Thurles – Linking Past History

His headstone in St Mary’s Graveyard Thurles, reads: “O holy cross under thy shadow I will rest.”  In loving memory of John O’Brien, 19 Main St, Thurles [Co.Tipperary].  Died 30th June 1917, aged 62 years. R I P. “An upright man fearing God and avoiding evil”.  [Grave Ref: 349].

Pic (1) Gravestone of J. O’Brien, No 19, Main St. (Liberty Square) Thurles.  Pic (2) A 100-year-old Whisky Glass with the O’Brien name from No 19, Liberty Square (Main St.) Thurles.  Pic (3) First Editions today (June 2017) also situated at No 19, Liberty Square (Main St.) Thurles.

For the many years that I have been a resident of this town, ‘First Editions’ situated at No 19 Liberty Square, Thurles, (Previously Main Street) has been retailing not just the ‘crème de la crème’  in lady’s fashion and design, but also providing effective fashion guidance; advising ladies of all ages in “what to wear, what to bare, and what to keep under wraps”.

However, No 19 Main Street, Thurles, was not always the home of ‘Haute Couture’ for devoted followers of high fashion. Previously it had been a Licensed Hostelry (Pub, Watering Hole supplying ‘Special Malt’ whiskey) and occupied by Mr John O’Brien. Prior to Mr O’Brien’s tenancy it was occupied by one Mr Adam Cooke, who according to research, possibly ran a Delph and Hardware business before 1843.

Today, following his death almost 100 years ago this month, when we examine his place of burial, we can fairly assume that Mr John O’Brien, was a man of some substance. Born just after the Great Famine and passing away shortly before Thurles became fully involved in the fight for Irish freedom, his headstone epitaph is possibly the only headstone in St Mary graveyard with hammered smooth, lead lettering.

So why letters made using Lead (Symbol Pb, Atomic No 82) ?
Lead lettering on signs and headstones was up to 50 years ago a technique that had been in use for at least the previous three to four hundred years. In our dimmer past, the highlighting of lettering on any type of sign was difficult, due to the absence of long lasting exterior paints, with latter being unfit to endure Irish weathering and thus unable to remain clearly visible to the eye for any great period of time. Lead lettering, therefore, while highly skilled and labour intensive, was the only other option, depending on ones available finances.

Seldom seen today, except in graveyards; this lead lettering would be sketched out on the surface of the stone initially in pencil. The intended inscription would then be incised or scored into the stone using a hammer and different sized sharp chisels, producing a V style cut into the surface. Except for the surface outlines, the stone cutter was not required to finish the carved-out letter shapes cleanly.

Now using a hand driven band drill and a steel bit, the stone mason could drill a series of tiny holes internally into each incised letter. Soft malleable type lead, supplied in sheets and twisted into the shapes of each letter, would then be hammered into each incised letter cutting, using a wooden mallet. The lead would then be sanded down so as to be level with the stone surface. Together with the rough finish and drilled holes the stone mason was assured that the lead would grip tightly for decades and in the case of the O’Brien gravestone, one hundred years this month.


3 comments to Thurles – Linking Past History

  • Roseanne Manton

    Where did you find the glass?

  • George Willoughby

    Car Boot Sale.

  • Nora Muldoon

    If you are interested I can let you have details of the children and famous grandchildren (one became an Italian Countess) of John and Mary O’Brien of 19 Main Street. I worked for their grandson for several years.

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