ON SATURDAY, September 1, the sad news began to filter through that one of Tralee's great custodians of local history Tommy Lyons Jnr had passed away. Tommy, who was born and who worked at Milk Market Lane in the town, had been ill for a short time before his death.
Tommy's working life was spent in Milk Market Lane and he also lived there for part of his life. In the 1820s, the Lyons family who were tailors, lived at Spa Road and in 1937, Tommy's grandfather moved to No. 9, Milk Market Lane. The Presentation nuns had previously run a school there which was opened in 1809. Tommy was born at Milk Market Lane in 1937, the fourth in a family of six boys and three girls.
In a recording compiled with Maurice O'Keeffe of the Irish Life and Lore Series, Tommy recalled that the Lane was a "paradise" in which to grow up. Every house there had its own little business, and the families lived overhead, he explained. He recalled the pie shop, the eating and boarding houses, harness and saddle makers and blacksmiths. He reported that the people who lived there were predictable in their habits, were hardworking and religious.
The Market was a hive of activity in earlier days. Horse fairs were held there and the Sack Hiring Company, where all the hessian sacks were repaired and printed with the names of the merchants. During the Ballybeggan Races, the racehorses were stabled in the Market Place.
As a boy, while working with his father, one of Tommy's duties was to bring parcels to the train station, where he would watch in wonderment as the driver stoked up the fire and crank up the handle of the steam engine train.
He declared that he never needed a watch as a child, as every morning at 8.40am, he would be woken by the shire horses which pulled the bread vans from the Shamrock Mills. This was the signal that it was time to leave the warm bed and get ready for school.
At the age of 14, Tommy finished his schooling at CBS, Edward Street, Tralee to begin work with his father Tommy Snr. At that stage, a premises had been purchased by the family across the lane from their home at No. 9, which was used to sell drapery, secondhand furniture and harnesses.
In 1948, Mr. Lyons got a hawker's licence, which Tommy continued to use all his working life. He set up stalls Dingle, Cahersiveen, Killarney, Castleisland, Causeway and Kenmare, and later in Castletownbere and Bantry. He recalled wrapping up well for his days on the stalls, and the wonderful banter with which he was always greatly entertained.
Tommy married Chris Locke from Kevin Barry's Villas in 1960 and together they created a very happy home at No. 2 Cloonbeg Terrace, where their family was reared.
In 1972, Tommy Lyons Snr. passed away and Tommy Jnr. took over the business. He witnessed huge changes in his home place over the years and recalled the establishment of The Mart at Market Place, the closure of the Dairy in Church Street and the Shamrock Mills, the disappearance of horse traffic, and the old families leaving the Lane. "It was like blowing out the candle" he said. "It all went so fast, it's like a dream now. They were all good times".
Tommy Lyons's sons Trevor and Tommy Jnr. now continue the family business and tradition. Friends and customers alike will miss the chat with Tommy as he presided behind the counter, having time for everybody and always ready with stories of times long past and gone.
Tommy was pre-deceased by his loving wife Chris in February, 2001.
The removal of Tommy's remains took place from McElligott's Funeral Home on Friday, August 31 to St John's Church. Requiem Mass was celebrated on Sunday at 12 noon, followed by interment in Old Rath Cemetery, where Tommy was reunited once again with Chris.
Tommy is survived by his sons Tommy and Trevor, daughters Maureen and Valerie, grandchildren Aoife, Conor, Roisin, Chris, Alice, Sam and Trevor, brothers and sisters, in-laws and his many friends and neighbours.