The stories of three Thomastown men born only a few hundred yards apart from each other in the 1890s forms the core of the 11th edition of the Tullaherin Heritage Society journal – In The Shadow Of The Steeple. The life stories of each of the three local men are connected with major national and world events of the first quarter of the 20th century.
Nicholas Mullins was born on Market Street in 1894. He was a hurler with the Chapel Hill and Mong teams, a member of Thomastown Dramatic Society and a good amateur musician before he joined the Irish Volunteers and in 1920 became a member of the active service unit (or ‘Flying Column’) attached to the 5th Battalion Kilkenny IRA based in Graiguenamanagh. With this ‘Flying Column’ he took part in the ambush at Coolbawn of a British military detachment escorting explosives to the mines in Castlecomer, on 18 June 1921, during which he, and his comrade Seán Hartley from Glenmore, lost their lives.
Johnny Doolan was born on Mill Street on 24 November 1896. In October 1916 he left his employment as an apprentice mechanic in Waterford and, with two Mill Street neighbours, Jimmy Raftice, aged nineteen, and Patrick ‘The Bat’ Bolger, aged seventeen, left Thomastown ‘for what they believed would be the experience of a lifetime’ and enlisted in the British army to fight on the Western Front in the First World War. For the next two years they fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the whole campaign, including the third battle of Ypres, also known as the battle of Passchandaele. Jimmy Raftice lost his life, killed-in-action on 16 August 1917, but Johnny Doolan survived and returned to Thomastown in 1919 and was traumatised for many years afterwards by his experiences. He died in 1973. His children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren still live in Thomastown today.
Joseph Murphy was born on Maudlin Street on 20 March 1897. Like Nicholas Mullins he was a musician and was conductor of Thomastown Brass and Reed Band in the pre-World War One period. Like Johnny Doolan he fought in the First World War but later joined the Free State Army before becoming one of the first members of An Garda Síochána in December 1924. While on duty in Dublin in November 1925 he was seriously wounded while trying to arrest a number of men who had bombed the Masterpiece Cinema on Talbot Street. This bombing was part of a campaign being run by the IRA at that time against what they called ‘British propaganda films’. Joseph Murphy survived the attempt on his life and went on to serve a distinguished career in the Gardai and retired as a Detective Sergeant in 1960. He died in Dublin in 1976.
In The Shadow Of The Steeple was first published in 1987 and this year celebrates 25 years in existence. It covers a catchment loosely bounded by the villages of Gowran and Bennettsbridge, and the town of Thomastown. The remaining essays in the current number reflect this interest.
The late Walter Walsh describes in comprehensive detail the lost and forgotten features of Kilfane Demesne including the Cottage Orné (now Kilfane Glen, a major tourist attraction), the artificial lakes, the Tea House, the Ice House, the Walled Garden, the Deerpark, the Rockery and the rustic footbridge over the stream near Kilfane House.
Walter who passed away sudenly earlier this year had an an article in all 11 editions and his death has left a huge void.
Stroan Fountain, that distinctive landmark on the road between Thomastown and Dungarvan, has recently had a complete overhaul thanks to Kilkenny County Council and The Follies Trust, a North of Ireland based voluntary organisation dedicated to saving and restoring ‘follies’ throughout Ireland. This has resulted in two articles in the journal – one by Ivor McIlveen, the conservation consultant in charge of the project and the other by the chairman of The Follies Trust, Primrose Wilson. A number of photographs of the previously unseen interior of the cistern of the fountain are published for the first time.
The Round Tower at Tullaherin also has had structural repairs carried out on it in the recent past and these are described in some detail by Aighleann O’Shaughnesssy of the National Monuments Service of OPW. Breda Lynch, of OPW – Jerpoint, investigates the origins of the medieval baptismal font now in the parish church in Thomastown. Mary Casteleyn and Bernie Kirwan describe a previously unrecorded medieval tomb-slab found at Newtown Jerpoint.
Joe Doyle publishes important information for genealogists with the details of property ownership on the Clifford estate, Thomastown in 1850. Coming to the more recent past there are pieces on the early years of the Gowran Park Race Company (and John F. Kirwan, an early Secretary of the race committee), and of the Nore Valley Co-Op Creamery, Thomastown, which ceased trading in 1970. There is also an account of a picnic and house dance held in Woollengrange in August 1937 and of apple-picking in Bennettsbridge in the 1980s (an important source of seasonal employment for the women of the area).
The journal is rounded off with two essays on education themes – one on alleged proselytism in Stoneyford schools in the 1840s and 50s and the other on a Gowran school-teacher from 1887 – and finally a transcription of the tombstones in the Church of Ireland graveyard in Knocktopher.
Reasonably priced at €12 the book would make an ideal Christmas present for Kilkenny people at home or abroad.
The journal was officially launched by Sen Pat O’Neill.