The Town You'll Love So Well

Date: May 2018   Destination: Listowel, Co Kerry   Author: Gerard Hussey  
The Town You'll Love So Well

The Great Georgian Square in Listowel is framed by the 13th Century Fitzmaurice castle which has been restored and offers tours in season. Keeping an eye on the castle is the life-sized sculpture of writer, Master Bryan McMahon. Enjoy a scone and tea at the adjoining Literary Centre. Cross over to St. John’s Arts Centre, overseen by Joe Murphy, and peruse the eclectic programme which includes a wide variety of plays, shows and exhibitions.

Anchored in the corner of the Square is the Arms Hotel, once owned by tenor Joseph Locke. It’s a good spot to enjoy a carvery lunch with views over the river Feale and the Race Course. Admire the lovely crafted plasterwork of McAuliffe on your walking tour, especially the Maid of Eireann, where once a bra was placed over her modesty! Listowel hosts a week of racing and the Harvest Festival in late September. In olden days mutton pies were made by mothers in advance of the festival so that there would be no cooking of dinners. The tradition still holds with Buckley’s butchers stocking them. The festival runs nightly street entertainment, the highlight being the All-Ireland Wren Boy competition.

Take the renovated path by the river Feale towards the arched stone bridge and spot fly fisher men along the way. Enter the Cows Lawn where the town park is the centre of sport activities. Make out the Garden of Europe on the edge of the park where a lovely tranquil spot now covers the old town dump.

Exit the park on the north side by the cemetery and make your way down Church street where you will find old Flavine’s bookshop as well as Brenda Woulfe’s, with lots of local literature. Have a look at Allo’s restaurant menu for an inviting early-bird of bistro-style cooking. In view of the Square is my favourite spot, the small square with a bronze sculpture of John B Keane, with his familiar welcoming gesture. Enjoy a nice cuppa at Lynch’s cake shop and soak up the comings and goings of the Heritage Town. Imagine the scene of the stories of John B – back in the late fifties when politics was very sour, our bard thought up the idea of standing a fictional character, Tom Doodle, among the election candidates. His manifesto boasted:

• Building a factory for the shaving of goosegogs
• Ploughing the rocks of Bawn
• Free medication for sick heads
Thousands turned out for a parade of Doodle which finished in the small square where Doodle read his manifesto to the cheers of thousands. The posters had “Use your Noodle – Vote for Doodle”.

Idle your way up William Street and have a dawdle in Jackie McGillycuddy’s toy shop, where we had our Christmas Club, back in the day. If you fancy a spot of sport on the telly look no further than Jet’s bar, where I worked in those Fleadh Cheoil’s of the seventies.
Of course you’ll want to visit John B’s bar, but leave ‘til late as that’s when the atmosphere is up. Billy Keane will likely entertain you with a few auld yarns from his Dad’s time, or again you might catch Mick Mc’Conell ( of Only Our Rivers Run Free fame) signing his ballad of lidl and Aldi (gone viral on YouTube), and with further luck get the jazzy sound of Sully and Hannon. Catch Pub Theatre there mid-week in the summer months where members of the Lartigue Group stage scenes from John’B’s plays.

Veer back Market Street taking in McKenna’s hardware store and buy an anchor for your yacht (joking) or sets for early Queen’s spuds. Alas the Market stands idle now, but back in my youth it was the fulcrum of town, with it’s great February and October Horse Fairs.
Have a walk along John B road and take a short trip on the restored Lartigue Mono-Rail that used to run to Ballybunion at the turn of the 19th Century.

If you are lucky enough to visit at June holiday-tme, enjoy a great international programme put together for Writer’s Week, when the town welcomes back old friends from far and wide. Brendan Kennelly will likely be around with his unique story-telling. John B’s pub will host readings during the week and some good old tom-foolery.

John B once said, “you can’t affod to be a snob in Listowel”. Nothing could be truer of the Town You’ll Love so Well.

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