Proud tradition worth saving and celebrating
Treasures of Lory Meagher museum should be rehoused elsewhere, says Dermot Crowe
IT is 41 years since Lory Meagher died, and around two years since the doors closed on the museum bearing his name in Tullaroan. During her Irish presidency, Mary Robinson arrived and cut the tape on the 17th century Meagher homestead, offering the public the chance to ramble through the restored thatched farmhouse that Meagher lived in up to the time of his death, and the adjoining museum containing various interesting artifacts, a shrine to hurling's legacy not just in Tullaroan but in Kilkenny as a whole.
The current Tullaroan chairman Dick Walsh remembers a time when "two or three buses every week" would arrive with visitors to see the birthplace of one of the game's most accomplished hurlers.
Meagher hurled with Kilkenny from 1924 to 1937, finishing his days in the black and amber on a downbeat note when they took a pasting from Tipperary in the 1937 All-Ireland final in Killarney. But his career was decorated with three All-Irelands, his last one in 1935 as captain, a midfielder good enough to win inclusion in the team of the millennium and the team of the century.
He was also on the team that won Kilkenny's first league in 1933, a victory that stood alone until the county triumphed again in the competition in 1962. When Meagher died, Kilkenny had only three league wins; since then they have racked up 13 more. In Brian Cody's time Kilkenny's almost symbiotic relationship with the league has been a hallmark of his reign; seven titles have been added since his first attempt in 1999, seven in 15 years.
What Cody has helped achieve in league and championship leaves the exploits of Lory Meagher and others from Kilkenny's past in its wake but that past is cherished and deserves to be recognised.
Which makes the closure of the Meagher museum all the more regrettable. Since opening 20 years ago, it had put on display treasures that might be considered priceless to any hurling follower, but all the more so to a hurling follower of Kilkenny. Among them Jimmy Kelly's boots from the Thunder and Lightning final of 1939, when Kilkenny defeated Cork on the day World War II broke out and Croke Park was assailed by a thunderstorm. Kelly wore those boots as he delivered the winning score; they were there when Jimmy was gone, as a reminder and relic of that day and that eternal point.
Mostly those feats live on in the oral tradition and the GAA has not been top of its game in providing fitting archives where the games and players can be relived and appropriately preserved. Much of the recording and preservation of valuable old matches and testimonies has been secured by private individuals who went out and put their collected accounts into book form. Many families have precious medals and memorabilia lying around for years and would, most likely, be willing to provide them for wider public appreciation if the call went out.
Croke Park has a museum though the shortage of good quality film archive of All-Irelands is striking. In Thurles, there is a museum containing the collection of Sam Melbourne, another of those enthusiasts without whom it is frightening to think how little might have been saved for posterity. In the Lory Meagher museum, there was a cup won by Kilkenny as far back as 1904, the year they won their first All-Ireland and began a winning tradition now unsurpassed in the game. The captain of that first winning team, Jer Doheny, rests in the local cemetery along with scores of famous hurlers of Tullaroan and Kilkenny. A hurling museum in a place like this looked entirely appropriate though this did not necessarily mean it was entirely viable.
On a visit to the museum in 2000, the hurl of Paddy Prendergast, the familiar back man of more modern vintage, was also on view; a weapon that carried the scars of battle, repaired 36 times, a new bás fitted. Clearly, Paddy was reluctant to part with it during his playing days, but he had no issue leaving it go when he finished hurling. Many families generously donated medals, photographs, old tattered jerseys and other items that offered an acknowledgement of the richness of the game's history in this place. There are many sticks like Paddy's lying away somewhere, neglected, deemed no longer of use. To see that stick mounted like a piece of rare art was enough to spark one's curiosity and revive memories of the man himself in his playing days. These precious items should be preserved and afforded their true recognition in order to maintain and celebrate the legacy they helped create.
"Kilkenny people donated stuff," says Walsh, "rather than have it at home in drawers. It was all itemised and they knew where every piece came out of. Everything was signed off. Many of those have now been returned to private owners."
How much of the haul is back in private hands? He reckons around 90 per cent. The rest will be reclaimed by Tullaroan and displayed in their clubhouse. "Unfortunately, the location did not help it," explains Walsh. "It is a lovely location once you are there, it is a serene kind of place. But it is hard to get to. I suppose if it is marketed right you will get people to come."
Tullaroan is located around eight miles from Kilkenny and Meagher's old home is another two beyond that. While it might be Kilkenny hurling's spiritual home – producing great players like Meagher, Sim Walton, Paddy Phelan, Sean Clohosey and more recently Tommy Walsh – the logistics required a reappraisal. Efforts to try to keep the place afloat failed. Fundraising and voluntary work could only sustain it for so long. The hope now is that we might see the collection rehoused in a new location in Kilkenny city where it will attract more visitors
and be more widely appreciated. It is said the family homestead, recently sold, may be reopened as a rural retreat for visitors.
The house dates back to the 17th century and was restored in the 1880s. After it was left unoccupied in the 1970s, a restoration project got under way and it was reopened to the public.
But with the downturn and the location, visitor numbers dropped and the cost of running the centre began to pile up. Fundraisers were held to keep it viable, the Leinster Council offered some grant assistance and a challenge match between Kilkenny and Tipperary offered the proceeds. Eventually, however, the committee in charge had to reluctantly close its doors.
It is 20 years since Tullaroan won a Kilkenny senior hurling championship and most of their recent pleasure has been derived from the consistent brilliance of Tommy Walsh. The dynamic half-back's star may be on the wane but he remains part of the county squad and his brother Pádraig is one of those who has impressed Cody enough to earn regular selections during the spring. On Friday week last, Tullaroan fielded four Walsh brothers for a championship match against last year's finalists Carrickshock, which they lost by three points.
There was a story that Tommy Walsh, when a kid, used to be brought down to dazzle tourists at the Meagher centre with his skill set and artistry. It is not that hard to conceive. Tradition like that is worth saving and preserving but also celebrating and the GAA should never regard it as a window-dressing exercise. That a county with Kilkenny's hurling tradition doesn't have a centre to mark this is a case in point. Perhaps they will now take this opportunity to create a museum worthy of their heritage.
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