My Tipperary Life

The Nationalist and The Tipperary Star, October 31, 2019

What’s your idea of a perfect weekend in Tipperary?

It has to include a visit to Brosnan’s Pub for a few pints and to catch up with the local news. Reading the weekend papers is a vital part of my existence. The highlight has to be a hurling match in Thurles, preferably against Cork, and a chat with a few Cork supporters before or after the game over a few pints of Guinness. If there isn’t a game to go to, Sunday lunch at home with my wife’s cooking and a good bottle of wine.

Who has made the greatest contribution to Tipperary in your lifetime – and why?

A very difficult question but the two Tipperary people who have made a great contribution to Tipperary in my estimation are General M. J. Costello and T. J. Maher. Both these men were major figures in the county, and beyond, during their lifetimes and they contributed significantly to improving the lot of people in the county.

After a distinguished army career, in which M. J. Costello reached the rank of Lieutenant-General, and was ever after referred to as General Costello, he took over the Sugar Company, which was in a weak state after the Emergency. He set about improving soil fertility and established soil testing stations, limestone quarries and fertiliser compounding. He waged a ceaseless war against the various beet diseases and against the pests of the crop. His work into beet seed research won recognition across the beet-growing world, including a prestigious decoration from King Baudouin of the Belgians in 1973. His vision was to make the smallest farm viable. His vegetable project was aimed to accommodate the small family holding as much as the big farm. His efforts lifted the depressed Ireland of the fifties and, as the celebrant of his funeral Mass on October 22, 1986, expressed it, his life was ‘dedicated to protecting, uplifting, to guiding, to counselling the ordinary people of this island – the people of no wealth, the people of no property, the people of uncertain future, the people of no influence.’

T. J. Maher’s achievements in the later decades of the century were also impressive. Beginning his life on the family farm in Boherlahan, he joined the newly formed National Farmers Association soon after its foundation and rapidly made his way up the ranks and was one of the ten members, who sat out at the Department of Agriculture for nineteen days. He succeeded Rickard Deasy as President of the N.F.A. in 1967, a meteoric rise in the organisation in about ten years. He helped to unite the various farming organisation under a new title, the Irish Farmers Association in 1976 and, as a committed European led the vote for entry to the E.E.C. He later became president of the co-operative movement. His next move was in 1979 when he was elected MEP with a massive 86,000 votes, a tribute to his leadership qualities and his success in giving Irish farmers a powerful voice. When he retired after three terms in the European Parliament, he spent his time furthering the activities of Bothar, the organisation he co-founded in 1991 to give people in the developing world an opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty through this self-help scheme. T. J. Maher’s contribution to the lives of the Irish farming community was truly immense.

What’s your first Tipperary memory?

It must have been about 1946 or 1947. I was coming home from Redwood bog sitting on top of a creel of turf and passing Tom Lambe’s house, he came out and handed me up a new hurl: ‘Take that’, he said, ‘’you’ll find good use for it.’ It was my first proper hurl. Before that I used a crookey stick. Tom Lambe was my hero at the time and played on the Lorrha senior team.

What’s your favourite part of the county – and why:

Even though I come from the north of the county I am more attracted to some of the landscape of South Tipperary. The area that impresses me most is the Vee and the area that stretches down to Lismore. I think it’s the wilderness effect that attracts me, which contrasts with the rich farming terrain in the rest of the county. The story of Petticoat Luce fascinates me. Pettycoat Luce was supposed to be a bad living woman. She killed her father and her mother and an unbaptised child. The Parish Priest of Clogheen gave her a penance to drain Bay Lough with a thimble. Some people from Clogheen went up to Bay Lough to make an outlet to let the water run out. When they were there they saw that Clogheen was on fire They ran down to save it. When they got down it was not on fire at all. And there’s more stories about her but not enough to reveal what kind of person she was..

What do you think gives Tipperary its unique identity?

I suppose the Tipperary accent has to be part of its uniqueness and the inability of many people to pronounce their ths. Tipperary people are proud and pride themselves in the designation, Premier County. Most people attribute this title to the fact that we won many competitions in the G.A.A., when they were first played, such as the first All-Ireland, the first under-21 All-Ireland, etc. It might come as a shock to some that the attribute, Premier County, is supposed to have originated in praise of the county as one of the foremost in providing soldiers to the British Army! That theory is backed up by the number of Victoria Crosses won by Tipperary soldiers. Maybe the uniqueness of the county is due to the fact that we were the only county that had two administrative units up to recently.

Do you have a favourite local writer or authorities?

As a student of history I cannot go beyond Dr. Des Marnane, who has written so extensively of West Tipperary since the production of ‘Land and Violence: A History of West Tipperary from 1660’ in 1985. Since then his production has been enormous as the pages of the Tipperary Historical Journal can testify, as well as his books. He briings to his writing a great desire for the truth and a searching analysis of the records. An indefatigable researcher, he has thrown new light on many old issues and exposed much that was myth and humbug in historical events.

Another writer whose work I have huge respect for is Pat Bracken. His book ‘The Growth and Development of Sport in County Tipperary 1840-1880’ in chock a block with exciting information, revealing a sporting Ireland during the forty years covered in the title and challenges many of our assumptions about the development of these sports, as well as the state of hurling before the foundation of the G.A.A. A work of assiduous and painstaking research, it is a must read for anyone in the county interest in sport.

What’s the biggest challenge facing the county today?

I don’t know about the biggest but there are a few big ones. We need to expand on the number of tourists coming into the county. Over 300,000 visit the Rock of Cashel annually but there is too small a spill over to the rest of the county. We have a lot to offer the tourist, religious places like Holycross, Roscrea, Lorrha, water pursuits on Lough Derg, mountain climbing in the South, good food, plenty of sport. The big challenge is to sell the huge variety of visitor attractions we have to offer. In the meantime we need to catch up with Kilkenny in the roll call of All-Ireland honours!

If you had the power to change one thing in, or about Tipperary, what would it be?

Another difficult question because I’m not quite sure what traits, habits or practices Tipperary has that are different to other counties. I suppose it would be a good idea to have one capital town in Thurles rather than two in Nenagh and Clonmel, with politicians and staff traipsing between the two incurring expenses. Another idea might be to relocate the county a bit further south where the weather would be better.