The late Padraic Kirwan, Goatsbridge, Thomastown
A man of indomitable spirit who lived a life that most of us could only dream of was, recently, laid to rest in his native Thomastown.
Padraic Kirwan, who was 91 when he passed away, set up Ireland’s first privately-owned trout farm.
Cut down in youth by TB it didn't stop him realising his dreams and as well as earning a living by shooting rabbits and pheasants, he played the organ for 70 years in Thomastown parish church, played the accordion, bred greyhounds, was an active beekeeper and even had a hole named after him at Mount Juliet golf course.
He was a true entrepreneur with a wonderful imaginative, innovative way about him.
Born in 1926 to Brigid and John Kirwan, Goatsbridge Mill, he was the fifth of eight children.
Following the establishment of the Irish Free State life was tough for a large family on a small holding.
However, the proximity to nature and the Little Arrigle River, a tributary of the Nore, meant that the family never went without. There was a mutual respect for nature within the household, a co-existence that sustained the Kirwans through thick and thin.
In those days Consumption was omni-present and the young Padraic succumbed to osteo-TB in 1932.
Through the kindness of neighbours and friends, especially the generosity of Lady Helen McCalmont of Mount Juliet, the care which Padraic required was forthcoming from the doctors and staff of Aut-Even Hospital in Kilkenny. He endured three operations to scrape the tuberculous lesion from the hip bone. There followed prolonged stints in Mercer’s Hospital off Stephen’s Green in Dublin and six months in the Sunshine Home in Arklow to complete his recuperation.
Padraic filled the lonely hospital days by learning to play the mouth organ and the button accordion by ear. He also learned to knit, though it is unclear whether he maintained this skill in later life.
It was during this time that he promised that if he ever became sound again he would sing to the glory of God in his favourite room, the Church of the Assumption in Thomastown.
He fulfilled this vow for the next 78 years until the steepness of the ascent to the organ gallery in Thomastown was too much for him. He continued to sing and appreciate church music up to the time of his passing.
Padraic’s formal education was interrupted by illness and stays in hospital. This, however, did not have a lasting effect, as he studied in the character-forming University of Life.
During World War II Padraic sold rabbits and pheasants and any other consumable wildlife to turn a shilling.
A crack-shot, very little edible food escaped his eagle eye. He developed a lifelong love for dogs, particularly Springer Spaniels. These companions were a permanent presence in his life.
Beekeeping was also a past-time he pursued over the years and was regularly requested to retrieve swarms from neighbouring lofts and trees.
Padraic had a great sense of both place and family. He knew who he was and where he came from. His mother Brigid (Whelan) hailed from Clonsaughey near Mountmellick while the Kirwans came originally from Lemonstown near Kilmoganny.
Goatsbridge was centre to his entire life. Padraic was happy to live most of his life there and, later, in Jerpoint.
However, Padraic also travelled extensively and experienced many cultures in North Africa, North America, the Far East and Europe. He went on pilgrimages to Lourdes and Fatima and was present in Rome for the elevation of Edmund Ignatius Rice to Blessed status.
He married the love of his life, Rita McEvoy, a domestic science teacher from Limerick, who was posted in the new Vocational School in Thomastown.
The “marriage-ban” was in place at that time so Rita and Padraic embarked on their voyage full of hope and ideas.
A small farm of less than 50 acres was barely sustainable with a few milk cows, a few breeding ewes and a few sows.
Padraic dabbled in mink farming but also wondered what he might do with the water resource which flowed through the back yard in the form of a mill-stream and river.
His mother-in-law, declared you would only buy a fur coat once in your lifetime but you would eat fish every week. This advice would lead to the foundation of Goatsbridge Trout Farm, an overnight success after 57 years.
Although Padraic and Rita lost their first son, John, at birth in 1961, their family grew through Brideen, Gerard, Pat, Angela, Maura and Liz.
Padraic worked hard and became involved in farming politics through his association with Thomastown Co-Op and the Nore Farmer’s Association (NFA) later blended into the fledgling IFA.
Though he didn’t march on Dublin in 1966, he supported the activities of his colleagues who did and who later endured the stand-off with the then Agriculture Minister, Charles J Haughey. He was Thomastown secretary to the IFA for over 30 years before bowing out in the mid-90s.
He was never active in political circles thereafter, preferring to devote his time to his beloved choir, to greyhound breeding and racing and to the occasional flutter on the horses either over the phone or attending at Gowran Park, Tramore or the festival meeting at Galway.
Greyhounds like “Swoon, Genuine Excuse, Genuine Aim, Another Dolly” and others gave him many nights of enjoyment at Kilkenny and Waterford tracks.
The Trout Farm began to flourish in the late 1970s with exports to the UK markets in Billingsgate and Milford Haven.
These ceased after the murder of Lord Mountbatten in 1979 and there again followed some lean times until Padraic diversified into other markets via home sales, local hotels in Kilkenny, Waterford, Wexford and Clonmel and ultimately to the larger fish merchants in Dublin including Wright’s of Marino and Howth, Hanlons of Moore Street, Molloy’s of Baggot Street and Dunn’s of Manor Street. These merchants were to sustain the development of the farm into the 1980s and beyond.
Gerard (Ger) came home to join his father in the business after graduation as an Agricultural and Food Engineer in 1987.
He then married Margaret Donohoe and together they added a new processing factory and diversified into providing ready to eat products like the first trout caviar in Ireland, hot and cold smoked trout, trout pate and canned trout.
Using a wide range of technological advances, he started on the road of added-value to the farm sales. Gutting, filleting, unit packs, pin-boning, smoking, pate and Trout Caviar followed.
Padraic eased his way into retirement, enjoying gardening and his ever-increasing brood of grandchildren while still maintaining an eye on the seasons and Mother Nature.
He was an entrepreneur of note. Some would have deemed his early fish exploits as being certifiable, but he persisted with a dogged determination. Every day was a learning day with upsets and disappointments - but every upset was put to valuable use in ensuring that these would be unique and not repeatable experiences.
Padraic died on February 24 in the care of the Matron and Staff of Gowran Abbey Nursing Home, surrounded by his wife Rita, six children and 15 grandchildren.