‘To A Turf Sod’: Recent Literary Donations to Castleisland District Heritage[1]

Tulips in a Window (1965) by John P Barton[2]


Tulips in a Window, a book of verse by John P Barton, is inscribed to his mother:


I have no picture of your face
Within a frame for all to see;
Nor have I gifts in gold or lace
To show what things you gave to me.


The book, donated to Castleisland District Heritage by Brian Ward, contains one hundred poems, the title one composed ‘on seeing paper tulips on the windows of Miss Sheldon’s room in the George Bancroft School, Boston, March 1933.’


John P Barton left Ireland for America in 1912, and the content of the book reflects this, as shown in his verse To Bussey Brook in Arnold Arboretum.  His homeland however has the greatest calling, he writes To Francis Ledwidge, and After Reading Twenty Years A-Growing and recalls places like The Road to Caragh, Ballyroe, Tralee Bay and The Dingle RoadTo a Stone from Banna Strand shows how little escaped his eye.


Here he concludes a verse To A Mill Ruin at Camp Junction:


Now in a distant clime your task is done,
Thus was it planned, you, too, should pass away
Within an empire’s web, so deftly spun,
The ruins beautify the land today.


Nature and its effects on the land about him feature strongly: birds, seasons, climate, crops – To a Field of Wheat and To a Turf Sod among them.  ‘When I was young and saw the stars stream out across the sky,’ he writes in one, ‘I wondered how such little sparks could show themselves so high.’


Parents will identify with Afternoon Nap:


Dear little lad, so quietly sleeping now …
The house is still as tho for evermore …
While all in disarray the rooms appear:
Chairs, books, and toys are scattered o’er the floor
Like wreckage which the sea flings on the shore.


The concluding verse is An Offering:


So if you find among these lays
Some notes you love to hear,
May they grow sweeter thro the days
When I no more am here!


Mayflowers and Other Poems (1968) by John P Barton


A second book of verse by John P Barton, Mayflowers and Other Poems, dedicated ‘To my brother Danny’ is also donated by Brian Ward.[3]  It continues the cross-continental mix of subject with a particular focus on the natural environment.  Inspiration for Only the Stones Could Tell is from a description of an abandoned farm in New Hampshire by Stacey W Cole in the Manchester-Union Leader of November 18 1966.  Closer to home, inspiration is more transparent: To Banna Strand 1964, On A Picture in Dingle, Ballintubber Abbey, Church Ruin at Rathoo.


To a Dead Partridge and The Last Leaf show once again how little escaped his eye.


Rarely does the poet reveal much about himself, though the wistful First Love, ‘where fate decreed we had separate ways’ is something of a lament:


For me, to sail to a far off land
And for her to London town.


In Sans Wisdom he questions his poetic nature for ‘long it is since I forsook the manly arts for pen and book’:


Since the world has little care
For any visions I might snare,
I rue the many hours I waste
To please a non-existent taste.


The work of John P Barton is wonderfully fertile ground for students of literature.




The above books acknowledge the assistance of Vexilla RegisVexilla Regis Maynooth Laymen’s Annual, was a periodical first published in 1951 which assisted former students of St Patrick’s College in establishing themselves in lay professions.  Its patron was John D’Alton, Archbishop of Armagh.  It contains items relating to Kerry.


The journal was edited by Henry J O’Mara, President of the Maynooth Laymen’s Association. O’Mara, a native of Flagmount, Co Clare, was educated at St Flannan’s College, Ennis and at Maynooth.  He was in charge of the Clare Volunteers in South Galway for the 1918 General Election, and a member of Clare County Council from 1918-1921.  He was a member of the East Clare Flying Column throughout the Black and Tan War.  In May 1921, he was appointed Adjutant of the East Clare Brigade.


In 1922 he married Josephine Purcell of Feakle, Co Clare (RIP 24 May 1963) and had two sons and two daughters.  He joined the Garda Siochana at its inception and was sent as Inspector to Swinford to organise the division, subsequently promoted to Chief Superintendent.  In 1925 he was transferred to Waterford.[4]  In 1930 he was transferred to Letterkenny, subsequently to Castlebar, and to Kerry in 1935 before being appointed Commandant of Dublin Garda Depot, Phoenix Park, in 1946 where he remained until 1960, when he was transferred to Mullingar.[5]  He retired in 1961 to Co Kerry, where he had purchased the Grand Hotel in Denny Street, Tralee.  He died at the Bon Secours Hospital, Tralee on 30 October 1969 aged 73.[6]


Mountcollins and its Vicinity (2022) by Laurence (Larry) Begley[7]


 ‘Every stone, ditch, field and stream has a story’


A comprehensive record of Mountcollins, Co Limerick, from ancient to contemporary times.  The contents pages number nine, indicating a sizeable round-up of local history.


Thirteenth century history spans from the era of the Earls of Desmond, progressing to the plantation of Munster, the Rising of 1641.


An article explains how Mountcollins, formerly Knockrathdermot, got its name.  Fr Luke Collins, priest and poet, curate at Abbeyfeale in 1720 (parish priest in 1725), built a church on land known as The Mount donated by the local landlord.  Fr Collins was much loved for piety, kindness and charity and died in 1775, after which Knockrathdermot was renamed Mountcollins.


Eighteenth and nineteenth century history includes the practices of Philip of the Hundred Cows and the hanging of John Twiss of Cordal from the research of Castleisland District Heritage.  Local landlords like Major Fairfield of Mount Eagle Lodge find place, as do evictions such as the Ballaugh and Ellis Evictions.  A note on the role of women and children in evictions is of interest, whose strategies included filling stockings with stones, and boiling pots of water as useful weapons, and booing and wailing as deterrent.


Twentieth century history includes the War of Independence (including an attack on Brosna Barracks and the ambush of Cpt Pat Coye) and the two World Wars.


Some of the subjects covered include the river Feale and its tributaries, place names, field names, old trades – scollop picker is one – education, sport, entertainment, local pubs.  Its diverse content includes social history from roads and agricultural affairs (the coming of the haybarn, the making of the first silage and the killing of the pig) to the Brosna Juice Factory.  Religious history includes local priests, curates and the stations as well as the history of local Protestant churches.


The content is intermixed with stories and poetry; the following selection may illustrate: The Mountcollins Bard, who composed The Lament of Father Casey; The Legend of Carroll O’Daly; Dominick the Raparee who lived in a cave at Kilcara; The Murder of Alexander Hoskins in 1821; The Night of the Big Wind 1839; the Great Flood of 1858; The Murder of Eliza Giles in 1858 – an event recorded in the ballad, ‘The Road to Ardagh’ by Johnny Purcell; The Exorcism in Dromtrasna 1870; Big Bill The Mountcollins Giant.


The above but skims the surface of this exhaustive production by Larry Begley.


Once Upon a Road The History and Times of an Irish Butter Road (2022) by Joe Harrington[8]


Once Upon a Road, dedicated to the author’s parents, Julie and Christy, covers the history of the road built by John Murphy of Castleisland from Ballyduhig, south of Listowel, to the Cork Butter Market, which began after an Act of Parliament in 1747.  It became known as the Butter Road, as distinct from the later road by that name built by Richard Griffith in 1829.


From Listowel, the road encompassed Lyreacrompane, Castleisland, Cordal, Knocknaboul, Shinnagh, Millstreet, Aubane, Rylane, Vicarstown and Kerry Pike.  The author set out in search of ‘the old days on a 60-mile journey through 275 years’ and presents a literary snapshot of events associated with the course of this historic road.


Tales from the Great Scaldwood (2020) by Blanchardstown Castleknock History Society[9]


As Castleisland District Heritage approaches its tenth anniversary, an excellent example of marking such occasion is offered by the Blanchardstown Castleknock History Society, founded in 2009, in an excellently produced 92-page A5 anniversary booklet containing 14 articles of local interest.


Though the content does not have a direct bearing on Castleisland affairs, the donation is a welcome addition to the archive of Castleisland District Heritage.  One article of note is the farmers’ Rights Campaign 1966/67 by Jim Lynam which has echoes of Listowel to the Liffey (2017), a book on the same subject produced by John Roche, Chairman of Castleisland District Heritage.


They Hanged John Twiss (1983) by Pat Lynch[10]


This narrative began with an expression of belief that Donovan was 
not murdered.  The man who was murdered was John Twiss


An account of the case of John Twiss of Cordal, Castleisland, Co Kerry, who was hanged in Cork prison in 1895 for the murder, at Glenlara, Co Cork in 1894, of caretaker James Donovan.


John Twiss was granted a Posthumous Presidential Pardon by President Michael D Higgins in December 2021 following a campaign by Castleisland District Heritage.


They Hanged John Twiss contains an epilogue, ‘a strange sequel to the story of John Twiss,’ which focuses on the evidence of the Lyons family of Taur.  It suggests that Crown witness Lyons the tailor, who had served under the British flag in the North Cork Militia, had subsequently settled at the Rock of Gibraltar under the name Private William Hayes (‘Bandon Billy’).  He died there in 1910 after being injured by a horse, his dying confession being: ‘I am Lyons, the Newmarket witness.  ’Twas the grey horse that did it.’[11]


A Short History of Tinnakill Castle (1997)[12]


A brief history of Tinnakill Castle, Co Laois, which probably dates from the second half of the fifteenth century, is given in this 12-page booklet, from its earliest reference in 1551 to 1997, the date of publication.  Its author is not given.


The Great Lighthouses of Ireland (2022) by David Hare[13]


Literary companion to the recent RTÉ TV series of the same name, The Great Lighthouses of Ireland is a thought-provoking record of the life-saving buildings that dot the coast of Ireland.  An item about famous shipwrecks, with an illustration showing more than 4,000 wrecks off the Irish coast, indicates the dire need for light in the darkness at sea.


A number of Kerry lighthouses feature.  A lighthouse was constructed between 1864 and 1869 at Tearaght Island (Inistearaght/Inishtearaght), one of the Blasket Islands off the Dingle Peninsula, ‘the most westerly part of Europe to be inhabited by lighthouse keepers during the 118 years that lighthouse keepers lived there.’[14]  The documentary crew’s journey there to film reads like a great adventure story but still you are left with the impression that you have not the remotest idea of how life must have been for those who manned those isolated stations in the past.[15]


In 1928, a lightkeeper on Tearaght – ‘an isolated rock exposed to all the furies of the mighty Atlantic’ – became unwell.  A doctor went aboard a lighthouse steamer to Valentia, and made passage to the ‘prison’ rock:


On arrival, it was found that it was impossible to make a landing.  The heavy Atlantic swell surged unceasingly round the prison of the sick man.[16]


Many lighthouse keepers found company in birds.  One keeper at Tearaght, Denis O’Leary, described the nocturnal chirping of nesting birds as ‘music inside the wall.’[17]


The lighthouse keepers were withdrawn in 1988, the lighthouse controlled directly from Dublin.  An account of the event mentioned Charlie Haughey’s hideaway:


Inis Tearaght is about 10 miles off the coast, and some two and a half miles from Inisvickillaune, Charlie Haughey’s holiday island … At Christmas time the Haugheys usually give the lighthouse keepers a call on the radio.[18]


Lighthouses have stood on Skelligs Rock since 1826.  The station was automated in 1987, with more than 160 years of history behind it.[19]


The fully functioning Valentia Island lighthouse dates to 1837, built on the site of a seventeenth century Cromwellian fort.[20]  A double-page illustration of an 1858 map published by W J Barker and R K Kuhns, showing the route of the first transatlantic telegraph cable, is included in this chapter.  Castleisland’s connection to this feat in the history of telecommunications is given in a number of articles on the website of Castleisland District Heritage.[21]


A chapter on the Fastnet Lighthouses includes an article about ‘William Douglass – the Engineer who built the Bull Rock Lighthouse,’[22] which is reproduced in the latest edition of the Caherdaniel Parish Magazine.[23]


David Hare explains, in his introduction, the genesis of the TV series, which led to the book, and it all began with the purchase of an old mahogany desk at auction … the full story continues in the lavishly illustrated Great Lighthouses of Ireland, a valuable aid for researchers, and a must for all coffee tables.


Those with an interest in sea-faring might enjoy ‘A North Kerry Boy at Heart: The Incredible Adventures of Vere Chamberlain Harvey-Brain, Master Mariner’ and ‘Gayer’s Beacons: Signposts to Dingle Harbour’ on the website of Castleisland District Heritage.[24]


The Brosna Land Struggle (1876-1916) by Thomas Roche[25]


The aim of this work, as outlined by the author, is to contextualise, document, report and analyse the events that occurred in the Brosna district during the Land War.


It includes accounts of various landed estates in the district, including Collis-Sandes, Deane, Fairfield, Burke, Lord Cork, Aldworth, Headley, Galvy, Leeson-Marshall, Saunders, Mahony, John Pierce Evans, Bateman, Ventry, Hurley, Gordon Leahy and the Drummond Estate.  The latter includes a photograph of Augusta Charlotte Drummond, in charge of affairs on the estate in 1908.


Augusta Charlotte, youngest daughter of Colonel Charles Mackenzie Fraser of Inverallochie and Castle Fraser, Aberdeen, married Robert Drummond (1822-1881) son of the Charing Cross banker, Charles Drummond (1790-1858).  Augusta died at Vevey, Switzerland, on 20 September 1911, aged 78.


What the Curlew Said (2007) by John Moriarty[26]


An autobiography, and sequel to Nostos (2001), What the Curlew Said ‘concludes the story of the writer John Moriarty’s life in Connemara during the 1980s and subsequent return to his native Kerry.’


According to the dust jacket, the author reflects on his childhood in Kerry.  Here is an example of one of his reflections, following a phone call from Fr John O’Donoghue, a young curate in Rosamhil, who reminded him he was to give a talk in Galway:


I hadn’t given a public talk since I had left Canada thirteen years earlier, and a lot had happened since then.  In particular after three or four years of pushing at boundaries, I had one day undergone a private, inner ragnarok high up beside a stream, under the Bens, in the Inagh Valley.  In an instant I had been cataclysmed into a no-thing-ness that I didn’t recognize yet to be divine, to be the Divine Ungrund that grounds all things.  Also, I would soon discover that I had been cataclysmed into a Hindu …


If you wish to read on, please refer to the book.  Suffice to say, the author decided to give the talk.


This is not a book for the faint-hearted but for those who have the patience to embrace the philosophical, to contemplate the questions being asked, to master bewilderment sufficiently to stay on track in a labyrinth of word and thought:


Sitting by the fire one night, I wondered with Einstein whether space-time is curved and yes, I thought, of course it is: like the Buddha on the night of his enlightenment, it is sitting in the lotus position.


John Stephen Moriarty was born at Moyvane, near Listowel, Co Kerry, on 2 February 1938.  A sketch of his life is given by Dr Patrick Maume in the Dictionary of Irish Biography.  Moriarty died at his home at Coolies, Mangerton, Killarney, Co Kerry on 1 June 2007.  He was described as ‘the oddest Irish writer of the twentieth century’ and perhaps ‘the most important Irish philosopher since Bishop Berkeley.’ He ‘resisted abstract understanding’ and sought ‘fertile chaos.’  What the Curlew Said suggests he achieved it.


Tom Reflects (2022) by Tom O’Connor[27]


Nonagenarian Tom O’Connor, who dedicates his book to Willie and Mary Ellen, his parents, reflects on his farming life at Cahir, Kenmare, Co Kerry in an intimate memoir encouraged by his family.


Geraldine O’Connor Maybury, who introduces Tom Reflects, outlines the content:


From horse to motorcar and tractor, from hay to silage, from handmilking to milking machines, from gas lantern to electrification, from theocracy to a more liberal society.


The book is in two parts, the second a series of articles reproduced from Tom’s contributions to the Kenmare News between 2005-2009.  The unpublished material that forms the first part describes how Tom, born in 1930, grew up, one of nine, on a modest farm.  As a young boy, he began going to the library where he believes he learned more than at school.  He spent every Sunday shooting rabbits – money made often spent at the cinema, where the poorer seats were infested with fleas


Tom’s father William died in 1951 aged 51, leaving Tom in charge of operations at the young age of 21:


I felt the need for improving my farming … my father was getting The English Farmer Weekly by post and that’s where I came across the news of silage … in 1954 I got a tractor, the ESB transformed the home and the farmyard in 1954 … In 1957 I got a milking machine … after a few experiments I made a few acres of silage … fortunately a very good youth organisation started called Macra Na Feirme.


Tom describes farming practices in his younger days, including growing sugar beet for Mallow sugar factory, and keeping pigs, the first of which he purchased in Castleisland in about 1966.  An illustration in the book shows the division of the farm at Cahir by field names.


Tom married Noreen in 1963 and had four children.  His memoir is a valuable keepsake for his family, and a welcome contribution to social history in his locality.


[1] Donations received in 2022.  For notice of earlier book donations, see http://www.odonohoearchive.com/literary-kerry-recent-donations-to-castleisland-district-heritage/

[2] IE CDH 69.  Printed in the USA.  Signed by the author.  Donated by Brian Ward in response to the article, ‘Three Wasps and A Skylark: Return of the Nature Poets (http://www.odonohoearchive.com/three-wasps-and-a-skylark-return-of-the-nature-poets/) published on the website of Castleisland District Heritage.

[3] IE CDH 69.  Printed in the USA. 

[4] ‘He was the pioneer of the Civic Guards in Mayo; he came in very troubled times, and by his tact and courtesy helped to smooth over things and did excellent work in the county’ (Connaught Telegraph, 7 February 1925).

[5] During his term in Kerry, he organised aeriochts, and in Dublin, he founded the O’Mara Boys Club. 

[6] Irish Independent, 25 January 1961 and Irish Examiner, 31 October 1969.

[7] IE CDH 78.  Hardback, 436 pages, inscribed to Castleisland District Heritage by the author.

[8] IE CDH 79.  30 chapters. 364 pages.

[9] IE CDH 93.  The Great Scaldwood was an ancient forest in the locality, since disappeared.

[10] IE CDH 80.  Paperback; the first edition was published in 1982.

[11] They Hanged John Twiss, pp156-160.

[12] IE CDH 81.  12 page A5 booklet in black and white.

[13] IE CDH 92.  Hardback, 248 pages.

[14] The Great Lighthouses of Ireland, p198.  In November 1869, the steam tug Bishop belonging to the Commissioners of Irish Lights lying at the dockyard in Water Street, Cork was advertised for sale.  The 27 tons burden, propelled by paddle wheels, had been employed since 1864 as a tender to the light house under construction on Tearagh Island.  See Freeman’s Journal, 12 November 1869.

[15] ‘Ireland’s Most Dangerous Helicopter Landing,’ The Great Lighthouses of Ireland, p198.  Photographs of the lighthouse and the keepers’ dwellings appear on pages 7 and 44 respectively.

[16] Irish Independent, 9 March 1928.  The doctor had to resort to communication by semaphore, and it was not until the weather had moderated some days later that the patient was finally brought to the mainland.

[17] The Great Lighthouses of Ireland, p82.

[18] The Sunday Press, 20 December 1987.  Tony O’Driscoll, whose family had been in the lighthouse business for three generations, said ‘It is the end of an era.  We will be the last of the lighthouse keepers here.’  Charles Haughey purchased Inisvickillaune (Inis Mhicileain/ Inis Mhic Aoibhleáin) in 1974.  In 2010, his widow, Maurice Haughey, donated family papers relating to the island to the Blasket Island Visitor Centre.

[19] See ‘Skelligs Rock Lighthouse,’ pp89-93.  Includes stunning photographs and a sketch of the plan of the lighthouse from the ‘Skelligs Survey.’

[20] The Great Lighthouses of Ireland, pp118-123. 

[21] ‘Glory to God: Castleisland’s Link to the Atlantic Telegraph’ http://www.odonohoearchive.com/glory-to-god-castleislands-link-to-the-atlantic-telegraph/

‘Foilhomurrum: Its Position in History’ http://www.odonohoearchive.com/foilhomurrum-its-position-in-history/

‘Fifty-two Degrees North: Calculating Castleisland’s Place in Longitude History’ http://www.odonohoearchive.com/fifty-two-degrees-north-calculating-castleislands-place-in-longitude-history/

[22] The Great Lighthouses of Ireland, pp210-211.

[23] Caherdaniel Parish Magazine 2023, Edition 13, pp14-15.  The committee-produced journal was founded in 2010.  It is designed by its co-founder, Vincent Hyland, wildlife documentary maker and founder of Red Blenny Press.

[24] http://www.odonohoearchive.com/a-north-kerry-boy-at-heart-the-incredible-adventures-of-vere-chamberlain-harvey-brain-master-mariner/


[25] IE CDH 82.  157 pages.  Purchased at the launch of the book in Brosna, inscribed by author to Castleisland District Heritage.

[26] IE CDH 83.  Published posthumously.

[27] IE CDH 91.  Hardback, 179 pages.