiar to followers of Will and Grace.

This is the same Seán Hayes in The Listowel Arms during filming for the U.S. version of Who do You Think You Are. Genealogists traced hi ancestors to Ballylongford. The episode will be screened in the U.S. in February


Sobering Thought for Christmas Week

The story comes from Limerick Life

The History of St. Bridget’s Burial Ground

This is one of the saddest and most hidden graveyards in the city, it is located behind the Watchhouse Cross development on the Killeely Road. It is known locally as “The Paupers Graveyard” or “The Yellow Hole”. In 1841 on construction of the Union Workhouse, now St. Camillus’ Hospital a burial ground was required for those poor departed souls who were left without means or family, for a number of years the inmates were buried in Killeely Graveyard, Thomondgate. As the famine years grew longer and the graveyard became overcrowded the concern of health risks to the local inhabitants arose.

In 1849 the Union Workhouse Board of Guardians leased the plot of land to become known as St. Bridget’s Graveyard, this site had previously been occupied as the remains of a ringfort, some of which can still can still be seen today to the right of the large cross on the hill. The presence of this ringfort, which would have been known in the 1850s up until relatively recently as a “fairy fort” would have had many superstitious connotation for  those living in the area at the time.

The graveyard acquired is name “The Yellow Hole” as during the height of the Great Famine when the graveyard was in use multiple burials were a daily event. Large holes were dug to accommodate the dead. The area was a boggy one and below the suface of the boggy earth was a deep band of yellow mud, which is common in boggy areas six to thirteen feet below the bogland. Quicklime was probably used as a disinfectant and means of speeding up decomposition. Each layer of bodies would be concealed under a shallow layer of earth, with later burials laid on top of earlier ones. This mixture of quicklime and decomposing bodies would also have caused a yellow soap-like substance at the bottom of the pit.

During the early years bodies were laid coffinless in rows of six dressed in sacking cloth. There were as many as 500 people a month buried at the height of the graveyards use, and over 5,000 people are thought to be buried in the graveyard. The last known person to be buried there was in 1940. Over the years the graveyard became derelict until the Limerick Civic Trust in 2010 cleaned up the site and erected a new cross. They also planted wildflowers on the site, making it a peaceful sanctuary.

Michael Hogan “Bard of Thomond” was greatly effected by the site of the unfortunate souls who found themselves in the workhouse and ultimately in St. Bridget’s Graveyard a fate which he himself only narrowly escaped. This is a snippet of his poem of the famine era in Limerick.

Michael Hogan, The Bard of Thomond

‘Twas in ruthless Forty-Seven
When the plague-fraught air was riven
With the sound which harrowed heaven,
Of a famished people’s cry…
.. In a place of shadows sunless,
Barren, sombre, treeless, tuneless,
Weird, sepulchral, starless, moonless,
Yet not wholly wrapt in gloom…
.. All my heart, with horror shrinking
On a thousand dread things thinking,
I advanced- each footstep sinking
In the corpse-befatted ground…

( research by Miriam Lohan, Mary Hughes and Anthony Furlong)


Two stars of 2014

Rory McIlroy posted this photo from his visit to Coolmore Stud. He is pictured with Galileo.


Local Journals

(Photo: Kay O'Leary)

Anthony Lawless and Caoimhe reading the Lyreacrompane and District Journal 2014.

This is one of the many invaluable publications that come out every year at this time. These magazines are full of local social history, photos and anecdotes. They are an invaluable source for local historians and the people who toil on them do great work in preserving an account of what our lives are like today and how our forefathers fared in time gone by. They deserve our support. So go out and buy The Ballylongord Journal, The Ballyguiltenane Yearbook, or one of the many great books out there. 
The Advertiser is free and the Christmas edition is a great record of the year gone by.

Happy Christmas to all my fellow local chroniclers. Bail ó Dhia ar an dea obair in 2015.


My Christmas Wish

Happy Christmas

May you live as long as you wish and have all you wish as long as you live.

(old Irish toast)

Junior Griffin's poem says it all.


Oh Lord, when we give this Christmas time,
Do teach us how to share
The gifts that you have given us
With those who need our care,

For the gift of Time is sacred~
The greatest gift of all,
And to share our time with others
Is the answer to your call,

For the Sick, the Old and Lonely
Need a word, a kindly cheer
For every precious minute
Of each day throughout the Year,

So, in this Special Season
Do share Your Time and Love
And you’re Happy, Holy Christmas
Will be Blessed by Him above

Junior Griffin


Peace on Earth; Goodwill to all men

One hundred years ago some battle hardened soldiers laid down their arms and did the unthinkable; fraternized with the enemy. It is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise gruesome, dirty war.

Here is the Wikipaedia account

The Christmas truce (GermanWeihnachtsfriedenFrenchTrêve de Noël) was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front around Christmas 1914. In the week leading up to the holiday, German and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In areas, men from both sides ventured into no man's land on Christmas Eveand Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another, captured in one of the truce's most enduring images. It was not ubiquitous; fighting continued in some frontal regions. In others the sides settled on little more than arrangements to recover bodies. The following year, a few units arranged ceasefires, but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914; this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from the high commands of either side prohibiting fraternisation. Soldiers were no longer amenable to truce by 1916. The war had become increasingly bitter after devastating human losses suffered during the battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the incorporation of poison gas.

And here is the link to Mickey MacConnell singing his brother, Cormac's song commemorating the event.

Christmas 1914


William St. Upper; Dec. 2014 by Denis Carroll


Lego, Lego

The budding engineers and constructors at Scoil Realt na Maidine love Lego. They love it so much they have a Lego club in the school. The senior boys wrote to RTE to ask if there was any Lego left over from The Late Late Toy Show. There was. RTE sent them a big box of Lego for the club.
(Photos and story from Scoil Realt na Maidine on Facebook)


Nighttime in Listowel Christmas 2014

Scoil Realt na Maidine

Listowel Garda Station


Listowel Post Office

Billy Keane had the whole town talking with his article in Fridays' Irish Independent. I'm reproducing it here in its entirety


"Heart of our town has been torn out by a move decided hundreds of miles away

As bad as the English were back in the days of the 1916 Rising, they did have some sense of the need for certain key components in our towns. Schools, banks, churches, libraries and the post office were all part of the fabric of small-town l                
An Post has relocated our post office here in Listowel from Upper William Street to a big Supervalu supermarket complex. Supervalu is thriving as it is. The store is well run and the staff are very friendly but the heart has now been torn out of our town.
I had better declare an interest right now. I own a small pub, no more than a long stagger from the post office, but the loss for me will be very small. John B's trades mostly by night when the post office is closed.
Listowel is a heritage town, a town with a soul. We box well above our weight with hugely successful writing and racing festivals. We care for our town, with brightly painted shopfronts and a hard-working Tidy Towns Committee.
There's a sense too that we are only guardians of the buildings we live and work in. We owe a duty to those who came before us to keep our town from dying out. An Post deals in figures, not context. The words 'people or community or loyalty' do not appear on its balance sheet.
There will be some who will disagree with the history, but it could be said Irish freedom began in a post office. Isn't it ironic then that the attempted relocation of the Irish town centre is being planned and executed from the same post office. A few weeks ago, it was announced that An Post has plans to establish an interpretative centre in the GPO, where men died for Irish freedom in 1916. I suppose we should be grateful An Post saved the building from fast food and amusement arcades. But does An Post care about the communities from which it profits? Is there any semblance of duty other than that of harvesting money, like some sort of absentee landlord?
Dungarvan, Skibbereen, Carrick-on-Shannon, Athy and Loughrea are next up for the An Post small-town makeover. Our sources tell us the future of at least five other towns will be decided in the GPO. The post office will remain as is in some towns, but many more will suffer the fate of Listowel.
The attitude of those who occupy GPO 2014 is that we're a commercial company and we can do whatever we like with "our" post offices. I would say post offices are more than mere items on a balance sheet. The post office is an integral part of small-town life.
For the record, here's the proclamation from the GPO: "An Post is a commercial entity and we have to ensure we remain competitive by ensuring the post office is in the area where we can gain the maximum footfall. The Listowel post office will be run by local people and there will be no loss of services, in the best quality premises, with adequate parking."
There's a large free car park within two minutes walk of the existing post office and lovely, local people work there as it is. As for footfall, the Listowel post office does a mighty trade.
It's all about the profit and loss account but even then, like so many of our institutions, An Post has that side of the equation all wrong. Bald figures on their own do not tell the whole story. Towns need lively streets and people love chatting on their way to and from the Post Office. A town should not be transported at the decision of a few executives in some office far away.
The heart pumps the blood. Tear the heart out and the town will die.
An Post was so sneaky and arrogant. There was no consultation with the community. The dealings of An Post only came to light when Donal Nolan of the 'Kerryman' broke the story this week. Most of the post office staff in the greater North Kerry area only found out about the relocation when they read the 'Kerryman'.
And you will not believe this. For a company so faithful to the god of profit, An Post did not put the relocation out to tender.
It should have gone public on this months ago and allowed us to make proposals as a community or as individuals to keep our post office. Why all the secrecy?
We know these plans were made a long time ago. The town was the last to know. An Post will say it is a commercial entity with no duty to disclose business decisions.
So who are all these people who live and trade near the post office?
Sheahan's is the last pub and grocery combo in our town. The shop is run by Conor O'Docherty and it's famous for the lovely, freshly cut, crumbed ham. Sheahan's is just two doors away from the post office. Conor will fight on.
"It's a huge blow but they will not close us down." So proud of you, Conor boy.
Right next to the post office, is the charity shop run by the excellent Irish Wheelchair Assocaiton. The future of the shop is now very much at risk.
Next door are the Lawlees, who run a thriving plant business. They're fierce busy with Christmas trees right now.
The Lawlees, like their hardy plants, would survive in the North Pole but the big supermarket sells plants too.
Back down again to the other side and you have the Saddle Bar. Sean and his wife, Dara, worked all hours in the United States and like my own parents bought a pub with their savings. Like the Lawlees, they too have a young family.
I was in a shop lately and this old lady was in front of me in the queue.
"How did you get on at your eightieth last night?" asked the shopkeeper of the lady.
"Wonderful, wonderful," replied the octogenarian. "I was in the Saddle all night."
Such are the lives, the loves and the laughter of a small town. What does An Post know of our town? Does it know all of these people - or footfall as they call us. From bad comes good. Our town has rallied together as one. The shock and the hurt will unite us and we will survive.
We've been through recession, repression, war and famine. Old Listowel will still be here, living and loving and trading and battling, when all of us and all of you in An Post are long gone.
Irish Independent"