Tag Archives: Mattie Lennon

MATTIE LENNON Irish poet, author, folklorist and traditional music aficionado

Irish poet, author, folklorist and traditional music aficionado, with a penchant for holding forth at length on the little vignettes and foibles of human nature that many others pass by unnoted, Mattie Lennon welcomes you.

Make yourself at home and sit awhile with him as he introduces you to some of the sights, scenes and sayings that he has come across in his travels from the little village of Kylebeg among the Wicklow Hills to where he lives.

Where that is exactly depends on what you are looking for. His employers i.e. those who pay my wages, expect to find him hard at work. He works as an inspector with Dublin Bus, while his wife expects to find him at home.  He can be found in both locations, at least some of the time.

But he has managed to find some time to engage in general interests further afield. He has put together accounts of experiences in all manners and means of what he has been up to.  Truly, has enjoyed his career, all o fit, to date and can only hope that there will be more of the same in times to come.

It was 1959. The National Council for The Blind of Ireland gave his visually impaired mother a wireless. It was his family’s first radio. At the time his contemporaries were clued in to the highlights of Radio Luxemburg and the Light Programme. But, always one to live in the past, he has a preference for the folk programmes on Radio Eireann.


On Monday, January 10th, 1949, I attained the age of three. I don’t remember it, but I do recall Thursday 13th, it was the Fair-Day in Blessington. When I awoke it was very dark. I made my way into the kitchen, attracted by the yellow glow of lamplight; my feet sensitive to the change of surface as I stepped from the concrete floor of the upper room to the granite paved kitchen. It was not night but morning; a fact proclaimed by my father’s apparel as he sat on a low stool at a military-style bench which on this occasion served as a breakfast table.

The Primary Cert, my first attempt at growing side locks and the feeling that my initial nocturnal adventure into Soho was in some way repugnant to Catechism teaching are all a sort of psychedelic jumble in my brain. Most memories have become blurred on the screen of time, but superimposed there and in no way distorted is my first picture of that big man, with graying hair, eating home-cured rashers from a maidenhair fern plate. The kitchen was devoid of a clock, but he threw the odd glance at the key-winder pocket watch which hung from a bent oval nail on the second shelf of the dresser. (Years later, during one of my unsuccessful attempts at horology I dismantled the faithful chronometer and having reassembled it, had parts left over; Nothing was learned from the operation except that it had been repaired in 1899). When he had mopped up the last drop of grease with a crust of home-made bread, I was to witness a scene that I would see repeated a thousand times. He took each of his boots in turn and placed a couple of small red coals inside each. Then, expertly, he rocked them from heel to toe several times. He replaced the coals in the fire, laced each boot firmly and stamped his feet on the hearth as if to test it.

A full pipe was tamped with his index finger and reddened with a paper spill lit from the glass-bowled oil lamp which stood at his right elbow. My mother often talked of trimming and filling oil-lamps in the house of gentry, yet she hardly ever succeeded in cutting this lamp wick straight across. The result was a diagonal flame.

Then, he took the reins out of the pony’s winkers that hung by the open fire, under the tallague. With the rope he made a head collar, went to the cow house and led out the white head cow. The name was not a misnomer; she was a big red animal, with a white forehead adorned by two sturdy unmatching horns. I was seeing her for the first time; having sprinkled her with Holy Water, from a jam-dish on the windowsill and making the Sign of the Cross on himself, he brought her to the road. The predawn hue was giving way to daylight. It was already bright enough to see the silhouetted paling posts and the stark contour of Black Hill and the stable.

A rat raced across the road. A neighbour cycled past on his way to work. Friendly salutations were exchanged. My mother ushered me back to bed. My first recordable day had begun.

I spent the  first 25 years of my life at home on a small farm. I can identify with Patrick Kavanagh’s “burgled bank of youth” (and I am one of the few of my generation who knows how to make a bush-harrow). As a young fellow whenever I was blamed in the wrong, I would compose a derogatory ballad about my accuser. There weren’t many false accusations so I wasn’t very prolific.

I was nicknamed “the Poet” but  the term wasn’t always complimentary. I agrees that what is said behind one’s back is their standing in the community and my favourite quotation is a comment made about me by a neighbour: “Wouldn’t you think someone would tell him he’s an eejit, when he doesn’t know himself”.

I have  spent most of the last thirty years in Dublin but when asked “Will you ever go back to Kylebeg”? my answer is always Joycean. When James Joyce was asked, in Trieste; “Will you ever return to Dublin?” he said; “I never left”. 

I have written articles (mostly humorous) for The Sunday Independent, The Irish Times, The Irish Post, Ireland’s Own, Ireland’s Eye, Kerry’s Eye, The Wicklow People, The Leinster Leader as well as numerous on-line publications.

I was once told; “You have the perfect face for radio” and I compiled and presented my own programmes in the “Voiceover” series on RTE Radio One. I have  presented ballad programmes on KIC FM, Liffey Sound and Radio Dublin.

I  co-presented a Saint Patrick’s Day Ceol na nGael programme on WFUV 90.7 in the Bronx and I do pre-recorded programmes for other stations. One such programme is “The Story And The Song” in which I play a number of ballads, having first told the story behind each one.

I still write the occasional ballad (not all of them fit for human consumption).

Some of my literary efforts include stories and poems as well as some articles and essays I have penned for a variety of national newspapers and periodicals. Blogs have become Must Haves, a late addition to a virtual roomful of memories.

For some of my essays, short stories, plays, and poems go to my website http://www.mattielennon.com and for more of my work follow me on this website thebrainpanwordpress.me.



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Mattie Lennon Irish Author- JOHN MORIARTY.

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Mattie Lennon Irish Author- AN UNUSUAL MATCH

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Mattie Lennon Irish Author-  SIXTY YEARS OF SIVE


                                                                                By Mattie Lennon.

     “There’s a book in everyone. It’s not always necessary to publish it and if you can’t write it yourself, you should let it be drawn out of you by somebody. Afterwards,  the world will have a fuller understanding of you and many things about you will be explained in a way that is not possible by expiring silently with the whole secret of your life locked up within you and the whole complicated and monumental tale on its way to total decay, for bones don’t speak and the dust is also silent.”  (John B. Keane.)

      One night, sixty years ago, 30 year old John B. Keane went, with his wife Mary, to the Listowel Drama Group’s production of All Souls Night by Joseph Tomelty. On the way home he said to Mary, “I could write as good a play as that.”  On arriving home he reached for his favourite Biro. By 6.30 next mornings, as dawn was breaking over Gurtenard wood, he had completed Scene One of Sive. (The idea for the play came to him some time previously when he had an experience as a haggard old man entered the bar, ordered a drink, and told everybody in earshot that a match had been made for him and that he would be getting married soon.   He asked John B. to accompany him to the jewellers to choose a ring for his new bride.  The ever-obliging young publican, who through no fault of his own was not in possession of all the facts, went with him.  Months later John B. learned that the old man had married a very young girl who had since had a nervous breakdown and was in an institution.  John B’s daughter Joanna says it,” Troubled my father for a long time after.”)

     A fortnight later he had finished the first draft of Sive.  He showed it to a few close friends and, as if with one voice, they told him that it wouldn’t work. He was given different reasons by different people; the names of the characters were ridicules. The theme was outgrown. The language was too flowery.  He re-wrote it and submitted it to the Abbey Theatre.  The script was returned to him without any comment.   It was first staged by the Listowel Drama Group in Walshe’s Ballroom, Listowel on February 02nd 1959.  They later put it on in the Abbey Theatre for one week.  (When the Abbey Company eventually produced the play in 1985 John B. said,” They got the harshness, the bitterness, the poverty of the period . . . At long last a few elderly and semi-elderly playwrights are getting  *Cothrom na Feinne “) 

       There was an Off-Broadway production but John B. was probably more impressed when the Listowel Drama Group won the All Ireland Drama Final in Athlone with it.   When the group was touring north Kerry with the play the playwright was playing Carthalawn, the singing tinker. He gave an unforgettable performance in Ballylongford. One unscripted scene drew mixed reaction from the audience.   As the slender John B. was about to exit at the end of Act two his borrowed trousers, which were several sizes too big for him, headed towards Australia.  Despite frantic, whispered, instructions to “get off ye eejit” he stood his ground and sang an additional verse of the theme-song with his trousers around his ankles.

     In the original script the two tinker characters are a father and son.  In a new Druid production they are a mother and daughter. A couple of reviewers, who can’t ever be pleased with any play, have been critical with this gender change.  But in my humble opinion it certainly doesn’t take from the drama.  John B. once wrote, “Whatever chance a writer has of getting a good review in the London Times or the Herald Tribune he has no chance at all in a provincial paper.”   He was on the ball at the time but the provincial press has for many decades been forced to change its mind.  

   Sive , by Druid Theatre Company, has been playing to packed houses for more than a month  at the Gaiety Theatre.  The current run is due to finish on March 03rd.  Sive tells a story lust, greed conniving and deceit.  John B. always had his finger on the pulse of human nature and used his native Kerry as a blackboard to explain universal emotions and especially the role of women in society.   Every character in Sive is a complex individual who displays all the emotions to which the human race is heir.   It has long won a place in the country’s literary history, cited in The Irish Times’ ‘Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks’ in 2015. The play has stood the test of time over the decades and has remained popular with amateur and professional drama groups and it would be hard to find a parish hall in Ireland where it hasn’t been staged.   The time-proof   dialogue is still relevant after almost sixty years; like when Mike Glavin points out to his mother that it is very difficult to be a good son and a good husband, “under the one roof.”   Everything about this production is first class.  Thanks to the digital revolution in the theatre, which some call “tecnodrama” as a sort of mixed compliment, a computer-generated scene in the final act transports the audience to the bog hole so central to the plot.   

      In 1964 Listowel’s  favourite son wrote,” I am a kind of writer. Nobody knows what kind of writer I am, least of all myself. My ambition is that people will say, ‘He was a kind of writer. He said things a different way from others’ ”.  In the past fifty-four years that modest ambition has been realised many, many, times.

             John B’s son Billy, a literary giant in his own right, who was a nominee for the Kerry Person of the Year 2018, put out a call on RTE radio asking any actress, amateur or professional, who played Sive at any time in the last fifty-nine years to make contact.    This search for Sives resulted in an assembly of 50 “Sives” in the Gaiety Theatre on Sunday 11th February. They ranged in ages from . . . Well! This national gathering of Sives   met each other over a cup of tea in the John B. Bar and had a group photograph taken on the Gaiety stage. The group included Margaret Ward who played Sive in that very first production and Gráinne Good who plays the role in the Druid’s latest production.

Mattie Lennon  mattielennon@gmail.com

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Mattie Lennon Irish Author- THE KERRY BABIES


By Mattie Lennon

“Murder cannot be hid long.” (Shakespeare.)

   Contrary to what the Bard said some murders can be hidden for decades.  A murder investigation has been mounted last month into a killing which took place 34 years ago.

Chief Superintendent Walter O ‘Sullivan says they are investigating the death, “ . . as if it happened today.”

   On Saturday 14th April 1984 a dead baby with 28 stab wounds and a broken neck was found on the beach of White Strand, County Kerry.  A murder hunt got under way led by Superintendent J. P. Sullivan.  On Thursday 26th April Detective Sergeant Gerry O ‘Carroll of the then “Murder Squad” arrived from Dublin.

Almost every female of child-bearing age in the Caherciveen area was treated as a suspect.  Then it was established that Joanne Hayes from Drumcunning Lower, Abbeydorney, almost 40 miles away, had given birth but there was no baby as a result. Detective Superintended John Courtney and Detective P.J. Browne, both from the Murder Squad,  (known as “The Heavy Gang” in Dublin), arrived in Kerry on 29th April.  All three Murder Squad Gardai were Kerrymen. Courtney was from Anascaul, the native place of explorer Tom Crean and O ‘Carroll and Brown were both natives of Listowel; a market town in north Kerry famous for fiction-writers. Joanne Hayes along with three members of her family were taken to Tralee Garda station where Joanne Signed a confession that she had killed the “Cahirciveen baby” and her family signed statements that they had witnessed the killing and driven 40 miles to dispose of the body.  (Journalist Joe Joyce says, “The statements had the kind of flourish well known to those of us familiar at the time with confessions in garda stations . . .”) The Hayes family could not have committed the crimes that they allegedly confessed to.

   Joanne had told the detectives that she did have a baby, that it died at birth and she had buried it on the family farm. She gave an exact location of where she put it. More than once she offered to accompany detectives to the scene. Was her offer(s) accepted? No. The Gardai conducted a half-assed search and, of course, found nothing.   Members of her family located the baby’s body exactly where she had said it was.  Blood tests proved that she was not the mother of the “Caherciveen baby” but the Gardai proceeded to charge her with the murder. (I can’t find any evidence that a file had been sent to the DPP.)  When the case came to court the state announced that it was not proceeding.

   When it was established that Joanne Hayes was telling the truth about the death of her baby and the disposal of its body the Gardaí had to take a different track. They put forward the superfecundation theory whereby Joanne could have had twins be two different fathers.

  A subsequent internal garda enquiry failed and a public tribunal of enquiry, chaired by Mr. Justice Kevin Lynch, started in January 1985.  It lasted 84 days, 109 witnesses were called and 61,000 questions were asked   (One lawyer asked Joanne 2,216 personal questions).  Ostensibly the tribunal was an examination of Garda behaviour during the interrogation of the Hayes family but turned out to be a concerted effort to humiliate, embarrass and devastate Joanne Hayes and her family.  Kerry’s Eye editor Ger Colleran says, “Everyone knew Joanne was innocent but if that was proved then a lot of very powerful and important people would be shown to have misbehaved badly. The system would have been rocked, and careers ruined. So there was only one option – to destroy her.”      When the decent people of north Kerry, and further afield,   decided to stage a peaceful protest Justice Lynch threatened to jail them if they disrupted the tribunal.  The learned Dublin-born judge described them as “raucous, ignorant, urban dwellers” and  Detective P.J. Browne knocked great fun out of describing Abbeydorney as “Babby-dorney.”

   In his report Justice Lynch accused the Hayes family of “barefaced lies and blatant perjury” but the Gardaí only “gilded the lily” and    Detective Superintendent John Courtney simply, “elevated wishful thinking to the status of fact.”   Justice Minister, Michael Noonan agreed with Justice Lynch’s report and likened his powers of deduction to those of Sherlock Holmes. However not all politicians felt that Justice Lynch had anything in common with the sleuth of Baker Street.  Senator Mary Robinson who was to become President Of Ireland and later  United Nations High Commissioner,  asked  how the Hayes family came  to give signed confessions  to the murder of a baby which,  “ . . .for scientific reasons among others, they were not in a position to have carried out or to have any part in.”       The Dáil committee on women’s rights described the questioning of Joanne as “insensitive, harrowing, horrific and shameful”.

  Kevin Lynch worked hard to protect the establishment and he was well rewarded for it. He became a Judge of the Supreme Court in 1996.

  Gerry O ‘Carroll, who was later promoted to Inspector, spent years calling for a DNA test which he claimed would prove  that Joanne Hayes had twins. He knows now. In late 2017 a DNA test proved beyond all doubt that Joanne Hayes was not the mother of the “Caherciveen baby.”  And there is no match between the baby and anyone Whose DNA is held on the State’s DNA database.

     On January 16th Superintendent Flor Murphy offered a public apology on behalf of the Garda Siochana, to Joanne Hayes for the “stress and pain” she suffered as a result of being wrongly accused of killing the “Caversiveen baby.”  He said, “I believed it was important to exonerate Joanne Hayes once and for all. A wrong had been visited on her and saying sorry was the right thing to do.” And Acting Garda Commissioner Donal O Cualain sent a letter of apology followed by a phone call to Joanne Hayes.

 On the same day Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he wanted to, “. . . reiterate the apology the Gardaí made to Joanne Hayes and also to make that apology on behalf of the State as well”. He went on to say that Ms Hayes was,” Very badly treated by our State and by our society.” Mr Varadkar said: “I can’t offer compensation here now but it’s something that I think we can discuss with her representatives in the period ahead.”

   The Garda’s serious crime review team (SCRT) have now launched a murder inquiry into the “Caherciveen baby’s” death and Superintendent Murphy has asked for the public’s help.


   When I was writing the above a paragraph in Ireland’s Own jumped out at me. I don’t think the author was thinking of the Kerry Babies when he wrote it but I believe it’s worth including, “A time comes when the damage done to us has to be acknowledged and realised. Who knows what surprises may come our way when we clear out the space for them. The arrival of February is an especially apt time to take stock in this way, the best kind of spring cleaning.”

Mattie Lennon  mattielennon@gmail.com

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Mattie Lennon Irish Author- 14 tracks, of Seanachai stories (some of them true!) With titles like, “Balfe the Robber” and “ Nostradamus and Me.

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