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County Kerry
Listowel Town Square - - 12793.jpg
The Square, Listowel
Grid reference: Q988338
Location: 52°26’49"N, 9°29’10"W
Population: 8,670  (2014[1])
Post town: Listowel
Postcode: V31
Local Government
Council: Kerry

Listowel is a heritage town and market town in County Kerry, situated on the River Feale, 17½ miles from the county town, Tralee. The town itself has an urban population of 4,823. The name comes from the Irish Lios Tuathail, meaning "Tuathal's ringfort".

The town is sometimes described as the "Literary Capital of Ireland",[2] and a number of internationally known playwrights and authors have lived there, including Bryan MacMahon and John B. Keane. Of Listowel, the latter wrote:

"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 loveliness,
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."[2]


Bridge over the River Feale at Listowel

Listowel is on the N69 Limerick - Foynes - Tralee road. Daily bus services operate to Tralee, Cork, and Limerick. The nearest railway station is Tralee. Listowel used to have its own railway station on a broad gauge line between Tralee and Limerick, however this was closed to passengers in 1963, freight in 1978 and finally abandoned and lifted in 1988. The station building has been preserved as a private residence.

Listowel is located at the head of the North Kerry limestone plain. Positioned in the very heart of North Kerry, on the River Feale, its hinterland is an area of mainly dairy agricultural use. The barony of Iraghticonnor[3] is to the north, with the barony of Clanmaurice to the south. Surrounding villages include Asdee, Ballybunion, Ballyduff, Ballylongford, Causeway, Duagh, Lisselton, Lixnaw, Moyvane, Finuge and Tarbert.


In July 2000, Listowel was officially designated as one of Ireland's 26 "Heritage Towns" - in part because of modern environmental and renewal works, but also because of its architectural heritage and "historic importance".[4]

Listowel Castle

Listowel Castle

Listowel’s long history dates back to 1303 where it first appears in the Plea Roll. Fortress to the Fitzmaurice family, the town developed around Listowel Castle and its significant Square. The last bastion against Queen Elizabeth I in the Desmond campaign, Listowel Castle was built in the 15th century and was the last fortress of the Geraldines to be subdued. It fell after 28 days siege to Sir Charles Wilmot on 5 November 1600, who had the castle's garrison executed in the following days.

The castle became the property of the Hare family, the holders of the title of Earl of Listowel, after reverting away from the Fitzmaurices, Knights of Kerry. It is now a national monument.

Today, the remnants of the castle include two of its four towers, which are joined by a heavy curtain wall, and the unusual feature of an arch below the battlements. Archaeological excavations and records of the castle reveal that it was originally of similar form to Bunratty Castle, Co. Clare. In 2005, restoration works were commenced by the Office of Public Works (OPW) who operate the Irish Heritage Service. The stonework has been cleaned by a team of craftsmen, while the upper section, which had become particularly distressed with the passing of time, has been restored and rendered waterproof. An external staircase, in keeping with the architecture of the structure has been erected to enable the public to access the upper stories.

One of the best examples of Anglo-Norman architecture in Kerry, the castle has now been restored by the Office of Public Works to some of its former glory. A small team of OPW tour guides are based at the castle seven days a week during the summer tourist season (mid May to early September) and give free public tours of the site.[5]

Another smaller castle at Woodford, Listowel, was built in the post-1600 period by the Knight of Kerry.

Lartigue Monorailway

A unique part played by Listowel in Irish railway history is that of having hosted the world's first monorail operation. The Listowel and Ballybunion Railway was built to the Lartigue system, with a double-engined steam locomotive straddling an elevated rail. It connected the town with Ballybunion. Coaches, with a compartment on either side of the rail, had to be kept balanced. If a cow was being brought to market, two calves would be sent also, to balance it on the other side. The calves would then be returned, one on either side of the rail. In 2003, a 1,000-yd replica of the original monorailway was opened.

Earl of Listowel

The title of Earl of Listowel is associated with the Hare family. The Earl is one of the 92 hereditary peers elected to the British House of Lords.

Holders of the title have included the fifth Earl, who was a Labour politician and notably served as the last Secretary of State for India and Burma. Another member of the family was the Conservative politician John Hare, 1st Viscount Blakenham. He was the third son of the fourth Earl.


Kerry Co-Op

In 1973 Ireland joined the European Economic Community (EEC) and this accelerated the merger of many small dairies in Ireland so as to be able to compete with the larger milk companies in the existing EEC. Kerry followed suit and with an injection of capital from milk suppliers in the County it acquired the State owned milk processing company and its creameries, together with its 42.5% stake in the private NKMP company for a consideration of €1.5 million. Furthermore, six of the eight independent Co-ops, which held the other 42.5%, were acquired and accordingly the private company became a subsidiary of the newly formed Kerry Co-operative Creameries Ltd (Kerry Co-op) which began trading in January 1974. Thus Kerry started out as the smallest of Ireland's six major agricultural Co-operatives in 1974, with sales in that year of €29 million.

In the period from 1974 to 1979, Kerry expanded its milk business in a similar fashion to other dairy Co-ops but did so on a consistently profitable basis, which of course was not always typical of the traditional dairy Co-op sector. EEC entry had brought better milk prices, increased milk volumes and improved farm incomes in Ireland. Kerry Co-op grew organically simply by taking the milk that came its way, processing it and meeting all other farmer requirements in terms of inputs and on-farm services. Its milk supply increased from 67 million gallons in 1974 to 87 million gallons in 1978. The new Co-op acquired the independent Killarney, Limerick, Mariewasere and Ballinahina Dairies (Cork) which later became part of Kerry’s Dawn Dairies structure with the addition of Galway and Moate Dairies.

However, in 1979 everything changed for Kerry Co-op when the county was chosen as a pilot area for a bovine disease eradication scheme. Allied to this, milk production was further depressed due to wet summer weather in 1979 and in 1980, which meant that Kerry lost almost 20% of its milk supply. This was highly significant in that it happened at a time when the Co-op was in the course of completing a €18 million capital expenditure programme at the NKMP plant in Listowel.[6]

Kerry Group

Kerry Group today is a leader in global food ingredients and flavours markets, and a leading branded consumer foods processing and marketing organisation in selected EU markets.

The Group has grown organically and through a series of strategic acquisitions in its relatively short history, from the commissioning of its first dairy and ingredients plant in Listowel, Ireland in 1972, and has achieved sustained profitable growth with current annualised sales in excess of €4.5 billion.

Headquartered in Tralee, Ireland, the Group employs approximately 22,000 people throughout its manufacturing, sales and technical centres across Europe, North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand and Asian Markets.

Kerry supplies over 10,000 food, food ingredients and flavour products to customers in more than 140 countries worldwide. The Group has manufacturing facilities in 19 different countries and international sales offices in 20 other countries across the globe.

Launched as a public company in 1986, Kerry Group plc is listed on the Dublin and London Stock Markets and has a current market capitalisation of approximately €3.5 billion.[7] in 2012 kerry group revenue was 5.8 billion.

Listowel Races

The origin of Listowel races can be traced back to an annual gathering at Ballyeigh, Ballybunion, about nine miles from Listowel. This event, which dates to the early nineteenth century, consisted of a variety of games, horse-racing and a pre-arranged faction fight which concluded the event. Due in no small part to the disturbances surrounding these faction fights, the meeting at Ballyeigh was suspended and racing transferred to Listowel, where the first meeting took place in 1858. The racecourse is located beside the River Feale-for two of the three entrances to the course you must walk across a bridge across the river. The racecourse is called "the island" by the locals due to this fact.[8]

It is now the joint longest racing festival in Ireland, at 7 days in duration the same as the Galway races and second in attendances only to that great event. It is the last major racing festival of the Summer and the last one before Christmas so the crowds make the most of the festivities. Traditionally it was a meeting where farmers Ireland came to spend/gamble the money they made from the harvest but it has since grown into something much larger and more wideranging than that and everybody and anybody now attends with a warm Kerry welcome guaranteed to all.[9]

The Listowel track consists of a 1-mile, 2 furlong mile oval left-handed track with National Hunt fences and hurdles. The hurdle course is adjustable after each day's racing to give new ground. The track has been extended over the last number of years to allow extra race permutations and to enable the Festival Meeting in September to extend to seven days. The Listowel Racecourse is located adjacent to the town and is within easy walking distance of the town centre.

Listowel Writers' Week

Listowel is also the home of Ireland's oldest and leading literary festival. Since its inception in 1970 Listowel Writers’ Week has been recognised as the primary event in Ireland’s literary calendar. North Kerry is the birthplace of many of Ireland’s most prominent writers past and present including Dr. John B Keane, Dr Bryan Mac Mahon, Professor Brendan Kennelly, Seamus Wilmot, Gabriel Fitzmaurice, George Fitzmaurice, Maurice Walsh and Robert Leslie Boland. The Writers’ Week Festival was established to celebrate those writers and to provide an opportunity for Irish Writers in general to develop their talents and meet new audiences.

The concept of the Literary Workshop was first introduced at Writers’ Week in 1971 by Bryan MacMahon. Since then our Literary Workshops continue to be the most popular in the country. Prominent Irish writers have shared their skills in poetry, fiction, theatre, screen, crime and more recently workshops in song writing, comic writing and storytelling have been added.

Competitions were introduced, together with a series of literary awards, which have given valuable recognition to new writers over the last number of years. In that time many eminent Irish and international literary figures have gathered in Listowel at the annual festival to celebrate the work of new and established writers.

The total prize fund of €35,000 includes the Kerry Group Novel of the Year and The Pigott Poetry Prize.

The event takes place in a unique atmosphere of learning and celebration which gives new and established writers an opportunity to discuss their work before a national and international audience.

Listowel Food Fair

The Listowel food Fair has been running annually from 1995. The festival is geared towards the promotion of local artisan food products. The festival attracts celebrity chefs, nutritionists and artisan food entrepreneurs.


Listowel Emmets

Listowel Emmets is a Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club which supports the traditional Irish sports of hurling, camogie, Gaelic football, handball and rounders, plus music, dance and the Irish language. The club has a tradition of GAA involvement and achievement since June 1885 when Listowel GAA (The Feale Amateurs) was established as a GAA branch. In 1956 Emmets GAA Club was formed and in the following year the senior, intermediate and minor North Kerry League titles were won. In 1979 the Listowel Emmets GAA pitch next to St.Michaels College was closed for redevelopment and re-opened again in 1981 and was renamed in honour of Mr. Frank J Sheehy who was appointed as Chairman to the County Board in 1953.

Listowel Celtic

Listowel Celtic is the local association football club, playing in the Kerry District League.

Other Sports

Listowel has clubs for Rugby, Athletics, Basketball, Badminton and Cricket.


Listowel displays a broad range of architectural features, including the notable five arch bridge traversing the River Feale at the entrance to the Town, which dates back to 1829. According to local tradition, the bridge (referred to locally as the "Big Bridge") replaced a smaller wooden structure, which had been destroyed in floods.


  • Prideaux, J.D.C.A. (1981). Odd Man Out, in The Irish Narrow Gauge Railway, pp. 26–27. David & Charles (Publishers) Ltd. ISBN 0-7153-8071-0.
  • Gaughan, Father Anthony. Listowel and its vicinity. 1973.
  • Gaughan, Father Anthony. Listowel and its vicinity Since 1973. 2004. ISBN 1-85607-912-0
  • Fitzmaurice, Gabriel. The Listowel Literary Phenomenon. 1994. ISBN 1-874700-87-7

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Listowel)