Kerry Writers

Bryan MacMahon


Bryan MacMahon

Brendan Kennelly




Bryan MacMahon or as he was more affectionately known in Listowel, The Master, as the ‘All-seein’ God’ bestowed a prolific literary talent on 29 September 1909 to the north Kerry town. Bryan attended Listowel Boys’ National School, St. Michael’s College, Listowel, and St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra. In 1936 he married Kitty Ryan, with whom he had five sons. He later became the principal teacher of Scoil Réalta na Maidine, Listowel.

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1949, The Bugle in the Blood

MacMahon was a folklorist, short story writer, poet, playwright and producer of plays, novelist, lecturer and ballad-maker. He also wrote pageants, radio features, and television scripts and plays. His first play The Bugle in the Blood was produced in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in March 1949. The Honey Spike was produced by the Abbey in 1961 and won major national and international awards. Song of the Anvil was again choice of the Abbey Theatre for the International Theatre Festival in 1960, using music composed by Seán Ó Riada.

In 1952 his novel, Children Of The Rainbow, was published in Britain, the United States and Canada. In 1970 he published also in the US a further book for children, Patsy-O and his Wonderful Pets. He also wrote Brendan of Ireland, a book of the life of a child in the Irish countryside. His autobiography, The Master was published in 1992. A novel, Hero Town was posthumously published in 2005.

Local Achievements

Listowel Writers’ Week, 1970

MacMahon was one of the founders of Listowel Drama Group in 1946 and its first producer. The Group won nationwide acclaim, producing some of the dramas written by Bryan himself. One of the founders of Listowel Writers’ Week in 1970, MacMahon was the first to introduce the writers workshop to the Irish literary scene. It is now very widely accepted in Ireland. A life-long collector of native music, he initiated the popular Radio Éireann series, ‘The Balladmaker’s Saturday Night’. The programme helped to prepare the way for the revival of native balladry. MacMahon wrote the ballad, ‘The Town of Listowel’, about the Listowel Racing Festival.

Brendan Kennelly

Irish language

Peig Sayers of the Great Blasket Island, 1974

Bryan MacMahon had a great love of the Irish language, of which he was a fluent speaker. He spent much of his time in the islands and Irish-speaking areas. His translation from Irish of Peig, the autobiography of Peig Sayers of the Great Blasket Island, has gone through several editions. It was serialised by Radio Éireann and attracted a large audience. He was one of the very few outsiders who could speak Shelta, the secret language of the Irish travelling people. His article on the lives of the Irish travellers, appeared in Natural History (New York) in 1971. It was later published in Merian (Germany), attracting world-wide attention from sociologists.


2002 , Listowel Writers’ Week

His accolades include Kerryman of the Year 1987, American Ireland Fund Literary Award recipient 1993 and the award of the degree of LI.D from the National University of Ireland in recognition of his services of Irish literature. Bryan MacMahon died in February 1998.


Discover the stories and immerse yourself in the rich literary history of Kerry and book a tour today.



What people are saying about us
  • Popped in here to escape the rain and get a cup of tea and cake. Very reasonable prices and great service. Then noticed the little hare jumping around on the wall when I used the toilets! Looked very intriguing and prompted us all to buy tickets to the museum. Wow! So worth it as the exhibits and the way it was presented was lovely, really unusual. So informative and so different to other museums. Really good value for money and a real highlight to the town.

    Great Service (Trip Advisor Review)

    – March, 2023

  • Most impressive is how ingrained in both The Creative & local communities The Seanchaí is, from the workshops, coffee mornings & plain old drop ins, To Book launches, poetry recitals, projects & engagements with the local schools. The Seanchaí is a much loved and universally treasured cultural icon. By the inhabitants of Listowel, most of Co. Kerry and West Limerick.

    Mark Ollerhead (Google Review)

    – March, 2023

  • We had requested the 30-minute tour, but happily lingered for an hour longer than we had planned. As we exited, we looked at each other and laughed out loud at our good fortune. We could have so easily missed this experience that left us feeling moved, intrigued and a bit more educated about the Kerry writers. In our delight, we failed to tip our guide but I will be going to your donations page to make a modest pledge in gratitude for our host whose name we did not record to memory.

    Jane Braswell (Google Review)

    – March, 2023

  • Our visit to the Kerry Writers Museum was a very memorable experience from beginning to end. Cara, who was working at the centre that day, was very welcoming and most helpful. The exhibition of the Kerry writers was imaginative and most engaging. The seanchai relating the background stories each writer was magic! A wonderful experience all round.

    Cara (Google Review)

    – May, 2021

  • This museum has been developed with great care and meticulous attention to detail. The audio elements are matched perfectly to the installations which are beautifully presented. The option to activate the audio guides in each room without resorting to the use of handheld devices worked very well. This is a must see/hear for anyone with an interest in Irish writing. There is also a little coffee shop and gifts on sale.

    Beautifully Curated (Trip Advisor Review)

    – July, 2019


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