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Sam Melbourne – Tipperary Lose Friend & Sports Historian

“While many a pastime circled in the shade, The young contending as the old survey’d;”
[ Lines taken from “The Deserted Village,”  by Oliver Goldsmith (1728–1774) ]

It is with deep sadness that the people of Thurles and Tipperary learned of the death of Mr Sam Melbourne, who died peacefully at his home in Villa Park, Dublin 7, on Wednesday August 7th. Mr Melbourne was in his 91st year and is survived by his adored wife Charlotte, his children Edgar, Desmond, Alan and Ruby, his daughters-in-law and son-in-law, ten grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews. Mr Melbourne, a member of the Church of Ireland, was buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard, Clonsilla, on Saturday afternoon last, following a funeral service at St. Michan’s Church.

Liam

Pictured Left – Right: Sam Melbourne (RIP), Mary Darmody, Liam O’Donnchu, Eamon Buckley, Sean Nugent, Sam Melbourne, Ed Donnelly, John O’Gorman (2010)

Mr Melbourne was born of a farming background in the parish of Moycarkey/Borris, at Curraheen, Horse & Jockey in 1923. From an early age he enjoyed what was to be a lifelong love and true dedication to the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and to the game of hurling in particular.  He himself was selected for the Mid Tipperary minor hurling teams of 1940 and 1941. However it will not be for his hurling skills which although greatly acknowledged then, that he will be best remembered. Rather instead his magnificent legacy to Tipperary and the GAA, through his passionate collecting of rare GAA memorabilia, that is today legendarily celebrated not only nationally, but indeed worldwide.

Mr Melbourne began his collecting some 76 years ago in 1937, beginning with a hurley gifted to him by then All-Ireland Medallist Johnny Ryan. Ryan himself played hurling with his local club Moycarkey-Borris and was a member of the Tipperary senior inter-county team in the 1930’s and 1940’s, winning an All-Ireland winners’ medal with Tipp in the same year, as well as three Munster titles in 1937, 1941 and 1945.

Melbourne’s once sports shop situated here in Friar Street, Thurles in the early fifties, is remembered as a colourful place, always displaying photographs, scrapbooks, newspaper cuttings and jerseys of former players, all which attracted lovers of the sport from far and wide. This collection would grow to over 300 hurleys, signed by their star owners, photographs, whistles, jerseys, footballs and sliotars (latter a hard solid sphere slightly larger than a tennis ball, consisting of a cork core covered by two pieces of leather stitched together), newspaper cuttings and trophies, all relating to the history and deeds of the greats of Irish hurling and football, which to this day are enjoyed so nostalgically by GAA sporting enthusiasts.

Sam Melbourne moved to Dublin with his wife Charlotte Smyth (latter a native of Killenaule) in 1956 and from there began his travels across the length and breadth of Ireland in a HIACE Van at weekends, displaying his vast and ever expanding collection of GAA memorabilia, to clubs and communities, giving lectures on his truly unique collection. One of the first places he brought his exhibition was to Ballycotton, Co Cork at the invitation of Taoiseach Jack Lynch, latter himself  the winner of five All-Ireland titles, seven Munster titles, three National Hurling League titles and seven Railway Cup titles in hurling, not to mention one All-Ireland title, two Munster titles and one Railway Cup title in football. (Lynch would also be later named at midfield on the Hurling Team of the Century and the Hurling Team of the Millennium.)

With energy slowly diminishing due to age and holding a collection of memorabilia now so large that he could no longer comfortably house same, Mr Melbourne decided to pass his collection the Tipperary GAA County board. The old Bank of Ireland building on Slievenamon Road, Thurles, was soon purchased and refurbished, with the major design and fitting out of a display centre placed in the hands of Brennan and Whalley, London, who were specialists in the setting up of such rare collections for public display. Part funding was provided by Shannon Development and community contributions, organised by Thurles Development Association. The result was a Museum of Gaelic Games being officially opened by the then Irish President Mary Robinson on November 8th, 1994, one hundred and ten years and one week after the foundation of the G.A.A. in 1884 at Hayes’s Hotel, Liberty Square, in the town.

To this day, the fruits of Sam Melbourne’s huge labour of love continues to be inspected with awe and awards immense pleasure to visitors here at Lar Na Páirce, Slievenamon Road, in Thurles.

Our deepest sympathies go to the Melbourne family at this sad time.

Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam dílis.

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