Listowel – Ireland’s Literary Capital
Nestled in the northern half of the County of Kerry, along the
beautiful coastal N69 route, known the world over for lush green
countryside and peaceful meandering rivers, is located the lively
market town of Listowel, situated on the banks of the River Feale.
Described as the Literary capital of Ireland, Listowel, and indeed
North Kerry has produced an abundance of world famous writers,
giving it a uniqueness not to be found in any other part of Ireland.
This is reflected in the writings of the late Dr. John B. Keane, one
of it’s most famous sons :
Beautiful Listowel, serenaded night and day by the gentle waters of
the River Feale.
Listowel where it is easier to write than not to write,
Where first love never dies, and the tall streets hide the
the heartbreak and the moods, great and small,
of all the gentle souls of a great and good community.
Sweet, incomparable hometown that shaped and made me.
Sandwiched between the bustling city of Limerick and the world
renowned tourist haven of Killarney, one could be forgiven for
dismissing Listowel as another one of the seemingly endless rural
towns in Ireland catering more for the strong local farming
community, than to the visitor. Home to Kerry Group, one of the
worlds largest food producing companies, Listowel is indeed a
traditional agricultural centre, however, in recent years the town
has recognised the need to look beyond this traditional industry,
and develop its strong cultural identity for the economic benefit of
the town. Central to this has been the development of a number of
major tourist attractions in the town including the
Seanchaí – Kerry
Literary & Cultural Centre & the Lartigue Monorailway, and the
designation of Listowel as a Heritage Town in 2000, one of only 26
Heritage Towns in Ireland.
Listowel is acclaimed nationally and internationally as a place of
literary excellence. Its writers, poets and playwrights have
captured the essence of rural Ireland – to make us laugh or weep, or
simply wonder. To honour this great literary talent, The Seanchaí
Centre opened in 2001 and encompasses an audio-visual interpretative
museum on the great North Kerry writers including John B. Keane,
Bryan MacMahon, Brendan Kennelly, Maurice Walsh & George
Fitzmaurice. Located in a magnificently restored 19th century
Georgian residence in Listowel’s Town Square, Seanchaí is a museum
of words & spirit where the imaginative worlds of the great Kerry
writers are evoked.
The Seanchaí Room entices the visitor to sit and listen to the
history of storytelling in Ireland and how it was the precursor to
the written word. This is exemplified in Ireland’s most famous
storyteller, Eamon Kelly, himself a Kerryman. ‘Storytelling’, he
claims, ‘is the oldest form of entertainment. It was practised
before the written word. The stories were handed down from
generation to generation, and in ancient Ireland the seanchai was
held in such high esteem that he sat at the same table as the king.’
Take a journey with the Kerry writers through historical and scenic
North Kerry in a stunning audio-visual presentation in the
Landscapes Room. Learn about the places, people, traditions and
customs that influenced the writers in their works – from the
harshness of the Atlantic waves crashing against Ballybunion’s
rugged cliffs to the magnificent spectacle of the Wren Boys as they
perform through the streets of Listowel.
Travelling through the Centre pause and read from the many writers
of Kerry; from the experiences of the Great Blasket Islanders - Peig
Sayers, Thomas O’Criomhthain and Muiris O’Suilleabhain - to the
humorous verse of Robert Leslie Boland.
When a Listowel man takes a drink from any tap in this lovely town
‘Tis not only water thats going down, but the purified secrets of
Flowing into his belly and through his head
No town here or in any land will do this for your body and mind
Inspiration flows through the graveyard sod
Turn a tap in Listowel, out flows God!
Listowel’s unique railway, the Lartigue Monorailway will open to the
public in May 2003. Approved on the 16th April, 1886, under the
Listowel and Ballybunion Railway Act, the Lartigue Monorailway was
reputed to be the only one of its type in the world and was
characterised by an engine and carriages which ran along a single
rail which stood approximately 3 feet off the ground and ran through
the centre of the train. Designed by French engineer Charles
Lartigue, the idea of a monorail was conceived by him after viewing
camels carrying goods across the Sahara Dessert.
The Lartigue Monorailway was the first stage of travel for many of
North Kerry’s emigrants. The railway was disbanded in 1924 as the
damage caused to it during the War of Independence was irreparable,
and the company became bankrupt and went into liquidation.
A reconstructed passenger model of the Lartigue Monorail will run
along a 1 km track in Listowel at the site of the old Great Southern
Railway. Visitors will get the chance to go back in time and
experience this unique mode of transport, not to be witnessed
anywhere else in the world.
A Lartigue Story
To catch the Lartigue between Listowel & Ballybunion, one did not
have to go to the nearest station as the train would stop anywhere
on request. About two miles from Listowel the line passed close to a
thatched cottage from which the lady of the house – Mamie – often
took the train to town. One day when the train was passing the house
Mamie was outside tackling her little donkey to his cart. The driver
of the LARTIGUE – Jackie Riedy haled her : “Aren’t you coming with
us today Mamie”? to which she replied : “Yerra no Jackie, I’m in a
bit of a hurry today”!
This does not necessarily mean that the donkey would travel faster
than the train but probably to the fact that when her business in
Listowel was completed that she would have to wait for the next
train to Ballybunion.
Listowel has a long history dating back to 1303 where it first
appears in the Plea Roll. Fortress to the Fitzmaurice family the
town developed around Listowel Castle, and its magnificent Square is
one of its many distinguishing features.
As you walk around the Square you will see a number of buildings of
historical and architectural significance. Listowel Castle dating
back to the 12th century, was built as a fortress by the Anglo
Norman Earls of Kerry. It ceased to be a significant defence in
1559. All that remains of this national monument is a fine twin
tower façade. Dúchas, The Heritage Service are currently undertaking
conservation work on the Castle which will make it accessible to the
St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, built in 1829, is situated in the
corner of the Square, and renovation work over the years included
the addition of the spire and porch in 1865 and the side aisles in
1910. According to local folklore, Lord Listowel prevailed upon the
clergy to ring the Angelus bell at 7.00 p.m. so that he could get an
extra hours work from his men.
A distinctive feature of the streets of Listowel is the colour and
variety of its shop front designs. Most notable are The Maid of Erin
in The Square, The Harp & Lion and The Emporium in Church Street.
These unique items of plasterwork are the work of local craftsman
Pat McAuliffe (1846-1921). The Maid of Erin depicts a Romantic image
of Mother Ireland surrounded by a harp, a wolfhound and other
symbols of Eire.
There are two walking trails around the town. The Riverside Path (4
km) takes you along the River Feale and traverses many distinctive
features of the town including Listowel Bridge, the Dandy Lodge,
Childers Town Park and The Garden of Europe.
Winner of the 2000 Tidy Towns National Landscapes Award, the Garden
of Europe is a place of beauty and peace where one may relax amid
representative shrubbery from any European countries. It also
contains a public monument to the memory of the millions who died in
The Old Railway Trail (11 km) commences at the old railway station,
on the Ballybunion road, and takes the walker into the countryside
through wild bogland where turf cutting takes place.
Entertainment & Activities
Summer in Listowel offers a feast of activities & entertainment
beginning in May with the town’s world famous
Writers’ Week. This four day festival brings together the cream of
Irish & International literary talent offering workshops, readings &
lectures on a vast array of topics. For the non-literary visitor
Writers’ Week offers a extensive programme of cultural activities
including theatre, film, art exhibitions, historical tours, pub
trails and children’s entertainment.
St. John’s Theatre & Arts Centre is the centre-piece of Listowel’s
magnificent Square. Located in a Church of Ireland Gothic style
church, the Centre features an annual programme of performances
including theatre, music & dance, exhibitions, educational
programmes and annual summer school.
Pub Theatre entertainment can be found in some of Listowel’s finest
hostelries during July & August. Tuesday & Thursday nights the place
to be is John B. Keane’s Bar featuring the inimitable Billy Keane
presenting is distinctive one-man comedy show & Lartigue Theatre
Company presenting the works of the great playwright including the
famous “Letters” series – Letters of a Matchmaker, Letters of a
Monday & Wednesday nights the ‘Melting Pot Players’ presents the
best of local and other writers with a mixed bag performance
including music, song & dance at Lynch’s Bar, The Square & The
Mermaids Bar. Shows commence at 9.30 pm and admission is free!!!
Listowel is home to the Listowel Harvest Festival
and Listowel's Food Fair also.
If traditional Irish music is your pleasure, ‘Seisiún’ at the
Seanchaí Literary & Cultural Centre every Thursday nights is not to
be missed. This show features a blend of traditional Irish music,
song, dance & storytelling performed by local world class musicians.
Show commences at 9 pm sharp. Traditional music can also be heard
throughout the week in some of the many pubs including ‘The Harp &
Lion’ and ‘The Pure Drop’ both on Church Street.
The Listowel Heritage Trail leaves the Square at 6 pm each evening
during July and August.
A Tour Guide will bring you to the many historical sites of the town
and explain the history attached. A Visitors Guide is available.
Other activities include a visit to the Kerry Writers’ Museum in
the Seanchaí Centre, a drive on the Lartigue Monorailway,
radio-controlled model car racing, horse riding, fishing, golfing,
crossroads dancing in Finuge, fine dining in Listowel’s top quality
restaurants and daily showings in Listowel’s modern three theatre
Each September thousands travel to Listowel for the annual week long
horse racing festival, one of the premier events in Ireland’s
sporting calendar. The meeting is run on the Island Course located
on the opposite side of the River Feale from the Town. The Harvest
Festival of Ireland is run in conjunction with the September race
meeting and hosts the All Ireland Wren Boys Competition. Both
festivals have been part of Listowel’s folk tradition since 1858.