Paddy Walsh Pádraig Breathnach

Post Advertiser, August 1986, Vol. 2, No. 5


Many Tipperary people and from further afield are familiar with that ballad about Sean Treacy 'Tipperary Far Away'. Some may be able to sing all its verses but more could without doubt join in the last one; 

His comrades gathered around him

To bid him a last farewell. 

He was as true and as brave a lad

As ever in battle fell. 

They dug a grave and beneath it laid

Sean Treacy so brave and gay, 

Who will never more roam to his own native home

In Tipperary so far away. 

Few, though, would be able to say who wrote it. That man was Paddy Walsh or Padraig Breathnach of Camas, Cashel. Fewer still would be able to relate anything about the man who started life as a civil servant, joined the British army at the outbreak of World War 1, deserted some years later, joined the 1.R.A., took part in the fight for independence, became a great Irish teacher, rejoined the Civil Service and eventually died at the young age of 49 a couple of months before the outbreak of the Second World War. 

Born in Camas

Paddy Walsh was born in Camas on March 5, 1890. His father, John Walsh, came over from Boherlahan to marry Catherine Hayes. There is a song, The Camas Party, in which one of the Hayeses of Camas is celebrated: 

And for the bread and tay, boys, 

'Tis Maggie Hayes that we may thank, 

For she was the dacent girl

And didn't belong to the hungry rank.

There were seven in family, three boys, Paddy, Jim and WillIe and four girls, Mary Nora, Katie and Bridget. Jim emigrated to America, as also did Mary. Willie remained in the home place. Nora married Stephen Ryan, a bootmaker who lived on the Camas Road. Katie married Tom Doherty of Boherclough Street. He was one of the famous Cashel 'tanglers'. Bridget became a nun in the Mercy Convent, Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim and was the last of the family to die. 


Paddy went to school to Mr. Merrick at Ballinahinch. The famous Fr. Matt Ryan was P.P. of Knockavilla at the time and a great supporter of things Irish. There was an assistant to Mr. Merrick who used to give Irish classes for a half-hour after school and it was here that Paddy, who became a fluent speaker and was to change his name to Pádraig Breathnach, learned his first Irish. 

At some stage he changed school to Ardmayle. This change may have been caused by a dislike for Mr. Merrick, who was regarded by some pupils as 'cross'. He was to continue teching at Ballinahinch until about 1920. Jack Breen of Camas recalls clearly, hearing about the Solohead ambush in January at school. 

Paddy Walsh went to Cashel C.RS. after Ardmayle and was good enough at the completion of his studies there to be called to the Civil Service. During this period his knowledge and love of the Irish language increased. Not only did he learn Irish at school but from the men of the Decies, who worked on the building of the railway, Gooldscross to Cashel, which was opened in December 1904. Another influence at this time was Tommy Strappe of Camas, who was a native Irish speaker. About 1910 Paddy was to write down stories in Irish told to him by Tommy Strappe. 

At a later stage in his career Paddy Walsh, writing under the pen name An Fanuidhe Aerach in the 'Nenagh Guardian', had this to say about his love of the Irish langauage: 'For many years I had yearned to spend a quiet holiday among one of the Gaelic-speaking communities of Munster. From earliest boyhood I had conceived an utter dislike for the tongue imposed upon us by the Sassanach and, reared in a district where the olden speech still lingered, I always fondly looked southward o'er the Galtees to where I was told the ancient civilisation still held sway. And so, when the harvest was beginning to assume its golden hue, I sped to the land of my early dreams and whiled away a pleasant month in the beautiful district of Ring where a syllable of the foreign speech never passed my lips.' 

Pierce McCan

Later he discovered that Irish was still the living tongue of middle aged people in the Newcastle area. He visited the place with Pierce McCan in the latter's 'splendid two-seater'. He had this to say later: 'Had McCan lived an Irish college would be in Newcastle now. He spoke of it that day and often afterwards. His energy, his sterling worth as organiser, his influence among the people, high and low, would have ensured the success of the enterprise ... ' 

The English Years 

Having been called to the Civil Service, Paddy Walsh was posted to London in 1906 and was to remain there until 1916. He spent much of his time in Whitehall. He became involved in Irish classes in London and was delighted to give voluntarily his services as an instructor. He was conscripted in 1916 and after training was sent to the Eastern theatre of war. He got malaria and was hospitalised for some time in Malta before being shipped home to England. 

There are two different accounts of what happened after that. One states that while on furlough to Ireland he deserted. The second, by Ernie O'Malley, tells us that Walsh deserted from a garrison in Cahirciveen in 1917 and brought his rifle with him. 

Whatever the version he went on the run and took the name, Paddy Dwyer, by which many people in the Upperchurch-Kilcommon area were to know him. It was in that area around Keeper Hill that Paddy was to find refuge and he was to use his army experience to teach some of the Upperchurch men the use of the rifle. He was to be involved in the movement until the Truce. Just before it he was arrested in the Rossmore area. On the occasion he failed to draw his revolver as it got stuck in the lining of his coat pocket. Paddy was to spend some time in jail as a guest of His Majesty's Government. Ernie O'Nalley recalls him: 'I had spent many an hour with him as he puzzled out the derivations of surrounding placenames, for that was his delight.' 

Paddy's interests went far beyond purely military matters. His interest. in the Irish language preceded him and it was decided to set up an Irish class at Knockfune. Here Breathnach, as Paddy now liked to be called, imparted his knowledge of the Irish language, songs and dances to a willing and appreciative group of students. The few surviving students speak highly of Breathnach's ability as a teacher. Even the most intricate of the Irish dances was mastered and, for some years afterwards, the Cashel set was more popular than the local Ballycommon. Among these who provided music for the dancing were Paddy and Julia Ryan (Lacken), who became very good friends of Pádraig Breathnach. Paddy Ryan had taken Irish lessons as also did Paddy Kinane, who became another good friend. 

Neither did Paddy forget his balladeering ability during those years. The Battle of Reidh recalls the attack on the barracks in Rearcross: 

They gathered from valley and highland, 

From their homes by the rivers and hills, 

To fight for the freedom of Ireland

One night in the heart of the hills. 

For they were the bravest of soldiers, 

No cowards or cravers were they

As they marched with their guns on their shoulders, 

To blow up the barracks of Reidh

'Twas dawn when the barracks were blazing

As the boys from the roofing crept down, 

The sight of the flames was amazing

As they lit up the country all round. 

Bullets were everywhere flying, 

Hand-grenades here and there did explode, 

While the Sasanach folk kept on firing, 

The Gaels did reply and re-Ioad. 

Keep their memory 'green', Men of Erin, 

While Shannon and Suir rivers flow, 

Remember it's courage and daring

That rid our dear land of the foe. 

So, join up the ranks and get ready, 

Prepare for the oncoming fray, 

And drill to keep cool, calm and steady

Like the boys at the Battle of Reidh. 

Another of his compositions was At Solaghead the War Began

He took the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War but not in any active capacity. His unadulterated Republicanism was given expression in a piece he wrote in the Nenagh Guardian in August 1923 in support of Paddy Ryan (Lacken)'s candidature in the General Election: 'The Republican ideal embodies the immortal principle of Irish Independence, that is, that England has no right to dictate to us in any way whatsover. This country is ours from Antrim to Cape Clear and from Dundalk to Achill. What business then has England here? To mix up in her 'Empire of Abomination', as Mitchell calls it, the Irish race shall certainly never do. The pride that was the tradition of the Milesian kings shall live as long as Ireland is Ireland.' 

In another place he wrote: 'To achieve Irish Independence it is the conviction of the writer that we must cut ourselves adrift from English civilisation. We must form our own social system and the language is the fIrst step to that.' 

One of his ballads was entitled 'Lament for Erskine Childers'. The second verse went like this: 

A man of noble mien was he, and as the lion bold, 

Who tried to set our country free and scorned English gold. 

A Nation's pride he died to guard and dear we'll hold his name

Tho' lying in a felon's yard he sleeps in deathless fame

An Fanuidhe Aerach

Naturally he did not endear himself to the Free State Government. He failed to be re-employed in the Civil Service because of his refusal to sign the necessary· declaration of allegiance to the Irish Government. He turned his attention to writing and to teaching Irish. 

From 1923 to 1929 he wrote intermittently in the 'Nenagh Guardian' under the pen-name Fanuidhe Aerach. His themes were mostly Gaelic and republican but he touched on other things as well. On November 10, 1923 he wrote: 'The dearth of good books and clean literature on the whole is truly lamentable in the Ireland of to-day .... ' On January 5, 1924 he turned his attention to the 'Bloodspilling Maudes of Dundrum. 'The Maudes reigned with a strong hand for a long time and were held in hatred by the old stock. A peasant dare not, to use the vulgarism, put his nose over a Dundrum fence. It was an easy matter to get transported then and flogged into the bargain.' On April 24, 1926 he asked: 'Is it a lie that Irish Independence has been achieved.'

He wrote a series on the War of Independence in County Tipperary entitled: 'From Solaghead to Knocklong. ' He was a very good friend of Jerry Ryan, the editor of the 'Nenagh Guardian' and gave expresion to that friendship in an editorial on the untimely death of his friend in November 1928: 'How shall I begin to talk about one of nature's gentlemen, one of an exalted turn of mind, one high of soul and lofty of purpose, one who possessed a sense of charity to all, with ill-feelings to none, industrious, manly and God-fearing.'

Itinerant Teacher

During the twenties Padraig Breathnach was employed as a teacher by the County Council. His brief was to travel around after school hours to the National Schools to give Irish classes. He gave classes in Kilcommon, Rearcross and Glenroe. He spent some of his time in the Cashel area. Frank Egan, who came to Cashel in 1927, remembers him. He recalls Padraig saying to him on one occasion about the nature of the job: 'Ni theasodh capall él' He went to County Wicklow in 1929 and spent two years doing the same there. 

However, before that he had got married and it was only fitting that his wife should be an Upperchurch woman. She was Maggie Purcell and she worked in her parents' bar in the village. For a while they lived in Boherclough Street, Cashel, where Mrs. Phelan lived until recently. They had two children, Cait and Diarmuid, and Maggie was to outlive him by nearly fIfty years, only passing on in August 1985. She was a very devout woman with a great :faith. She had an expression: 'The God you know - stay with him.' She was also a great ceilidhe dancer and loved going to Fleadhanna. She took part in a program on the music and culture of Upperchurch produced by her son for R.T.E. in 1971. 

Civil Servant

Padraig Breathnach was eventually re-established as a civil servant in 1931 and worked in the Department oo Defence until his death in 1939. The family lived in Bray and it was from the Church of the most Holy Redeemer in that town that his remains were removed following his death on June 26, 1939. The motor hearse brought the remains to Boherlahan Church where they were received by Rev. W. O'Dwyer, P.P. assisted by Rev. J. Hayes. On the following day the funeral was to the family burial ground in the cemetery adjoining Ballinahinch Castle, overlooking the river Suir. 

Paddy Walsh was a medium sized man, quiet spoken, almost in a whisper. He was thin and dark and is remembered from the twenties as wearing a cap. He was gentlemanly and popular and, as one acquaintance put it, 'crazy on the Irish'. Matty Cody of Camas still remembers the impression he made at first meeting, It was towards the end of the First World War and Matty was at Camas Cross watching the lads play skittles. Paddy Walsh came down to join them and started speaking Irish: 'He seemed to be very fluent but it was like a foreign language to all of us. We never heard it spoken.'