“A beautifully designed and executed book, wherein the discards of history are put on parade to become a treasure throve of insight into the life of an Irish Market town. Listowel is transfigured; If space allows movement; place is pause at every turn of a page”.
Dr. Patrick J. O’ Connor
“That Vincent Carmody’s Listowel, Snapshots of an Irish Market town is evocative and beautiful is not surprising, but it is also an artful history. Concisely and lucidly told, it is a mosaic of faces and the telling artifacts of everyday life”.
Richard White, Professor of American History, Stanford University
“Vincent Carmody’s racy and classy documentary history evokes and contextualises the personalities, the business premises, and the spirit of Listowel in the century of its heyday. Perhaps the most important, enlightening and entertaining local study ever to pass through my hands”.
Dr. Noel Kissane, formerly Education Officer at the National Library of Ireland
“The book, self published by the author, but to a standard that puts many established imprints to shame. This is a lavish and beautifully produced account of life in Listowel over the course of a century, organised street by street and adorned by a stunning array of images, photographs, maps and documents and some wonderful advertisements. This book has obviously been a labour of love and is a model of its kind.
Bookworm, History Ireland
“Self published, this attractive book is more than a collection of old photographs as it includes reproductions of advertisements, stationery, posters and so on. Carmody previously published North Kerry Camera in the same manner but has taken twenty years to return to this subject. Clearly produced with the support and cooperation of many Listowel people, this is an example of local pride in practice. The book celebrates the town in days gone by recalling important characters, businesses and buildings of the past. Each chapter is devoted to a particular street with the various illustrations accompanied by extensive notes telling something of the local people and events featured, thus giving an informal history of the town. Another example of how local history can have a wider appeal and tell us about society in general in the past.
“My second cousin, Vincent Carmody (his grandmother and my grandmother were sisters) has written a glorious love letter to the Listowel of my mother’s youth. His handsome new book is called “Listowel: Snapshots of an Irish Market Town, 1850-1950.” If you have any Irish in you, or in your background – or maybe just have a love of Irish history – it’s an entrancing look back at how your Irish ancestors lived, traded, and shopped. Consider taking a look.
Stephen White, New York Times Bestselling Author
“This is the kind of book that will have you wondering why every town in Ireland has not done something similar. Vincent Carmody, a retired postman and local historian, has written the story of his town, using as his primary source the billheads and receipts created by various businesses over the years. They are reproduced here in their hundreds, many with a hole in the middle, lightly stained with the reddish-brown oxide of the metal spike on which they were kept, in some cases for more than a century.
The author takes each street, starting with photographs from the early 1900s with only gatherings of people and occasional animals and progressing to horse and carts and eventually motor cars. He then describes many of the individual houses, and the changes in their ownership and the commerce carried out there over the years.
But it is the billheads that draw the reader as much as the people or the houses. Here is a receipt for a felt hat, bought from Michael Kirby’s Millinery Warehouse in 1898 for 6s 9d; here from 1912 Patrick Clancy Family Grocer charges 7½d per pound for 13 pounds of bacon, giving a total of 8s 1½d (“that will be eight and a penny ha’penny please”) which Mr Clancy worked out in his head without computer or calculator. Many of the billheads were kept by a Captain Raymond of Dromin House: £1 10s for membership of Ballybunion golf club in 1909, 8d for two dozen oranges in 1899, ten years earlier a bottle of scotch whisky for 3s 6d.
Listowel has a deserved reputation for its writers and most of them are here: John B Keane and his son Billy, Bryan McMahon, George Fitzmaurice, the O’Rahilly family; there is a photograph of JFK receiving an honorary degree from the National University, the central position taken by the registrar Eric Wilmot whose father was one of the blacksmiths in the town.
There is a programme of the Listowel Drama Group production of The Plough and the Stars, directed by Eamon Kelly and in which he plays the role of Fluther Good.
This book is about more than the shops and the pubs. It is a reminder of the transience of life, of the way that humans move on but a streetscape remains. Beautifully presented, it will appeal to anyone from North Kerry and should give other towns reason to wish they had someone who would do the same for them.
Frank O’Shea, Irish Echo (Australia) July 18-31, 2013
“This beautiful book covers the history of the seven main streets of Listowel, a town in Co. Kerry, from 1850 to 1950 (by which time Listowel had a population of 3,300). The reader is taken down each street, building by building, and the history of each is illustrated with a wealth of historical documents and photographs, all of them reproduced in full colour.
The documents in question have not, in the main, been taken from archives or libraries, but collected by the author over a period of more than twenty years, retrieved from attics, from personal collections, and in some cases from rubbish skips. These are everyday documents, licences, contracts, receipts, letters, public notices, account books, flyers, bills and so on. They are everyday but beautiful: in themselves they illustrate a hundred years of graphic design, and the gradual decline of ornamentation in even the simplest of documents, and the similar decline in the formal gentility of language. (With very few exceptions, that language is English.) With these personal and mundane items, the author pieces together the history of each street, of the changing nature of commerce, the gradual disappearance of private creameries and cinemas, the effects of war and politics, and the changing fortunes of individuals, of families and of the town they constituted. For example, in Upper William Street we find the terminus of the Lartigue railway, the first passenger-paying monorail in the world, built in 1888 to take the residents of Listowel to the coastal resort of Ballybunion. The documents reproduced include promotional material from 1896 urging the building of a similar line to Tarbert. But the campaign to extend the line failed, and the Ballybunion route itself closed in 1924. Later, when we enter Church St, we come across a photograph from the 1950s, showing the football field ‘surrounded by railings from the old Lartigue railway’.
The main focus of the book is on the commercial life of the town. Various notices from the Listowel Market chart the changing nature of the produce sold there, and of the legal regulations facing buyers and sellers. (Four days before the Easter uprising in 1916, it was thought prudent to warn sellers that cabbage plants sold in bundles known as ‘hundreds’ must contain at least 120 sound plants.) In his systematic tour of each street, Carmody charts the changing nature of the commerce in the various shops, the coming of large business enterprises, and the demise of older trades, marked, for example, by the death of the town’s last cooper, Paddy Buckley, in 1953. (Paddy’s sister Kathy ran the White House kitchens for three US presidents.) Each business is illustrated with copies of their own receipts and bills, which detail the various wares they sold. These documents are surprisingly rich and colourful; and many readers will simply rummage through the book to admire the sumptuous graphic history they illustrate.
The focus on the commercial life, and the richness of the documentation, both conspire to create an air of prosperity; but this is somewhat dispelled by the shoeless children who populate many of the photographs. Even in a class photograph at the very end of the period under review, two thirds of the students are barefoot. In the earlier photographs of public streets, the women are wrapped in heavy shawls that cover and enclose their heads, in a manner strikingly reminiscent of the hijab. Remnants of this mode of dress survive right to the end of the period covered by the book.
One doesn’t have to walk far in Listowel to be confronted with the grim reality of Irish politics during the century in question. At 83 Church St, District Inspector Tobias O’Sullivan of the Royal Irish Constabulary was shot dead at the door of Nora Stack’s public house. Further along the street we come across the burnt out shell of the RIC barracks in 1922, two years after the RIC constables mutinied there. In Lower William Street we hear of a cinema, and then a house, and then a shop that were all burned down by the Black and Tans. There is a photograph of Foley’s store on fire: it was burned in mistake for Faley’s, further up the road. In the same street, a shop front mosaic was designed by Italian tradesmen who were working on renovations to the Church. The Black and Tans objected to the mosaic’s use of the Irish language. To save the shop from arson, the mosaic was covered up, to be rediscovered when the fascia board was removed in the 1980s. In The Square we read an account of the third-last public speech of Charles Steward Parnell in 1891, of a speech by General Eoin O’Duffy to a meeting of Blueshirts in 1934 and, in the smaller square in Main Street, we hear of the entirely hoax campaign-speech delivered by one ‘Tom Doodle’ of the ‘Independent Coulogeous Party’ in 1951.
As we move from business to business along the streets of Listowel, we also find the homes of people with whom many of the readers of this journal will be quite familiar. At 38 Church St we come to the home of the writer Bryan MacMahon. (In the 1920s, the house had been the residence of the Sinn Féin member in the Dáil.) At 37 Lower William St is the Greyhound Bar, bought by the writer John B Keane in 1955. And at 36 The Square stands the home of Thomas F. Rahilly, father of the famous Celticists Thomas and Cecile O’Rahilly, both of whom worked at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. (Another son, Alfred, was president of University College Cork.)
This is a very fine book. The historical sketches are lightly drawn, and accompanied by the original documentation on which most of them are based. Carmody can tell us that barrister James William Raymond was a Freemason and a Captain in the 4th Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers, but we can see that for ourselves as well: we have reproductions of the receipt issued by the Freemasons for his membership fees, an account from his Battalion when he was still a Lieutenant in 1883, a licence indicating he owned four dogs, receipts indicating the pleasure he took in fishing, golf and tennis, and the full text of his contract with his gatekeepers (in which a clause requiring them to bring a bucket of water to the main house every day has been struck out). It is one thing to read the history of a small private creamery located in a yard at the back of William Street in Listowel. But it comes to life when we have before us not only a photograph of it in operation, but a stamped account book from 1930 detailing the modest volumes of milk delivered to the creamery by one of the farmers that supplied it. Carmody’s history of Listowel is a model that local historians the world over could follow with profit.
Neil McLeod, Murdoch University