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“An Irish Journey” by Sean O’Faolain in 1940s Thurles, Continued.

Sean O’Faolain

Cork born, John Francis Whelan [1900 -1991] possibly better known by all as Sean O’Faolain was one of the most influential figures in 20th-century Irish culture. A short-story writer of international repute; he was also a leading commentator and critic.

In his book “An Irish Journey” (from the Liffey to the Lee), latter published first in 1940, (Published in America in 1943), he reflects on his visit to Liberty Square, here in Thurles, Co. Tipperary. 

For those who may have missed Part 1 of his story regarding his sojourn in Thurles, Co. Tipperary; same can be read HERE


PART 2(Final part continues)Sean O’Faolain writes as follows,

“The old man on the bridge remembered all the famous people I associate with Thurles, such as the famous Archbishop Croke, Smith O’Brien and the Fenians, Parnell, John Dillon and especially William O’Brien, that fiery particle from Cork who with Tim Healy was the most gallant and the wildest fighter of the Irish parliamentary party and who alone continued the best traditions (as well as some of the worst) of that party into the modern Sinn Fein revival.

He showed me where the old Market House used to stand in the square with its little tower and it’s frontal terrace, stepped at each side and he talks so well I could see the vast political meetings there, of nights, with the tar-barrels smoking and spluttering in the wind, their flames leaping in the reflecting windows about, the police lined along the opposite walls or grouped in side streets, fingering their carbines or batons in case there should be a clash between rival parties.

The great Archbishop would stand there tall and impressive; with him another big clerical figure – with apparently much more suave and evasive, Canon Cantwell; Dillon slightly stooped; O’Brien bearded like a prophet and Parnell ready to tear the hearts of the crowd with some clinching phrase.

Later, I looked up at Croke’s fine statue in the square and went to the Cathedral (Cathedral of the Assumption, Thurles), to see his bust in its niche – a square jawed firm mouthed man, much what one would expect from his life story, all solid and all of a piece. He was one of the last great nationalist prelates, for the Parnell split struck a deadly blow at a priest in politics, and though the hierarchy has manfully stood by the people several times since then, especially during the Revolution, they almost always act in cautious and deliberate concert and the freelance fighting Bishop has since died out.

The Archbishop Thomas William Croke statue situated on Liberty Square, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.

There is something fabular (having the form of a fable or story) about Croke. He destroyed all his papers after reading Purcell’s “Life of Cardinal Manning and little positive remains.

It is said that he fought at the barricades in Paris in the revolutionary troubles of 1848, [“Springtime of the Peoples”]. One can, after looking at his portraits and reading his life, well believe William O’Brien who vouches for it; see the young priest of twenty-four caught by the excitement of the times, the rattle of Cavignac’s musketry, the flutter of the Red flag, the barricades of furniture, carts, wagons, dead horses, the cries of the demagogues.

There is another like story which maintains that when he was a student either in Paris or in that pleasant college of the little Rue de Irlandais, behind the Pantheon orat Menin, he horrified a class by denying in a syllogism, (Latter a form of reasoning in which a conclusion is drawn from two given or assumed propositions), was expelled, put his pack on his back and tramped across Europe to the Irish college at Rome and was admitted there. (The rector was John Paul Cullen, later Cardinal, a friend of Pope Leo, one of the most influential men in the whole European church, the man who defined for the Catholic world the precise formula of Papal Infallibility.)

I should like to believe the stories, they are such an excellent prologue to a life during which, as curate, professor, college president at Fermoy, chancellor, parish priest, bishop in New Zealand, archbishop of Cashel, he was in every station, the most outspoken, forward driving, irrepressible, warm-hearted, affectable, and sympathetic figure, in the entire history of the Irish episcopacy.

When he was appointed Bishop, it is said that the appointment was most unpopular in his diocese and if I made believe my old man at the bridge, (Barry’s Bridge Thurles), who kept on remembering local lore about him – on his first Sunday he got up in the pulpit and told the people that he knew it, that he now had the post and that he “was, thank God, under no compliment to the priests and people of Tipperary for it”.

He gave dinner in celebration of his appointment. Only one of his opponent’s dared to stay away, a professor in the Diocesan Seminary, father Dan Ryan. The murmur went round the table before the meal ended that Ryan had been suspended, an unheard of punishment for what was merely a social gaffe. But it was true. Croke had suspended him for twenty-four hours, “just to show him who was the boss”.

William Smith O’Brien

He was as generous as he was stern. In the great days of the Irish parliamentary party, William (Smith) O’Brien used to stay at the Palace. One night, after O’Brien had gone to bed the Archbishop paused outside his door and for some idle reason apparently looked at O’Brien’s boots. They were in tatters. He sent out into the town early next morning for a new pair of boots. O’Brien soon afterwards received the cheque for €200.

Those must have been great days and nights in that Palace in Thurles and Croke has always seemed to me an epitome (perfect example) of the Irish priest at his best, sitting there among the Irish political leaders of the day Biggar, Davitt, Parnell, O’Brien and the rest. Outside are the Tipperary farmers and their wives, down from the rich hills, up from the Golden Vale. The great square is dense with chaffers and bargainers by day; by night with crowds waiting to hear him. It is splendid to see his statue today in that same square (Liberty Square, Thurles) with the market surging around it, like a navy moored to his pedestal.

And he was no mere political priest. At the Parnell divorce he took Parnell’s bust, which he had in his hall, and kicked it out of the door, he was heartbroken. “Ireland” he moaned “is no fitting place for any decent man today. The warmth that used to gladden my heart has disappeared. There is nothing to cheer me in church or state”.
He wished even to fly from Thurles and Tipperary and Ireland, back to New Zealand.

I naturally have a warm corner for Croke; he was a Cork man and they say he never lost his Cork accent and even to the end of his days, ordered his food and other needs from Cork city, rather than give Tipperary, which had not wanted him, the benefit of his custom. A curious thing is that his mother was a Protestant. She remained a Protestant to within a few years, I think only four, of her death.

History, as all over Ireland, is an odd medley in the popular mind of this modern Tipperary – if one may judge by its chance projections in Thurles. They have, for example, lost their old market hall, with its many associations. The one castle which remains is only part of what once stood there.
There were once seven castles in Thurles. In the backyards any good antiquary, like, I imagine, the local Archdeacon Seymour or Dr Callanan, could point you out the remains of the old walls in the town’s backyards. On the other hand on the wall of Hayes hotel there is a neat plaque to commemorate the founding there, of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884, with Croke as the first patron. While the modern Gaelic revival having permitted the castles to disappear, records a group of new terrace houses beyond Kickham Street, heroes and heroines nobody can possibly visualise or know anything about – Oisin Terrace, Oscar Terrace, Dalcassian Terrace, Emer Terrace, Banba Terrace and so on.
It is a typical experience of the confused and ambiguous, mingled nature of this modern Ireland to go from that end of the town to the other, to the great Beet Factory, pulsing and hammering away inside its impressive buildings, with its rows and rows of railway sidings and it’s rows and rows of windows shining at night across the Tipperary fields”.

Story Ends


Padraic Maher To Launch Thurles Sarsfields GAA Story Volume II, on Friday Next.

The essential and most perfect Christmas gift for lovers of all things GAA.

The launch of Thurles Sarsfields GAA Story Volume II, 1960-2019, was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic; but gladly as restrictions are easing, the launch of this much awaited book will now take place on next Friday, November 5th, in the Thurles Sarsfields Social Centre at 8.00 p.m.

Performing the launch, to which all are welcome, is Tipperary hurling star, Padraic Maher, Sarsfields most decorated hurler of the modern era.

Volume 2 of the book continues the epic story of this club, which is as old as the GAA itself. It takes the reader through its peaks and troughs from the heady days of the sixties, through the barren years that followed, to the club’s return to the glory days of the last decade.

The opening of the Social Centre, the inclusion of Ladies Football and Camogie and the club’s development of new grounds on the Racecourse Road, are all highlighted, as are many of the developments in Thurles during the period.

This hardback book, which runs to 752 pages, has an amazing array of photographs and a detailed statistical section.

Books, costing €25, will be on sale in the centre from 6.00p.m. and copies will be available later at: –
Bookworm, Parnell Street, Thurles. Tel: 0504-22257.
Email: info@bookworm.ie
and at
Eason in Thurles Shopping Centre, Tel: 0504-24588.
Email: thurles@easonfranchise.com

NB: For those who missed out on Volume 1, copies will be available on the night, at a bargain price of €40 for both volumes.

All are welcome to attend this Book Launch.


“An Irish Journey” – By Sean O’Faolain

Cork born, John Francis Whelan [1900 -1991] possibly better known as Sean O’Faolain was one of the most influential figures in 20th-century Irish culture. A short-story writer of international repute; he was also a leading commentator and critic.

Sean O’Faolain

In his book “An Irish Journey” (from the Liffey to the Lee), latter published first in 1940, he reflects on his visit to Liberty Square, here in Thurles, Co. Tipperary. 

Sean O’Faolain writes,

“Wild or not, these Thurles people have much more edge to them than the easy-going Clonmel folk. Their town shows it. The great wide square, concrete from pavement to pavement, the bright shops, every one of them well-dressed, the busy air of the streets even on an ordinary afternoon and the almost total absence of antiquities, marks this out as a modern business-town, “with no nonsense about it.”

And it has gone on improving every year. Old residents tell me that their fathers have handed to them a very different picture of an older Thurles, when as one of them said to me, “you could step from dung-heap to dung-heap in the square”. Hovels surrounded the centre of the town. The elder Dr. Callanan, the father of the present Dispensary doctor, told me he once handled 175 cases of fever in a single epidemic and he had handled typhus as well as typhoid.

Older traditions can revive the famine days, when people died in the fields by the ditches, their mouths green from eating nettles, even as Spencer records from an earlier period; while, in those unions which Dan O’Connell opposed so inexplicably, the dying were laid in rows upon rows on the floor.

An old man I met on the bridge told me he recalls the time when the town might have been thought of as composed of six shopkeepers, who made “pots of money” out of the Big Houses all about, and who were so many Gombeen-men, or tight-fisted, hard-screwing middle-men to the farmers. But he said they are gone now with the froth of the river.

(The River, by the way, is still the Suir: it rises not that much more than a mile away from the Nore up near the Devil’s Bit).

They’re gone with the big houses on which they relied”, and he waved his hand over the river, past the old 12th century castle, the town’s only relique, down towards Fethard and up the river towards Templemore. “Archerstown House, Lanespark House, Killeen House, Ballysheehan, New Park, Mobarnane, Coolmore, Derryluskan, Brownstown House, Ballyronan , Lloydsboro, Inch…. How many of them are left now?. Ah, ‘tis a pity. For they were fine houses and gave great employment.”

“But surely the beet factory“, I protested, “must employ as many as the whole lot of them put together.”
“Tisn’t alike”, he insisted, morosely. “Tisn’t alike, what’s a factory? Here to-day, gone tomorrow. What am I to a factory? No more than that shtone”, as he slapped the bridge parapet as if he wanted to crack his hand.

“They were dacent people – or the most of them were – and they attinded to the min that was working for ‘um. If a man got sick they’d give him the besht of the attention. If you get sick in the factory, what happens you, only to lie up and lose your wages, or maybe your job. Ah, tisn’t alike! There’s no nature in a factory.”

Nobody regrets more than the artist the passing of that old hierarchical form of society, so complete in its gradations of human order, still humanized in Ireland by contact with the natural life for the land, long after it had become dehumanized in England by the industrial revolution.
But it had many faults even here. Its fatal weakness was that the Big House people felt themselves here, not merely of a different class to the worker and the farmer – which was natural since it happened to be true – but of a different race or religion or life mode and they took their political philosophy from England, whose problems were of a quite different nature. Master and man were not one entity, with right and proper distinctions between them, but two separate entities. And that does not work”.

To Be Continued. [Note: Part 2, the final part can be read HERE.


“The Cuppa Sugar Days” Warmhearted Tales Of A Newspaperman.

The eagerly awaited fourth publication by Rahealty, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, based freelance writer, author and poet Mr Tom Ryan, is about to hit the book shelves in the coming days.

This ideal Christmas gift, “The Cuppa Sugar Days”, includes light-hearted tales from another era, against the backdrop of County Tipperary, together with a collection of seven short stories and poetry.

Photo courtesy Bríd Ryan.

In “A message from Misty’s Dog Heaven” we discover that there might, indeed, be a heavenly place for our dear departed friends from the animal world.

In “The Lovers of Rathnakray”, love finds it difficult to find a way for one crazy mixed-up playwright.

The beautiful tale, “A Christmas Card From New York”, reveals how a simple Christmas card changed one man’s attitude to life, living and love.

In “Christmas Romances” an old man looks back at Christmas Eve on his cherished loves of a lifetime.

In “The Gambles of Goosegogs O’Hara”, Goosegogs and his pal Shifty Condon, get a raging ultimatum from fiery Georgia Mae, latter spouse of the horse racing enthusiast, Goosegogs.

In “Alexander’s Dream Girl”, a husband longs for a positive outcome to his wife’s battle for good health.

In “The Visit”, an unusual short story in verse, loneliness and old age is put under the microscope.

This most charming of publications also features numerous tales about interesting people, each from every walk of life in County Tipperary.

They include a Goldmining Prospector in Alaska; an International Sheep Dog Trialist of BBC renown in historic Drom; an International Designer’s achievement in China; a World Champion Powerlifter; a man who is at home in Graveyards; a Global Busker and friend of the famous; the late, Jimmy Doyle and John Doyle and hurlers of another era; Liam Sheedy’s inspiring words at Colaiste Mhuire Awards Night; the magic of the Munster Final in Thurles long ago and All-Ireland hurling traditions; Postmen; Railwaymen; Newspaper Personalities; Theatre Folk and Show Business people (both amateur and professional); Tales Out of School in Thurles and elsewhere; Tipperary Traditions; Profiles of Interesting Personalities from a Militaria collector to a Records Enthusiast; an Organic Farmer; an England-based Thurles Blues Musician; Messenger Boys; a Fiddler’s Retreat in Thurles; Scouts; Publicans; Teachers; Nuns; Ballad Singers; Rugby Personalities; Hockey Players; Athletes; Equestrian Folk; Cricket Enthusiasts; a former Inter Milan Soccer Player; an Inspiring Farmworker and Talented Wife; a Thurles family’s Military Tradition; Vintage Vehicle; Poets; Playwrights; Victoria Cross heroes; Carol Singers; reminiscences of Life in London and Dublin in the “Swinging Sixties”; the tragic Kennedy family of the United States and the Thurles Association.

There is a special tribute to eminent Tipperary poet and friend of the author, the late great Dennis O’Driscoll from Thurles.

All these and much more, feature in this wonderful publication by Tom Ryan, who has been writing about County Tipperary life and times for over 50 years in both regional, national and other media publications.

The 560 page publication includes photos by Bríd Ryan and is dedicated to Tom’s late wife, Christina (Ina).
Details of the official launch by Dr Labhras O’Murchu (Director General of CCE) will be confirmed within the coming weeks.

In the meanwhile, for further information, do contact author Mr Tom Ryan, Mobile Tel. No. 0872131003.


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:-


“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.”