Talk May Be Cheap, But Oh, What Fun!

A short story from the pen of Thurles author Tom Ryan.

“Way back in the late ‘Sixties’, long before Vincent Browne’s famously entertaining People’s Debates on TV3, we had here in Thurles, “The People’s Debating Society”, locally referred to as the PDS.

People’s Debate.

This enthusiastic group of men / women, both of all ages and from all backgrounds, met every fortnight in the local Thurles Confraternity Hall and these entertaining evenings attracted up to several hundred people at times, to discuss, in often animated fashion, the topical issues of the day from Politics’ to ‘The behaviour of young boys and girls in the big bad city of Dublin’; a subject that once propelled the PDS onto the front page of the now defunct national Evening Press newspaper!

Thurles was always a great town for talking, whether on street corners or in pubs and the PDS offered every one the opportunity to discuss the issues of the day in a manner many a Town Councillor must have envied; seen as forthright, frank and honest discussions, some of which I reported for the “Tipperary Star Newspaper”, as PRO of this group. And in fairness many a Councillor bravely attended the sometimes heated battle of words taking place.

The PDS was a great training ground for would be politicians and journalists, and was a mine of information on many matters in the days before Citizens Information Centres were even heard of in Ireland. And many people who might be shy about approaching politicians for information were now being encouraged to stand up for their rights. The self confidence boost and empowerment so many individuals received from those community meetings was incalculable.

I myself had just returned to Ireland, from London, having been impressed by the Citizens Advice Bureau system over there and therefore thought the PDS could lead eventually to similar centres in Ireland.
I recall having a letter published in TCD Miscellany of Trinity College, cheekily calling for a coming together of workers, the unemployed and students, the better to be educationally armed for a social revolution.
To the magazine’s credit, the Editor of TCD Miscellany took the letter and an accompanying short story of the Thurles man of letters (Auxiliary Postman!) seriously, to his amazement, I might add. Today I am happy to have my books featuring stories from those protesting days in the Trinity Library. The PDS was not the only such forum for discussion in those heady days of the “Dawning of Aquarius” in the protesting ‘Sixties’.

I was a member of Conradh na Gaeilge who held diospoireachtai (Irish: discussions) in Irish and English in the hall of a local restaurant on Tuesday nights in Thurles.

Thurles had, while I was in England, won the prestigious ‘Glor na nGael All- Ireland Award’ as Ireland’s top Gaeilge – speaking town. Some of the organising committee were also to form another forum for speaking Irish called Comhluadar (Irish: Community). Every subject under the sun was discussed as Gaeilge and in English in Glenmorgan House, Thurles. The rationale was that those who could speak Irish at these discussions and those who wanted to learn or improve on their Gaeilge, could listen and learn or speak a little in English and a little as Gaeilge.
The spiorad (Irish: spirit) was all that mattered. We were taken aback at what a great gra (Irish: Love) for an Gaeilge was there and still is among the ordinary people as opposed to teachers and academics, who would be expected to be fluent Gaelgoiri, anyway. It was heartening to know that so many people from so many different backgrounds were so interested in the first official language of the nation and were proud of every little focal (Irish: word) they had. And how the late Gay Byrne would have enjoyed these convivial evenings.
In those days also ‘Muintir na Tire’ (Irish: People of the Country) had their Fireside Chats and they held great debating competitions for schools, which I used to report upon for the newspapers. Gael Linn also encouraged diospoireachtai and I recall feeling humbled by the power and eloquence of Rockwell College who trounced our Thurles CBS quartet. That night I learned that all the shouting and bluster and passion in the world is no match for calm and measured debate.
At one of the famous Fireside Chats of Muintir na Tire I recall a prominent national politician speaking with hugely impressive authority on numerous topics related to agriculture. He mesmerised us with the force of arguments substantiated by a vast array of alleged facts and figures, thrown at us with ease and eloquence as he continually consulted his pack of cards, from which he appeared to have taken all this information.
At the end of the evening, having been fascinated all night by this seemingly all knowing genius, who had all the answers to everything, I wondered, being a cheeky young lad at the time, just what kind of cards could have so much information on them. Upon picking up the cards and turning them over I was amazed and puzzled to find the cards were pure blank on both sides. (hmm..)

Then there is the important matter of ‘the way you tell ’em’.
During an election campaign before the War of Independence speaker after speaker appeared to be making no headway with the vast crowd assembled in Mullinahone, in South Co. Tipperary to listen to them.
But one speaker knew just how to address the plain people of Tipperary.
He shouted “Men of Mullinahone!” There was a pause before he roared again; “Women of Mullinahone!” A thunderous roar shook the nearby hills. Former “Tipperary Star Newspaper Editor”, the late great William (Bill) Myles, recalled “He could say or do no wrong at all with the crowd after that”.

Mr Myles himself enjoyed debates and invited a few friends into the Tipperary Star’s editorial office one night a week for a debate, including a gentleman who was on the Republican side during the Civil War, while Mr Myles held the rank of Captain in the Free State Army.

Ah, sure, talk is cheap. But what fun, what fun!”


Tom Ryan ,”Iona” Rahealty, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.


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