On Saturday a monument to commemorate historian Tom Lyng and his local history publication Castlecomer Connections, published in 1984, the first comprehensive historical and social study of its kind, was unveiled by Helen Boland his granddaughter at Castlecomer Discovery Park.
The limestone monument was carved by eminent sculptor Aileen Anne Brannigan at her workshop in the Discovery Park. Tom’s daughters Eilis and Marlene decided to use the proceeds from the sale of the book to provide a memorial to their father who spent his life teaching in and researching the history of his native place. Fifty years of painstaking research culminated in this outstanding production. Dr.Willie Nolan in his commendatory address referred to Tom’s research which was carried out not in libraries but by visiting locations, talking to people and taking photographs.
Members of Tom’s extended family, Fassadinin History Society, Kilkenny Archaelogical Society, past pupils, the publishing committee and local people attended the unveiling.
A pioneer of local history, Tom Lyng was exploring the fabric of a community long before it became a university discipline. Once a rare subject, it is now a worldwide academic pursuit. Many students came to Tom to learn the rudiments and have since become authors or taken up fellowships, lectureships, or professorships both here and abroad.
Professor Willie Nolan, who unveiled the sculpture to Tom, said “He was a great help to me when I began as a young researcher and he gave so generously of his time and expertise ... it was an education from the master.” Willie has many a story to tell about his apprenticeship with Tom in and around Castlecomer and Kilkenny which became an influence on his seminal work, Fassadinin.
Tom was educated at primary level in Coon, secondary level at St.Kieran’s College, Kilkenny, and third level at St.Patrick’s, Drumcondra, and University College Dublin, where he majored in Irish and English literature, subsequently teaching for a time in Dublin. His interest in local history brought him back to Castlecomer, where he held a school principalship. He took up residence in Kilkenny city continuing his pursuit of community and organisational work, which provided ground material for research, lectures and contributions to magazines and newspapers. Classmates in St. Kieran’s college included James Delehanty and Bishop Peter Birch. With James Delehanty he collaborated on the Kilkenny Magazine for many years. He admired the community work of Peter Birch and contributed to many of his projects.
A member of Kilkenny Archaeological Society from its foundation in 1945, he was later editor of its Journal for a number of years. Through the society he came into contact with essayist and international commentator, Hubert Butler, with whom he cycled around areas of archaeological interest in Kilkenny county. He admired Butler’s outspokenness on the politics of the time, supporting him when some of his views were attacked by the Catholic Church of that era.
Tom’s wife, Sheila, a Cork woman, who had worked in London during the Blitz, was herself at the centre of Castlecomer’s local history. As a Jubilee nurse, she had a privileged insight into the lives and health of the mining community and as Public Health Nurse into the lives of the wider Castlecomer/Conahy areas. She later became involved in many local activities not least as founder member of Castlecomer ICA.
Tom’s love and interest in the local area led to Castlecomer Connections being published in 1984 by the Castlecomer History Society, now the Fassidinin History society. The breadth of research for Castlecomer Connections is formidable and touches on religion, nationalism, forestry, mining, landowning, geographical divisions, folklore, the workhouse, curing, emigration, transport, trials, croppies, landlordism, graves…..and all of this before the internet and digital facilities. The index at the back of the book is comprehensive and tells a story in itself.
In her introduction to Castlecomer Connections, the late Kilkenny historian, Margaret M.Phelan, summed up the measure of Tom and his book saying: “It is a real pleasure to be associated with this book, so wide in its coverage and so detailed in its content. Tom Lyng, long a lover of the local scene, has dealt with his subject with the kindness of a native and integrity of the professional historian. So, we have got a splendid history of Castlecomer in all its many aspects written by a man specially fitted for the task. We may consider ourselves lucky indeed.
Such a man as Tom is not born every day. Writer, teacher, editor, broadcaster, he has run the gamut of most of the literary professions. Castlecomer has real reason to be grateful to his scholarship and dedication. In him, love of kin and of place has culminated in this fine book. Every member of the community should give this book firm support and ensure it the success it truly deserves.” (Margaret M. Phelan, Introduction, Castlecomer Connections 1984).
Thomas A. Brennan (Taoiseach Oda, Brennan Clan Chieftain, elected at the First Brennan Clan gathering 1990) and author of A History of the Brennans of Idough, 1979 spoke at the unveiling on Saturday: “I feel honored indeed to have been asked to submit a few words about Tom Lyng on the occasion of the unveiling of a sculpture commemorating this wonderful man. Forty years ago, when I was writing my book on the Brennans of Idough, I had what seemed to be at least to me countless questions on the modern history of the Family. “Although I was sure he would consider me an upstart, I nevertheless reached out to him. He not only got back to me in record time but thereafter helped me immeasurably and so very patiently. I became truly amazed at the extent of his knowledge not only of the Brennans but of Castlecomer and its environs and all of County Kilkenny as well.
Of all the memories I have of Tom, if I may address him as such, three stand out vividly in my mind: First, during the culminating festivities on the Sunday afternoon of the First Brennan Clan Reunion in 1990, marching in the parade up the Square in Castlecomer in the company of Master Lyng. Secondly, my being presented with a copy of one in the limited de luxe edition (mine is no. 69 out of 130) of Tom’s monumental “Castlecomer Connections,” autographed by the author himself. And thirdly, being taken by Margaret McGrath to visit Tom in his home in Kilkenny City and spending a truly memorable afternoon sitting in his study, just listening to the man.
“A moment ago, I referred to Tom as Master Lyng. I learned of this honorific (which, sad to say, is not used in the United States) during the Sunday parade just referred to. That afternoon, it seemed like countless fellows younger than I greeted him as such as we passed by, It was then that it dawned on me that I, too, was one of his students. Today Tom Lyng would be 102 years old and the book proves that life and history goes on. Other histories of the area that emerged before and after Tom’s local history Castlecomer Connections , include Hardy Bertram Maccall’s Story of the Family of Wandesforde of Kirklington & Castlecomer, 1904, Seamus and Joe Walsh’s In The Shadow Of The Mines 1999, Thomas A Brennan’s A History of the Brennans of Idough, 1979, and Willie Nolan’s Fassadinin: land, settlement and society in southeast Ireland, 1979,” he said.
The History Society was essential to the production of Castlecomer Connections. Members of its Publishing Committee provided unstinting support at every juncture of the work. Recognition of this is captured at several places in the book. To day is another opportunity to pay tribute to the members. Eight of the original Publishing Committee continue to be active in many different fields. Margaret McGrath chair of the Committee, Maire Downey, Secretary, Fonsie Mealy, Treasurer, and members, Anne Healy, James Dormer, Joe O’Neill ( Ballyhemon) Patti Owens, Eamon Brennan, Christy McGrath. Six members of the Committee are deceased, remembered to day with appreciation, Seamus (Joker) Brennan, Charlie Brennan, George Murphy, Joe O’Neill (Senior) Pakie Kelly and Pat Boran.
Margaret McGrath has been the caretaker of Castlecomer Connections from its beginning. Her enduring support is in no small measure responsible for the sculpture being unveiled today. Her enthusiasm for the idea and her expertise on placenames were both important. Errol Delaney has kept faith with this project of shaping a memorial to Tom in the Estate Yard for almost fifteen years. A vital addition to Castlecomer, Discovery Park with its forest walks and lakes is his brainchild. It stands on grounds that once formed part of the Wandesforde family estate. The stables and many of the farm buildings have been restored and now house the craft units and the education facilities. He continues to develop this imaginative space and his initiative and patience were key factors in the memorial coming to fruition today.
Aileen-Anne Brannigan, Stone Carver and Sculptor, consulted widely and patiently in advance of creating the imaginative limestone sculpture being unveiled today. Her skill and artistry are admirably evident in the detail and design. She operates out of her workshop in the Estate Yard. Paddy Dowling and Rory Delaney between them were responsible for the plinth in brick which fits in so well in the Estate yard.