Tom the Traveller: A fleeting trip to Listowel

It’s the home town of playwright and writer John B. Keane. but apart from driving through Listowel many years ago without stopping I have rarely been up that direction. Until yesterday.

A neighbour’s mother died and we decided to pay our respects at the removal. A two-hour car journey didn’t seem too bad, taking in Killarney and Tralee, so off we set on a fairly nice afternoon. Our first surprise was entering Macroom. The main road at that end of town is pockmarked with gaping holes, some ok, others rather large as we discovered on the way back. Somebody fix those fast or a few axels will go. And yes, I know the weather has been awful, but this was the worst area we saw in the whole journey and it’s a really busy road.

Crossing the Kerry border brought an unwelcome visitor – rain. A big shower that pounded the windscreen and had my wipers going furiously into overdrive. Mercifully it eased off in a while and we were on our way again. Killarney? We bypassed it. Tralee? We bypassed that too which came as a bit of a surprise as I hadn’t realised you could skip by. Nice roads around there too even if there are a few too many roundabouts – the scourge of Irish motorists.

And there we were, just landing in Listowel with enough time for a meal. John B Keane’s son Conor, a former colleague of mine in the Irish Examiner, had advised me to dine in the Listowel Arms hotel, which we did. You can’t miss it as the road guides you towards it.

So imagine our surprise as we parked close to the hotel to see a commotion going on across the road. Three men seemed to be engaged in a scuffle and while we looked on but kept our distance I could make out one was sitting on top of another. After a short time, all three shuffled off leaving us none the wiser about what had transpired.

Inside we passed a fairly typical Sunday scene as families of all shapes and sizes enjoyed the laziest day of the week. We found a table in the corner and waited for a menu. The table was quietly cleared (a teapot, cup and glass) then we got the menu. I looked around taking in the surroundings. Lots of nice framed drawings of famous locals like John B, Brian McMahon, etc., lined the walls but the place had a 70s feel about it, although it was clean and tidy. A family were next to our table waiting for a meal, and a mother and daughter were nearest to us. Over the way was an American lady, and as she talked to her companion a few decibels higher than the rest of us – let’s face it, Americans and don’t know how to whisper – it was like being back in time. And that was reinforced when we realised the waitress seemed to have forgotten us. When she did appear again she handed us the specials list and departed before we could shout our order.

The mother and daughter, also clearly starving like ourselves, made a joke about the whimsical service, although at that stage they had at least got their order in – and had been advised that a burger takes at least 20 to 25 minutes. Eventually we did catch the waitress’s eye (by the way, there were at least four moving around, sometimes at the other end of the bar/dining area).

And then we waited, and waited. The mother and daughter were finally fed and I settled in for another 15 minute wait, but lo and behold but our meals arrived about two minutes later. And the food was lovely, very tasty indeed.

With meal eaten, and little time to explore Listowel, we then set about driving down the Tarbert road to find the funeral home. And we did, having stopped at a garage to be told it was 2.5 miles up the road. Which it was. Having paid our respects we headed back to Listowel, intent on locating John B Keane’s bar for a farewell drink, but it was dark, and we were a long way from home. Best to be on our way.

From what we saw Listowel looked a fine little town. Roll on those long summer evenings and we’ll be back again to Listowel Arms for grub and John B’s for a scoop. I might see you there.

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