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An Gobán Saor – Gobban the Builder

Grave of Gobán Saor, 16km (10Mls), from Thurles at Derrrynaflan, Ballinure, Co. Tipperary.

Little is truly known about ‘An Gobán Saor’, pronounced Gubawn Seer, (Gobban the Builder; free smith, free mason or free carpenter), whom legend states is buried 16km (10mls), from Thurles, at Derrrynaflan, Ballinure, Co. Tipperary.

Back in the days when our present ancient stone castles, monasteries, round towers and churches (now, alas, many, for the most part, in ruins), were originally being constructed, stone-masons /smiths /architects, just like ‘An Gobán Saor’ (also spelt Gubin Saor & Gobban Saer) and other possibly lesser skilled, associates, would have assembled at prearranged building sites, in the hope of obtaining gainful employment. Non-locals selling their skills would have travelled with their whole families, setting up camp close to the area where there was a promise of construction work.

According to legend, the father of the Gobán Saor was himself a famous mason and architect.  Convention states that the Gobán Saor lived sometime around the seventh century. Folklore also indicates that he married a respectable and very beautiful Sligo woman. He possibly travelled extensively, often incognito, not just in Ireland, but also in England and even on the Continent, designing splendid sturdy edifices, while working as a common stone mason.

Folklore indicates that An Gobán Saor was highly intelligent, jovial and at all times generous with his knowledge. From the many tales told we learn that the traits he finds most difficult to understand are miserliness combined with greed.

Picture (A) Abbey Rd. area of Thurles and St. Brigid’s Graveyard (Shown circled in green), as it existed prior to 1846.  Picture (B) The mason’s mark or symbol of ‘An Gobán Saor’, on a pillar beside St. Brigid’s Graveyard (Shown circled in red). The 2.4m pillar on this site was constructed in much more recent times possibly from stones relating to an older church building no longer evident on site.

To build these stone structures; these itinerant, skilled, stone masons would have remained camped in areas for many years, living, not in huts or houses, but in temporary tent-like dwellings, roofed over using bent, flexible, saplings covered in an oiled cloth to repel the weather. These nomadic skilled individuals were the past artists, designers, and architects, while also working as stone mason.

Stone carving of the cat with two tails, the mason’s mark or symbol of ‘An Gobán Saor’, in Thurles Co. Tipperary. This feline demonstrates a somewhat sad, frightened, stare at the visitor, while its set of whiskers points downwards.

Tales of An Gobán Saor‘s exploits verbally related down through the years’ state that he once applied seeking work to the master builder of a Cathedral. The master builder placed him in a work-shed by himself, and pointed to a block of stone inviting him to carve from it a cat with two tails.  Next morning Gobán had disappeared, but when the master unfastened his shed and looked in, he found that the block of stone had been most beautifully carved into a cat with two tails. The Cathedral builder was heard to exclaim that this could only have been the work of An Gobán Saor himself, as no other human could have produced such superb work, and so fast.

So was born the mason’s mark or symbol, associated with An Gobán Saor; the cat with two tails, as shown above.

The story is also told that while building a monastery, the monks demanded that he lower his agreed price. To force this issue, they removed his climbing ladder from a castellated area he was building, preventing him from easy descent. Gobán began to slowly dismantle the stones structure, tossing the building materials to the ground, genially informing his employers below that this method of reaching the ground was as good as any. The monks are said to have quickly returned his ladder, and paid him his agreed price.

Because of the skilled ability of these itinerant builders, they were usually allowed, for the most part, to governed themselves.  Sons inherited their skills and trade secrets from their fathers, thus it was essential, that they would also developed their own private signs and a clandestine language, to ensure that these same trade secrets remained covert.

So also did the Tinkers; those specialising in skilled metal work, and some of this secret language, over the years, has made its way into the public domain; words like:- Kuenig (Eat), Án or Tes (Bread), Lokh or Lima (Milk), Chiman (Stick), Bós (Fist), Rístan (Prison), Krub (Foot), and a word used quite often today in conversation, which we relate to unemployment benefit; the word Dóle, which back then meant ‘Bread Trough’.

A Gobán Saor symbol can also be viewed by visitors attending at the Swiss Cottage, Cahir, Co. Tipperary, although same was possibly moved to this spot, in more recent times.


Wanton Destruction Of Rural Unique History & Culture

Fáilte Ireland announced that €11.5m is to be invested in the refurbishment of ten key OPW sites in Dublin and within Ireland’s Ancient East region. But then of course the OPW Heritage Services work in partnership with this same Fáilte Ireland, so no great surprises here. It was simply a case of tourism revenues earned by the OPW, being given back to the OPW.

It is not really the distribution of funding that actually bothers me, after all Co Tipperary got a share; Ormond Castle were granted €585,000, while the Rock of Cashel were granted €1.78m.

Gobán Saor’s cat rapidly eroding.

Of course, the area within a 33 miles radios of Dublin’s popular O’Connell street, as usual, got the majority of funding; yes over €8m in total.  This included €3m towards a new museum and viewing platform in ‘The Record Tower’ at Dublin Castle; €300,000 towards a Phoenix Park tourism and amenity study. Twenty-five miles’ away the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre got €2.58m; and thirty three miles away Newgrange got €1m and Knowth €1.4m.

This Fáilte Ireland funding announced earlier this month, when truly examined, certainly represents a true strategic partnership with the OPW, if you know what I mean. Plus, as Fáilte Ireland point out, our Irish tourism sector after all currently sustains 220,000 (minimum wage) jobs, while generating an estimated €6bn in economic value per year to the State.

As already stated, it is not really this unequal distribution of funding that actually bothers me, no my fear centres around the wanton destruction of our local unique history and culture, which provides that strong incentive in bringing people to our shores. To get to the crux of this matter perhaps I need to explain further.

Tourists who visit Ireland are not exactly attracted by our weather, rather a huge percentage of foreign visitors are incentivised to holiday on our island, because of our wild, unspoilt, scenic beauty and remarkable ancient history. While most of our history is protected in museums, much more remains totally unprotected.

Archer Tomb Date 1520. Present condition in 2017.

Here in Thurles town Co. Tipperary, alone, numerous pieces of our rich heritage lie unprotected from weather erosion. Year by year, with the passing of each season; rain, wind, frost, snow and even sunshine, all ploy and conspire to shorten and destroy the future life of centuries old rare historical artefacts. Private funding offered, to protect this heritage, are resolutely refused, however funding is being (alas to late), provided to carry out photogrammetry surveys. See HERE and HERE.

The world was outraged in May 2015 when ISIS militants destroyed some of the historic buildings in the ancient city of Palmyra, located in war-torn Syria; which in the past flourished as a Roman trading outpost around A.D. 200. While this similarity is perhaps extreme, the same situation is being allowed to happen to valuable history in rural Ireland.

Dublin not only get the employment opportunities now-a-days it would appear, but into the future, only within a 50 mile radius of our capital city, will limited history survive, courtesy of Fáilte Ireland’s neglect of rural Ireland.

We rightly worry about the disappearance of Banks, Post Offices, Garda Stations, Hospitals and Public Transport from rural Ireland, now our politicians can add tourist attractions to this ever-growing list; while into the future the actual visitor.

Incidentally, those of you who reside abroad and continue to retain close links with Thurles, Co. Tipperary, you can purchase a cast, (at reasonable cost), of the Thurles Goban Saor’s cat with two tails, shown above, from HERE. Same will ensures one hell of a talking point for visitors to your home, when hanging on your sitting-room wall.

We will be talking about this Gobán Saor’s cat in the coming days.


Will John Cusack Visit Ballingarry, Thurles, To Film ‘Thomas Francis Meagher’?

Ballingarry (SR), Thurles, Co. Tipperary, to play host to National Famine Commemorations

We understand that the village of Ballingarry (SR), Thurles, Co. Tipperary, will play host to the National Famine Commemoration this year, 2017.  This will be the first occasion on which the commemoration will be hosted in Co. Tipperary, since the establishment of the National Famine Commemoration Committee came into being in 2008.

The event will be held on September 30th, 2017 in the Famine Warhouse, (Also referred to as “The Widow McCormack’s House” or the British derogatory title of “The Widow McCormack’s Cabbage Patch.”), situated a short distance outside the village.

Will the Hollywood Actor / Producer, Mr John Cusack, be visiting the Widow McCormack’s Cabbage Patch?

The signatures of Thomas Francis Meagher & Patrick O’Donoghue, both present at the ‘Ballingarry Uprising of 1848’. These signatures are written on the inside cover of a book found in Richmond prison, Tasmania. The book is entitled “Wreath of Friendship,” and both signatures are dated 26th February 1849.

We now ask the question; Will this also be the year that Hollywood actor and producer Mr John Cusack begins to shoot a major film on the life of Thomas Francis Meagher, the Irish-born Fenian leader?  Latter was involved in a skirmish known as the Ballingarry Uprising of 1848, as well as leading the famous Union Armies’ Fighting 69th Regiment into battle during the American civil war.  Indeed Meagher, known as “Meagher of the Sword” (Following his speech on the right of the Irish nation to fight for its freedom and which was given at his trial), was first to fly the Irish Tricolour (Green White & Orange) at this same Ballingarry rebellion.

Mr Cusack informed Irish television’s, “Today Show”, at the Belfast Film Festival, that a film on the life of Thomas Francis Meagher (Inspired by the best selling biographical book “The Immortal Irishman” by New York Times columnist Timothy Egan), would feature a major international cast and be filmed all over Ireland.

Meagher who was found guilty of treason, following this skirmish, and sentenced to death; found his sentence later commuted to transportation from Ireland to Richmond Prison in Tasmania, Australia, from which he later escaped, to eventually end up in New York.

Following the American Civil War, he was appointed Governor of Montana State, but died soon afterwards under mysterious circumstances, aged 43 years.


Fascinating Story Of Tipperary’s Paddy McCarthy

Tipp Mid West Radio’s Tom Hurley Reports On ‘The Cashel Pioneer.’

In 1900, an Irishman named Paddy McCarthy arrived in Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina. After initially working in the port, he obtained a position as a physical education teacher in a school, but also boxed and became involved in football as a player, coach and referee.

In fact, he competed in what’s considered the country’s first ever professional boxing match and his name is also associated with the foundation of Boca Juniors football club, with some even crediting him for assigning them their trademark blue and gold jerseys, which they still wear today.

Later through his work with the Sports Municipal Committee of Buenos Aires, Paddy McCarthy did much to promote sport especially among the young but is purported to have gone to his grave in 1963 at the age of 92, having revealed little about himself or indeed his time in Ireland. Interestingly however, it is written that he was born on the 17th of March 1871 in Cashel, Co. Tipperary and attended the Christian Brothers School. It has also been suggested that he had the Premier County’s GAA colours very much in mind, when selecting a kit for Boca Juniors.

McCarthy’s fascinating story will now be the subject of a 4-part documentary to be aired on Tipp Mid West Radio, which uncovers more about his time in Argentina and investigates his links to the historic town of Cashel.

It emerges that from around 1850 until the end of the century, Argentina had been a popular destination for Irish emigrants especially from the Midlands, with numerous people from Cashel continuing to make the voyage well into the 1920’s. As a consequence, hurling was one of the sports introduced from abroad, which became increasingly popular.

The documentary has uncovered a lot of new information on Paddy McCarthy and the high regard in which he was held in his adopted homeland. For example, he had the distinction of refereeing the first ever Superclásico, latter the name given to the football derby played between Boca Juniors and River Plate. Boxers he regarded as friends included Babe Herman and Gene Tunney, whilst he is also photographed with the president of Argentina, the Duke of Kent and the Prince of Wales when they visited Buenos Aires in 1931. He was also the recipient of a gift from Theodore Roosevelt.

Interviewees for the programme include Cashel residents Albert Carrie, Seamus King, John O’Connor and Tom Wood.  Noel Blanchfield from Ballyneale who resides in Yonkers, New York outlines how he became intrigued by McCarthy’s story, having first come across his name in the United States. Among the other contributors is academic and historian Edmundo Murray from Buenos Aires, who has conducted the most extensive research on McCarthy to date.

The revealing 4-part documentary entitled ‘The Cashel Pioneer’ by Tom Hurley will be aired over four Wednesdays at 11.05am on Tipp Mid West Radio, beginning on April 19th next. The programmes can be heard outside the county on www.tippmidwestradio.com.


Walk Thurles – Holycross Pilgrim Path On Saturday Next

Bringing our communities together.  Thurles – Holycross Annual Pilgrim Path Solidarity Walk.

HolyCross Abbey, Thurles, Co Tipperary on Vimeo.

The annual “Thurles-Holycross Pilgrim Path Solidarity Walk” will take place on Saturday next April 15th, 2017.
Those wishing to participate can register at Thurles Cathedral of The Assumption, at 10.00am. The walk will depart Thurles Town Park beginning sharp at 10.30am.

Note, a €10.00 fee will be charged to cover the cost of refreshments and a guided history tour of Holycross Abbey.
As with all walking events; please do remember to outfit yourselves in suitable footwear and clothing for the 7.1km (4.5ml) journey.

For further details and any other information required; please feel free to contact Telephone No – 087-7962177.