“Glory looking day, glory day, glory looking day,
And all its glory, told a simple way, behold it if you may.”
Lyrics Neil Diamond (Album: Jonathan Livingston Seagull.)
Rural Ireland and in particular Co Tipperary continues to be seen as the ‘Poor Relation,’ or ‘The Lower Order,’ and unworthy of Dublin’s well healed bourgeoisie when it comes to Fáilte Ireland and the fair distribution of taxpayer public funding.
We learn in recent weeks that well over half a million Euro (€620,000 to be precise) is to be spent on developing a number of tourist attractions in our capital city, latter aimed at our discerning International visitors who are only encouraged to stand at the gateway to Ireland. These funded projects are to be part of “Dubline,” a proposed heritage trail which will run across Dublin from East to West along a route roughly selected from College Green to Kilmainham. Proposed tourism projects here in Thurles will once again go unrewarded, not for the first time, with not one single cent of our nations central funding being spent for future tourism promotion.
Amongst these five funded Dublin restoration projects is the repair of a bell, at a cost of almost €18,000, supposedly the first Catholic bell to ring in Dublin in nearly 300 years, breaching the then existing penal laws of the 16th and 17th centuries (same laws were largely ignored in the 18th century) while also providing secure exhibition space for a few miserable artefacts found on the Smock Alley site, latter which will now move from where they are currently housed in the National Museum.
(Note: Despite a meeting in January last, to present date and some nine weeks later, Thurles cannot yet get clarification on the possibility of returning the Derrynaflan Hoard back to its native county, same being required on loan for just two months, to celebrate the 35th anniversary of its finding.)
Here in Thurles, during the years 1804-1862, Archbishop Thomas Bray and later Archbishop Patrick Leahy had no problem ringing the bell at the Big Chapel here in Thurles. The cracked bell at the Smock Alley Theatre, latter which only reopened in 2012, was built originally as a Theatre Royal and now in 2014 lends itself to the myth that Daniel O’Connell rang it to celebrate Catholic Emancipation in 1829. Natives here in Co Tipperary are being now asked to augment this ‘Freedom Bell’ myth, which will be acclaimed as the Dublin equivalent of America’s also cracked ‘Liberty Bell,’ latter that iconic symbol of American Independence, and in the case of the former, therefore worthy of €18,000 of Irish public funding just to remove a few splatters of pigeon poop with a power washer.
To crack this bell now being acclaimed as being of considerable national importance, Daniel O’Connell, who is supposed to have climbed onto the roof, must have struck it with a very large lump hammer. Then again those behind this fund raising project, supported by Smock Alley director Mr Patrick Sutton, may have spotted a gathering of gullible Fáilte Ireland officials strolling their way, to which, with tongue in cheek, they spun their yarn, in the fervent belief that inbred and ignorant ‘unedumacated country hicks’ would not recognise a ‘pig in a poke,’ when they saw one.
Smock Alley Theatre was built in 1662, but closed in 1787 and was converted into a whiskey store before Fr Michael Blake bought it for use as a church, converting it with the aid of architect John Taylor, before naming it St Michael and St John’s Church when it opened first for worship in 1815. This was just 14 years before the achievement of Catholic Emancipation and it was therefore against the law, in theory, for Fr Blake to install a bell or indeed ring same as he did several times daily to summon his congregation and to advise them of the Angelus. Due to then complaints a city alderman instituted proceedings against the priest for this breach of Penal Law regulation; but quickly dropped court action on hearing that the case was to be defended by a talented rising young lawyer named Daniel O’Connell.
When church attendance numbers at worship began dropping in the early 20th century, the building was de-consecrated and abandoned. Those then responsible for this old historical structure, decided in 1996 to convert same into a Viking Adventure Centre. This then ill-conceived and funded enterprise inevitably closed some 6 years later, but not before they had stripping out the buildings original multi gallery interior together with the original plaster from the walls and had inserted an extra previously non existent second floor, so where lies now today its national historic heritage.
A total of 229 artefacts, now to be exhibited, were recovered following excavation work at Smock Alley. These included medieval and post-medieval bits of pottery, some wine bottles, a few clay tobacco pipe fragments, an actor’s wig curling device, a medieval roof tile, fragments of mosaic floor and a stack of old oyster shells. These are the only viewable remnants of the theatre’s colourful and historic past, no doubt dropped by a drunken fishmonger named Molly Malone, known locally as ‘The tart with the Cart,’ as she “wheeled her wheel barrow through the street broad and narrow.”
Meanwhile back home here in Thurles real existing national heritage sits decaying, eroded by time and the wanton vandalism brought about by the idle hands of those now cast aside on our jobless scrapheap, which continues to spread like the Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever (EHF) in today’s rural Ireland. Efforts in Thurles to attract funding for the conservation of real national and important history are simply being ignored, after all we the residents of Tipperary are of rural extraction, observed as unworthy individuals when it comes to attempting to attract tourism and any possible bit of employment that could follow, by any such implementation.
Speaking of the Penal Laws and Daniel O’Connell; two of the headstones shown in our video relate directly to both.
(1) Fr. Michael Fihan: Stone inscription reads; “Here lieth ye body of Father Michael Fihan for 35 years Parish Priest of Thurles, Who departed this life November ye 4th 1765 aged 71 years.”
Fr. Michael Fihan was the only licensed Parish Priest in Thurles during the Penal Laws and one should remember that from 1709 the Penal Act demanded that Catholic priests take the Oath of Abjuration, and recognise the Protestant Queen Anne as Queen of the United Kingdom and, by implication, therefore of Ireland. Priests that did not conform were arrested and executed. This activity, along with the deportation of priests who did conform, was a documented attempt to cause the Catholic clergy to die out in Ireland within a generation. Priests had to register with the local magistrates to be allowed to preach, and most did so. Bishops, on the other hand, were not permitted to register.
(2) Maurice Richard Leyne: (1820-1854) Stone inscription reads; “He whose virtues deserve a temple can now scarcely find a stone. In this grave are deposited the remains of Maurice Richard Leyne Esq. who died 29th June 1854 This stone has been placed over him by a few humble admirers of his great virtues and talents to preserve his memory until a competent hand shall write his epitaph and a more grateful and generous people regard his merits. May his soul rest in peace. Amen.”
Maurice Richard Leyne was an Irish nationalist, repeal agitator and member of Young Ireland. He was born in 1820 the grand-nephew of Daniel O’Connell and the only member of the family to align himself with the Young Ireland movement. Leyne was an editor of ‘The Nation’ newspaper on its re-launch in 1849 along with Charles Gavan Duffy in 1854. Leyne had previously contributed content to the paper in its earlier guise and would abandon the ‘The Nation’ publication and move here to Thurles to become editor of the ‘Tipperary Leader’ newspaper.
As one of the founders of the Young Irelander movement, Leyne participated in the Ballingarry rebellion of 1848 (Battle of the widow McCormack’s cabbage patch) and was arrested for treason along with other Young Ireland Leaders, namely William Smith O’Brien, Tomas Francis Meagher, Terence McManus, Patrick O’Donoghue. Leyne, while never tried for his rebellious actions in Ballingarry South Tipperary, served a long time in prison and following his release died of typhus in 1854, to be buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.
Other burial plots worthy of national importance mentioned in our short video and buried in this graveyard also include:
(A) Eva Hunt: “In loving memory of Eva Hunt daughter of the late Michael Hunt, (55727 D.I., R.I.C.) Thurles, died 27th Nov 1918 aged 15 years.”
On year later Eva’s father, District Inspector Michael Hunt, a native of Sligo, was shot dead in Thurles on the evening of June 23rd, in a gun battle with IRA volunteers, named as Jim Stapleton and James Murphy. He had represented the Crown at the inquest on the policeman shot at Knocklong Station when Sean Treacy was being rescued. Hunt had joined the RIC in 1893 and had served in Co Kerry, King’s County (Co Offaly) and Co Longford before coming to Tipperary. Prayers were said in Gurteen church for the repose of his soul at the request of the Parish Priest Very Rev Canon O’Connor who described his shooting as “diabolical in the extreme”.
(B) Seamus O’Muireagain: “Seamus O’Muireatain in aois 5 bliana deag lay Aibhreain.”
Seamus was the eldest son of Denis Morgan a teacher at CBS Thurles and Chairperson of Thurles Urban District Council and the grandfather of Dermot Morgan of Fr. Ted and Craggy Island fame. Denis Morgan had been arrested and imprisoned in England when his five year old boy died and he was refused compassionate leave to attend his son’s funeral.
(C) William Loughnane: “Erected by Patrick and Bridget Loughnane Thurles in memory of their son William Loughnane murdered by British Forces March 9th 1921 aged 23 years.”
William Loughnane was shot dead by security forces in Mitchel Street here in Thurles, Co. Tipperary.
(D) John Molloy:“Erected by Joseph Molloy in memory of his father John Molloy who died at Ballycahill 28th June 1872 aged 71 years.”
John Molloy, toured Co. Tipperary with Mr Joseph Moore Labarte, latter a Government Inspector and responsible for Tipperary’s Railway system and Temporary Poor Law Inspector in 1847. Molloy was the first man to notify the British authorities in 1847 of the return of the blight to the potato crop in Tipperary. He also forwarded specimens of ‘Phytophthora infestans,’ now considered to be the oldest in existence and these specimens, together with his original letter, are now in the care the Dept of Agriculture Offices in Dublin.
(E) William Bradshaw V.C: “The grave of Dr William Bradshaw (Victoria Cross) late Assistant Surgeon 32nd Light Infantry who departed his life 9th March 1861.”
William Bradshaw for a time was a doctor in the Fever Hospital in Thurles, and also ran a paupers clinic in Mitchel Street, (The Quarry) Thurles, during the Great Famine period 1845-49.
(F) Lord Edmund Archer: The inscription on the Archer tomb reads;
“HIC JACET EDMUNDUS ARCHER BURGENSIS DE DURLOS ET DOMINUS DE RATHFERNEGH GALBOYLE CORBALE KYLLIENANE QUI OBIIT XVIII DE MENSIS SEPTEMBRIS ALNNO FILOR COUNUCHAN ME FIERI FECIT CUI, ” which roughly translated into English
reads; “Here lies Edmund Archer burgess of Thurles and lord of Rathfernagh, Galboyle, Corbale Killienane who died on the 18th of the month of September in the year 1520, daughter of Counuchan caused me to be made–.”
To quote well known and published historian Maura Barrett; “The Archer tomb in the grounds of St Mary’s is a gem of a tomb AND needs to be protected from the elements. It is considered to be from the Ossory School of sculpture which encompasses all sculpture within that region from that time that was unsigned. Firstly it is not signed by the sculptor – there were very few sculptors who signed their work, the Kerin School was one and the O’Tunney School was the other. Tomb sculpture is the richest source for the study of Irish armour and dress. It was a statement of status by the family who commissioned these works. There was a hiatus of medieval funerary monuments sandwiched between the period of the Black Death 1350-1450 and when the monasteries were dissolved after Henry VIII and during Elizabeth’s reign when the Protestant Church became more firmly established. This was the time of the Anglo-Norman ascendancy.
(G) Charles O’Keeffe: “Sacred to the repose of Charles O’Keeffe Esq. His life distinguished by justice and the truth, was devoted to the virtue of parent, citizen and man. His death on 23rd October 1838 deprived the poor of a friend, society of a benefactor.”
Many people locally would have disagreed with this epitaph, as Charles O’Keeffe was a land agent to the Maher Estate (Now Thurles Golf Club) in Turtulla, Thurles, Co.Tipperary. He was shot dead, by a man dressed in woman’s clothing, outside the walls of this graveyard, during serious land agitation, just prior to the Great famine. His assassin fled to America and much later is believed to have joined the Molly Maguire’s, an ethnic group of people whose members were unified by a common religious background and a terrorist force active in the Pennsylvania anthracite coal-mining region, formed roundabout 1860.
(H) Letitia Elizabeth Sheridan: Letitia was the wife of John Gore Jones, latter who was Resident Magistrate (RM) in Cathedral Street, Thurles and the Assistant Chairperson of the Thurles / Rahealty Famine Food Committee in 1846 -1847. He was also partially responsible for the hanging of the Cormack Brother’s, latter now buried in an open mausoleum, for all to view in Loughmore Cemetery, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.
I could continue but I will not bore you further.
Readers use that magical inward eye of yours for a moment. Imagine St. Mary’s graveyard restored to its original glory, open free of charge to the international visitor. Imagine this God’s acre properly planted and displaying a suitable sign close to the gate, identifying these many tomb’s of national historic importance. Imagine the peace and solitude which this area radiates presently, broken by quiet awe-inspired chatter.
Now come back to reality and realise that you are going to be the last generation of humans to ever observe these tombs of national historic importance and by the time your current one year old child is aged twenty one, this history will have been obliterated from the Thurles landscape in favour of removing a few splatters of pigeon poop from a cracked Dublin bell with a power washer.