Listowel is a market town in County Kerry, Ireland, and is situated on the River Feale, from the county town, Tralee. The combined population of Listowel Urban and Rural Districts is 22,668; the town itself has a population of 4,338 (CSO census 2006).
The town is sometimes described as the "Literary Capital of Ireland", and a number of internationally known playwrights and authors have lived there, including Bryan MacMahon and John B. Keane. Of Listowel, the latter wrote:
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".
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.
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 Board of Public Works. 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. The castle is open to the public for tours on a daily basis.
The Seanchaí Literary Centre, which is adjacently located in a Georgian town house, is intended to help visitors learn more about the castle’s history.
Another smaller castle at Woodford, Listowel, was built in the post-1600 period by the Knight of Kerry.
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 1000m long replica of the original monorailway was opened.
Listowel was the site of a famous mutiny which occurred during the Irish War of Independence. On 17 June 1920, member of the Royal Irish Constabulary at Listowel police station refused to obey the commanding officer's orders that they be relocated to Garda outposts outside of the town. The Black and Tans had occupied the town barracks, forcing the redeployment, something which was both dangerous and hopeless in the face of huge local hostility to the men in question. Police commissioner Colonel Smythe wished that the RIC constables would operate with the army in countering the IRA's fight for freedom in the more rural areas. He suggested while negotiating with the constables that they would be given the power to shoot any suspect on sight. Led by Constable Jeremiah Mee, they refused, both from a point of personal safety and possibly also from a sense of sympathy with their country men struggling against the British forces. The officers were discharged after the mutiny. The episode has come down to be known as the Listowel mutiny.
Earl of Listowel
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.