Saturday, July 1, 2023

Irish Eyes


By Mattie Lennon


Last month I told you about some changes proposed for Listowel Writers’ Week. They were implemented and did not result in any additional quality to the festival which had been running without a hitch and with an improved programme each time since 1971.

The row which started in 2022 could not be resolved. The veteran committee was dismissed on foot of a consultant’s report recommending restructuring, including the appointment of a professional curator. The committee had been, “unceremoniously disbanded without explanation.” A curator, one Stephen Connolly from Belfast was appointed curator.

The result was pretty well summed up by Tom McElligott in the Kerryman Newspaper. Tom points out that many regular events were omitted, including the much loved and popular children’s programmes. One of the highlights for me was the feast of drama every day and night in Saint John’s Theatre. The new brushes in their clean sweep didn’t see fit to use this wonderful theatre at all. Any open mic sessions run by Writers’ Week were badly attended but the day was saved in that area by John McGrath’s outdoor session and Billy Keane’s marathon Healing Session neither of which had any connection with the official programme. What was the need for the change? Tom McElligot says, “The latest financial statements of Writers’ Week for the year ending August 31st 2022 shows the Company to be in rude financial health.”

Sandra Behan, a prolific poet commented, “Unfortunately the events that I came to Listowel for over the past ten years were dropped this year. While I enjoyed myself with the glorious weather it was a bitter-sweet Writers’ Week for me. “

While I also enjoyed myself it was nothing like the twenty-four previous ones that I attended. Through the “change and decay, ” the Fringe Events carried it. Thank God for people like Sandra, poet Michael Gallagher, John McGrath, Billy Keane, and a few others. Many top acts were missing because of what has happened. We can only hope that 2024 will see this wonderful festival in the culture capital of Ireland return to its former glory

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Michael Gallagher is a poet from Achill Island now living in Lyreacrompane, County Kerry. His poems in multiple genres have appeared in publications worldwide. This Achill Islander worked in London for forty years and this is how fellow poet Gabriel Fitzmaurice summed up "Stick on Stone," Michael’s first collection, “Mike Gallagher's work, at its best, is searingly honest, angry, tender, hurt, ironic. His is the emigrant’s voice, powerful and memorable. I welcome this, his first book, and know that it will touch his readers as profoundly as it has touched me…”

Michael retired to Listowel in 1999, where he was a founder member of Listowel's Seanchai Writer's Group and Editor of The First Cut, an online literary journal. His prose, poetry, haiku, and songs have been published in Ireland and throughout Europe, America, Australia, Nepal, India, Thailand, Japan, and Canada. His writing has been translated into Croatian, Japanese, Dutch, German, and Chinese. He won the 2009 Samhlaiocht Poetry Slam, and the 2010 Michael Hartnett Viva Voce competition; he was short-listed for the Hennessy Award in 2011 and won the Desmond O’Grady International Poetry Contest in 2012.

And it was no surprise to anyone when he won first prize at the prestigious Maureen Beasley Poetry Competition in Listowel on June 04th. The winning poem "Angels" is about brutal treatment meted out to young women in Ireland in a less enlightened age; an era not that long passed.

By Michael Gallagher.

Mattresses airing at open windows -
this lingering vision has scarred his sixty years;
his abiding childhood recollection:
if it rains today, we'll all sleep wet again tonight,
his mother had traipsed this same long hall,
was told: Sit there, sign that. Give him up!
Barely two weeks earlier, she had transgressed,
screamed in labour; frog-marched to an outhouse;
legs apart, she gave birth standing over
a steel commode, torn, left unstitched;
and the cold-eyed nun moved slow from bead to bead,
asked if it now was worth the few minutes
of passing pleasure.

Kept behind locked doors and iron gates,
a hundred pounds would have bought her freedom -
its lack condemned her to a lifetime of scrubbing
floors or clothes, cutting grass on hands and knees,
mending potholes; no letters, no talk, no bras,
name changed, hair cut, experiments – other parallels;
this the penance for her whore's droppings,
atonement for leading faceless men astray,
for being pretty, for being naive,
for being woman.

And her stolen child, a chattel, shovelled
from home to foster home, exploited, ostracised,
dragged through nettles, sleeping with pigs,
whipped and flogged, pot-bellied for want of food,
unloved, unschooled, a life blighted
and the torment of not understanding why.
A thwarted search for belonging, for a lost mother,
her illegitimate children symbols
of defiance of the church’s power –
they were not meant to meet again,
all part of their shared punishment.

The search for his infant sister,
neglected to death -
where to start among the hundreds
of communal graves; no headstones,
only a home made nail in a granite wall
to mark her anonymous presence;
was she coffined in a shoebox,
was she dumped in at pit filled to the brim
with baby bones? Bastard bones, unworthy
of investigation, of explanation.

So, we resealed the slabs that hid our sad, sordid secrets;
said prayers over the uncounted numbers, the unremembered names,
then taught ourselves to forget; taught ourselves to despise
and abuse and punish girls, stole their children,
buried them without respect or dignity;
crossed ourselves, smug in a theocracy that rained
Hail Marys and Holy Rosarys and Our Fathers
from one Saint Swithen's Day to the next. Our fathers?
What of our unblamed fathers, skulking in anonymity;
what of our church that created the sin, allotted the blame,
turned our minds; what of our state, supine in its collusion,
blind-eyed to the brutality carried out in its name.
Fools, did they not know that innocence, wronged,
never rests, that we would not escape its haunting?

© Michael Gallagher.


Still in Kerry. “ The apparel oft proclaims the man. " So said the Bard. And of course, there is some validity in the line. What we wear tells a lot about us. For instance, showy clothes may suggest that the wearer is a superficial type of person. But what does the clothes choice of Irish men tell us about them? Threads by Paul Galvin enlightens us. With lines like, “Tailored suits are through we can examine men’s relationship with clothing.”

Paul Galvin was born on November 02nd 1979, in Lixnaw, County Kerry. He played Gaelic football with his local club Finuge, his divisional side Feale Rangers, and for the Kerry County team between 2003 and 2014. Galvin had the honour of being named as the 1000th All-Star Award. He also represented Ireland in the 2004 International Rules Series. As a teacher, he moulded the minds of the young in his native Kerry for years.

Then as a thirty-year-old he embarked on a new career, as a clothes designer. To date, he has created fifteen men’s collections with Dunne’s Stores. "Threads" is a well-researched collection of the stories of Irish men who were an integral part of the culture and fashions of their time. The information he collected is assimilated and written as only a north Kerryman could do it. Should this book be described as an encyclopaedia? In 1962 a schoolmate brought Indian ink back from England and I stupidly, tattooed blue spots on my fingers. Why am I telling you about my defaced digits? Because until now I didn’t know that Samuel F. O’Reilly, born in 1854 in Waterbury, Connecticut invented the tattoo gun. In the chapter "Tattooed Man" the author from Lixnaw imparts that information.

Paul’s research led him down many interesting alleyways and resulted in him going on tangents which are gems in their own right, He Tells us that Born Mad the story of Samuel Beckett, “ . . . was born and would be told through clothing. The interesting visuals brought me to research his work and life story. It was through this research that I discovered the compelling, competitive sportsman beneath the slender frame.”

The chapter "Push" is not just about clothes. We are given insight into the lives of the Walker brothers who cycled through a storm for Ireland at the Stockholm Games in 1912 and survived hails of bullets in 1916 and the War of Independence when fighting for Ireland’s freedom.

Of his Bogman collection Paul says, ”You don’t hear many designers talk about bog-holes inspiring a collection . . . the bog is not a place for most people’s creative inspiration.” But Paul Galvin is not most people. He knows about the beauty of the bog. I’ll bet he would agree with his near neighbour, Sean McCarthy, who said. “The bog is not a place. The bog is a feeling. You don’t grow up in the bog. You grow up with the bog.”

The minute I finish this piece I promise I am going straight to Dunne’s to buy something from the BOGMAN COLLECTION. And in the meantime, I’m sure Paul Galvin/Dunne’s Stores will be justified in quoting the French actress, Simone Signoret, who said, “ Chains do not hold a marriage together it is Threads” Don’t miss this 330 pages of pure delight.

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Ballybunion Dippers as Dollies

Cowboy hats, blonde curly wigs and extravagant outfits you wouldn’t normally associate with Listowel were the order of the day on June 24th as the football pitch that has hosted many a GAA match is swarmed with a very different cohort of people, many covered in rhinestones and sporting cowboy boots as they contribute to setting the world record for the most amount of people “instantly recognisable” as Dolly Parton.

Two well-known Listowel Dollies

With over 1,137 Dolly-lookalikes in attendance, the town has set the record for the largest gathering of people “wearing a full head-to-toe Dolly Parton costume" after months of careful planning and promotions. The importance of the Dolly Day event, held in aid of Kerry Hospice and Comfort for Chemo Kerry, was reflected in the masses of crowds, who had turned up to contribute to two deserving charities, whilst having some fun doing so.

Busloads arrived from all across the country the field came alive with excitement, as everyone sang their hearts out to Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 over the speaker.

A Listowel Dolly-themed Shop

Among those in attendance was Dolly Parton’s right-hand man, and Limerick native, Mr Eugene Naughton, who has held the position as president of Dollywood since his appointment in 2019.

Liz Horgan of Finesse Bridal Wear told me, “I can honestly say Dolly Day brought such fun into so many people’s lives! It has given the town such a boost in every way. It proved yet again what a wonderful town we live in. Absolutely everyone got behind it and supported it in their own way. The minute people put the wigs on they turned into 16-year-olds laughing & skitting. In a funny way the wigs gave people a license to step out of their comfort zone and that they did! Young & old participated.”

Dolly group including 95-year-old Peter McGrath and 92-year-old Edith McGuire.
Video on Dolly Day     From YouTube News.

                                               This video was produced by Tom Fitzgerald  


It is expected that the Guinness Book of Records will certify the record very soon.

See you in August.

Click on the author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.
This issue appears in the ezine at and also in the blog with the capability of adding comments at the latter.


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