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Listowel's Early History


Listowel, Co. Kerry, Ireland, now a thriving market town on the banks of the Feale, first appeared in the Plea Roll of 1303 /04 as Ltstothyl. In the ecclesiastical taxation records of 1320 it appears as Lismokill, and in several other documents as Lissmoll, Lestowell, Lystuayl and Listowhil. The first reference to Lios Tuathail is in The Annals of the Four Masters in 1582.

The name probably comes from a local fort (or lios in gaelic) owned by a local lord named Tuathail. The town itself grew up around Listowel Castle. This 12th century castle located in the Square is now operated by Duchas, The Heritage Service. It was built as a fortress by the Anglo Norma Earls of Kerry although little of Listowel castle remains apart from the Ivy-clad towers and central square. Duchas will soon commence conservation work on the Castle which will make it accessible to the public.

According to tradition, the River Feale gets it's name from a beautiful princess named Fial, who drowned while bathing in the river. The architecture of the town is dominated by two early 19th century Gothic style churches: the catholic St Mary's facing the Protestant St John's.

Built in 1829 by John Sisk of Cork, St. Mary's is centrally situated in the Square. It was renovated and a spire and porch added in 1865. The side aisles were added in 1910. It includes fantastic intricate mosaic work done by Oppenheimer of Manchester.

St John's Gothic Style church, built in 1810, is also a major tourist attraction as it is now the Arts and Heritage Centre of the town. The church which was recently renovated is very much associated with the main Anglo-Irish Families of the district including the Sandes, Hewsons and the Raymonds.

The town was once the terminus of the world's first mono-rail, The Lartigue Railway, devised by a Spanish engineer of that name, which ran between Listowel and Ballybunion from 1888 - 1924. Engines, carriages and wagons were divided into two sections, hanging on either side of the centre rail.

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