For me, he left our world here in Tipperary, as he had first entered it, rather suddenly.
I can not remember exactly where or when I first met Wilbert Houben, whom readers will also identify with affection, as “The Dutch Man”.
Passionate about ecology and all things environmental, Wilbert’s quiet confident character magnetically drew people, especially those people anxious for real and positive community change. The membership list of voluntary community groups, in which he held official status was endless, Thurles Tidy Towns, Thurles Lions Club, Thurles Gun Club, Cabragh Wet Lands project, Thurles John Player Tops and St. Mary’s Restoration Committee, but to name a few.
His great gift, apart from his personality, generosity, and his endless knowledge, was of course his hands. Those hands could design and manufacture anything using simple plain lengths of metal or wood, as local farmers and factories in Tipperary will attest.
During his short time spent with us, he left, as his memorial, a strong and permanent visual memory of his having passed amongst us. Every day as I move about my daily business, I still enjoy his fountain and his ducks in the river Suir, his Pheasant Island Project, his many trees in our streets, his Victorian lamp standard in my garden, his carved cigarette ash tray, that I still use every day.
Thurles gives thanks for having known you Wilbert.
Thurles poet Gerry Cullen best sums up our feelings, at this time, in this wonderful poem which he penned following Wilberts unexpected and sudden departure.
Tranen Voor Wilbert. (Tears for Wilbert.)
There’s terror on the Wetlands, the mighty guardian’s gone.
The Mink will get the edge again, and nature’s war is on.
The shadows chase the Moor-hen, and Magpies wait and see,
No form along the walkways, no Eco-referee.
Now Winter’s at its darkest, and spirits weighted low,
And minds are left in why-land, where answers never go.
But Spring will come in ripples with light all fresh and new,
Then clouds above the wildness will rain the tears for you.