I received a phone call a few weeks ago from a man whom I had never met but whose name was known to me as the author of two recently published books on differing aspects of local history. Michael Conry, a native of Tulsk in Co. Roscommon has for 40 years or so lived in the Carlow area and he was the man who wrote and produced two volumes, one recording Culm Crushers in the Barrow Valley and the other dealing with the Carlow Fence. To the average readers, neither Culm Crushers or Carlow Fences are likely to evoke identifiable responses and I must admit that prior to reading the books I knew naught about either subject. Anyway, the purpose of Michael Conroy’s phone call was to query whether I was the man “who is involved with local history” and being satisfied that I was, invited me to launch the 2001 edition of Carloviana on behalf of the Carlow Archaeological Historical Society.
So it was that last week I travelled to Carlow to join the members of what was formerly the Old Carlow Society in the venerable surroundings of St. Patrick’s College. You know its difficult not to envy the resources available to Carlow Folk which includes the likes of the over 200 year old Seminary whose former alumni included such diverse characters as Cardinal Cullen and John O’Leary, the legendary Fenian who in his latter years was the father figure of Irish Nationalism.
I saw a friendly face early on my arrival in the person of Dan Carbery of Carlow whose firm did so much good work on the recent restoration of Athy Courthouse. Dan, quick to spot an Athy interloper among the proud Carlovians, laughingly advised that the invite to an Athy man to launch the Carlow Journal was a small gesture of reparation for Carlow taking the Sugar Factory from Athy in 1926. I couldn’t but chuckle at how Dan had anticipated how an Athy man, (even with a streak of Castlecomer in him) would look upon the events of 1926 as defining the centuries old rivalry between the Barrow Valley Towns.
I was delighted to meet the President from Carlow College, Fr. Kevin O’Neill who promptly asked Dan to tell me of his involvement in the greatest mile race of all time. The year was 1958, the track was Santry Stadium Dublin, which the late Billy Morton had developed for an occasion such as was to develop that day as the World’s best milers lined up in competition. Included in the line up was Ireland’s Olympic Champion Ronnie Delaney and the one mile World Record holder Herb Elliot. Amongst the runners was a young Carlow man, Dan Carbery whose task on the night was to bring the runners through two fast opening laps and in a world record time if possible. Dan did his job so well that the world’s newspapers next day proclaimed that the first four runners home in the Dublin race had beaten the existing world record for one mile. Dan returned to Carlow a few days later and while passing down Tullow Street, heard his name called “young Carbery come here”. Getting off a bicycle, Dan’s caller came over to him and wondered out loud as to what happened him during the Dublin race. “I caught your name on the wireless early on but begob you weren’t there at the end. What you should have done young fellow, was snug yourself in behind those other fellows and at the last bell sprinted as fast as you could for the line”. The bemused Dan did not have the heart to tell his fellow town man that snugging in behind World and Olympic champions and keeping pace with them over four laps required more than wishful thinking to accomplish.
Later in the night as I launched what I understand was the 50th Edition of Carloviana, I commended the various contributors to the Journal whose work of recovering the lost voices of past years is typical of the work of local historians throughout Ireland. Every historian who researches, collates and puts into print the stories and accounts of past events and long forgotten people provides material which helps to underpin the history of their areas. As I referred to the task of recovering the hidden past, I had in mind a book which I had bought just days previously. “Dancing the Culm”, is the latest production from Michael Conry of Carlow and its a fascinating account of how Culm was processed and used as a domestic and industrial fuel in Ireland. Within the pages of the book, the author has a striking example of how the opportunity can be taken to remind us of little remembered events. I was pleasantly surprised to find a reference coupled with a photograph of the late Jimmy Gralton of Leitrim and America who was shamefully deported by the DeValera of Government of 1933 because of his Socialist tendancies. Jimmy was a Community activist, or if you will, a Community Socialist and having spent many years in America where he took out American citizenship, fell foul of both Church and State in the Ireland of the early 1930’s and suffered the ignominy of being deported from his native country to America where he died in 1945.
The Carloviana Journal is recommended to you as a good read whether you have County Carlow connections or not, while Michael Conry’s new book “Dancing the Culm” is guaranteed to engage your interest from start to finish.
Before finishing this week I must pay my respects to two men who passed away last weekend while I was out of Athy. Denis Cahalane was former Managing Director of Minch Norton’s at a time when that firm played a full and active role in the life, as well as the economy of the town, where it traded for so long. Times have changed, and the once proud name of Minch Norton’s, while still in Athy, can hardly be said to be involved in the life of the town as it was in previous years. Denis Cahalane was a friend of Vincent Cullinane one of the founders of Macra Na Feirme and he was involved with Vincent, in the early years of the Farmers Journal.
Pat Taylor a teacher in Enniscorthy died tragically in a car accident just a week or so after I had last met him in Athy. He taught in the local school but left Athy just before I came back to the Town. I met him subsequently and he struck me as an innovative and go ahead man who might have made a major contribution to this Community if he had continued to live here. My condolences go to the Cahalane and Taylor families.