Con Houlihan Monument Plinth in Need of Attention

How many people could say that their funeral cortège passed by their monument. This is Con Houlihan’s heading down towards the Latin Quarter. ©Photograph: John Reidy 7-9-2012

It has come to my attention several times lately and it was brought to my attention more recently that Castleisland’s Main Street monument to Con Houlihan could do with a little tender loving care.

The stone plinth, on which the bronze image of the Reineen born genius stands, looks like it’s well overdue a cleaning down. A re-highlighting of the text thereon would, naturally, need to follow.

18 Years Old

I mean it will be there 18 years on the coming January 16th and that’s a long time without an overhaul. Cleaning and re-coating bronze is a specialist operation and, in this case, the bronze is fine but the plinth is calling out for a cleaning. 

Con would be aghast at the recent assault, accidental or otherwise, on the fountain under his gaze there and even more so if there is any great delay in getting it back in working order.

Dignity and Honour

The good news on that front is that suitable, cast iron replacement furniture is being actively sought in order to restore its dignity and to honour its place in the history of the town.

I got a call from a man a couple of weeks ago who had a ‘handy bet’ with a friend over the name of the film made in the Castleisland area and scripted by Con Houlihan which was first screened in November 1974.

“Don’t let me down now,” he said as he tried to shove his recollection of the film title down my throat.

Wrong Side of the Argument

Let him down I had to as he was on the wrong side of the argument and I had to break it to him that he would be losing his handy wager.

The film was The Wheels of the World and, wonderful and all as it was – and is – it’s pushed all the way for evocation, class and style by the written account of the making and first showing of the film by Con himself.

Con describes how he and the film’s production assistant went for a drive in the surrounding countryside during a bit of down time on the first day. He tells of her surprise and delight in discovering that Knocknagoshel was a real place and of the people they met in Eddie Walsh’s and Nelius O’Connor’s pubs that day.

The following is Con’s account of the first day the crew arrived in Castleisland and of the evening the film got its first screening on RTÉ all those years ago.

The Year Captain Christy Won The Gold Cup

By Con Houlihan

The date is forgotten: it was a long time ago, all the world was young.

It was the year Captain Christy won The Gold Cup. A little expedition was down in Kerry attempting to concoct a film: it wasn’t a story movie or a documentary – you could call it an evocation.

We were hoping to capture some aspects of the county, especially the northern part. Pat O’Connor was the leader of the expedition, at least he thought he was. The Deasy Brothers, Seamus and Brendan, were recording sight and sound. Paddy Gallagher came along as a kind of unofficial adviser. Joyce Nealon was the production assistant.

Knocknagoshel Three Miles

There was no filming done on the first day. The three lads were surveying their ground: Joyce decided that we would go for a drive. We headed for the hill country north of Castle Island. We came to a junction where a sign said Knocknagoshel three miles. Joyce brought the sweet chariot to a halt and gave a small gasp of surprise and delight. Until then she had thought that Knocknagoshel existed only in fiction, like Ballyscunnion in Dublin Opinion and Ballymagash in Hall’s Pictorial Weekly. And so we took the hint from the signpost and turned left up the hill and crossed The Tooreenard River and soon came to the village that is very real indeed.


It is probably unique in that it has four names. Knocknagoshel is the official version; some people still call it Mountcashel. Some people call it The Mall. And I have heard people – not all veterans – call it simply Mall. Therein lies a tale.

It involves a man who was working with pony and trap and bucket and brush for a candidate in a Westminster election. He came back to Castle Island one evening and said to his boss: “I posted bills in four villages today – Mall, Mountcashel, Knocknagoshel and The Mall.”

On that day long ago when Joyce Nealon saw myth become reality, we called, of course, to my favourite pubs, Eddie Walsh’s and Neilus O’Connor’s. Both bars were fairly busy, mainly with men coming home from the creamery. It was a cold, wet morning. It wasn’t a day for the land. All the men made a great fuss of Joyce: they vied with one another in singing her praises. She was delighted to find the natives so friendly, even if they all didn’t speak the language. Neilus O’Connor, alas, is no more: his lease hath all too short a date. He was a brilliant musician, a clever angler on The Abha Bheag, a great publican, and one of nature’s gentlemen. His departure from this world left a huge void.

Eddie Walsh, legendary footballer, is gone away too. He was about 90 when one night after he had gone to bed, he asked for a glass of whiskey – and he passed away like a leaf falling from a tree. Eddie’s greatest rival on the football field was another special person, Roscommon folk hero Frank Kinloch.

They marked each other in two All- Ireland Finals. One of Frank’s daughters, Frances, travelled down from Dublin for the funeral – and told me all about it.

Eddie was a travelling foreman with Kerry County Council; Frank was an inspector in The Land Reclamation Scheme – and out of this comes a little story. They were regular callers to our house for the tea and apple cake that was part of local cuisine – but they managed never to meet. Someone said that their bikes recognised each other. An article about all this that appeared in a sports magazine was read out in full at Eddie’s funeral Mass by his son Eamonn – and evoked mighty applause.


There was another Eddie Walsh in the parish – he was known as Eddie Joe. He was famous as the local correspondent for The Kerryman. When Neilus O’Connor’s sisters went to England, he recorded their going. “Eileen and Mary O’Connor, daughters of publican Dan C D O’Connor, emigrated to Leeds on Monday. The village will never be the same again.”

Knocknagoshel is known far and wide for its connection with Charles Stewart Parnell. The story goes back to the 80s and what was known as The Split. The country was bitterly divided over Parnell’s affair with Kitty O’Shea. The people of Knocknagoshel were staunchly behind Parnell – a time came when they found themselves in a dilemma. Their hero was to address a meeting in Newcastle West. The menfolk of Knocknagoshel decided to go there on foot. They had to go through Abbeyfeale where the Parish Priest, Father Casey, was fiercely opposed to Parnell.

They took their courage in their hands and marched behind a banner that proclaimed ARISE KNOCKNAGOSHEL AND TAKE YOUR PLACE AMONG THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH.

If Luke Keane had been born about 1860, he would have been at the head of that march. Luke is celebrated as a farmer and a singer and a historian. A few years ago he decided that Parnell should have a memorial in the village.

With a few like-minded friends he got a fine bust erected. It’s a long way from Avondale but it couldn’t be more appropriate.

Gaelic Football was the only game played in Knocknagoshel until about 40 years ago – the televising of The World Cup in 1966 brought changes. Gaelic Football is of course still very strong there – but this little story goes back a generation or more. One evening a man from the heart of the mountain joined a practice game in the local field. Though he was wearing his working boots, he gave a good account of himself. The Parish Priest, who managed the local club, was pleased with this new star for his squad. He posted him a pair of Cotton Oxfords, the most fashionable boots of the day. He never saw the man from the mountain in the football field again. The boots were kept for the bog and the meadow and the garden.

Wheels Of The World

Our film was called The Wheels Of The World. We hadn’t television in our house. My father watched it in his favourite pub on his way home from work. A loud cheer went up when he appeared on the screen as he planted potatoes. He was late home that night and in great form. My mother said: “That’s the last time you’ll appear in a film.”

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