Some three attempts to rescue and preserve the 16th Century Archer tomb in Thurles, (Situated on the east side of St. Mary’s graveyard) over the past 12 years, have been met with the reply “Do Not Touch”, by those responsible for preserving our important historical heritage nationally.
Early 16th Century Archer Tomb, found in St Mary’s Graveyard, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.
This unique stone carved tomb, (shown above), once clearly bore the inscription “Here [lies] Edmund [Archer] burgess of Thurles and Lord of Rathfernegh, Galboly, Corbale [and] Killienane who died on the 18th of the month of September in the year 1520. Counuchan caused me to be made”, but alas no more.
This Archer tomb, considered to be from the Ossory school of sculpture, (Same encompasses all sculpture within this region from that time period which was unsigned.) needs to be immediately protected from the elements. There were very few sculptors who signed their work during the 16th century, with the exception possibly of the Kerin School and the O’Tunney School. Today tomb sculpture still remain the richest source of information available for the study of Irish armour and dress. Each sculpture then was a statement of status by the families who once commissioned these monuments.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, some days ago, spoke of the serious danger posed by the Islamic State group ISIS, with refugees in the Middle East now currently fleeing into Europe. Speaking to eager journalists, Mr Kenny pointed to the growth of the terrorist group in Syria and the global threat war fleeing refugees now pose in relation to the destruction of historical artefacts and century old buildings.
Ardmore Cathedral Co. Waterford
According to confirmed reports, last month these terrorists blew up a historic temple in Syria, destroyed several mausoleums in Afghanistan, sold valued artefacts on the black market, burned books / manuscripts and smashed age old statues. Now according to Mr Kenny they may wish to blow up the Rock of Cashel and Newgrange etc.
Trust me Mr Kenny; while I appreciate your worried sentiments expressed, ISIS has been operating here in Ireland, unseen for decades, in the form of politicians devoid of experience, imagination and competence. Our worries should now be focused on the failure of this nation in the past, led by successive governments, to fund the protection of our valuable existing heritage sites, if for just one reason only the further development of our future tourism business.
Recently I had the privilege of escorting some Canadian visitors on a visit to the 12th century monastic settlement of St. Declán, latter situated in the coastal historic seaside village of Ardmore, Co. Waterford. While examining the magnificent stone carvings to be found on the South ‘lunette’ west face, (‘lunette’ from the French meaning, “little moon,” – a half-moon shaped space, filled with recessed masonry or simply void) of the now ruined Cathedral, one of the group rightfully expressed their shock at our failure to protect our important past history. Today much of the magnificent stone carvings have disappeared, while the still barely visible remaining relief work continues to be eroded annually by nature and the elements.
The present Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, FG’s Ms Heather Humphreys, some months ago announced the provision of an extra €2m; to be taken from her Arts funding, and expended on Museums in Dublin and in Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s birth place of Co. Mayo. The purpose of this extended funding was to ensure that museum attractions in Dublin and Mayo, latter hosting historical artefacts, many of which have been ‘raided Viking style’ from Co. Tipperary, remain to be viewed, admission free, to the benefit of Dublin’s bustling economy.
Time now for those responsible for rural tourism, both in Co. Tipperary and elsewhere, to get their act together to ensure the protection of Ireland’s rural tourist economy, latter worth almost €4 billion annually to the Irish State.
Readers are invited to place the Archer Tomb on their ‘Bucket List’, as by next year yet another piece of this fine rare stone sculpture will have vanished forever, due to the lack of foresight by those we appoint who take on the responsibility of ‘caretakers of history’.
Bill Butler and his wife Sara, both currently residing in northern Virginia, in the town of Clifton, a suburb of Washington D.C., visited Thurles earlier this month. Bill’s large family group consisted of himself, his wife Sara, their son and daughter plus their spouses and their children (Bill’s grandchildren). Bill’s children and grandchildren live in Arlington, also in northern Virginia.
Left to Right:- Erin Butler with her twin sisters Leah & Katie, all totally captivated by the 16ft. historically accurate, 1846 model of Thurles town, latter which is currently on show in St. Mary’s Famine Museum, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. The model encapsulates 5 years of dedicated work by the late Thurles historian Jim Condon, who sadly passed away on December 23rd 2014. His model, built to perfect scale, is often described as being on a par with ‘Titania’s Palace’. (Note: Latter ‘Titania’s Palace’, to Ireland’s shame, was sold off in 1976 and now resides as a popular visitor attraction in Denmark). Picture courtesy Butler Family.
Bill has been researching his family tree since he retired. Sadly he has had no older relatives to talk to about his family; as they had all passed away before he had began his ‘Family Tree’ research project. Fortunately, on-line resources and a lot of digging through courthouse and county records eventually bore fruit. His research of several years eventually uncovered that his Butler family roots were here in Thurles. His recent trip earlier this month was an effort by himself and his wife to grant their children and grandchildren an opportunity to see and experience Ireland and specifically the town of Thurles here in County Tipperary.
Bill Butler’s Confirmed Ancestral History.
Bill’s great grandparents were both single people when they left Thurles around 1890, arriving in New York. Their decision to emigration from Thurles was separated by some 2 years. Their names were Thomas Butler and Mary J. Ryan. Both eventually settled in the city of Buffalo, New York, near to the Canadian border. They met and married in Buffalo in 1896.
Buffalo was then a bustling industrial city and Bill’s great grandfather worked at many jobs, before eventually taking up employment with one of the railroads firms as an engineer and fireman (stoker), until, alas, he lost his life through an industrial accident.
The same Thomas Butler’s parents were Michael Butler and Katherine Kearney of Stradavoher, Thurles and he was born in January 1867. Mary J. Ryan was the daughter of William Ryan and Bridget Cahill of Garryvicleheen, Thurles (now today known jointly as Friar Street & Abbey Road). Mary was also born in January 1867.
That is as far back as Bill has been able to trace the families ancestry and if he never gets any further information he will be satisfied with what he has found to date. However he will still continue in the hope further information becomes available.
In recent correspondence with this website Bill and his family have expressed what he describes as “a moving experience to observe at first hand his ancestors baptismal records from the Cathedral of the Assumption, Thurles”.
Anyone with new information on Thurles Butler Family history can reach Bill & Sara by contacting us HERE on Thurles.Info.
Rachel Willoughby, PRO St. Mary’s Graveyard Project, Thurles, reports.
New possible evidence uncovered in 177 year old murder investigation.
A single shot Percussion Pocket Pistol recently uncovered on the grounds of St Mary’s Churchyard, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, may have been the weapon used to shoot dead the opulent landholder, land agent, brewer and tanner, Charles O’Keeffe, (latter husband of Alicia O’Keeffe) in 1838.
This Percussion Pocket Pistol, possibly of French origin, is of the type then used for self-defence, during the percussion gun period 1800 to 1850. The then popular cheap pistol, whose real manufacturers today are not known, was discovered above ground under a pile of large stones. The stones, latter which were once part of a 17th century boundary wall, had collapsed sometime back during the 1940’s and from the positioning of this find and the pistols present condition; same is believed to have been at sometime concealed within the actual collapsed stone wall.
Project worker Mr Michael Kenehan examines the ‘Pocket Percussion Cap Pistol’ found in Thurles, Graveyard.
Mr Charles O’Keeffe (1775 – 1838) a Roman Catholic, was shot dead at close range by a male assassin, then believed to have been dressed in women’s clothing, on October 23rd 1838, just a short distance from St Mary’s Church front gates, close to his then tannery business premises. A ball, fired at close range from an assassin’s percussion cap pistol, entered Mr O’Keeffe left shoulder, wounding him to the extent that he died a short time later.
It is understood that Mr. O’Keeffe had greatly irritated local peasantry by ejecting tenants for non-payment of rent from lands which he either owned or was the acting agent, e.g. the Meagher Estate, (today Thurles Golf Club) and lands held at Rossmult, Drumbane, Co. Tipperary, mortgaged for £1000 to Thomas and James Lenigan on December 22nd 1821).
Within 25 yards from where the pistol was recently located, on the south side of St Mary’s graveyard, lies today the grave of the same Mr Charles O’Keeffe. His weather worn raised flat gravestone bears his Coat of Arms and the inscription; “Sacred to the repose of Charles O’Keeffe Esq., his life, distinguished by Justice and Truth, was devoted to the virtues of Parent, Citizen and Man, his death 23rd October 1838 deprived the poor of a friend; society of a benefactor.”
Certainly on the day of the shooting, the crack of the percussion cap pistol would have drawn the immediate attention of the then residents on St. Mary’s Avenue. The assassin or assassins had only two exits of escape, which would have taken them either westward, unto a busy Main Street (today named Cathedral Street) or alternatively through St Mary’s Church grounds eastwards unto a little populated Lime Kiln Lane (today known as Ikerrin Road). In using the latter means of escape did the assassin hide the single shot percussion cap pistol in a cavity in the 12ft, interior 17th century stone wall which then surrounded the graveyard? Why would such a weapon from this period be present, hidden in a graveyard wall?
Regrettably percussion pistols don’t talk and it is doubtful that we will ever uncover the real truth.
Who was responsible for the death of Charles O’Keeffe on October 23rd 1838?
The murder rate in Tipperary during this period was almost three times the national average. Secret Irish agrarian organisations / societies such as “Whiteboys”, (Irish: Buachaillí Bána) were common here in Tipperary in the 18th and through most of the 19th century. Local grievances relating to land eviction often saw “Whiteboys” threaten, beat and assassinate Landlords’ land agents. Lesser agrarian grievances were dealt with, by “Whiteboys”, through the sending of threatening letters, the severing of animals hamstring tendons where livestock were known to be the property of Landlords or the levelling of ditches that often closed off common grazing land. Male members of the “Whiteboys” were known to dress with women’s outer garments over their clothing; their faces blackened with burnt cork, in an effort to conceal their true identity.
While numerous surnames were associated with O’Keeffe’s murder, mostly based on named persons who had quietly left the Tipperary area bound for America and elsewhere immediately following his death, his assassin or assassins were never brought to justice. Remarkable credible evidence however emerges some 17 years later, from America in 1855.
A sub-tribe of the American Sioux Indian Nation, the Brule (French meaning ‘burnt’ or “Burnt Thighs Nation,”) tribe, then residing in South Dakota, went on the warpath. Prior to the arrival of new European settlers they had mostly led a peaceful existence, but now following a breakdown of relations between both, they soon became involved in ever frequent skirmishes. In 1855, in response to a Brule robbery which ended in the deaths of three white male settlers, a cavalry officer in the U.S. Army General William Selby Harney (August 22nd, 1800 – May 9th, 1889), known to the native Brule tribe as “White Whiskers Harney,” had led a reprisal expeditionary force against the tribe, killing 85 of their warriors and taking many more captive.
Brule braves aware that they were no match for future expeditionary armed force and following a pow wow, now pressed for peace. A peace summit was arranged between both sides to air existing grievances. Though not part of any negotiating team, among those present at these peace talks was an Irish-born priest, Fr. Joseph Trecy. While the conference was in progress, Fr. Trecy heard a voice calling to him from amongst the Brule ranks; “Brathair, an bhfuil Gaeilge agat?” ( Translation -“Brother, can you speak Irish?”). Looking into the assembled Brule delegation, which were fully decked out in war-paint and deerskin clothing, Fr. Trecy, who had left Ireland in 1835 at the age of 11, recalled enough Irish to answer the Indians question, and when the call was once again repeated he replied, “Ta, cuid de” (Translation – “Yes, some.”).
A Brule Indian Chief now stepped out from amongst the Indian delegation and shook the priest’s hand. The Irish-speaking Brule Indian Chief, he soon learned, was actually a Tipperary man who, along with one other companion, was wanted in the 1838 killing of an Irish landlord in Co. Tipperary. These two men had fled from Ireland disembarking at New York, but had been tracked by authorities all the way to Missouri. In an effort to elude their possible captors, they had moved quickly north west to South Dakota and befriended Brule warriors, learned their language and had taken Squaws (Female Indian Woman) as their wives from among their newly adopted tribe. These Irishmen were reported by Fr Trecy to be in need of ‘Spiritual Nourishment’ and before long Fr. Trecy had baptised and married a further 40 Indian families, into the Roman Catholic faith.
Perhaps it was the ‘Seal of the Confessional’, who knows for certain, but Fr. Trecy refused to disclose the identities of the men from Tipperary or the name of the man they had killed. Because of his discretion these Tipperary fugitives were able to escape prosecution and continue on with their lives in their new country of adoption.
Around this period there were three recorded cases of the killing of landlords in Co. Tipperary. In two instances men were tried and hanged for these crimes, although a persistent rumour at the time suggested that others involved might have escaped. However in the case of the shooting of Charles O’Keefe in Thurles, while arrests were made, no suspects were ever charged.
It is therefore credible, by the process of elimination, that the “Brule Indian Chiefs”, now members of the American Sioux Nation from Co. Tipperary, were the same men who shot Charles O’Keefe on October 23th 1838.
The pistol, which has been examined by Thurles Gardaí, has now been returned and is presently on display at St Mary’s Famine Museum in Thurles, Co. Tipperary.
Almost 300 years of Catholic Parish Registers, containing valuable information on births and marriages and held by the National Library of Ireland, are now currently available online, as and from today.
Dating from the 1740’s to the 1880’s, these records cover the entire island of Ireland and can now be accessed free of charge.
This new dedicated website [See http://registers.nli.ie/] now offers over 390,000 digital images of parish registers.
Parish register records are considered the single-most important source of information on Irish family history prior to the 1901 Census. Covering more than a 1,000 parishes across the island of Ireland, these registers consist primarily of baptismal and marriage records and typically includes information such as dates of baptisms and marriages and the names of key people involved, e.g. Witnesses or Godparents.
With the making of these records available, same will mean that those interested in research will now be able to trace their ancestry free and online from as far back as 1740.
For most genealogy researchers, parish registers provide the earliest direct source of family information making available real evidence of direct links between one generation and the next.
Those seeking details of persons known to have been born here in Thurles for just one example, can access all local registers at link http://registers.nli.ie/parishes/0280.
Author Liam Ó Donnchú’s long-awaited biography of ‘Tom Semple and The Thurles Blues’ will, I am happy to relate, be launched at the Thurles Sarsfields Centre, (beside Semple Stadium, Thurles), on Saturday June 13th at 8:00 p.m.
Tom Semple, a GAA icon and whose name is immortalised in the name “Semple Stadium” here in Thurles, is synonymous worldwide with the game of hurling, having led the legendary ‘Thurles Blues’ to All-Ireland glory in 1906 and 1908.
The Book’s Contents:
This well researched publication will discuss in great detail these earlier heroes of the ‘camán’ (Irish: Hurl), together with Tom Semple’s training regime and tactics. Readers can follow ‘The Blues’ on their amazing tour in 1910 to Brussels in Belgium and historic Fontenoy in France. They can also learn the fascinating story of the early years of the Thurles Sports field; now Semple Stadium, and how same developed into today’s ‘Field of Legends’. They can observe the role played by Tomas Semple and others in the local War of Independence and which is also detailed in this hardback publication; containing more than 400 truly well researched and fascinating pages.
The book is beautifully illustrated throughout and offers new insights, in many cases erased through time, into the life and times of a yesteryear.
Note: All are welcome to attend this book-launch and books costing €30 will be available from bookshops in Tipperary or signed copies can be ordered by post (€35) from the author: Liam Ó Donnchú, Lár na Páirce, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.
The burial place of Tom Semple can be located in the grounds (north side) of St Mary’s Churchyard, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, close to St Mary’s Famine Museum.