John B Keane: Have no beef with the publican, he was only eating unclaimed meat

The free beef has landed me in hot water and really started a controversy.

The free beef has landed me in hot water and really started a controversy.

A fortnight ago it was that I first quoted from a letter written by a retired schoolmaster in which he claimed that the publicans of Listowel and Abbeyfeale were never short of free beef as a result of its being left behind on pub counters on fair and market days.

He claimed that these publicans were availing of enormous parcels of free beef long before the Government introduced it in the hungry Thirties. The victims were the farmers of West Limerick and North Kerry.

According to the correspondent, when the farmers returned to the pubs looking for the lost parcels they were told that they weren’t there, that they were taken by other customers.

The correspondent does not believe this. He insists that the publicans kept the meat for themselves.

Another excuse put forward by the publicans was that unscrupulous country people would do the rounds of the pubs in the evening of a fair day asking if any meat were left behind.

Many of these were known to have never to bought meat in their entire lives, so that even if there was meat, the publican was quite justified in saying otherwise.

I am sure that no publican deliberately kept these parcels of meat for his own use. If a parcel of meat was left behind and nobody called for it, would the publican not be entitled to it?

Speaking as a publican, I have lost count of the times that parcels of meat were left behind on my counter.Nearly always the rightful owner would call and claim his property, but there were many times when he would not. Rarely was the quality of the meat first class.

The farmers of those days, big and small, bought in bulk and to many there were only two kinds of meat. They were called tough and brittle.

To tell the truth, there was often a parcel of good quality meat left behind on my counter and no one came to collect it. I always devoured it myself, aided and abetted by the missus and whatever staff I would have at the time. I always enjoyed this kind of meat.

It came at a time when money was scarce and there was none of plenty that you have these days. I doubly enjoyed it for the good reason that I was often taken down for the price of drink when there would be a crown on the premises.

If you like, it was no more than the payment of a bad debt.

Should there be a small or big farmer reading this who recalls having mislaid several pounds of good quality boiling beef of a fair evening in Listowel about 15 years ago, let me assure him that the meat was as much appreciated as if he had eaten it himself.

If there are others who recall the loss of rack chops or necks of mutton let them not mourn for they can be assured that the meat was given a good home.

Therefore, there is a grain of truth in the letter of our friend the schoolmaster although he maligns all publicans when he maintains that they deliberately kept the lost parcels. All they did was to eat the contents of unclaimed parcels.

Who could blame them for this? Should they have thrown the meat out or left it there to rot? Should they have advertised on the papers? This latter would have been foolish since there were no fridges in those days and the meat would surely be rotten by the time it was called for.

I do not deny that there may have been an odd publican who deliberately kept a parcel of meat. It takes all kinds to make a world. What I am trying to convey is that a publican is the exception who proves the rule that all publicans are honest.

Rarely would you find a parcel of bacon on a pub counter. In those days every farmer killed his own pig so that shop bacon was a rarity and bought only by townspeople who would tell you that home-cured bacon was too salty or too yellow.

I hope I have cleared up any misunderstanding which may have arisen from the schoolmaster’s allegations, that there will be no ill-will and that this will be the end of the matter.


And now an interesting letter from an ex-RIC member. Readers may remember that some months ago I wrote at length about the famous Listowel Mutiny when 14 members of the RIC resigned their positions at Listowel Barracks.

The time was June of 1920 and the men resigned after a dreadful speech inciting murder of the common people by Colonel Smyth, a divisional commissioner of police for the Munster area. Anyway, allow me to quote from the letter.

“Dear Mr Keane, In your reference to the Listowel Mutiny in the Limerick Leader you state that all the members in Listowel Barracks resigned as a result of a speech made by Colonel Smyth. This is not so as only the unmarried members numbering 14 resigned.”

So much for that. My informant is, of course quite correct. All of the 14 members were unmarried but this does not detract in any way from the shining example of courage that was the Listowel Mutiny.

In the following July, Colonel Smyth was shot dead by the IRA while relaxing in the Country Club in Cork.

Sweet Murroe

And now a letter from William Baggott of 302 Devons Rd. Bow, London E3. He is very anxious to have a copy of the late Kathy O’Donovan’s poem, Sweet Murroe, as all his mother’s people come from the parishes of Boher and Murroe and many of her family are buried in Abington.

I am sure that some Murroe person reading this will oblige William with a copy of Sweet Murroe.William concludes:

“I have a deep veneration for this parish of Murroe and for the Benedictine monks in the Glenstal priory. It would give me great pleasure therefore to have the full words of this poem, a tribute to Murroe and to Kathy O’Donovan, may she rest in peace.”

I had a copy of Sweet Murroe but I gave it away on loan and it has not been since returned to me.


William Baggott was at the open-air Mass in Ballyline near Old Mill near Newcastle West in June, 1963. And it inspired him to write a poem. It’s a great pity that I haven’t room to include all of it here. Still here is the final verse:

Then Father O’Connor a sermon he did preach,

And as he spoke his words deep into the heart everyone did reach;

He told of tyranny and persecution in the days of long ago

By those who fought to quench the faith but are now a weary foe.

He appealed to our emigrants when on holiday to visit this sacred shrine

And in a foreign land be proud to stand

For Faith and Fatherland

And the Mass Rock of Ballyline.