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Notes on Templemore, County Tipperary

Michael Collins and Saint Jimmy. Illustration: Derry Dillon.

The Saint


In 1920, a teenager named Jimmy Walsh claimed that the Virgin Mary had visited his cottage after a deadly gun battle in Templemore during the ongoing War of Independence. He then produced three statuettes of the Virgin that, he maintained, wept blood from their eyes. Within two weeks, Templemore was drawing 15,000 pilgrims a day. The church was deeply suspicious of Jimmy – by now known locally as ‘The Saint’ – but several pilgrims claimed to have been cured, including a man who had been unable to walk. The Royal Irish Constabulary remained in their barracks at this time, while the IRA levied a tax on the pilgrims. Michael Collins was later given one of the “bleeding” statues. He broke it open and found an alarm clock inside, connected to a fountain pen filled with sheep’s blood. This could be ingeniously fixed to spurt at a specific time.

[John Reynolds, ‘The Templemore Miracles: Jimmy Walsh, Ceasefires and Moving Statues’ (The History Press, 2019). See images here. Also here.]


The Dardanelles Campaign


During the First World War, Britain’s Royal Navy launched a disastrous attempt to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul), the capital city of their Ottoman Turkish enemy. A fleet was ordered to sail up a heavily defended narrow channel called the Dardanelles Straits. The operation was commanded by the luckless Sackville Carden, who grew up on his family’s 3,000 acre estate at Barnane, near Templemore. Admiral Carden knew the mission was doomed, but the politicians in London insisted he carry on regardless. The pressure proved too much for Carden who was confined to a sick bed on the eve of the attack. One third of his fleet was subsequently either sunk or seriously damaged, with 700 men dead, before the operation was called off.


Churchill’s Spin Doctor


Brendan Bracken, one of Winston Churchill’s closest friends, was born in Templemore in 1901. The son of a prominent Irish nationalist, he ran away from school as a child and reinvented himself as an Australian schoolteacher. In 1923, he was placed in charge of Churchill’s election campaign. Clementine Churchill, Winston’s wife, was unconvinced by the heavy-drinking young rogue who slept on her sofa with his shoes on. When she challenged her husband over rumours that Bracken was his illegitimate son, Churchill replied, ‘I don’t think so’. Brendan served as Britain’s Minister of Propaganda during the Second World War and went on to found what would one day become the Financial Times.


The Stonemason & the GAA Ban


JK Bracken, Brendan’s father, was a sworn member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.  JK ran a masonry company that was especially busy building ‘1798’ monuments in graveyards to mark the centenary of the Rising in 1898. JK was also one of the seven founders of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in 1884. As its vice-president, he was amongst the leading supporters of the ‘Ban’, which prohibited GAA members from playing “garrison games” such as rugby, soccer, hockey or cricket. He also presided at the meeting that barred members of the Royal Irish Constabulary from the GAA. JK was 50 years old when his pony and trap collided with a carriage belonging to Sir John Carden, the family’s landlord, in 1902. When the local court found in Sir John’s favour, a furious JK relocated to Kilmallock, where he succumbed to cancer two years later. He was survived by his six children, including baby Brendan, who went on to become Britain’s Minister of Propaganda during the Second World War.


The Governor General of Canada


Charles Stanley Monck (1819-1894), the first Governor General of the Dominion of Canada, was born at Killoskehane Castle, 9 miles west of Templemore, the home of his maternal grandparents John and Bridget Willington. Having studied law at Trinity College Dublin, he was elected Member of Parliament for Portsmouth at Westminster in London. Between 1855 and 1858, he served as Britain’s Lord of the Treasury. He then served as the last governor-general of the Province of Canada, retaining the office when the British colony became a dominion in 1867.


The Devil’s Bit


Don’t believe what you hear from geologists. The gap in the Devil’s Bit Mountain, west of Templemore, was created when the devil bit out a chunk of the hill in a fury and spat it out to form the Rock of Cashel. Bearnán Éile, the mountain’s Irish name, is a nod to Éile, or Ely, a small kingdom ruled by the O’Carroll family prior to the Cambro-Norman invasion.  A giant cross on the summit of the Devil’s Bit was erected in 1954 in celebration of the ‘Marian Year.’


The GAA’s Rugby Star


Thomas St George MacCarthy was one of the founding fathers of the Gaelic Athletic Association for the Preservation and Cultivation of National Pastimes, aka the GAA, which was established in Thurles in 1884. He was surely the most unlikely founder. For starters, he was a 3rd Class District Inspector in the Royal Irish Constabulary, serving in Templemore since 1882. Moreover, he was a brilliant rugby player, having lined out for the Irish rugby team that played Wales in 1882, as well as for the Dublin University rugby team that won that years’ Leinster Cup. See full story here.


The English Professor


Neil Kevin (1903-1953) and grew up on Patrick Street, Templemore, where his parents ran a drapery store in what is now Murphy’s Pharmacy. A student at the Cistercian College in Roscrea, he was on the team when Roscrea won its first Leinster Colleges senior hurling title in 1920. He failed his initial entrance exams to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, but upped his game for the repeats and duly took his place in 1922.  “One Romantic Man”, his first short story, appeared in Ireland’s Own two years later. A man of great wit and style, who loved his wine, he was an especially popular Professor of English Literature at Maynooth from 1932 until his death in 1953. He also penned a memoir about his Templemore childhood entitled, “I Remember Karrigeen”. He was buried at the Sacred Heart Church in Templemore in 1953.


[See pic and a nice description of him here. Another pic here, and book cover here]


The Revolutionary


The Fenian writer Thomas Clarke Luby (1822-1901) was the son of a Church of Ireland minister from Templemore and his devoutly Catholic wife. As a young man, he was part of the Young Ireland movement, which championed democracy and Irish nationalism, and he spent time in both France and Australia. In 1858, he co-founded the Irish Republican Brotherhood, an oath-bound secret revolutionary society dedicated to establishing an independent Irish nation. Arrested after the Fenian Rising of 1867, he was sentenced to 20 years of penal servitude. Released after six, he settled in the USA and died in Jersey City.


The Abduction of Miss Arbuthnot


John ‘Woodcock’ Carden of Barnane Castle was so called because of the number of times he avoided being shot by his own tenants. In 1854, he made a bizarre attempt to abduct Eleanor Arbuthnot with whom he had been obsessed for several years. He devised a plan to seize the young woman from her carriage after she left church one Sunday morning. However, he had not banked on the strength of Eleanor, her two sisters and a governess who together managed to beat off Carden and his accomplices. Carden fled the scene but was soon captured by police at Farney Bridge. After a sensational trial, he was sentenced to two years with hard labour, a rare penalty for a gentleman of this time. That said, the physical part of his punishment was never imposed.


German Guests


A bottle found in a junkyard in Sweden, owned by “reservist H. Behrendt” and marked, with other writings, “29 Oktober 1914 Templemore”. See here for more.

By Christmas 1914, there were over 1,000 German and Austrian prisoners-of-war at McKee Barracks (then Richmond Barracks) in Templemore. Most were sailors from the German Navy but there were also a large cohort of Prussian Guards. At least half were Catholics, who attended mass regularly. Captured officers were permitted a daily ‘ramble’ through the surrounding countryside with an armed guard. The prisoners quickly cleared the barrack yards of overgrown grass, whistling and singing while they worked, but were now stuck for things to do. To deter thoughts of escape, the barracks were surrounded by entanglements of barbed wire and sentry boxes, with machine guns and search lights. Amazingly the prisoners were still paid their weekly wage, in English pounds, which they used to buy goods from a pop-up store in the barracks. Their chief complaint was the recent switch of menu from Tipperary beef to frozen food.

On 8 January 1915, the Northern Argus of South Australia (p. 3) published what was considered a side-splitting joke at this time. It concerns a German prisoner arrived at Templemore with some pocket money and, seeking luxuries, asked the prison warden to get him some German sausages. The warden brought back a black pudding.

‘That’s not German sausage,’ yelled the German. ‘That’s what you British call black pudding.’ ‘No, it isn’t,’ said the warder. ‘It’s German sausage all right, but in mourning for the Kaiser.’

The Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW), 24 Dec 1914, p. 4. also carried this account:


TEMPLEMORE, November 1.

The number of German prisoners of war here at the time of writing amounts to between seven and eight hundred men. An additional body of three or four hundred is expected before the end of the week. The number of soldiers belonging to the British army, who are guarding them, is about 150. The number of German officers with the captured is about half a dozen. A considerable number of the prisoners interned here belonged to the German navy, and their uniform is practically the same as that worn in the English navy. The other prisoners were dressed in grey. About half of them are Catholics, and attend Mass regularly.

Every possible precaution is taken to prevent any of the prisoners making their escape. Over a ton of barbed wire entanglements has been put up within a few yards of the windows where they sleep. A few sentry boxes have been put up in the barrack yard in places which commands a full view of where the prisoners sleep and work. The officers are allowed a ramble through the country districts nearly every day, but they are always accompanied by a couple of English soldiers, armed with rifles.

The work of the other prisoners consists so far mainly in clearing off the grass from the barrack yard, which had been allowed to grow since the barracks were vacated about three years ago. Judging from a view which I had at the barrack grounds on Wednesday, that work is now almost completed, and it is difficult to see how they are to be provided with work inside the barrack walls much longer. The prisoners are quite gay and happy looking, and sing or whistle at their work. Only a few of them speak English. It is said they did not like the change from the good Tipperary beef, with which they were supplied up to a few days ago, to that of the foreign frozen commodity.

They are paid the full value in English money to which they were entitled, whilst bearing arms for the Kaiser, according to their ranks. They spend a considerable portion of it in purchasing goods from a store which has been set up in the barrack yard by a local trader. The people of Templemore are delighted at having so many German prisoners in their midst.

A further addition to Ireland’s ‘Lodger List,’ amounting to some 900 German prisoners of war, is now expected to arrive at any time, and, so far as can be ascertained will reach the port of Dublin very quickly) and be distributed amongst the accommodation made ready to receive them. It is considered likely that a change may be made in the method and place of debarkation here and train connection arranged accordingly.

Hundreds upon hundreds of portable camp beds, raised six inches from the floor, of a highly portable nature, have been rapidly manufactured by Dublin timber and joinery firms, and these presumably with the fibre mattresses ordered will provide sleeping accommodation for the large consignment of German boarders coining to winter in the cool Irish climate.


Further Notes


There is a St John the Baptist Church in the riverside Castleleiny (aka Castleleiny, or Castlelyny), located beside an old castle about 5km from Templemore.

In 1819, the Marquis of Lansdowne had ‘a fine romantic seat’ at Castleowen, near Templemore, (here), later home to the Morett family.

The castle at Templemore is credited to the 4th Earl of Ormonde, who served several terms as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. His son James, the 5th Earl, was beheaded at Newcastle by the victorious Yorkists following the Battle of Towton in 1461. The 4th Earl’s granddaughter Lady Margaret Butler was mother to Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, and grandmother to Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII.


Templemore People