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‘Good Evenin’ Listeners’ – Tommy O’Brien Remembered.

Thomas O’Brien , (1905–1988) R.T.E . “Your choice and mine“.

‘Good Evenin’ Listeners’ was the regular salutation by RTE radio broadcaster and journalist, Thomas O’Brien, (‘Tommy’) (1905 – 1988).

Tommy O’Brien was born on July 20th 1905, on Wolfe Tone Street, in Clonmel, South Co. Tipperary. He was one of 8 children (six sons and two daughters) of working class parents Martin and Bridget (née Moroney). Both parents hailed originally from Co. Waterford, both from farming families dispossessed following agrarian agitation, during the Irish land war, between 1879 and 1882.

Tommy was educated at Clonmel CBS and at Ring College, Co. Waterford, before leaving school at the tender age of 15 years. Active in Na Fianna Éireann, he served as a dispatch rider in the 3rd Tipperary Brigade, IRA, associating himself with personalities such as Dan Breen, Seán Treacy and Séamus Robinson.

Following the 1921 Anglo Irish Treaty, he began a career in journalism, as a reporter with the Clonmel Chronicle, occasionally supplementing his income as a court stenographer, before joining the Clonmel Nationalist, first as reporter, then as editor. He wrote theatre and music reviews; commentary on then current public issues; and wry observations of local town life, using the pen name ‘Scrutator’.

The then many touring companies visiting Clonmel, greatly assisted in developing his great love of grand opera. During the years 1925 and up until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, during annual holidays, he regularly attended the International, dressy and exclusive, London’s Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, listening to all the music and the many great performers of that era, organized by impresarios like the International conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, associated with the London Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic orchestras.

As a proficient billiards player, he won the Éire Championship in 1937, and was twice All-Ireland Champion in the years 1940 and 1941. He was also an enthusiastic hillwalker, possessing an exhaustive knowledge of the Comeragh mountains.

In 1951 he presented a short series of programmes on Radio Éireann entitled ‘Covent Garden Memories’, which proved an unexpected success, and which led to his resignigation from newspaper editorship; devoting himself to broadcasting and freelance journalism, the latter mostly on musical topics. His weekly programme, ‘Tommy O’Brien and his records’, would, in 1968, be expanded to ‘Your choice and mine’, and would continue until his final illness in 1987, thus becoming, back then, Ireland’s longest running radio programme.

Tommy O’Brien never married, but was regurarly known to be in the company by Ms Margaret (‘Mog’) Condon a native of Clonmel, latter an accomplished amateur painter, pianist, and soprano until her death in the mid 1960s.

Tommy O’Brien leaving home to catch the train in Thurles.

The now late Sunday Independent chief sub-editor, drama and music critic Mr Gus Smith; in his now rare book ‘Tommy O’Brien – ‘Good Evenin’ listeners’ [Madison Publishers, Dublin, 1987], describes Tommy O’Brien’s fortnightly trip from Clonmel to Thurles, to catch the morning train, as follows: –

“Exactly at 9:30am the taxi drew to a halt outside the main door. This was recording day for Tommy O’Brien. Every fortnight he travelled to RTE to record two programmes at a time. And every second Wednesday the ritual was the same: he was picked up by taxi at his bungalow and driven to Thurles where he would catch the Dublin train. “Get in!” I heard him exclaiming through the open car window. “Didn’t I tell you we be in time!”.

I climbed into the backseat and was immediately introduced to taximan George. Tommy looked well-groomed and fresh-faced and I suspected he has gone to bed earlier than usual. I raise the question of a lack of a direct rail service from Clonmel to Dublin and he agreed it was a damned nuisance.

As we drove through town he added, “I don’t like the new shops in Clonmel, I mean the supermarkets are impersonal and not as friendly as the old shops. Which reminds me I was in Sligo the other week giving a gramophone recital and I thought it a nicer looking town then Clonmel. My God, the Yeats’ country is magnificent!.”

He filled his pipe and lit it slowly. He laughed as he remarked, “Talking about Sligo, I met this lady, a real charmer and her knowledge of opera was as good as my own, and she had collected programmes from the DGOS season at the Gaiety Theatre dating back for years and years. Anyway I invited her to visit Clonmel to hear my records and I hope she can come. George here would drive us around the beauty spots in Tipperary in Waterford. I think she like that”.

Woman’s company has always pleased him. After his recitals usually surrounded by them looking for autographs. Once after recital in the Burlington Hotel in Dublin he was, he says, “bombarded by women. All kinds of women. Old women, middle age women and young women – they just couldn’t have enough of me! And do you know what kind of woman went for me and most ? Well, it was the nuns! Yes, the nuns love me. I don’t know what they see in me!”

Cork, I suggested always seemed to love his recitals. Propped up in the front seat of the car, he half-turned around as he replied, “I used to go to Cork too often you’ve got to be careful not to wear out your welcome”.
“Did you get many invitations for recitals?”
“I get invitations all the time. The other day Kilrush group wanted to send a taxi to Clonmel for me, but I had to tell them I was unable to make the trip. I’m not keen on the long travel and since I don’t normally stay overnight, it means coming back to Clonmel late to the morning”.
He suddenly raised his voice as he pointed in the direction of the left towards some fields.
“It was way in there that I used to bring the dispatches to Dan Breen. Many’s the time I cycled along this road and sometimes with my heart in my mouth because I would be carrying Breen’s revolver which I had got cleaned or repaired in Clonmel”.
The land looked good. A few miles on George said, “Over there on the left are Vincent O’Brien’s racing stables”. From the road I picked out the wooden fences in the field used for training his horses.
Tommy O’Brien said “I never met Vincent O’Brien; I hear though he’s a decent man”.
“He’s all that”, replied George, without taking his eyes off the road in front.

Tommy was in the mood for conversation. He said he didn’t normally give gramophone recitals in private houses, but 2 years ago he was asked as a special favour to give one in the home of Tony Ryan the founder of Guinness peat aviation.
“Seemingly, he had heard me many times on radio and considered a novel idea to invite me to the dinner party he was giving for his staff at Shannon. Barry O’Donovan, a member of the Clonmel Gramophone Society came along with me and helped me with the recording equipment. The house, outside Nenagh was like a mansion, full of books and paintings. We were treated to a beautiful dinner and film show, then I gave my recital. I was in excellent form and, from what I could see the gathering really enjoy the music and stories. Afterwards Tony Ryan thanked me for the show I had given. And I remember he added “The next place Tommy will be giving his recital is in New York”. This surprised me as I didn’t know what he meant. But earlier in the evening he had mentioned to Barry O’Donovan that he was planning a big dinner for GPA executives in New York and wanted me to be there. I was prepared to go, but unfortunately the dinner was cancelled for some reason or another. However, Tony Ryan says that if I care to go to America, he will arrange the flight at any time”.

I mentioned about the RTE documentary and how well it had been received for viewers.
“I brought John Williams everywhere”, he said enthusiastically. “Up the Comeragh mountains and to the rivers. We had great times together making the film. He got tremendous atmosphere into it and I think that is one of the reasons why people like it more every time they see it”.
“John said it was easy to direct you in the film because you are a natural actor!”.
Tommy chuckled, “I think he knew he had found a star discovery”.

The Rock of Cashel loomed ahead. Tommy, a keen historian, talked about Cashel of the Kings and said he had climbed the rock on numerous occasions. I reminded him of what a travel writer had once said – “I cannot think that anyone coming upon this first site of the Rock can be unmoved”. George slowed the car down as we drove through the town. It was in a sleepy mood.

For a while Tommy puffed his pipe in silence, then he began to reminisce about the old touring opera companies. They were useful for at least one thing, he mused, and that was they introduced people to the operas, otherwise in those days they would never have heard of them. He hoped that the showing of opera on television now would make it more popular with young people. When I told him that I fear for the future of opera, because of the lack of interest by so many young people, he waxed optimistic.

“People will always listen to exciting singers and opera is about singing and good voices. Like everything else it goes through phases, but at the present time I’m the Domingo and Sutherland can still pack the Opera houses. I’m optimistic”.

I checked my watch. It was nearly 10:30, as George drove us towards the rear of Thurles railway station. At the ticket office Tommy collected his ticket from Paddy Loughman and they exchanged some pleasant words together. For a while we paste up and down the platform. He was rather proud of the fact that he was recognised easily and some people went out of their way to greet him.
“I enjoy the fortnightly routine”, he admitted. “It makes up for the hours I spent getting the program together”.

Shortly after 10:30 the train pulled into the station and I heard him say “We go to the dining compartment”. I followed him into the carriage where he sat at a table for two.

Presently we were greeted by a tall wiry CIE waiter. “That’s Ned,” said Tommy. “He has my breakfast already cooked and will serve it soon”.
I could see he was looking forward to the journey.”

Tommy O’Brien sadly died, having suffered a series of strokes, in Melview nursing home, Clonmel, on February 24th 1988, and was buried in St. Patrick’s cemetery to the strains of Mozart’s violin sonata in B, latter his favourite piece of music.

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Cashel Library – Coffee Morning.

Ms Maura Barrett, Cashel Library, Cashel, Co. Tipperary, reports: –

“If you are out and about in Cashel on Wednesday morning next, December 14th 2022, take note that Cashel Library (Address: Friar Street, St. Francisabbey, Cashel, Co. Tipperary) are extending you an invitation to their ‘Coffee Morning‘, commencing sharp at 11:00am.

On Wednesday morning next, there will be entertainment from local schools and from Ukrainian Folk Musician Yulia Shilnikova.
So do please come in from the cold and join us.

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New Publication “Winter Miscellany” To Be Launched At Three Venues This December.

Six Scribes – One Book – Three Launch Dates.

Six Scribes:

The six named scribes of a new book, entitled “Winter Miscellany”, latter to be launched this month, are Maura Barett; Brian Clancy; Pat Griffin; Paul Keating; Paul Maher and Jasper Murphy.

One Book:

“Winter Miscellany” has already received glowing reviews from Mr Donal Ryan (Irish novelist and short story writer); Mr Cónal Creedon (former ‘Writer in Residence’ at University College Cork), and Mr John MacKenna (Irish playwright and novelist).

The stories and poems contained in this new collection are all ‘winter themed’ and represent a broad and diverse range of sources, as can be observed by their variety and narrative approaches. There is adventure on every page, as the readers, in their minds eye, witness an entire spectrum of human emotions and experience.
These characters get into all manner of scrapes. One swings for an ex with a hurley; one witnesses his own funeral; while another navigates the shady sheets of 1980’s Moscow.
With a signed copy of this book, making it the perfect Xmas Gift; these deftly crafted stories are much complimented by haunting, winter themed artwork, authored by the students of the Central Technical Institute (CTI), situated at Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.

Three Launch Dates:

* Launch Date 1: Monday, December 12th, 2022 @ 7:30pm
Where: TUS [Clonmel Campus], Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. Book to be launched by Mr Cónal Creedon, with Master of Ceremonies Ms. Eileen Acheeson.

* Launch Date 2: Tuesday, December 13th, 2022 @ 7:30pm
Where: Pat Carroll’s Wine Lodge, No.2 Ballyborough Street, Kilkenny City, Co. Kilkenny. Book to be launched by Mr John MacKenna, with Master of Ceremonies Mr Mark Turner (Marble City Publishing).

* Launch Date 3: Thursday, December 15th, 2022 @ 7:30pm.
Where: TUS [Thurles Campus], Gortataggart, Nenagh Road, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Book to be launched by Someone Famous, with Master of Ceremonies Mr Noel Dundon (Tipperary News & Tipperary Star).

Note: Refreshments will be served on the night, at all 3 venues, on each of the 3 stated launch dates.

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Young Novelist Launches Debut Novel In Cashel Library.

Ms Maura Barrett, Cashel Library, Reports: –

“Nikita Catherine is a young novelist from Co Tipperary. Her novel “The Tailor’s Daisy” is the latest publication from Olympia Publishers, an independent publishing house with offices in London, Los Angeles and Mumbai.

Cashel Library is delighted to announce that they will host her Irish launch on Tuesday, November 29th at 7:00pm.

“This is our second opportunity this year to showcase local novelists”, says Branch Librarian Maura Barrett, “It is really heartening to see the amount of writers we have in our midst that are seeing their projects come to fruition.”

The novel tells the story of Nikita’s Great Great Grandfather, a young man of Ireland who fought bravely in World War I and his ensuing journey in life having survived the horrors of war.

It is now generally accepted that around 200,000 soldiers, from the island of Ireland, served over the course of the Great War, many did not survive and those that did rarely if ever spoke about it. Nikita Catherine has picked up the mantel and told her relative’s story a few generations on in this inspiring novel.

Joseph Thompson was swept up in the Great War, not returning home for years. Injured and emotionally scarred, he returns to find that not everything is as he left it. Now, he must do his best to find himself after the horrors of the front line, take care of his parents, the family business, and deal with political tensions rising in Ireland.
These tensions seem to be more than he can handle, but, when he meets Mary-Kate, he will discover that maybe his life is just beginning, and that love can beat any hardships one might be faced with.

The Tailor’s Daisy is a wonderful story written with a lot of heart about the importance of family and having perseverance when faced with difficulties.

Nikita Catherine is from Tipperary, Ireland, growing up not far from the original homestead of this story’s main characters. She is their great-granddaughter, by their son Billy, and his wife Kitty.
She is a huge bookworm, fiction and history being her favourite. She based a lot of this book on the anecdotes and stories told to her by her grandmother, Kitty, on how her great-grandparents lived and raised their family in difficult circumstances, and on the stories of what her grandfather got up to with his siblings and kids.

Nikita Catherine has a diploma in photography, preferring portrait and landscape.

Olympia Publishers are an independent publishing house, with offices in London, Los Angeles and Mumbai. “We pride ourselves on our wide range of genres and giving ambitious authors a platform that is so rarely available in the publishing industry today. All of our books and authors are enormously special in their own way. We believe that a story can evoke a large range of emotions; they can make you laugh, cry and, most importantly, change a life. We have committed ourselves to being an environmentally friendly company, implementing the use of FSC paper in all our books and promotional material as well as actively encouraging writers to correspond and submit to us electronically” says James Houghton, Commissioning Editor.

The Tailor’s Daisy will be launched in Cashel Library on Tuesday 29th November 2022 at 7:00pm, by Kathleen Peters and Margaret Gleeson.
The author Nikita Catherine will be present and available to sign copies of this unique novel. It retails at €10, or two for €15 and copies will be for sale at the event.”

Cashel Library will host the event and refreshments will be served.
All welcome enquiries please to Tel No: 062 63825.

NB UPDATE – November 28th 2022: Above book launch has been postponed due to unforeseen circumstances – Nikita Catherine regrets this delay and Cashel Library will be in touch in due course with a new launch date.

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The Woman In The Christmas Window

The Woman In The Christmas Window.

From the Pen of Thurles Author & Poet Tom Ryan ©.

Graphics: G. Willoughby

Mrs Deborah Price-Parkinson was forty seven years old, and until this Christmas week had never taken a drink in her life. This, of course, does not quite explain why she was now sitting in an armchair singing ‘Silent Night’ in the front window of Price-Parkinson & Co’s Boutique, in Main Street.

Now, dear, gentle Deborah had never been one for demonstrative behaviour. On the contrary, her Wednesdays at the Chess Club, her hour of voluntary service for the Girl Guides and an occasional visit to the Writers’ Group indicated that poor Deborah was quite the small town’s ‘dullsville’.

Perhaps had she not occasionally taken to engage in quiet strolls down to the seashore, the overwhelming majority of the people might not even have been aware of her presence in this great big world of ours.

But let’s go back to the store. She is still in the chair? But, of course, would anyone dare dislodge the owner from such a position?
She had been politely asked to withdraw from her position of prominence, by the store manager, one polite Mr Anderson, but this invitation had been declined and in the process, she had despatched a nice cup of tea and a slice of Christmas cake; in the general direction of ‘Lingerie’- Special Offer‘.
She lay reclining in the chair, half asleep, but alert enough to foil any attempt to dislodge her.

Had dear Deborah been fully in tune with the Christmas parade in Main Street, she would have observed a number of bemused citizens gaping through the window, against which a driving wind, from the east, was hurtling seasonal snow.

This curious community comprised ‘corner boys’ glad to see a human touch added to the local big wigs of commerce; a Garda who felt that at Christmas some things are better neither seen nor heard, and a ‘wino’ who gave a jolly thumbs-up to one whom he thought was a fellow traveller with Bacchus.

All stared in wonder at the strange, if not sorry spectacle of Deborah Price-Parkinson lolling about in the chair with a fixed look of defiance on her face and her once lovely dark locks; now with whispers of grey, spread against the back of the bamboo armchair.

Some men, not too easily shocked, looked on with much amusement at poor, dear Deborah. But in their male way put down the ludicrousness of the situation to the menopause.
They had found it easy to stare at Deborah. She had always kept her figure
well with her walks and special vegetarian diet.
And her essentially deep and sensitive nature which had attracted her to poetry readings at the Writers’ Group also now manifested itself in an aura which, despite that fixed look of defiance, almost shone through the by now darkening window behind which she sat.

So, despite the attentions of those in town, it emerged now that nobody was particularly over- bothered whether or not dear Deborah would spend Christmas in a shop window.

And that’s life and the way it is. And isn’t it amazing that you can put your whole self in a shop window and somehow nobody really cares… But on with our yarn.

And now this Christmas week it’s maybe an hour later, up in the
other world in the window of Mrs Price Parkinson.
She is stretching a little now, yawning and staring in puzzlement at her strange surroundings in the darkness of the window. By this time all the customers and staff of the boutique have gone home with a strange tale to tell their kin on this Christmas.
Only the manager, polite Mr Anderson, a long-time and loyal employee, remains as a companion for the lady in the window.

Outside it’s still snowing and it’s been too cold for anyone to be standing around open- mouthed at the window. Anyway, even in small town in Ireland, you get used to even miracles.
Deborah Price Parkinson sighs and groans with an unaccustomed headache. She groans because she realises her problem of problems has not gone away and anyway it is harder to think with a hangover.
She accepts the proffered hand of polite Mr Anderson and descends with a little wobble from the elevated stand in the window.
“Better?” Mr Anderson was as patronizing as ever.
“That man is unflappable”, thought dear Deborah.
“Oh, Mr Anderson. How long … oh dear”.
She sat down in the chair in the office now. Then taking the glass of milk proffered by Mr Anderson she thought about what she could have done while drunk, if only momentarily, and again resumed her uneasy state which had propelled her into her first bout of unmitigated drunkenness.
“I did a stupid thing, Mr Anderson.”
Mr Anderson was infuriating.
“Indeed, Mrs Price Parkinson”.
Deborah felt, however, that she owed some sort of explanation, some gesture. … But all she could say was: “Isn’t it a little funny how you follow a charted course all your life and then for no apparent reason you throw maps to the wind…”
She sensed his dutiful interest and decided to go no further. Again she felt that feeling of fury for the over accommodating boutique manager. But she spoke with fine dignity and composure.
“I have two children, Mr Anderson, and in all my life, I never …my husband… and never… Christmas Eve and my little dears, Alan, Tracey, grew up and …now in America… It’s too late, I thought. Isn’t it? I mean ever… so dreadfully late. Do you understand?”
Mr Anderson didn’t, but nodded in the affirmative, “I mean it’s so sad…”. The tears came to her eyes. “So utterly, utterly…”
She stopped and cried for a moment into her handkerchief.
“Does the world really care? Oh, I think not, Mr Anderson. I hope not”.
The telephone rang and Mr Anderson lifted the receiver. “It’s for you, madam.”
Deborah Price Parkinson hesitated, then took the receiver from the outstretched hand of Mr Anderson. “Yes…. Oh! Tracey!, Oh Alan… at the airport. In NewYork? Hello…the line is gone dead, Mr Anderson.
Oh, isn’t it marvellous; my children are coming home! And I worried so much that they might not”.
“I am happy for you, madam”, polite Mr Anderson informed her coldly.
“My children are in New York and about to leave for Shannon and we will be a family again. Oh, I have not seen them for years and oh…” she bursts into uncontrollable tears.

Some hours later Mr. Anderson, over a beer in the only hotel in town, was anything but polite in his comments. “She’s an unmerciful witch, that woman. Every Christmas it’s the same bloody story. A bloody charade. “Oh, Mr Anderson, I have a little fantasy I want to act out for my forthcoming short story for the magazine”. She got drunk and had me spend two hours looking at her in the window of the boutique. On the busiest day of the year! That woman is mad, I tell you. Utterly nutterly”.
Mr Anderson helped himself to a glass of Christmas spirits proffered by an understanding hotel manager. The hotel manager asked: “Has she really got a son and daughter in America?”
Mr Anderson scowled darkly. “Don’t you start. As a matter of fact I was not even aware she was married”. He chuckled at this as if a preposterous idea. Then: “As for the fictional Tracey and Alan, I have not a clue. Utterly nutterly that woman”.
He assumed a pose, “Oh, Alan, oh Tracey’. Every Christmas the same for the past twenty-one years, and this year the drunken amateur dramatics in the window thrown in for good measure. Utterly nutterly”.
He sipped at his glass and repeated his allegation, “Utterly nutterly.”

The handsome couple on flight 28 over the Atlantic seemed as excited as young marrieds. Although obviously very close, one sensed, however, they were not young lovers. They held hands but again, not as lovers, but as if sharing a great moment. Which, indeed, it was. For it was their 21st birthday and even more marvellous moments lay ahead.
Now both wondered just what the woman in the small town would look like and how she would react to their presence. Both she and they had spent many years tracing one another, since she had abandoned them as babies in New York.
“I’ll bet she’ll really go wild when she sees us”, said Alan.
“Pure out of her mind”, said Tracey, twin sister of Alan Price Parkinson.

END

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


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