Due North from Castleisland lies the attractive town of Listowel, on the River Feale. Listowel appears for the first time in the Plea Roll of 1303-1304 as Lystothyl. In ecclesiastical taxation records of 1320 it appears as Lismokill, and in several other documents as Lissmoll,Lestowell, Lystuayl and Listowhil. It first appears as “Lios Tuathail” in the annals of the four masters of 1582.
Its main landmark is the ruined 15th century Fitzmaurice Castle, set in its fine central square. It was the stronghold of the Fitzmaurices, the Anglo-Norman Earls of Kerry. In its original state it would have been similar to Bunratty Castle in Co.Clare,but all that remains today is the fascade, which is over 15 metres in height. It was declared a national monument in 1923.
The town is dominated by two facing neo-gothic churches,Saint Johns (Protestant) and Saint Mary’s (Catholic). Saint John’s Gothic style church was deconsecrated in 1988 and today houses a theatre, arts and heritage centre and the local tourist office. It was built in 1819. The church has associations with the main Anglo-Irish families of the district, including the Hewsons,Sandes,Raymonds, Sir Arthur Vicars and the Kitcheners. Saint Mary’s was built in 1829. Additions such as the porch and spire took place in 1865/1867 and in 1910 the side aisles were added and the mosaic work in the sanctuary was completed.
In the South -West corner of the main square, built towards the end of the 18th century, is the Listowel Arms Hotel, where many historic figures, including Daniel O’ Connell, William Makepeace Thackeray and Charles Stewart Parnell, stayed on occasion. It is from the Hotel’s upper window that Parnell is reputed to have made his famous declaration, “no man has the right to set a boundary to the march of a nation”. During the 60s the hotel was owned for a period by the famous tenor Josef Locke.
At one time the town was a terminus for the world’s first monorail system. Called the Lartigue Railway after the Spanish Engineer who installed it, the system ran successfully from 1888 to 1924 and linked Listowel and Ballybunion. It was reopened in 2003 and officially opened by President Mary McAlesse in 2005. The present railway runs for approximately a quarter of a mile. It is driven by a diesel engine. The whole train can, with the help of turntables, be turned completely around. The Lartigue Monorail Museum opened officially on the 4th May 2013. This was done by the French Ambassador Mrs. Emanuelle D’Achon. This museum, a former old goods store, was part of the old Great Southern & Western Railway system, it is now a protected building. The museum houses films and archive material on the Great Southern & Western Railway, which ran from Limerick to Tralee, stopping at Listowel and also material on the Lartigue Monorail. Housed here also are restored artifacts used in north Kerry up to the turn of the 20th century eg: farming implements, bicycles, clothing and tea chests. As you leave the museum the original site of the monorail can be seen in the park on the left side. Opening times:- 1pm to 4pm May to September.
A Garden of Europe was started in 1995 to coincide with the commeration of the ending of the Second World War, close to Childers Park. It consists of a monument made from railway sleepers and chains and is dedicated to those who died in the holocaust. It is set among gardens where thousands of shrubs from all over Europe symbolically recall the innocent victims of a campaign of genocide. There is a splendid bust of “Schiller” who was the author of “The Ode To Joy” the unofficial anthem of the European Union.
Listowel Bridge: Referred to locally as the “Big Bridge” This Bridge replaced a smaller wooden structure, which had been destroyed by floods. Richard Griffin built the five-arched bridge over the River Feale at a cost of £2,500 in 1829.
Childers Park: Lord Listowel granted Gurtinard Wood and a beautiful riverside walk to the people of Listowel in 1946 for a nominal sum of £5.Listowel Urban District Council acquired the nearby “Cows Lawn” in the late 60s, a 30 acre field on which a number of townspeople had pasture rights, and developed it into one of Ireland’s finest municipal parks. Today, Childers Park contains an 18-hole Pitch & Putt course, a children’s playground, two tennis courts, football pitches and a well-equipped sports complex. Visitors are welcome.
Dandy Lodge: This cottage was built of squared limestone blocks and much admired. The design was adapted from George Smith’s “Essay on the construction of cottages” published in Glasgow in 1835 and appears as the Bridge Road’s first house in the OS map of 1897. It was first used as a gate lodge to the Manor-House of the agents of Lord Listowel. In 1994 it was dismantled and relocated in the town park.
Teampaillin Ban (the little white Churchyard): outside Listowel on the Ballybunnion Road lies a Famine Graveyard where many nameless victims of the Irish Famine 1845-47 were interred in mass graves.
RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) Barracks – the present day Garda Barracks. It was the scene in June 1921 of a police mutiny, when the police officers resisted an attempt by a British Military Force, to occupy the Barracks. The 1st force of Garda Siochana (Irish for Police) in Listowel operated initially from 5 Upper William Street, then from Tea Lane, before finally moving into the Barracks. Integration with the local community was aided by teaching local boys the game of hurling.
Maid of Erin Listowel has striking shop fronts, which display a variety of unique plasterwork. This is due mainly to the outstanding craftsmanship of Pat McAuliffe (1846-1921). The “Maid of Erin”, which can be found on the Main Street, adjacent to the Square, is one of his most imposing pieces. She sits serenely surrounded by the harp, the wolf Hound and other images of romantic Ireland, which were in fashion during the latter half of the 19th century. Other examples of his work can still be seen on Main Street, Market Street Church Street and William Street.
Literary Traditions: Listowel is justifiably proud of its literary traditions. Maurice Walsh, author of the Quiet Man (film starred John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara) lived here, and the writer Bryan McMahon born in 1909 in Listowel was headmaster of the local boy’s national school. He lectured extensively in Ireland and abroad, particularly in the U.S.A. He has also written a number of travel books, and his best-selling autobiography, “The Master”, was published in 1992. But probably the town’s most famous son is John B Keane, born in Listowel in 1928, author of “Sive” and “The Field”, which was adapted for the screen in 1990 and the film received an Oscar Nomination. One can drop into John Bs pub for a pint of Guinness. John Bs name is also associated with one of the town’s best-known events, the Writer’s Week held in June each year.
Carnegie Library: The site of the former Listowel Library was bought from Mr. James McCarthy for £160 in 1928. The library was built in 1929 and its first Librarian, Miss Patricia Gleeson, took up her duties in 1930 at a weekly wage of £1.50 The library replaced an earlier one, built on the Bridge Road, which was burnt down by the Black and Tans (English forces so called because of the colour of their uniform) on March 7th 1921. Kerry County Council took over the administrative control of the library from the Carnegie Trust in 1953. In 1955 the Library moved to a purpose built building at Charles Street, and the Kerry Diocesan Youth Service now operates from the Carnegie Library building.
Saint Michael’s College: Was established in what was once an old Fever Hospital. On the 16th January 1879 it opened as a school and it absorbed some private schools of the classified tradition. In 1879/1880 the annual fee per student was £6.00.It had risen by 1952/1953 to £10, and the year before the introduction of free post primary education in 1967/1968 the fee was just £16.00. A sizeable extension was added in the mid 80s to the front of the college.
Courthouse: it is an imposing building of neo-Roman style. The republicans burnt down an earlier building constructed in 1840.
Vintage Wireless Museum: this museum’s displays, range from Miniature Gramophone to three feet high radios. Sets ranging from 1922-1960 with such titles as “Grampian”, “Pye”, and “Phillips”, can be seen as well as “Magic Lanterns” and “Paris Aerials”.
Church Tower: this tower dates from the early 18th century. It rises to a height of over 9 metres and was constructed of limestone. In 1819 most of the stones were removed and reused in the construction of Saint John’s Church. The oldest part of the graveyard is situated around the tower.
Events: The other events that galvanise the local energies are the “Fleadh” (a feast of Irish music) held in August and the annual Listowel Horse Racing, held in the third week of September and the Food Fair in November.
Fishing: The local river is a favourite spot for fishermen; here one can catch Salmon, White trout or Brown trout.
Golf: Listowel also has a nine-hole golf course.