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Liberty Square Thurles – Recollections Of A Violinist -1914

Violinist & Author M. W. Quirke, Bristol, England.

The year was 1914; the visiting English tourist to Thurles was Mr M. W. Quirke. Details of his experience as a tourist here in Thurles is contained in a book entitled “Recollections Of A Violinist”, with same dedicated to his seven sons, Conal, Dathy, Brian, Frank, Terence, Raymond and Septimus.

Those responsible for marketing our ‘Tourism Product’, take note.

With the chat locally nowadays mostly about the supposed 9 – 12 million upgrade to Liberty Square in Thurles, this unabridged passage from Mr Quirke’s published travel book reads as follows:-

Thurles

“I continue walking along the dusty road, and after a long weary plodding, I come to two rows of houses facing each other. On the whitewash walls of each facing me is an advertisement running thus:-

Mary Doolin
Entertainment for man and beast,
To be drunk on the premises.

and a curious drawing of two pipes crossed. I have now arrived at Thurles and on entering one of those houses I asked if I can have lunch.

I am received with a look of curiosity mixed with surprise and asked if I didn’t know it was Friday, as of course there is no meat in the house.
I thank the good woman and enquire if there’s anywhere else I might find accommodation and start for a place indicated, but history repeats itself, only this time I am informed that “Friday is the day the Lord died, there would be no use at all, at all cooking mate, as no dacent-minded Catholic would ate it”.

After this second defeat, which, by the way, did not appease my hunger in the least, I proceed through the city in quest of an hotel, and arrive at a kind of square in the centre of which stands a large haystack.
This looks strangely incongruous with shops around it. But, welcome sight, an Inn occupies a corner and not far off is a Cathedral with beautiful stained windows. Albeit a somewhat small building to be so termed, it contains paintings and a sculpture of a high order.

I now direct my steps to the hotel, which I find is Mr Michael Ryan’s Inn. This establishment is reached by mounting three stone steps, but as the second one has, for some reason been removed, or fallen out, I find it necessary to jump from the bottom step to the top, holding on to the half-door meanwhile.

I am soon in a small space, presumably the bar, behind which stands a young woman, to whom I address myself and ask if I can have lunch.
With a look of surprise she says “Why sir today is Friday”. I acknowledge I have been reminded of that fact several times before. She continues, “I don’t think we have anything in the house, but will you please ask Mr Ryan”, pointing to the yard where I can see but one man who looks like an ostler [Latter a man employed to look after the horses of people staying at an Inn], with a sponge in one hand and a bucket in the other.

Approaching, I enquire if he is Mr Ryan, and ask if I can have some food, as I have a long journey before me, being on my way to Dublin. He scratches his head and says, “You see, Sir no respectable Catholic would be seen doing business with a butcher on the day the Lord died, but I don’t like to be beaten for I know you won’t have another chance of getting a meal until you get to Dublin. Could you put up with a salmon?”
My reply is “Certainly and only too happy to be so well provided for”.

“Well so just take a walk over to the Cathedral, if you have never been inside of it before. If you have time ask Timm Cassidy, the cobbler whom you will observe sitting near the haystack, why the people allows such a disfigurement to exist in the heart of the city. Be here in half an hour’s time and we will have something for you. Don’t worry about the train” he adds, “as it will be time to leave here when it is supposed to leave the junction, for goodness knows what time you may get away”. I assure Mr Ryan I am quite content to place myself in his hands and went my way to the Cathedral.

Passing the haystack I am again struck with the absurdity of its position, as with the loose hay lying about in the vicinity, it gives a most untidy appearance to what would otherwise be a nice little Square. But here I observe a man sitting at one end of the stack, sewing with waxed thread, a shoe held between his knees; and every time he draws the thread through his hands he makes a peculiar noise by breathing hard through his teeth. This interests me, so I draw near to him and one or two other idlers who seem to be also interested.

Remembering the hotel keeper’s hint, I asked him, “Why do the people allow this haystack to stand here?”
I am at once treated to a heated denunciation of the family who persist in their old claim to have a haystack in the heart of the town, which at every election or other gathering is sure to get burnt down. And the people of the Square pay for it’s resurrection, as they have done hundreds of times before.

A peculiar hissing noise made whilst the wax thread is being used and the quick spasmodic tones of the speaker, add a most grotesque accompaniment to his tale.

I now remember the Cathedral and quicken my pace for I have used a good deal of my half hour. After making a fairly good jump I land on the other side of a large lock and in one step am just outside the building.

How shall I describe the view that meets my eye? Here is wealth, beauty and art; splendid marbles, superb paintings and every indication of culture, taste and comfort, all provided by subscriptions from the poor hard-working peasantry. Lost in reflection on a museum of such refinement existing in the midst of the deepest poverty, I retrace my steps and again jump the small swamp which separates all this grandeur from the real hard life around it.

Soon I am comfortably seated before a fine salmon weighing 7 or 8 pounds; a large dish full of floury potatoes; two or three tiny bottles of the Claret one meets with in the cafés on the other side of the Channel; and a large rhubarb tart.

I soon make a good meal off the salmon’s shoulder and after a most satisfying lunch seek the proprietor to thank him for his courtesy and settle my bill. I cannot help noticing a merry twinkle in his eye as I approach him. And now occurs a scene which I venture to say could not have been enacted anywhere but in Old Ireland.

Inquiring the amount of my indebtedness, Mr Ryan, taking two steps back, explains, “Do you think, Sir, I could charge anybody for a little bit of salmon after the treatment you have received in the city? I should be ashamed if you went to England and told them what a mean lot we were over here. Tis a nice opinion they would have of us. I am only sorry you did not have any good solid food, only I had none in the house and I am ashamed to own it”.

“Mr Ryan”, I reply, “I cannot allow myself to leave Thurles without discharging my obligations. I assure you I heartily appreciate your extreme kindness in the treatment I have received, but beg of you to be kind enough to allow me to pay”.

Here he burst into a fit of laughter and says, “I suppose you will be by asking next for me to make a special charge for the Claret, for drinking which, heaven knows, the Humane Society should award a medal”.

Seeing I have no chance of settling what I have had, I now boldly invite him to have some of the best whiskey in the house with me. He responds he will do so with pleasure and adds “I have an old drop my mother gave me years ago and it is the real John Jameson”.

Together we repair to an inner room, passing on to which I overheard Mr Ryan instructing his assistant to say that if anyone wishes to see him he is very particularly engaged. Then he opens a box of Havana cigars and ere I can possibly prevent him, forces nearly a dozen into my overcoat pocket. He also put two more on the table to be smoked with the whisky.

What amazing intelligence did I find in this man! How comprehensive was his query “Did I form any opinion as to how much of the money spent on the Cathedral might have been devoted to relieving the poverty round it?

To conclude he put a horse into a trap and drove me himself to the train, leaving me sore from kindness and with plenty of time to ruminate over one of my experiences in this remarkable country.
Nor can I easily forget his last words as turning away from me with an air of impatience, when I tried to thank him for his generous conduct, he said “Goodbye come again any day but Friday and we will try to redeem our characters for the shabby treatment we’ve given you and remember you can’t lose your train, for ’tis always most conveniently late.”

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