17 January 2018

The Hares of Listowel:
a family that witnessed
major political changes

The arms of the Earls of Listowel … not to be seen at the Listowel Arms Hotel

Patrick Comerford

I was discussing the Listowel Arms Hotel earlier today, and the place of this boutique style hotel in the social and political history of Listowel. The hotel, which I visited earlier this week, has played host to literary figures such as the Victorian writer William Makepeace Thackeray, who recommended the hotel in 1843 in his Irish Sketchbook, and political guests in the 19th century included Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell, who spoke from first floor windows to large crowds gathered below in the Square.

The name of the hotel recalls the Hare family, who have held the title of Earl of Listowel for almost 200 years since 1822, and who were the proprietors of Listowel Castle after they bought the Listowel Estate from the FitzMaurices of Kerry at the end of the 18th century.

Although the actual coat-of-arms of the Earls of Listowel is not displayed at the Listowel Arms Hotel, the story of this family is an interesting one, that moves from opportunism at passage of the Act of Union to socialism and the end of colonialism in the 20th century.

The title of Earl of Listowel in the Irish peerage was given in 1822 to William Hare (1751-1837), 1st Viscount Ennismore and Listowel, who had been an MP in the Irish House of Commons for Cork City and Athy before the Act of Union.

He had already obtained for himself the hereditary titles of Baron Ennismore, of Ennismore in Co Kerry in 1800, and Viscount Ennismore and Listowel, in 1816, also in the Peerage of Ireland.

In 1825, the Limerick-based architect James Pain and his brother, George Richard Pain, designed Convamore Castle for Lord Listowel. The house was one of the first in Ireland to boast large plate glass windows. When Listowel died in 1837, he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

His eldest son and heir, Richard Lysaght Hare (1773-1827), known by the courtesy title of Lord Ennismore, had died in 1827. So, when the first earl died, he was succeeded by his grandson, William Hare (1801-1856), as the second earl. His Irish titles did not give him a seat in the House of Lords, and he sat in the Commons as MP for Kerry (1826-1830) and later for St Albans (1841-1846). He was outspoken in advocating Catholic Emancipation, and Queen Victoria was the godmother of his daughter, Lady Victoria Hare.

William Hare (1833-1924), 3rd Earl of Listowel … a Crimean veteran and Liberal politician

The Irish peerage titles passed to his eldest son, William Hare (1833-1924), as 3rd Earl of Listowel. He was an officer with the Scots Fusiliers Guards in the Crimean War (1854-1856). He was wounded at the Battle of Alma on 30 September 1854, and was invalided back to England by ship. In the 1855 general election, he stood for the Liberal party in Co Cork. He succeeded his father as 3rd Earl of Listowel a year later, but his Irish peerage still did not give him a seat in the House of Lords.

Although the family owned over 20,000 acres in the Listowel area, the Hares never lived at Listowel Castle, close to the Listowel Arms Hotel. The castle had fallen into ruins at the end of the 17th century, and instead the family lived at Convamore Castle, near Ballyhooly, Co Cork.

When it came to giving Lord Listowel a British peerage that gave him a seat in the House of Lords in 1869, he chose the title of Baron Hare of Convamore, Co Cork. He commissioned the new Church of Ireland parish church in Ballyhooly, designed by George Coppinger Ashlin, a pupil of Pugin, and opened in 1870. He was briefly a government whip in the House of Lords (Lord-in-Waiting) in 1880 at the beginning of Gladstone’s second Liberal administration, and also held the largely ceremonial post of Vice-Admiral of Munster.

The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, visited Convamore in 1885 as a guest of the family, and planted a magnificent blue cedar that still stands at Convamore.

During the Irish War of Independence, the IRA burned down Convamore in March 1921, claiming Lord Listowel was ‘an aggressively anti-Irish person,’ despite his lifelong Liberal politics and his popularity in Ballyhooly, where he had lived for 60 years. In retaliation, soldiers blew up the Castle Tavern at the crossroads. Convamore was never rebuilt, and its ruins are derelict and abandoned.

When the third earl died in 1924 at the age of 91, he was the second oldest member of the House of Lords at the time. He was succeeded by his son Richard Hare (1866-1931), as 4th Earl of Listowel.

William Francis Hare (1906-1997), 5th Earl of Listowel, better known as Billy Listowel, was a Labour politician who played a key role in Indian and Burmese independence

Perhaps the most colourful Earl of Listowel was his son, William Francis Hare (1906-1997), 5th Earl of Listowel, better known as Billy Listowel. This colourful peer became a socialist when he experienced profound shock on discovering how poor children lived in a slum near his parents’ home in London. He was the last British Secretary of State for India and Burma, and the last Governor-General of Ghana, the last surviving Labour member of Churchill’s war-time coalition government, and the longest-serving member of the House of Lords. He was also the first and only Labour peer to have been the Lord Chairman of Committees.

William Francis Hare born on 28 September 1906, and after his father succeeded as the 4th Earl of Listowel in 1924, he held the courtesy title of Viscount Ennismore.

At Eton, where he was the only known socialist – apart from Hester Alington, wife of the headmaster, the Revd Cyril Alington. He debated with Quintin Hogg, later Lord Hailsham, opposing both the House of Lords and the hereditary principle. Although he held the courtesy title of Viscount Ennismore at the time, he preferred to be known at school as Mr Hare.

From Eton he went up to Balliol College, Oxford, to read Modern Greats. He found a platform at the Oxford Union to express of his political views, and as the socialist heir to an earl he quickly attracted press attention. His father removed him after only a year and asked the Marquess of Willingdon, then Governor-General of Canada, to accept his son as an aide-de-camp.

Eventually, he continued his university education at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he read English. He went to study at the Sorbonne, and at London University he wrote a doctoral thesis later published as A Critical History of Modern Aesthetics (1933).

Meanwhile, shortly after his father’s death in 1932, Listowel took his seat in the House of Lords, not as Earl of Listowel, which remained an Irish peerage, but as Lord Hare of Convamore. At the time, the small number of Labour peers, led by Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, could be accommodated comfortably on two benches. He was also a Labour member of London County Council for East Lewisham from 1937 to 1946.

When World War II broke out in 1939, Billy Listowel volunteered to join the ranks. Because of his poor eyesight, he joined the RAMC, but was selected for Intelligence Corps training. One of his fellow second lieutenants was the philosopher AJ Ayer.

When he was appointed Opposition Chief Whip in 1941, he was released from the forces. Three years later, he became Deputy Leader in the Lords, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the India Office.

When Labour came to office in 1945 with Clement Attlee’s post-war election victory, Listowel was appointed Postmaster-General, a post he held until April 1947, and was briefly Minister of Information from February to March 1946, when the office was abolished.

Lord Mountbatten was appointed Viceroy of India in 1947, and at his request Listowel became Secretary of State for India. When the India Independence Bill was introduced, Listowel steered it through the House of Lords without amendment. Although he was invited to Balmoral to receive King George VI’s personal thanks for presiding over India’s transition to independence, he received no other honour.

As Secretary of State for India, his duties extended to Burma, and he remained Secretary of State for Burma until independence in 1948. Despite the assassination of Aung San and most of his ministers, the transition to independence moved forward in Burma, with Listowel steering the legislation through the Lords.

His next appointment was as Minister of State for the Colonies, visiting Malaya, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, British Guiana, British Honduras, and the Windward and Leeward Islands.

He returned to London County Council as a Labour member for Battersea North from 1952 until 1957, when he was invited by Kwame Nkrumah, the socialist Prime Minister of Ghana, to become Ghana’s Governor-General.

His three years in Ghana were especially happy, and Ghana became an independent republic in the Commonwealth in 1960. Because of a mechanical fault, Listowel’s plane, which was scheduled to leave Ghana two hours before the country became a republic, took off only minutes before the deadline expired, narrowly avoiding a constitutional crisis.

He was Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords from 1965 to 1976, and for many years after he continued to sit on the Woolsack as one of the Lord Chancellor’s Deputy Speakers. He maintained a keen interest in foreign and Commonwealth affairs, human rights and Third World aid. He died in London on 12 March 1997.

The titles are held by his eldest son, the sixth Earl. Lord Listowel is one of the 90 elected hereditary peers who remain in the House of Lords since the House of Lords Act 1999 was passed. He sits as a cross-bencher and is known as an advocate of children’s rights.

Inside the Listowel Arms Hotel … a reminder of an interesting political family

Listowel Arms Hotel is a part of the
town’s architectural and social history

The Listowel Arms Hotel is part of the architectural and social history of Listowel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

The main archaeological interest in Listowel is provided by the ruins of Listowel Castle while the main architectural interests are provided by the work of the local plasterer and builder Pat McAuliffe (1846-1921), whose stucco artwork decorates many of the façades of the townhouses and shops in the town.

McAuliffe’s best-known work in Listowel is, perhaps, ‘The Maid of Erin,’ depicting a romantic image of Mother Ireland surrounded by a harp, a wolfhound and other symbols of Ireland.

But just a few steps away, on this side of The Square, the Listowel Arms Hotel is an interesting former coaching house that is part of the architectural and social history of Listowel.

This is a terraced, five-bay three-storey hotel, built mainly around 1820, with a round-headed door opening to centre. It was extended to the south-west around 1910, with a single-bay two-storey wing at right angles and with a square-headed integral carriage arch at the ground floor.

The carriage arch facing a corner of the Square in Listowel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The hotel was renovated around 1920, with render façade enrichments. It was extended to the rear around 1975, with a four-bay three-storey flat-roofed return, and it was extended again in 1998, with the addition of a 19-bay two-storey and three-storey wing over a raised basement wing. A section of the cast-iron railings date from around 1820.

The Listowel Arms is one of the best-known hotels in north Kerry and despite its Georgian appearance this landmark hotel has a story in inn-keeping that dates back to the late 17th century.

By the early 19th century, the Listowel Arms was owned and operated as an inn by John Leonard until 1824, when he leased it to a man named Adams. Daniel O’Connell was a regular guest refers to it in his writings in the 1820s. He gave one of his rousing speeches from a first-floor window overlooking the Square.

The Victorian writer William Makepeace Thackeray visited Listowel in the 1840s, and recommended the hotel in 1843 in his Irish Sketchbook.

The Listowel Arms Hotel was recommend by Thackeray in 1843 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Meanwhile, Adams had an only a daughter who took over running the inn in the 1850s with her husband, McElligott.

McElligott rebuilt the premises, and added to parts of the building, and the McElligott family ran the inn for most of the rest of the 19th century.

Local lore says that in 1865, Richard Colt-Hoare described the Listowel Arms as ‘one of the best in Ireland.’

However, the travel writer and antiquarian Sir Richard Colt-Hoare (1758-1838) toured Ireland in 1806 and his reference to Listowel is very brief, without reference to any hotel:

The road continued dull and uninteresting, or at least the heavy rain made it appear so. Listowel is the first stage, a town on the Feal [sic], having a handsome bridge over that river. It is rather remarkably situated upon a steep eminence, rising on a sudden from a wide-extended flat; and the remains of an old castle frowning over the brow of the height give it a striking appearance in approaching it. This castle once extended a considerable way; the principal part that remains is a gateway, a lofty circular arch, between two lofty round-towers. From hence we proceeded to Glynn on the Shannon, where were to be our night quarters. For a long way beyond Listowel there is a dismal dreary bog without an object of any kind to excite interest.

Charles Stewart Parnell made a famous speech while he was staying at the Listowel Arms Hotel in 1891 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

We are sure, however, that shortly before his death Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891) stayed in the Listowel Arms on 13 September 1891, and made one of his last speeches from the same hotel window Daniel O’Connell had spoken from. It was here that Parnell repeated his famous words that ‘no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation.’

He proclaimed: ‘We assert today in this town of Listowel what we asserted in 1885 and the years before it, that no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation – that no man has the right to limit the aspirations of our people.’

Parnell died within a month in Hove on 6 October 1891.

The Listowel Arms was restored and renovated by the O’Callaghan family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Listowel Arms had many owners in the 20th century, including the singer Joseph Locke, who was here for three or four years in the 1960s and changed the name of the hotel to the White Horse.

Later, the hotel was owned for a while by three Listowel businessmen. It was then bought by the Ryan family, hoteliers from Limerick. They owned the hotel for about three years. In 1995, it was bought by the Bernard and Josephine O’Callaghan family.

Earlier, Bernard O’Callaghan had built and developed the Cliff Hotel and restaurant in Ballybunion in 1960. A one-time Kerry footballer, he grew up in Moyvane, five miles outside Listowel, and married Josephine Ahern from Ballylongford in north Kerry. He had an affection and enthusiasm for the Listowel Arms and, managed to buy it on his second attempt to buy it from the Ryan family in 1995.

The Listowel Arms Hotel has been brought back to its original style (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Bernard O’Callaghan died in 1998, but had passed on his enthusiasm to his family. The Listowel Arms was then run by his daughter Patrice, and her husband Graham Gleasure. Her brothers Kevin, Colm and Brian O’Callaghan are also involved in the business. Their work since 1995 has rectified the 1970s decor, unearthed original features and brought the building back to its old, original style.

They have reinstated for timber floors, added 12 bedrooms and added the restaurant, function rooms and conservatory overlooking the River Feale Room and designed a new reception area.

A plaque on the wall is a reminder of the eventful history of the Listowel Arms and the place of this hotel in the heritage of Listowel.

The Listowel Arms Hotel has a place in the heritage of Listowel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)