Launch of sixth 'Mining the Past' book

Sifting through the riches of the sixth volume of 'Mining the Past' reveals yet another tranche of intrigue in the history of a local community.

Tim Boland introduces the first part of his study of the Great Famine in Silvermines parish, the population of which 7,819 in 1841. The people of Silvermines were no different than half the population of Ireland in their dependence on the potatoe as chief food source. Potatoe acreage in the parish stood at some 1,500 in 1844 but this dropped suddenly by a third after the Famine struck a year later. Mr Boland outlines in great detail the unrest that broke out locally at the time, the response and the horror of “Black '47”, as sickness and starvation ravaged the local community.

Descendants of those who fled Lower Ormond for Canada around the time of the Famine appear in Billy Feehily's chapter on his distant relatives' efforts to trace their Irish ancestry. The exercise uncovered a fascinating connection to “one of the most hideous and brutal episodes of Canadian history” – the massacre of the Donnelly family in Ontario.
Patricia Mulqueen and Maura McLoughney have a chapter on Mrs Nancy Scales, a local woman instrumental in founding Ballinclough ICA in 1967. They tell of Nancy's in many ways tragic life and remember her many talents, including that of wedding dressmaking.

In a study of the long history of mining in the parish, Donal Quinn focuses on local families that were “uprooted” when Mogul arrived in the 1960s. He looks at the optimism and excitement for the future that greeted the company's arrival, sentiments that soon changed when families realised they would have to re-locate to other areas, leaving the farms and homesteads of their ancestors.
“Despite the fact that Mogul was a company about to invest millions of pounds in the development of the mine, its agents did not offer any golden handshakes to make it easier for the families to sell their livelihoods and re-locate,” Mr Quinn writes. “When Mogul's representatives realised the landowners were prepared to resist selling their land, they used various tactics to intimidate the landowners.”

Denis Gleeson and Padraig Collins also write about the mines, delving further back in time to inform us about some of the more prominent shafts.

The scene then shifts to the Irish Civil War with Michael O'Brien's account of how Clare hero Ignatius O'Neill was captured by the Irregulars on his way to a wedding in Roscrea. The “Dan Breen of Clare” was taken prisoner at the Five Alley on August 14th 1922. But his benevolent captors allowed him to attend the wedding, arranged in secret at Silvermines, and he subsequently escaped along with his two drivers, one of whom “walked from Kilcommon to Killaloe and was conveyed by motor boat to Ennis that same night”.

There's more family history intrigue in Andrew Kelly's story of 'The Gleesons who Missed the Boat'. He researches old family stories about Gleeson ancestors that fled the locality in the 1640s, apparently over the shooting of a landlord. Their destination was Dungarvan, from where they had intended finding passage to Portugal and thereafter America, but the vessel had left without them. Following his fascinating journey to discover what happened to the fleeing Gleesons after that, Mr Kelly concludes that family folklore should never be discounted because “there will invariably be a basis of truth in it”.

Maura McLoughney and Mary Delaney tell us about delivering 'The Far East' magazine to houses in the Ballinaclough during the 1940s.

Danny Grace, who launched last year's 'Mining the Past', presents his work on Dermot F Gleeson, “the founding father of our local studies”. The life of the late district justice and his family is documented, along with his enduring contributions to the canon of local history, including 'The Last Lords of Ormond' (1938).
Included is 'The Place Where I was Born' from Dermot F Gleeson's 1958 'Songs of Ormond'.

An more widely-lauded figure of the twentieth century, “Sage of Science” John Desmond Bernal is profiled by his first cousin, twice removed, Tommy Riggs-Miller.

Further 'Mining the Past' riches abound with a history of the Silvermines fairs and social attributes of fair days from Siobhán O'Brien.

The “Silvermines Giant”, Cornelius Magrath, also makes and appearance. Born in 1737 five miles from the village, Cornelius grew to a height of seven feet and three inches. He was a fascination at “freak shows” across Europe, and remains a talking point today with his remains controversially still in the ownership of Trinity College Dublin, 250 years later. Author Aidan Boland says Trinity's “continued ownership of Magrath's skeleton raises serious ethical questions”. He questions why the 'Mines man's remains have not been either buried or cremated.

Michael Hanly contributes a chapter on rural electrification, with Silvermines being the first area in North Tipperary to be connected between 1949 and 1950. But one corner of the parish untouched by rural electrification was the Buck Gate, Kilboy, where Mary Kennedy lived with the O'Meara family in the mid 1960s. She reminisces fondly about the warmth and smell of the open turf fire and oil lamp.

In 'Turbulent Times', Paddy looks at the Protestant landowner Cooke Otway and the Castle Otway Yeomen Cavalry he raised amid fears that “the Tipperary hills were alive with sedition and plotting”.

Tommy Collins has an interesting chapter on changing times in Cooleen while he was growing up in the 1960s and '70s.

There's another local snapshot of the birth pangs of the Republic in 'James Madden's Prison Diary, when Tom Madden profiles four men who played active roles in the War of Independence and Civil War – Johnny Sheehy, Matt Ryan, Jimmy Madden and Jim Farrell.

In 'Missing Masterpieces', John O'Brien recalls two “valuable oil paintings” that were gifted to the Boys and Girls National Schools in Silvermines by Lady Dunalley in 1930. Her Ladyship explained the history of the paintings – one of which, she claimed, was Raphael's 'The Sistine Madonna and Child', which once hung in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. The present whereabouts of the 'Mines paintings is unknown, but Mr O'Brien establishes that they were surely not the originals.

Agriculutural practices of the nineteenth century are explored in Cáit Logues study of swing and roller ploughing matches.

Margaret Mary Glasgow pens a poem on the locale titled 'Imprints On My Mind'.

Another local son who achieved great things abroad – notably in Hong Kong – Professor Sean Mackey of Dolla, a man honoured by the Vatican with a knigthood of the Order of St Gregory the Great, is profiled by John Kennedy.

The publication of 'Mining the Past' Vol 6 has particular resonance for Pat Sheehan as we approach the centenary of his grandfather's death. The tragic circumstances surrounding George Sheehan's death at Boherbee on January 4th 1918 was something never spoken about in Pat's house when he was growing up.

Anthony Collins has an article on the late Pat and Biddy O'Mahoney, two characters that “firmly established themselves in the folklore of Silvermines village”.

Patricia Mulqueen and Maureen Steed write about Ballinaclough native Sr Columba Ryan, whose work at St George's Nursing Home saw her presented to the Queen at Buckingham Palace; she also met with Princess Diana on several occasions.

Returning to the birth of the Republic, Donal Quinn records the strong links of Silvermines to the Irish flag.

Another inspired rhyme is contributed, 'The Old Bog Road' by Paddy Hill.

In 'Gleeson, Erenagh and Erinagh' Damian John Gleeson studies the large and historic townland of Erinagh, ancestral home of the Gleeson sept for at least 600 years.

Continuing with the mining theme, Paddy Ryan Coole contributes an article on the life of Anthony Joseph (Tony) Ryan (Barrack), a local native who swapped his Silvermines homeland for a mining career in Africa.

Marjorie Quarton also features among the contributors with an article about foxhunting in the 'Mines in the 1950s.
Referencing a Nenagh Guardian account of the time, Joan Kennedy revisits Dolla Sports Day 1934, a major event in the calendar of the parish.

William McGrath has a fascinating account of Canadian Eddie McGrath, who visited Silvermines in search of his Irish cousins in 1918 with his new Brownie. The author thanks Eddie for taking what seems to be the first known snap shots of family life in Silvermines a century ago.

In 'The Cash Disapora', international cricket referee Steve Dunne harks back to one of the most striking stories of 'Mining the Past' 2014, that of the evicted 'Widow's Curse'. The author, a descendant of the Widow Cash, traces the fortunes of the family following her eviction from a farm at Kilriffith in the late 1850s.

The collection concludes with Mary Kennedy's analysis of a letter written from Dolla to Australia in 1917 by Jim Kennedy, who visited his ancestral homeland while on medical leave while on service with the ANZAC forces during the Great War. In the modern age of social media, the author savours the quality of the one hundred years later.

And as with previous editions, there's fine collection of old photographs from the the locale to peruse in the latest installment.


'Mining the Past' Vol 6 will be launched by Patricia Feehily at The Eagle's Nest in Dolla this Friday night, when the book will be available for sale (multi-purchase deal on the night).