Memories from Childhood and later.
It was one of those fine summer’s day. I was lying on my back looking up at the sky and wondering what lies behind those white woolly clouds that hung across the otherwise deep blue sky above me. Little did I know then that asking questions such as that would preoccupy my thinking right throughout my life and the career path I was later to follow. I was just four years of age as I lay on the grass that bordered our house on the left hand side of Johnny Reagan’s field. I can still see his cattle, three or four large bullocks as I remember, leaning across the wall that separated our garden from them, as they slowly chewed and chewed and starred at me as if to say “What are you doing there?”. I could see their big dark eyes staring at me and their breath oozing from them as a milky white vapour. As I already said, I was just four years of age trying to come to terms with my surroundings. The road to my right led over to Liosdrumneil cross, Fairymount National school was little more than one hundred yards to the right just past the village water pump; Beirne’s shop was further over the road in the townland of Grallagh and to the left, the first house on the right hand side was Callaghans where Paddy and Siss Callaghan lived. This landscape set my horizons as I grew up in the townland of Liosdrumneil in the parish of Fairymount.
My parents (pictured here), Patrick and May Timon, were National School teachers. They were both very kind parents and very well respected teachers. At this stage my father taught in the Don National School in Cortoon which was about three miles from Liosdrumneil. He was the Principal of the Don – a three teacher school in the Tibohine half of the parish of Fairymount. My mother taught in Fairymount National School, also a three teacher school. Mr Tom Duffy was the principal and his wife also taught in the school. As my mother taught in the nearby school I have no doubt that I went to school before I reached four years of age. I don’t necessarily remember the first day I went to school but I have a clear memory of being in school the day the doctor arrived to vaccinate all the attending children. I remember being lined up along the wall in Mrs Duffy’s room. I was near the door. After I got the needle jab, clearly I was not amused. I remember bolting out the door and seeing the doctor’s car on the road I picked up a stone and smashed the front headlamp which in those days was plain flat glass. It certainly cracked the glass but more certainly I heard my mother following me as I ran down the road knowing that I was in trouble. I took refuge with a neighbour, Frank Timon, who was working in his land at the crossroads. He saved me! Yes, but I have had to wrestle with that determination and stubbornness ever since.
Memories of School
My memories of school in Fairymount are not very illuminating. My mother taught Infants and First class. I mostly remember her singing classes, her use of the tuning fork and learning songs such as “Kelly the boy from Killane”. Mrs Duffy taught second and third class and my clearest memory of her was her insistence that we learned off by heart the arithmetic tables and that we developed good hand writing skills. Mr Duffy taught fourth, fifth and sixth class. My only memories of him were that he was very strict, used the cane regularly and was not a particularly good teacher. For some strange reason the only thing I clearly remember from his classes is that of sitting in the last row seat reading excerpts from the Old Testament to other class members such as Jimmy Corcoran and the Lacken brothers, Sean and Eamonn. School facilities were very rudimentary in those days. There was not any electricity or central heating. The school was heated by a large turf fire in each room. The most exciting time in the school in those days was when parents brought their annual load of turf to the school; usually a donkey cart of turf. It would be dropped on the road outside the school and the senior boys were then instructed by Mr Duffy to carry the turf around to the turf house at the back of the school. Yes, very often it was considered good fun to throw clods (small bit of turf) at each other. Another exciting day was when the chimney sweep (Martin Ward – an iterant who at that time lived in a camp over near Moyne cross) came to the school to clean the chimneys. Despite Mr Duffy’s protestations he continued to whistle loudly as he undertook his work. He was a particularly good whistler.
I also clearly remember the annual class photograph. A small little man would mount his camera on a large tripod and then disappear under a large black cloth, which not only covered the camera but also covered the photographer, and then asked us to be still and quiet; giggling was our most likely response. As there wasn’t any sport facilities in schools in those days the only ‘sport’ that we could engage in at lunch time was to make a makeshift ball by rolling up lunch papers into a ball and tie it with string. For some strange reason Mr Duffy didn’t allow us to play skittles at school but we certainly tested our skills in throwing the skittle after school further down the road at the crossroads.
A Simple Lifestyle
Living standards in Fairymount in the forties and particular during World War 11 were very rudimentary and simple. Most families lived in three room thatched cottages; a kitchen and two rooms and occasionally a ‘pristie’ which was an annex off the kitchen usually with a double bed. There were a few slated houses (The parish priest, a few larger farmers and the local teachers). As our parents were teachers we had a slated three room house. My brother Brendan, my parents and I lived rather comfortably in that small house and we usually had a maid who slept in the kitchen on a pullout sofa bed. The only source of heating was from the large open fire in the kitchen. So turf was very important not only for heat but primarily for cooking. A key activity each night was to ‘rake’ the fire so as to easily start it the following morning.
Each fireplace had a large iron crane which could swivel in and out and on which the kettle and/or large pots could hang in over the fire. At each side of the fireplace coals of fire would be drawn out to heat ovens, pots or pans placed on iron tripod stands, usually called ions – a Gaelic word. Coals of hot cinders from the fire would also be placed on the lids of pots or ovens to effect all round heating. Baking bread was almost as common as boiling water to make tea. Cooking potatoes, bacon and cabbage was a regular feature of the midday meal in most houses. Roasted or boiled chicken also featured perhaps one day a week. Roast beef or lamb was usually a special treat. Fridays in those days were dreaded; as meat was forbidden (A Catholic day of fast) our only recourse was to salted herrings which in the inland county of Roscommon was the only fish locally available in those days.
For much of the forties and early fifties most items of food were rationed as a result of the war. Tea and sugar were highly sought-after rationed items. Paraffin oil was also rationed and often very hard to find as was tobacco and cigarettes. Each house had an official ration book that was stamped by the shopkeeper each time a rationed item was purchased. Brendan and I spent many hours cycling to different shops in the parish to procure these items. Perhaps the chore we disliked most was going to the well for water as the rather heavy two gallon buckets of water were not very kind on the hands. The best water came from Foley’s well which was at least a half mile from our house and involved the rather steep Liosdrumneil hill. This water was an essential requirement to the making of good tea whereas water form Kelly’s well or the pump over at the crossroads was adequate for all other purposes. Hand carrying the two gallon tin of paraffin also left its mark on young hands but it was essential for lighting. Lighting the lamp each evening was a particular event especially if the Tilley lamp was being lit. The Tilley lamp had a very fine mantle inside the globe which emitted a much brighter light than the standard wick lamp. Great care was required to ensure that the mantle was not damaged as the oil was poured and the lamp lit.
Our nearest neighbours were Paddy and Siss Callaghan on our left and Beirne’s shop on the other side. Brendan and I spent much of our free time in both of these houses. Paddy and Ciss were brother and sister in their mid forties and they lived very frugally on a small farm. On the other hand their house was always welcoming and a source of comfort, joy and happiness. I have many pleasant memories of times spent in Callaghans. In that context, I was very happy to write “A Portrait of Paddy Callaghan” for the Centenary Celebration of Fairymount National School in 2005; a copy is included as part of this publication.
Paddy was a small man in size but he had an exceptionally active brain that was expressed in many ways. He questioned life, nature and belief systems in their many forms and had an open and enquiring mind that reflected original genius in that he foresaw many technological developments long before they materialised albeit he was not exposed to education or the world of knowledge of his day. For a person that never travelled he was uniquely open to and searching for new ideas and change. He was also an artisan (carpenter/cart-maker, stone mason/builder, plasterer and thatcher among many other things) and an artist in many different respects and this was coupled with a sense of humour and wit that is still regularly recalled in the neighbourhood. His sister was quiet and gentle. They got on very well. She made all the meals, washed and mended his clothes; his jacket and trousers were patched and re-patched many times. She kept the house very clean at all times. Perhaps the only item that looked dishevelled was the old clock over the fireplace. It would often stop and Ciss’s solution to fix it was to pour some lamp oil on it. It usually worked but left the clock looking a dirty brown and very difficult to read. Paddy went hunting with his dog Shep (a halfbred hound/sheep dog) every Sunday and usually came back with a rabbit or a hare for their Sunday dinner.
Paddy’s wit and ease with children appealed to us. But his interest in and love of drawing/sketching, be it of people, people’s faces in particular and his continuous questioning of life and the meaning of words was particularly alluring. I have outlined some of the questions he would pose to us as young people in the paper referred to above. His questioning was even more remarkable when you realise that they didn’t have a radio, let alone a TV, nor did they ever buy a newspaper. His foresight and ingenuity in watching a young ash tree grow and pruning it so that branches would grow in the correct position that they would form the natural grips (dornines, an Irish word, as he called them) on the handle for his scythe is but one example of his inherent intelligence.
Callaghan’s house was welcoming to all who called; it was also a favourite rambling house. Every Saturday night during the winter months lots of neighbours would visit and the Storyteller in chief (Seanachai) was Martin Foley. He would sit on the stool beside the fire and after filling and lighting his pipe, his storytelling would begin; ghost stories, fairy stories and accounts of times and places where and when he knew he met the devil by noticing his clawed hooves. As children, Brendan and I would be scared stiff and yet we would never miss these occasions. My clearest memory was the night when Martin told a very vivid ghost story after which there was a very long silence only to be broken by Paddy Callaghan when he said “Ah sure Martin the ghosts going nowadays are not a patch on the ghosts that were out long ago”.
The Beirnes household was very different to Callaghans. First of all, they had a shop and a fairly large farm. Mrs Beirne was a lovely white haired woman; her husband had died long before we got to know her. She ran the shop, generally a grocery shop with a few bits of hardware and odds and bobs that the local community might need. Her son, Michael Joe, operated a travelling shop and drove his horse drawn caravan throughout the parish five days a week. Her three other sons, Jim, John and Eugene, all worked in England with the largely Irish-labour building company, Wimpy. Jim had a managerial role in the company but John and Eugene spent lots of holiday time in Ireland. It was a very lively house with lots of fun and devilment afoot particularly when John was home. Despite being in their 20’s to 30’s there was always fun and games that Brendan and I could easily engage in despite the obvious age differences. It too was a great house for visitors; Jimmy Foley and Johny Kirrane were regular night time ramblers. Games such as Ludo, Drafts and Monopoly featured regularly on winter evenings. John Beirne had a capacity to create excitement around these games such that the person who won most games each night was ‘crowned’ champion’ and hailed as a world beater. It was all very simple fun but in the atmosphere of Beirne’s house it was surreal; as children we really believed or at least dreamed we were champions such was the competitive atmosphere in these games.
As we got older the competition turned to target shooting with a Point 22 rifle. Standing at the doorway of their house the target would be placed on the corner of the flat roof of the shop which was about 25 yards from the kitchen door. First of all I should say that all of the Beirnes were very safety conscious and trained us in neo-military style in the use, safety and maintenance of the rifle. Placing the target on the top corner of the shop was quite deliberate in that the flight path of the bullets would never endanger anybody. The target usually was a small bottle little more than one inch in height normally used for clothes-dye liquid. We would spend hours in competition, using Whiz-Bang bullets, to establish who was champion. I became quite good with the rifle so much so that when Mrs Beirne wanted a cockerel ready for Sunday lunch she would ask me to shoot one for her in the head such that the body of the fowl would not be damaged. I did this quite often and as was the standard practice I would empty the unused bullet from the rifle and clean the barrel with a pull through rag. On one occasion, fortunately with the rifle in a vertical upright position, I pulled the trigger only to realise that there was still a bullet in the breach which shot straight up through the roof; a piece of straw standing upright in the thatched roof could be seen from outside. I was horrified that I had done such a stupid and dangerous thing and was aware that Mrs Beirne realised what had happened. She assured me she would not tell anybody and was as good as her word.
I spent many long hours helping her in the shop and enjoyed every minute of it. As food was rationed in those days and lots of food items were delivered in loose form (eg., tea and sugar was bought by the shopkeeper in large wooden chests) I often spent hours weighing out and packing ½ pound and 1 pound bags of sugar and 1, 2, and 4 ounce packets of tea. Cutting tobacco( Bendigo mostly) into ½ ounce and 1 ounce bars was also a demanding job as it usually necessitated cutting, weighing and adding a small sliver of tobacco to the main part so as to get the weight right and then attaching it with a rivet. Measuring and filling out one gallon and two gallon tins of paraffin oil was also a regular task in those days.
Family and Relations
As I’ve already stated, my parents were Patrick Timon and May Sherlock. Both were National School teachers. Both were born in the parish. My father was born in Lissergool in a family of seven children to Patrick Timon, also a National School teacher, born in Tibohine, and Brigdget Gallagher, born in Lissergool. My mother was born in Buckhill in a family of five children to John Sherlock, an RIC sergeant, born in Gurteen, Co. Sligo, and Anne Dillon, born in Fairymount. Generally, they got on very well albeit they had quite different backgrounds and perspectives.
My father was very nationalistic, had been involved in the IRA during the Fight for Irish Freedom and was a fluent Irish speaker. He always wore the Fáinne no matter what jacket he was wearing and spoke Irish regularly when he met other Irish speaking people. He was deeply interested in all things Irish and Gaelic and submitted several articles on Irish History and Folklore to the Irish Folklore Commission. He was an active member of and contributed to the Lough Gara Historical Society which met in Ballaghadereen. He was educated at the Don School, St. Nathy’s Colege, Ballaghaderreen and he then went to UCD to study medicine where his two older sisters, Ethel and Eva were also studying medicine. Ethel completed her MD degree and moved to London to practice medicine. She married Charles Ingham, also a doctor, and who had studied medicine in Trinity College, Dublin. Unfortunately, Eva never qualified as on returning home on Easter holidays she contacted influenza and died in a matter of days. Influenza was rampant across Europe at that time and large numbers of people died from the disease with pneumonia complications.
Nor did my father complete his medical studies. After pre-med. he got involved in the then very active Republican movement, joined the IRA and little is known of his whereabouts until 1925 when he sat the entrance examinations for St. Patricks Training College, in Dublin.
Interestingly, he sat these examinations in the Christian Brothers College, in Mountrath, Co. Laois; the Christian Brothers were known to be well disposed to help ex-IRA members to return to civil society. He qualified as a National School teacher in 1927 after completing the two year teacher training course in St. Patricks Training College. He also was awarded the Fáinne while in St. Pats – an indication of his fluency in Irish (Seated in Centre of Picture above wearing the Fáinne). This was further recognised in his first appointment as a teacher in Carraroe National School which was deep within the Gaeltacht. In 1929, he was appointed Principal of the Don National School in Cortoon, on the retirement of his father.
He was a very quietly spoken person and was highly regarded as a teacher. He was unique in his time in that it has been said of him that he never slapped a pupil; slapping was quite common in schools in those days. One indication of the esteem in which he was held by his pupils was the number of letters he regularly received from past pupils at Christmas thanking him for his teaching and explaining how well the Don school had prepared them for the lives they now lived. Such letters came from, England, the USA and indeed some from as far as Australia. He was known to focus the education of the pupils on subject matter that would be relevant to their futures. For example where he adjudged that the pupil in question was inevitably likely to emigrate to England he would focus part of their education on matters relating to the culture, history and day to day matters of working and living in England. On the other hand, if the pupil seemed destined to continue his or her education he often gave them ‘grinds’ after school hours and prepared them for scholarship and school entrance exams, usually at our home. He also was available to advise and write letters to the relevant government authorities on behalf of individuals in the parish who sought grants, administration of wills or indeed simple applications for social welfare payments as they existed in those days; literacy was not widespread among country people at that time. He was very approachable on these matters and was very willing to help anybody he could. He was commonly known as ‘Master Timon’.
My mother was a very different type of person. She was also educated at the Don National School where her mother taught alongside her future father-in-law, Patrick Timon (Snr), also known as ‘The Master’. She then studied at the Ursuline Convent in Sligo, up to the Leaving Certificate on which she got a scholarship to the Girls Teacher Training College, run by the Ursuline Order at Craiglockart in Scotland. Her very first posting was to Fairymount National School where she taught for the duration of her career. She ended up as Principal of Fairymount National School.
She was a very conscientious and hard working teacher and regularly took pupils copybooks home at night to correct and write notes of encouragement and direction on them. In contrast, I don’t recall that my father ever took home school work other than the roll books and this was not a regular event. She had a particular interest in and ear for music. She was an accomplished pianist and trained and directed the choir in Fairymount Church. I can recall with amazement the ease with which she would listen to new tunes on the radio and within five minutes she would play the piece as if she knew it all her life. This was intriguing for Brendan and me as we listened to the Pop music of the day on Radio Luxembourg.
Perhaps her greatest loves were the Theatre and Ballroom dancing. She arranged, directed and staged three Concerts and Plays each year in the Parish hall; two to fund the local Catholic church and one to support The Lady Dudley Nursing Scheme – a scheme which located a nurse in particular parishes; Nurse Mc Cabe was the LDNS nurse in Fairymount. Preparation for these concerts and plays took up a lot of time and much of it was carried out in our house at night. As children, we found lots of excitement in these sessions until the time came when we were called on to participate, particularly in the concerts and later in the choir. Brendan had the happy knack of excluding himself from such activity and I was too conscientious to refuse. I particularly remember having to go onstage in my pyjamas to sing “Christopher Robin is saying his prayers”. I was particularly shy of this event but a sweetener of ten shillings from my father helped a lot. My father always introduced the different acts; his opening words were always the same – “Go mbeannaigh Dia dhibh a cháirde Gael”.
My mother played the piano almost daily; it was her way of relaxing. Music was in her soul though I can’t recall her singing herself. Each time we visited Dublin her first shop was Piggot’s Music Store in Parnell Street. She would buy the sheet music of all the then popular songs just released and within days of returning home she would have all of them off by heart. Then she would select those she thought most suitable for the next concert. There were two or three very good singers in the parish and they would be invited to try out the different songs. I can distinctly remember John Jo Reagan’s baritone voice, Michael Keaveney’s Bing Crosby imitations and the beautiful singing of Katy Kelly and Katy Raftery.
If music was in her soul it was also in her feet; she loved dancing, all forms of dancing. It was normal that as a family we went dancing every Sunday night and indeed more often during the summer months when the carnival dancing season was in full swing. My father wasn’t particularly interested in dancing or indeed in popular music; any interest of his in music was limited to Irish Ceili music. I have many memories of going to Tooreen Ballroom (about five miles from Ballyhaunis) on Sunday nights and while my mother and Brendan at a later stage would dance to their hearts content upstairs my father and I would sit down in the tea room drinking tea and eating biscuits; my father chain smoking as he usually did. The dances at that time were run by a young priest, Fr. Horan, later to become Monsignor Horan of Knock Airport fame.
Whereas my mother was interested in all kinds of dancing, formal ballroom dancing was her main interest and in particular the old time waltz. She won several competitions in old time waltzing with her very able dancing partner, Michael Beirne. They won dancing competitions all over Connaught and indeed across Ireland. Our sitting room cabinet was full of silver cups (silver plated I suggest) which she won. In those days the main topic of conversion on Mondays was about dances as she read the local papers to find out where particular bands were playing and competitions were being held. She continued this interest in dancing right into her 80’s and at that stage was known locally as ‘Super Gran’.
My Brother Brendan
My brother Brendan was a very pleasant easy going individual who was happiest when he was doing something with or talking to somebody about animals. His overriding interest was in animals from a very young age; I can’t recall that he ever got excited about anything else. I clearly remember our national school days when he would run over to Callaghan’s immediately after school to help with the tackling or un-tackling of their donkey(Neddy) or take part in the milking of their only cow. He never showed any interest in school homework. This led to many attempts by my mother to interest him in school work but usually to little avail; very often, and to my annoyance, my mother would offer him sweets as bribes but it had little effect on his interest in school. Very often, it appeared to me that both of my parents gave into his wishes too easily and in a way spoiled him. On the other hand, none of this had any influence on our relationship which was very close.
His love of animals was reciprocated in kind by the animals he attended to and at least by one of our hens, a plump Rhode Island hen that always flew onto the handlebars of his bike each time he cycled over to Beirnes – the shop. Brendan would leave his bicycle close to a window sill at Beirnes where the hen would perch while Brendan got his messages in the shop. When he approached the bicycle to cycle home the hen would jump onto the handlebars again and stay there until he got home. I made several attempts to have the hen accompany me on my bicycle as I went to the shop but to no avail.
The culmination of this interest in animals was best expressed when Callaghan’s donkey, Neddy, had a foal. Nothing would satisfy Brendan other than that he should have ownership of this foal. My parents duly oblidged and bought the foal for him despite the fact that we didn’t have any land on which to graze the young donkey. Of course, Paddy Callaghan came to the rescue and grazed the young donkey by day. But Brendan insisted he had to be housed with us so our back kitchen was converted into donkey accommodation by night. But that didn’t end the saga. Brendan now wanted a cart to go with the donkey and Paddy Callaghan duly oblidged again.
I will never forget Paddy Callaghan making a donkey cart from planks of wood which were purchased specifically for the purpose; my best recollection is that the total cost amounted to little more than two pounds. Paddy spent days on end cutting, carving, shaping and moulding the wood until the final product, a donkey cart, was ready for painting. This involved his making the wheels also, the spokes, fellas and wheel rims. Watching him mould the timber to the required shapes with rudimentary tools such as a chisel, a plane and a very old saw was awesome but that was a measure of Paddy Callaghan’s talents which I’ve written about elsewhere in this website. Then the day came when the cart, including the side and end boxes, was ready for painting. And here again Paddy showed his ingenuity as he made the paint from red and blue lead powder. Brendan was so excited that he immediately decided that we had to make a maiden voyage to Ballaghaderreen the following Saturday. Of course, he had persuaded our parents to purchase of the necessary tackle and chains for the donkey and cart. I can still remember that long (10 kms.) trip to town and back, Brendan driving the donkey and I dangling my legs between the back shafts. St. Nathy’s College was far from his thoughts that day or indeed in days to come.
Of course, as we grew up Brendan’s fascination with animals grew even stronger. I clearly remember when I would ask Brendan to play football he would disappear only to be found down at the end of the village riding or just playing with donkeys that had been allowed freedom to graze the long acre. This fascination reached a new peak when we moved up to Curley’s in Cloonfinglas which had a three- acre field attached to the house. Now my parents had to purchase a cow to meet Brendan’s desires; so, the task of looking after and milking this cow fell to Brendan and he relished the job. Around this time, he began dating Mel Beirne. So, when he had finished the evening milking he would set off for Tibohine on his bicycle. After a few years they were married and at around the same time he inherited the Timon farm in Tibohine and the Gallagher farm in Lissergool.
That was the end of his studies as he concentrated on farming. He then built a new house as the old house (Miss Timon’s) was a thatched cottage and beyond repair. Gradually, he became more interested in livestock trading and made a weekly trip to Kerry to buy calves and then, the following week, sell them on the local markets. His interest in livestock stood to him as he built up a reputation as a good judge of animals. It often occurred to me that he was following in his Uncle Austin’s footsteps who was also highly regarded as a good judge of livestock. He and Mel had four children, all of whom are healthy and very successful in their different careers. But more on them later.
Life in Liosdrumneil in the 40’s and the 50’s
Whereas our lives were very ordinary I have particular memories of our lives at that time. Regularly we ran home from school at three o clock to put on the potatoes for the dinner on those days when we didn’t have a housekeeper. Siss Callaghan might also be there and help us. I don’t recall that the house was ever locked. Often it meant that we had to dig the potatoes in the garden first. We always had quite a fairly good garden and grew cabbage, peas, carrots, parsnips, turnips, onions and beetroot as well as potatoes. There was also a large clump of rhubarb which simply grew every year without any attention. John/ Beauty Mahon (usually called Beauty Mahon as his mother always called him Beauty) cycled up from Lissergool each spring to dig the garden and sow the vegetables. He was very predictable and followed the same routine each year. He was always looking for a patch and solution to mend a puncture in one of the wheels of his bike. In those days the roads were not tarred but were surfaced with limestone chips some of which could be very sharp and would cut through the rubber tyres of the bicycle quite easily; Beauty’s regular comment as he would mend the tyre and tube was “Blast those stones anyway”. This often involved putting ‘gaiters’ on the tyre to stop the tube protruding. His tyres often had several ‘gaiters’ as he most likely did not have the money to buy new tyres.
The importance of Turf
Bringing in turf and keeping the fire lit was also a job that children were expected to do. We didn’t have a turf house. We had a reek of turf in the garden and it was very important to keep the face of the reek straight so that the rain would not lodge on the turf. I have many pleasant and not so pleasant memories of days in the bog.
We cut our turf on the Donnagh bog in the earlier years. John Mahon and Johnny Daly, also from Lissergool, would ‘clean’ the bank which entailed cutting off the top layers of the bog as those layers were too ‘young’ to make good turf. Then the big day would arrive. A gang of men largely from the Lissergool end of the parish would arrive to cut the turf for the ‘Master’; Martin Manion and Peter Callaghan are names that spring to mind; they took charge and they cut the turf with the ‘sláin’ – a sharp spade-like tool with a sharp metal wing. Johnny Daly, Beauty Mahon and others would spread the turf. This involved catching each sod from the turf cutter and placing it on the barrow in neat rows, one on top of the other until about 25 to 30 sods were on the barrow. The barrow was then wheeled out the ‘hollow’ and the turf was tipped in neat rows to be scattered later when the sods had dried out sufficiently. It took at least two spreaders to keep the turf cutter busy. As the turf cutters cut down the bank after two or three layers called ‘spits’ the turf would be more compact and black in colour. The top turf was called ‘spadach’ and the lower ‘spits’ yielded black turf. Peter Callaghan who had spent some time in England (not long I think) got his cue from reaching the black ‘spit’ to deliver his annual statement about the coloured people he met in England. With great assurance in his voice and with a sense of ‘I’ll tell you’ he would say – “There are two kinds of bleedin blacks in England I tell you; I saw them with my own eyes. There’s the bleedin tawny and the bleedin real black. The tawny is like the bleedin ‘spadach’ turf there and the real black is just as black as that bleedin black turf on this ‘spit’.” ‘Bleedin’ was Peter Callaghan’s most often used adjective.
The most exciting part of this day in the bog was the arrival of the dinner. Usually my father would have gone home at about midday and would arrive back with tea and sandwiches. The tea was usually in large glass bottles with milk and lots of sugar already mixed and the sandwiches would be wrapped in old newspaper. Somehow that tea and sandwiches tasted different and very good. The turf cutters sat together and the spreaders sat in another huddle. Inevitably someone would throw a ‘clod’ of turf at Peter Callaghan knowing that his response would be “The bloody bleedin blinder, who threw that”. It was his usual retort. Conversations usually related to individuals or events in the parish, the price of cattle and if prices had gone up or down at the last fair in Ballaghaderreen. Quite often articles from the newspaper that came with the sandwiches would be read and form a topic of conversion or news about somebody who had recently gone to or came home from England. It should be understood that most of these workers would not have any recourse to newspapers or indeed would not have a radio in those days.
Perhaps the hardest and most unpleasant days in the bog were yet to come, be it scattering, footing or clamping the turf over the following weeks. Not that the work itself was difficult but moving the turf seemed to arouse an army of midges that would ‘eat you alive’ especially as the evening drew near. I still feel itchy around my neck as I think back on those days in the bog. Scattering the turf simply involved breaking up the piles of sods that were dropped from the wheel barrow. Depending on the weather a week or so later the turf was gathered into ‘footins’- four sods standing against each other with one sod placed on top. Then when the turf was dry it was clamped so as to remain dry.
Then the big day came when the turf was brought home. Our uncle Austin usually brought the turf home for us in his horse cart drawn by his big bay horse which he called Jack. Brendan and I would compete to be allowed to drive Jack on each trip back to the bog; Austin would do his best to keep us both happy. Thinking of Austin takes me back to Lissergool.
Lissergool is a townland in Tibohine where my grandparents lived. It has many pleasant memories for me.
Patrick Timon (Pictured on left), was born in Tibohine but on his marriage to Bridget Gallagher he moved to a farm in Lissergool which was given to her as her dowry by her father Patrick Gallagher, a farmer and engineer (Ordinance Survey) who also lived in Lissergool. My grandfather taught in the Don National School which was about a mile up the road in the next village of Cortoon. Being a teacher and a farmer he was reasonably well off and he built a two storey house and a well laid out farmyard – a model farmyard based on Albert Agricultural College guidelines. In those days (late 1880’s) National School teachers had to take a 3 month course in agriculture in the Albert College as the subject of agriculture was on the syllabus of national school education at that time. The farmyard consisted of a six cow byre, a calf house, a cattle shed, a horse and donkey shed, a trap and cart house and a hay shed. It was all very neat.
The slated two storey house was very unusual in the country side in those days; most houses were one storey and were thatched. By the time I got to know my grandfather he had long since retired and suffered from loss of memory; it was said he had had a stroke but perhaps he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. He usually sat on a couch up near the fireplace dressed in a dark suit, a shirt with a splayed collar and dickey bow. When he left to go out somebody always followed him. As a child I thought this was strange. However, I do remember he took me into the orchard one day in which he had planted two rows of apple trees and some plum trees. He picked and gave me a plum that somehow in my childish mind I thought was the sweetest thing I ever tasted. They had a fulltime housekeeper in the house in those days as his wife, my grandmother, did not have good health and his son Austin and grandson Leo were the only other members of the family in the home.
Austin was always in good humour and constantly talking and making fun. I never heard him say a bad word about anybody. He always wore a cravat even if the state of the shirt didn’t warrant a cravat. He had rhymes about lots of things and even about the names and occupations of everybody in the village. He also whistled a lot. A neighbour who often visited my grandfather’s house was Mickey Sharkey. I was intrigued by him. He was extremely small and stocky; I don’t think he was four feet, yet he was the village shoemaker. He made shoes as well as repairing them. He also made clogs – timber soled boots that were very good in snow or very bad weather. Perhaps their greatest advantage was that with iron tips they were very good for sliding on ice – a treat for young boys when small ponds iced over in winter.
We visited Tibohine quite often but I was not to know until many years later that Tibohine was the birth place and townland of the Timon family going back to the 1700’s at a minimum. At the time of our visits in the 40’s and 50’s there were three Timon families living side by side. Miss Timon as we referred to her was living in a very quaint house that was very well furnished and finished inside, at least by the standards of the time. At that stage she was a retired school teacher having been a teacher and later principal of Tibohine National School. She was one of four teachers in the Michael Timon family, having followed the pattern of her brothers Patrick and Michael and sister Catherine, in first becoming a teacher through the Monitor system (in the Don School) and later qualifying formally as a teacher in Carysfort College in Blackrock, Dublin.
She was my grand aunt and grand was the operative word. She always dressed impeccably in black dresses with white lace cuffs. She spoke Irish most of the time and would spend endless hours in Irish conversion with my father. I always felt we had to be on our best behaviour as she would offer us tea in china cups and she always had biscuits, something that was not very common in those days. She spoke very quietly and I had the impression that she tolerated children rather than liked them. She rarely spoke of the Timon family though I have a distinct impression that she was a very proud if not a highbrow Timon. She seemed to be very friendly with Nora and Anne Timon who lived next door and with Ita and Tommie Timon who was in the third Timon house further down the road. I got the distinct impression that she didn’t like drink and I can clearly remember her giving my father and Tommie Timon the wrath of her tongue one evening when they arrived in from Ballaghaderreen with some drink onboard. My brother Brendan was later to inherit her house and farm and he moved in to live with her and take care of her in her old age.
We regularly went to Ballaghadereen on Saturdays, my father, mother, Brendan and I. It was an event. Duffs and Flannerys were the two large shops in the town. As my parents did their shopping we regularly met other adults, very often teachers known to our parents, and they regularly would say of Brendan or I “Well isn’t he the spitting image of his father, grandfather Sherlock or grandfather Timon or whatever”. The next couple we met would say the very opposite. Whether it was a latent as yet unexpressed interest in genetics or not I don’t know but I still recall often saying to myself under my breath – “Take a look at my bottom, my knees or something other than my face and see what you think and who I’m like”. Of course I never expressed these thoughts out loud and if and when they gave me one or two shillings I’d smile, forget my impertinent thoughts and thank them profusely. On another occasion, I remember meeting Douglas Hyde, then President of Ireland. He and my father were quite friendly and always spoke in Irish. I was disgusted when he gave me and old penny – yes; I later found out that he had a reputation of being very sparing with his money.
We often travelled to Ballaghaderreen in Austin’s horse and trap, particularly during the war years as petrol was only available to particular people, doctors, priests etc., and consequently we didn’t have a car. It was quite an occasion of excitement for Brendan and I. We always sat up at the front of the trap with Austin, no doubt pestering him to let us drive the horse while my father and mother sat back in the trap usually with a rug over their knees. Austin’s regular exhort to the horse was “Gwan, gwan, gwan out of that Jack” – the name of the horse. Jack would trot spritely all the way to town, his mane flowing in the breeze. I was always intrigued by the harness, the black leather and brass buckles. I can still smell the carbide as it glowed when lit in the two lamps on the side of the trap on our way home in the dark. It seemed to give a glow that lit the sides of the trap and the road as we trotted home on dark evenings.
The most intriguing part of these journeys began when we arrived in the town. The custom was that the owners of the horse and trap each had a particular yard where they could ‘park’ their traps and feed and water their horses. Austin’s destination was Gordon’s yard where he would unshackle Jack, tie him up in a particular stall and give him some hay and water. Often, there were up to half a dozen horses and traps ‘parked’ in Gordon’s yard.
The Catholic Church
Speaking of horses and traps reminds me of Sunday mornings and people going to Mass. Many travelled to Mass in a horse and trap or a sidecar. Most people in Fairymount were devoutly Catholic and displayed a reverence, if not a fear of, the parish priest; indeed all priests. Fr. Mullany was the parish priest in Fairymount as I was growing up. He was a very different type of priest with a passion for horses and show jumping. He was also unique in that he spent over fifty years in the parish; something that was not usual. On the other hand his predecessor, Fr. Monaghan, had an interest in horses, not for show jumping but as a means of transport as he travelled around the parish on horseback literally telling if not ordering people as to what he thought they should do. Or so the story goes. One story often recalled about him goes as follows. He rode his horse one day to the local hostelry and as he dismounted he shouted out to a young man standing nearby “Come here and hold the horse”. As the young man began to run off he shouted out more loudly; “Come here young man, don’t you know that I could stick you to the ground if you disobey me”. To which the young man replied; “Sure if that’s the case, Father, why don’t you stick the horse to the ground and you won’t need anyone to hold him”. Whether that story is true or not is not important but it does convey the attitude and power that priests had or presumed they had over their congregation in those days.
People in Fairymount were very diligent in carrying out their religious duties particularly in attending Mass every Sunday. In all probability 100% went to Mass except for the infirm or the very sick. Each Sunday the road would be black with people or as Pearse described it in Irish “Bhíodh na boitre dubh le daoine”. Most people walked, some cycled and quite a few would travel to Mass in a horse and trap or a side car. Pat Jordan from Buckhill passed our house every Sunday in his horse and sidecar about 15 minutes before second Mass began. My mother would then say “It’s time to go – Pat Jordan has just passed. In the forties/early fifties we usually walked. My father always went to First Mass and usually cycled. When we arrived at the Church there would be a number of traps and sidecars tipped up across the road and a group of men huddled outside the gate on the right hand side smoking the pipe or cigarettes depending on their age. As young boys Brendan and I always liked to get in close to hear what they were talking about usually about the weather or commenting about someone who was home from England or America. Paddy Callaghan was always there towards the back of the group, smoking his pipe and making wise cracks about something or other. I particularly remember one Sunday as a tall Mrs Sharkey passed by on her way into the church, someone remarked “She’s wearing a lot of powder this morning” to which Paddy remarked “Not at all, she was chasing a mouse in the flour bag just before she came out” – a typical Callaghan retort. This group of men were always the last to go into Mass and usually went down on one knee just inside the door.
Fr. Mullany rarely wasted time saying Mass; he would race around the alter and finish Mass in about twenty to twenty five minutes. When he gave a sermon it was usually very short. Consequently, his Mass was very popular as most people preferred a short Mass. On one occasion he was strongly exhorted by his then curate, Fr. Cunningham, that he should raise the issue of the people’s contribution to the ‘collection’ which was very miserable compared with the collection in the other half of the parish, Tibohine. The curate had a particular interest in this matter as he would receive a reasonably good collection in Tibohine only to have it combined with the Fairymount contribution and then split on a 70 – 30 basis in favour of the parish priest. On ‘Collection’ day (most certainly the Christmas and Easter dues) the amount paid by each person was written down as they entered the church; the National School teachers were commandeered to do this work.
Then in most parishes a few Sundays later the ‘Collection’ was read out by the priest thereby clearly identifying what each person paid. Fr. Mullany rarely bothered to read out the Fairymount collection until he capitulated to Fr. Cunningham request. Having scolded the people who paid him little or nothing he exclaimed “You wouldn’t give it to a flute player what you are paying me and some of you are giving the same money to me that you gave me when I came into the parish forty years ago” Then, in a high pitched voice he said “and there is one woman coming into this church and she has never given me a penny”. He quickly added “It wouldn’t be Christian or right of me to name her but let me tell you that she comes right up the church every Sunday. In his customary fashion he ran up the steps to the alter and glanced back again at the congregation saying “Well she was fined two shillings in Ballaghaderreen court last Friday for stealing turkeys – Now don’t you know her”. And off he started to complete the Mass; I should know as I was serving Mass that day.
Many people, usually women, did the nine Fridays; a novena whereby an individual went to Mass on nine successive Fridays to gain plenary indulgences. As for Lent, well it was two ‘collations’ and one meal each day throughout Lent and of course absolutely no meat on Friday. Being a long way from the sea it was salted herrings on Fridays as the only fish available in Fairymount; boy, were they salted.
Quite apart from his priestly duties Fr. Mullany was a very interesting person. He had a passion for horses and he was quite an accomplished horse breeder, trainer and show jumper. He bred the horse, Go Lightly, which later won the prestigious King George Vth. Gold Cup in London. He rode and featured in the winner’s circle in Show Jumping competitions all over Ireland including the RDS but perhaps his greatest achievement was in winning the Senior competition in Westport Show at the age of eighty. He spent much of his time with Mrs Teeling and in other interested horse breeding circles in Castlerea and further afield. However, as a source of excitement and an outing for the people his greatest undertaking was the Annual Gymkhana he organized in the ‘Priests field’ in Fairymount. Of course he participated in it himself and usually won a number of red ribbons. It was a great day for the children of the parish.
He was also fond of a few shots of whiskey. After a number of accidents in his later years he was refused insurance to drive his car and as a youngster, keen to seize any opportunity to drive, I often had the job of driving him to Kelly’s Hotel in Castlerea where we would sit in a snug (a private part of the bar) as he drank a few whiskeys and I drank a rather unappetising club orange. As a young secondary student at the time I found him to be very interesting. What he thought of me as his company I don’t know but he regularly explained his drinking by saying: “I only drink for the company”; me !!! He certainly never once urged or advised me to become a priest and I recall him saying that he hated Latin and that the Mass should not be read in Latin as it then was. He appeared to be very trusting in the Blessed Virgin and regularly would say that she kept him safe so often. He lived well into his nineties having been more than 50 years as a priest in Fairymount.
Happy days growing up in Fairymount.
For the most part my childhood days in Fairymount were very happy. My father and mother were very kind people and did everything they could for Brendan and me. Without question my mother was the boss; her energy and red hair temperament ensured that she called all the shots. On the other hand she had her hands full when it came to get us to do the jobs when she requested them as both Callaghans and Beirnes were often safe refuges for both of us. The daily routine of getting us to take a raw egg and a spoon of cod liver oil after breakfast was quite an ordeal particularly to persuade Brendan to take them; I decided early on that there was no point in refusing as she believed these ‘supplements’ were so beneficial to our health and well being that she always won out in the end. So I decided to swallow both straight down and accept it. Brendan would continue to protest.
On reflection, and particularly in reference to life today, our lives were very simple and routine. School was a big feature of our lives particularly as both parents were teachers. Religion was also very important in the home. The rosary plus trimmings was said every night and there was very little discussion except as regards what happened in school that day or very local matters about the neighbours. Strangely there was little or no discussion about the Timon family or indeed about relations in general. Occasionally, my mother would speak about her relations but that was about it. Equally there was little or no talk about politics though we all knew that my father was an out and out supporter of De Valera. There was never any mention of my father being in the IRA. Perhaps because my grandfather, my mother’s father, was in the RIC it was best that these sensitive matters were not discussed. On the other hand he always wore a lily on Easter Sunday.
Going to town each Saturday was the highlight of the week. Initially, and particularly during the war, we went by horse and trap with Austin. Later as some petrol became available taxi services developed. Initially it was Mickey Solon in Ballaghaderreen, then Paddy Corcoran who bought Mickey Solon’s old Dodge car and then Tinny Rodgers. The trip to town was always the same. Groceries were bought in Monica Duffs, clothing items in Flannery’s, meat in Beirnes butchers and batteries for the radio in Kenny’s hardware. This was quite an ordeal. Each week the ‘wet’ battery had to be brought in to Kennys to be charged; it was very important that this battery always remained upright as otherwise its acid would spill out; the ‘dry’ battery usually lasted several months so it hadn’t to be replaced that often. The radio with its fully charged batteries was highly prized. For my father it was the ten o clock news and Ceili house on Saturday nights. For Brendan, my mother and I it was Radio Luxembourg and the pop music of the day. But come Sunday during the summer months it was Michael O Haire and Gaelic football.
I have particular memories of Gaelic football matches in the forties when Roscommon were featuring prominently. Literally, 10 or 20 neighbours would come to our house to listen to the football commentary, so much so that lots of them would have to listen from outside through the open windows in our kitchen. The cheers when Roscommon would score could be heard in the next parish or so I thought as a young boy being so excited as I mingled through the melee. I distinctly still remember one teenager devouring a cake of bread that my mother had baked that morning and placed outside on the window sill to cool; later, I got to know that he came from a very poor family and may not have had anything to eat earlier that day.
Summer holidays were always very memorable as we usually went to Dublin. The journey would begin in Ballaghaderreen as we boarded the train for the first leg of the journey to Kilfree in Co. Sligo. There we got on the Sligo train which would take us all the way to Dublin. Both trains were drawn by steam engines and it was an occasion of wonder and excitement for Brendan and me as we inhaled the smell of the coal and watched in awe as the station master raised the green flag to signal to the train driver that it was time to go. I can still hear the loud chugging noise, the sound of the whistle and see the bellows of white smoke as if it was just yesterday.
We usually stayed in the Elphin Hotel in Dun Laoghaire as this was close to my aunt’s house, my mother’s sister, Josie. She was married to Alex Bollins and they had five children around our age and a little younger. Josie was a very lively person, full of fun and forever making jokes, cooking and smoking cigarettes. Other pleasant memories of these holidays were the Dun Laoghaire baths where I learned to swim, Dun Laoghaire Pier which I loved to walk and Caffolla’s coffee shop where we got ice cream and sweet cakes as my father and mother drank tea and read the paper. In later holidays I have a particular memory of ‘Sleighs’ bicycle shop where I got my first bicycle. I cycled all over Dun Laoghaire on that bicycle as I was so proud to have it.
Summer was also a great time for going to football matches once we got a car. We got a new Morris Minor in 1950 – DI 3822 was its registration number. It was not a great time for Roscommon football in those years as Mayo won the All Ireland in 1950 and 1951. Nevertheless I always pleaded that we go to all the matches and my father always agreed. Money was so scarce in those days but he always came up trumps; the newly issued cheque book was a great resort and I often had to go to Beirnes shop to change a cheque before we set off. Michael Joe Beirne, also a great football supporter, always came with us. Every time he sat into the car to go to a match he would say “Stop for nothing Master bar a pig”. My mother always came for the spin but never went in to see the match. Usually Mayo won in those days and when we came out from the match my mother would be sitting in the car sporting a Mayo badge or flag; just to tease us but little did she know how seriously upset I would be when Roscommon lost. On the other hand I learned a very good lesson from Michael Joe Beirne who when Mayo won the Connaught championship would purchase and display a Mayo flag and go to Croke Park to support them; you should always support the Connaught champions no matter what county they come from, he would say.
I loved football but unfortunately I never seemed to have anyone to play football with. Brendan had little or no interest in sport and there were very few young people around as most teenagers in those days emigrated to England on leaving National school. On the other hand there were always some boys interested in handball so I spent a lot of my teenager years playing handball on an open three-walled alley in Fairymount. After second Mass on Sunday we would run down to the ball alley, and after a competition of throwing and catching a ball off the back wall, pairs of players would emerge as the leading teams and then the matches got underway. To stay playing you had to win your match. John Joe Jordan was by far the best handball player on the court and on a number of Sundays when we were paired together we would win every game and remain on the alley for hours on end, winning three pence or six pence on each game. We later competed in the Roscommon championship but got nowhere as we didn’t have experience of enclosed ball alleys which required skill in playing off the back wall.
Secondary School – St. Nathys College
Finally the time came when I went to secondary school. In 1950 at the age of eleven I went to St. Nathys in Ballaghaderreen as a boarder even though it was a mere five miles from home; on a clear day I could see our car outside the house from the top floor of the college. Brendan had been boarding in the college one year earlier and I had been in to see him with my parents many times so I didn’t find it difficult to settle in. In fact as it was the custom in the college to have brothers share a double bed and in some ways it was home from home. The head prefect in our dormitory, Basil Regan, was also form Fairymount so that also made it more familiar to me. However, I do remember feeling at a big disadvantage as regards education standards. I was placed in the A (honours) class but I realised very quickly that pupils from particular schools in Sligo and Mayo were well ahead of me as they were familiar with algebra and geometry, terms that I had not even heard of in Fairymount National School. Added to this I was strongly influenced by my brother who had no interest whatsoever in studying. His main interest as I recall was in reading comics, where he got them I just don’t know. I do remember that I liked Science, Latin and Greek as the teachers made the subjects interesting. On the other hand I did very little study in my first two years as I followed my brother’s example.
I also remember I started smoking in my first year, during a retreat if you wouldn’t mind. It was the custom in all Diocesan colleges to have a 3 day retreat every November in the school during which we were supposed to dedicate ourselves to God in prayer and meditation. Only one priest, the Dean of Discipline, remained in the college during those three days and consequently supervision was minimal. Just prior to the beginning of the retreat it was a regular practice to ask some of the day boys to purchase and bring in whatever ‘goodies’ you wanted for the three days. Brendan suggested I got cigarettes and chocolate which I duly did and so began my smoking career.
In the first year and a half the Dean of Discipline was a Father O Hara, nick named Sham. All in all, he was a very gentle sort of person and I liked him. I certainly cannot say that about his successor, who was nicknamed Tan. Having become a smoker I got on the wrong side of him from the very start. But it was the nature of his deanship that he very obviously had his favourites (primarily the boys from Sligo – his native county) and those whom he disliked; I certainly was in the latter category. He regularly made snide remarks about me to my face while at the same time he would sing my praise to my parents when they came in to see us. My parents came in to see us regularly on Saturday afternoon and like many other parents brought in food (brack – bread with sultanas and fruit – butter and ham) and sweets which pupils were allowed to keep in their ‘doo-boxes’. Without question we would go hungry without this supplementary food as the standard college food was quite basic and meagre in amount. We were allowed to take this food to the refectory at meal time.
The standard routine was to get up at 7.30 am, Mass at 8.00 am, classes ran from 9.00am to 1.00pm; lunch from 1.00 to 2.00 pm when classes resumed and continued to 3.00 pm. Then a three hour break for sports or leisure. Tea was at 6.00 pm followed by study from 7.00 to 9.30. Then we had night prayers from 9.30 to 10.00 pm and then to bed. The Dean hovered around all day to ensure that every student adhered strictly to this routine. It was in this context that he would closely monitor any student that sneaked out to have a cigarette. On being caught, which I was on a number of occasions, he would dole out a savage cane beating, anything from 6 to 20 or more hard cane beatings on the hands or often when he lost his temper on the arms or shoulders of the offender. The recipient’s hands and arms would be black and blue for days after these beatings; certainly mine were on several occasions. The ordeal didn’t end there. We were then ordered to report to the President. Ironically, this was the pleasant part. The President in those days was Canon Colleran, a most considerate and kind man. After his usual short exhortation to stop smoking he would enquire if we had stopped smoking. Of course we always said “I have Canon”, to which he would remark “Well you’re great, I’m trying to stop them myself for years and haven’t succeeded yet”. He was the only priest in the college who convinced me at that young stage of my life that priests can be human after all.
St. Nathys in those days was a very sparse place. Sports facilities were minimal consisting of one football pitch and two ball alleys. Hence the only pastime was playing football or handball. I enjoyed both and then took interest in throwing the shot (7 lbs. and 12lbs. competitions). There wasn’t any training for any of these activities; basically, we learned from each other and in particular from the senior students. A particular interest of all students was in counting the days to our holidays. Brendan marked a calendar each day identifying the number of days to the next holiday break. There was a shop opened once a week, manned by the fifth year house captain, where we could buy sweets. Cigarettes were sneaked in by day boys or by any student who had the courage to slip down by the back ball alley to the shop outside the boundary fence on the Charlestown road. I was to become a regular ‘shop goer’ in my latter years in the college. Newspapers were not allowed at any cost and the only books available in the library which was open to us on Sunday nights were all religious or Catholic Church approved reading. How many times I read books by Canon Sheehan I just can’t remember. One memory from those days stands out – there wasn’t any music whatsoever in the college apart from the church organ.
However, music and a rude awaking awaited me when I was on summer holidays after my second year. Brendan had completed his Intermediate Certificate exams and I had completed a ‘Mock’ Inter Cert. Sometime in August of that year there were American visitors (Yanks) home in Reagan’s – a neighbour’s house just past Callaghans where we usually bought our milk. They had arranged a ‘country house’ dance to welcome home the visiting relations. All the neighbours were invited and my parents allowed Brendan and I to go so long as we were home by 12 o clock. I distinctly remember the dance, listening to the Irish music (jigs and reels) played on violin, flute and tambourine. It was brilliant and I enjoyed watching the dances, sets and half sets and some individual ‘sean nós’ dancing. The music quickly faded into the night when we got home as we were presented with the results of our exams. We both had failed every subject. It hurt me deeply as I felt I had let down my parents who were so good to us. I really don’t know how Brendan felt; we never spoke about it. Nor did our parents ever mention it again.
As I walked back into St. Nathys to begin my third year I certainly got a sharp reminder of my failed result. I met the Dean as I went upstairs to the 3rd year dormitory. His comment to me still rings clear as he said “Timon, I always knew you were thick and ignorant”. In hindsight, it was probably the best thing that he could have said to me as there and then I resolved that I would never give him an opportunity to say such a thing to me again. Nor did I, as I got honours in all subjects in the Intermediate and subsequently in the Leaving Cert. exams. However my confrontations with Tan didn’t end there.
He was a very difficult man, very big in size with a large weather beaten face but unquestionably with very little intelligence; he was nicknamed ‘Tan’ because of his large tan coloured face. He showed his student preferences and dislikes very unashamedly which didn’t endear him to lots of the students, myself included. I didn’t particularly mind his open dislike of me but I found it hard to reconcile the dishonesty in his comments and account of me to my parents which were always praising and describing me as a model student. His presence alone caused me to feel anxious as I knew that he would cane me with all his strength every opportunity he got; it was if he got some strange pleasure from beating me; anywhere from 10 to 20 blows of the cane across my hands, arms and occasionally on the shoulder. Of course I gave him lots of opportunity as he caught me smoking on a number of occasions. On the one hand it brought out a stubborn streak in me as I was determined to show him that I was not ‘thick and ignorant’.
His role as Dean was very questionable not only in regard to his clear lack of ability to supervise and control young adolescent boys in an impartial manner but his physical abuse of boys he deemed to be misbehaving was brutal to say the least. As Dean he had responsibility to supervise the Middle Big dormitory, the open large dormitory where most fourth and fifth year students slept. He regularly came into the dormitory at 10.00 pm to turn off the lights. On most Friday and Saturday nights he would first walk to the beds of two particular boys to inform them that Fr. X or Fr. Y wished to see them. The boys in question would toddle off in their pyjamas and dressing gowns to the rooms of the priests mentioned. I never knew what happened in those situations and indeed sometimes felt jealous as the boys in question would return some 30 to 40 minutes later eating sweets which they had been given. I was later to find out from my brother Brendan that the requested nightly visits to the priest’s rooms were indeed of a sexual nature and that he was invited on one occasion only to be dropped off the invitation list when he refused to take part in the activities requested.
In hindsight I can clearly recall the plight of one student in my class, a small slightly built boy that was intelligent, outgoing and full of fun in his first year in the college but who became very quiet, withdrawn and made very little progress in his studies as the years went by. He was regularly summoned to a particular priest’s room every weekend. The Dean must have known what was going on but he chose to turn a blind eye, something he never did when it came to any misdemeanour I might engage in. His attitude towards me did not affect my interest in and determination to study and advance academically.
On the other hand it certainly affected my participation in schools sports. Whereas I played on the school’s football team I could never relax as Tan was always present being the trainer of the team. Consequently I never enjoyed football when he was around. I concentrated on handball and throwing the shot, the two sports that he rarely supervised. I became quite good at throwing the shot and in my third year broke the Irish Colleges National record in the Junior Shot event by more than 3 feet. It deserved mention in the local Press, the Roscommon Herald. The President, Canon Colleran, congratulated me on my achievement. However, on the Sunday of the Connaught and All Ireland Colleges Sports competition the Dean deemed it more important that I sing in the college choir (one of 50 or so students) than that I should attend and represent the College in the Shot competition. Of course he brought all his favourites (some of whom were good athletes) one of whom participated in the Shot event and came last. On hearing the news on the Monday, the President asked me why I had not participated. When I told him what had happened he became very angry and openly confronted the Dean as he walked across the football field. What transpired I don’t know. All I know is that I was deprived of wining an All Ireland Colleges medal. I was to hold that grudge against him for the next two years.
Whatever went on in St. Nathys had little effect on my enjoying the holidays away from St. Nathys. I have particularly pleasant memories of summer holidays, the sort of memories that perhaps only recall the warm, sunny summer days. I played handball a lot and indeed played football any time I could find someone to kick a football with. In the early fifties most of my national school classmates would have emigrated to England or the US and consequently there were few boys of my age in Liosdrumneil. Brendan on the other hand had little or no interest in football or handball albeit he was quite good at handball when he chose to play. His interest was in livestock and farming. Of course we continued to spend a lot of time in Beirnes or Callaghans. It was in those times that I got to know and appreciate the ‘genius’ that was Paddy Callaghan and which I have written about elsewhere.
Perhaps the most outstanding memory I have of summer holidays springs from the two years I went to the Gaeltacht to learn Irish. I attended Coláiste Connacht in Spiddal, Co. Galway, for four weeks in 1953 and 1954. I can still clearly recall the house, Teach Stiofán Ó Dómhnail in Coileach, AnSpideál. It was a large two storey house and they catered for 4 to 6 students. They were a lovely family; Cáit was the Ban an Tí and her mother who must have been in her 80’s always sat by the fire. She always called me Codladhmór – because I was usually last coming down for breakfast. There was a small stream at the back of the house; that is where we washed our teeth, hands and face each morning. Strangely I don’t remember any morning it was raining. We usually got a good breakfast before we ran down the path to the college; it was only 300 yards down to the college. The evening meal was usually a ham and egg salad with lots of homemade bread. There were classes in the morning from 9 to 12.30, the afternoons were free and we went back to the college in the evenings for céili dancing and singing. We spent the afternoons swimming or playing football.
I really loved the college and the teachers and over the two years I developed a strong interest in the Irish language and all things Gaelic. An Spidéal became for me a place of great beauty and I empathised fully with Padraic Pearce’s short poem about the area (Cois Fharraige) which he had written on a postcard to the Principal of the college in 1914 and which was posted on the notice board just inside the door. It read as follows:
Ionmhain liomsa Connachta,
Ar a áille, ar a uaisle,
Ionmhain liom Cois Fharraige,
Ar a aoibhneas, ar a uaigneas.
I made lots of friends in the college and in my first year I shared room with Sean Ó Brádaigh, younger brother of Rúadhraigh Ó Brádaigh who also attended Coláiste Connacht and who later became Chief of Staff of the IRA and President of Sinn Féin. In that company and with a growing love of the Irish language, Irish music and all things Gaelic it was very easy to become deeply Republican in outlook and interests. I loved the ruggedness of Connemara and the simplicity of the lives of the people at that time. I can still see and hear the violin music played by an old man as he sat outside his house on a summer’s evening, just playing for his own pleasure. In my second year I shared a room with a Dublin lad coincidently named Brendan Timmons as if he was my brother Brendan. He had a motorbike and we travelled many of the roads and byways of Connemara. It was a very interesting and pleasant experience. I continued my friendship with him and with Sean Ó Brádaigh when I went to university.
Final Year in Nathy’s
I continued to study hard, play handball and practice the Shot every time I could. I had great competition in throwing the shot from an English student, Michael ‘Titch’ Duffy who was also disliked by the Dean. We always practised behind the ball alley which was rarely frequented by Tan. There was very little between us in the distance we threw the shot and ‘Titch’ had got some coaching in England which he shared with me; as he threw the shot with his left hand I began to practice throwing the shot with my left hand also. Unexpectedly ‘Titch’ was expelled from the school in our final year about a month before the College Sports; it was rumoured that he was expelled for smoking but that did not add up as many of the final year students had been caught smoking and were not even threatened with expulsion, let alone being expelled. And so the coast was clear for me to win the Shot event at my ease. On the day of the Sports I sat in the Seniors Study hall which conveniently overlooked the Sports field. I studied most of the time but keeping a close look at the ongoing sports competitions. When the time came to compete in the Senior Shot I walked from the study hall to the Sports field, threw the Shot once with my left hand and walked back to the study hall; it was my way of saying ‘Up Yours’ to Tan who was cheering on his favourites. Yes, I won the competition and felt that I had got one over on Tan but in hindsight I can see that it was rather immature of me but I also wonder if it was appropriate or indeed good on the Dean’s part to engender in me such an attitude and determination at a young age.
In our last term before the Leaving Certificate examinations we were addressed each weekend by different priests representing the various Religious Orders, all of them exhorting us to join the priesthood either as a Diocesan priest or as a Missionary. Never once did we receive career guidance other than to join the priesthood. Nor was the term career guidance ever mentioned albeit we were aware that some former past pupils had become teachers or doctors; that was about it. Then in the final week of the term we had a three day retreat in which we were advised/exhorted to pray for a vocation to the priesthood. I was very mixed up in my feelings at that stage but during the retreat I got a clear feeling within myself that I did not want to become a priest. Strangely, that feeling came to me as I walked around the small Protestant church which bordered the perimeter wall of the college. And so I left St. Nathy’s not knowing what I wanted to do other than that I did not want to become a priest. I never went back to that school.
Leaving Certificate Examination
On leaving St. Nathy’s I really did not know how I did in the Leaving certificate. However I enjoyed that summer and finally felt great relief when I got the results which showed that I had got all Honours. I distinctly remember feeling that I had given my parents some return for all the love and trust they placed in me. Added to that I was awarded the Gold Fáinne for Irish following an examination by Conradh na Gaeilge in Sligo. I felt proud that I was following in my father’s footsteps and I saw that he was very happy that I now wore a Fáinne as he always did. Incidentally, on the way to Sligo my father offered me a cigarette saying that they knew I was smoking and perhaps because he suspected that I was nervous about the exam.
I went to my first dance that summer. I was quite shy but Brendan suggested that I should go as he had been going to dances for some time at that stage. Incidentally my first dance was in Murray’s hall in Frenchpark; the dance hall was upstairs with a cow byre underneath not that it affected the dancers as they waltzed or jived around the maple floor upstairs. After some time, I eventually plucked up the courage to ask a girl out to dance. After that it was never a problem as I eventually learned all the dances except the old time waltz; I could never relax on that particular dance since my mother led me around in an old time waltz in Tooreen many years earlier.
We had a Morris Minor at that time and driving was my passion. We usually washed the car at Beirne’s water tank. I washed it at least once a week simply to have the opportunity to drive. At that stage I also drove my mother to Mass on Sunday. I drove very carefully. On one occasion on our way to Mass I offered Paddy Callaghan a lift just past the graveyard as he was about to turn up the hill road. His retort – “No thanks, I’m in a hurry” was typical of Paddy’s quick wit, but it also reflected the general impression that I was a slow driver. I was very idealistic at this stage, I frequently went to Mass daily and for parts of the summer I served Mass for Fr. Duffy, a Dominican priest who read a particular format of the Mass that required the server to respond in a particular manner. His Mass was at 6.00 am so I became an early riser. I played a lot of handball and football whenever I found someone to play with. Towards the end of the summer there was some discussion as to what I would study as I entered third level education. The discussion was very limited but I had a clear impression that my father would like if I studied medicine and my mother’s wish was that I became a teacher; there were three generations of teachers on both sides of the family so teaching seemed to her to be the best choice for me. I really had no idea myself other than I had become very idealistic and nationalist in my thinking especially since my summer exposures to a Gaelic way of living in An Spidéal. Nor have I any reason to know why I went to University College Dublin rather than to Galway other than it was the University that my father and his family had attended.
University College Dublin(UCD)
I clearly remember being driven to Dublin in a Ford Prefect car owned and driven by Frank Flannery (a young Taxi driver who went on to become a wealthy business man and hotelier) from Ballaghaderreen who had already picked up Dominic Brennan, a St. Nathy’s friend of mine who was also going to UCD. My aunt Bernie Hester (my mother’s sister) had arranged digs for us with a Mrs Mc Evoy who lived just four doors down from her house on Collin’s Avenue, Whitehall, in Dublin. Mrs Mc Evoy lived with her husband and one son, Seamus, and this was her first time to ‘take in students’. Aunt Bernie lived with her husband Mick Hester, their five children and her father John Sherlock, my maternal grandfather. That was to be the home environment I shared with Dominic Brennan in my first year in UCD.
Essentially, it was a very happy year as we spent lots of time in Bernie’s house; we had a lot of interaction with my grandfather who was always in good humour except when he lost a cumulative bet on the horses, in the last race; he would stare at the paper and repeatedly say that the last horse should have won.
He was a very determined man. He had been a Sergeant in the RIC and had little or no time for Republicans including my father who had married his daughter supposedly against his will. I didn’t particularly like that side of his character and never mentioned my own interest in Republicanism and a Gaelic Ireland. Dominic and I enjoyed his storytelling and sense of humour, some of it not for repetition in general company. He walked down to the bookies every day and placed his bets and was usually in good form if he won. He could be quite rude when he lost. On one occasion, as he came out of the bookies shop in bad form as he had lost, an old lady dressed in a shawl asked him what won the last race. His reply was “Ah kiss my arse” to which she replied “What came second and third Sir”. At least that was one of the many stories he told us and it summarises his character quite well.
My aunt, Bernie, on the other hand was a very outgoing and generous person. She was a great mother to her five children, Michael, Colette, John, Mary and Raymond. She was also a great cook and her bacon and cabbage dinners were mouth watering. She had a lively sense of humour and always seemed to be in good form. Her husband, Mick Hester, was a Dub with a typical Dublin sense of humour and was great company when he was around. He was a fruit wholesaler and spent most of the week down in Wexford selling the fruit he bought in the Dublin Fruit Market on Monday morning. I attended the fruit market with him on one or two occasions and it was an experience to see how the importers and wholesalers interacted so briskly even at 6 o clock in the morning. We spent a lot of time in Hesters as it was fun to be around Bernie, her family and my grandfather. I recall Dominic Brennan and I going to the beach with them at weekends out at Donnabate and have a particular memory when Dominic lost his false teeth as we swam along the shore. I hadn’t known that Dominic had false teeth and despite our best efforts we failed to find them.
Dublin was very different in those days; the only one-way street was O’ Connells St. It was very easy to get around the city and I must have cycled each and every part of the city in my first year in Dublin. I remember cycling up through Drumcondra late one night to be stopped by a Garda for not having a light on my bike. My response was to say: “Sure there is no need for a light here as the streets are all well lit”. His response was “Well I agree with you, I can’t see any sense in it at all but the law says you should have a light on your bike”. He let me off with a caution. There were lots of cinemas on O’ Connells St. in those days and it was quite regular to see long queues outside them especially at weekends. There wasn’t any television in those days so film going was quite a common pastime.
My first days in University on the one hand were very exciting but they were also particularly frustrating for me as I really did not know what I wanted to do. The UCD administration office at that time was in Earlsfort Terrace, in the building that now hosts the National Concert Hall. On the left hand side of the front entrance door there was a large office with a circular booth that displayed the syllabus booklets for each faculty in the University. I perused most of them and in particular those that described the subjects covered by the Medical and Arts faculties. I was clearly conscious that my father wished that I would study medicine but from my days in An Spidéal I had developed a strong nationalist leaning towards Irish and Gaelic culture. As it happened, I had a choice to join any faculty I liked as in those days if you had an Honours Leaving Certificate you could join any faculty. I filled out application forms for Arts and Medicine and began attending lectures in both Pre-med subjects and Arts subjects, Irish and English. I continued this confused choice for more than two months. Finally sometime around mid November I met a former St. Nathy’s student, Colm Breheny, and he told me about Agricultural Science. I remember getting the Syllabus booklet and being very interested in the subjects listed which were largely to do with nature studies. This appealed to me straight away.
Now I faced a conundrum so I wrote to my parents, explaining my confusion and asked if they could advise me. They replied to say they would come up to Dublin and discuss the matter with me but that if I felt Agricultural Science was my preferred choice I should go ahead and register for that course. I then went to see the Dean of the Agricultural Science faculty, Professor James Drew. When he looked at my Leaving Certificate results and in particular the marks I had received in Latin and Greek his reaction was that I should study for a BA in Classics, something he regretted he never had opportunity to do. However, I convinced him of my interest in nature and that the Agricultural Science course seemed to most fully meet my interests. He accepted my arguments and arranged my registration in the faculty. My parents seemed relieved when I told them that I had made a decision and would be studying Agricultural Science over the next four years. I attended my first lectures in Ag. Science in January, 1956.
Finally, I began to enjoy college now that I had settled on my future. I had to try and catch up on the Ag. Science subjects, viz., Botany, Zoology, Physics, Chemistry and Mechanical Drawing. Botany and Zoology were not a problem as I had attended most of those lectures in the Pre-Med course. I struggled somewhat with Physics and Chemistry particularly as we had not studied these subjects in Nathy’s. However, I did finally catch up and I was very relieved to pass all subjects in the end of year exams.
I enjoyed my first year in UCD in lots of ways. I particularly liked the L&H debating society, I went to the cinema quite often and Dominic and I went to dances on many weekends. I also visited some relatives living in Dublin quite apart from the Hesters.
My maternal grandmother, Annie Dillon Sherlock lived with her daughter, Josie Bollins, in Foxrock. She was a retired school teacher who had taught in the Don school with my father and indeed before that with my grandfather, Patrick Timon. She had married and lived for most of her life with John Sherlock, my maternal grandfather. She was a very pleasant woman and I often wondered why she and her husband, my grandfather, lived apart and never spoke to each other. I usually visited them on Sunday evenings, cycling from Whitehall to Foxrock.
Josie (my aunt) was not unlike her sister Bernie in that she was also a very lively, full of fun person and a great cook. Her husband Alex Bollins worked in the Gas Company and his main interest was soccer; naturally, at that time I was more interested in Gaelic football so we didn’t hit it off that well. They had five very nice children (1st cousins of mine), viz., Mona, Mary, Collette, Joey and John. Usually after tea on Sunday evenings we had a sing song as my grandmother orchestrated the event as she sat ‘in charge’ beside the fire. Aunt Josie was a Bing Crosby fan and always requested that I sing his latest songs. I have many pleasant memories of those Sunday evenings.
On Saturday evenings I often visited PT and Kitty Gallagher who lived in a large detached house in Clontarf.
They were brother and sister of my paternal grandmother, in other words, my grand uncle and grand aunt. Both were retired at this stage; he had worked as Principal Teacher in Westland Row Christian Brothers School and was very interested in the Irish language and Irish culture. Kitty worked in Trinity College for some time but I really don’t know what she did there. Their main passion at that time was in breeding pedigree Yorkshire terrier dogs. They had several kennels at any one time and would show their dogs at the Dublin and Belfast Dog Shows. They regularly won gold ribbons and 1st prizes and their names would be featured in the papers so I can only presume that they had good stock. My abiding memory of my visits to their house was the barking and the smell of dogs. On the other hand I got to like them a lot but I never liked the ‘green tea’ that they served in their very stately sitting room. I often regret that I didn’t get more insight into the knowledge that PT had on Irish culture and the Gaelic language. On retirement he had studied and was awarded a PhD in this area but he never spoke about it. He was a very quietly spoken man with a keen intellect. All his dog’s names were Irish such as Óisin, Fionn, Fiacra and other similar names. He always wore Donegal tweed jackets.
My first summer at home from University was quite an eventful one. First of all we had moved from Liosdrumneil to Cloonsheevers so our normal ‘haunts’, Beirnes and Callaghans were no longer on our doorstep. Our nearest neighbours now were the Gara’s, also a shop run by Tom Gara and his sister Mary. Through Tom and my football involvement I got to know Harry Connor; he had played on the Roscommon All Ireland winning team in the forties (1943 and 1944). He was foreman with the Roscommon County Council Road improvement scheme and they were starting work to tar the road from Castlerea to Fairymount at Cloonsheevers. He offered me a job on the County Council road tarring works. I accepted the job only to find out that my father did not think it was appropriate that I should take the job. I enjoyed the work spreading the stone chips and brushing them over and back (backard and forred as the foreman used to say) so as to even them out on the road. Then the tar was spread and more stones were spread over the tar. Yes, it was not a very demanding job but it paid relatively well at the time and as I lived at home I saved most of my earnings for college the following year. Little did I suspect my father’s concern until my last week on the job when the Roscommon Herald featured an article on its front page under the heading “University student takes the County Council job of married man with two children in Fairymount”. Fortunately, I was finishing on the job that very same week.
The other significant event in that summer was meeting with Helen Blundell from Frenchpark who was later to become my wife. I went to lots of dances that summer both in Castlerea and Frenchpark, though I never dated any girls. However, when I met Helen Blundell I fell madly in love with her and that was it; I wasn’t interested in any other girls. She was working in London and was home on holiday when I met her at a dance in Frenchpark in August 1956. That was the beginning of a romance that ended up in our marriage in September 1960. I went to many dances and college hops over the following four years but never once thought of dating anybody else.
In my second year in UCD I felt much more at ease as I had now decided on a career path in Agricultural Science. I got digs in 9 Herbert Road, just off Baggot St. and quite close to the College of Science in Merrion St. where most of my lectures were held. It was a large house and catered for 16 male residents about half of whom were students. Rooms were shared between two residents. I shared room with a law student, Sean Heavy form Athlone. He was a very studious individual and taught me many lessons that were very useful then and later. First of all he advised me not to hang around between lectures; if you have a free hour or more between lectures, as was quite common, go to the library and read over the notes of the previous lecture. Secondly, after lectures for the day are over, if you are not engaged in sport or some other useful activity just go home or to the library and study. Then immediately after the evening meal go and study until approximately 9 o clock and not any longer. Then go out and enjoy yourself. I commenced a habit of going with him to the CCL Library on Merrion Square most evenings of the week. His two ‘don’ts’ were “not to study one day a week (eg., Sundays)” and “not to open a book once the exams commenced”. I found this routine strange at first but later found that it paid big dividends when it came to the exams. I got first honours in all exams that year and in all subsequent years, following these suggestions. In fact I also found that I could socialise and enjoy myself much more following this routine.
I enjoyed my second year in College and have many good memories of it. I went to many college hops and dances in the Baggot St./Stephens Green area, usually with Sean O Donnell an Ag. Science student who also had digs in 9 Herbert Road. We also went to lots of films and regularly went to the L&H debates on Saturday nights. Two particular L&H debates stand out clearly in my mind. The first one concerned a debate on Republicanism. At the time there was a lot of Republican activity along the Border and the death of Sean South from Limerick in one of these raids was on everybody’s lips. A debate on his death and Republican commitment to the armed struggle was passionately championed by a number of UCD students including Ruardhri Ó Brádaigh and others who had just returned from the border. The atmosphere was electric to say the least such that I seriously considered joining the IRA that night. On discussing the matter with his brother Sean Ó Brádaigh as we walked home along St. Stephen’s Green and on fully understanding the implications of joining the IRA fortunately I decided it was not for me.
My decision was reinforced some time later again at a Saturday night L&H meeting. On the panel on that occasion were Eamon De Valera (shortly to become President of Ireland), Sean Lemass (shortly to become Taoiseach) and James Dillon (ex. Minister of Agriculture). The debate again dealt with Republican ambitions. De Valera among other things strongly emphasised restoration of the Irish language as a priority ambition still to be realised. Dillon’s message related to a broader view of Ireland’s position in the world and within the Commonwealth in particular. Sean Lemass’s message was very clear even if he didn’t speak with the oratorical skills of James Dillon; “the essence of being a good republican was to work for your country”. John Fitzgerald Kennedy expressed this sentiment more eloquently in his Inaugural Address on becoming President of The United States of America some short years later when he said; “Ask not what your country can do for you, Ask what you can do for your country”. My Republican ideals were strongly influenced by both Lemass and Kennedy at that time and have remained unchanged ever since.
Weekends in Herbert Street were usually very pleasant and often memorable. On several Sundays four or five of us would go for a drive in the Dublin or Wicklow hills especially in the Spring and Summer months. We were fortunate that a resident in the house who worked as a sales rep. and was regularly away at weekends allowed us to use his old Mercedes car; I think I was the only person he allowed to drive his car. I continued to visit my relatives every Sunday evening.
Perhaps, the most memorably exciting part of my year on Herbert Road was our encounters with the playwright, Brendan Behan. He lived on Herbert Lane with his wife. He frequented the pubs on Baggot St. daily and was rarely sober. When we told him that we were studying Ag. Science, that is Sean O Donnell and I, he christened us ‘Turnip and Cabbage’. I never knew which one of us was Turnip and which was Cabbage but it didn’t really matter as he simply would say “How are ye, Turnip and Cabbage”, each time we met him and that was quite often as he was regularly on the street on his way to or from the pub. Our meeting with Brendan Behan reached a crescendo the week that the play “Rose Tattoo” was staged in the Pike theatre which was on Herbert Lane right across from the back entrance to our digs. The play was banned but it played for six nights before it was closed down. I got to see it (for free) on the first night. Several Garda came to view it on each of the six nights and of course Brendan Behan was always there with several bottles of beer to fortify his expression of dislike for the Garda which usually involved vulgar insults in his loudest voice and the breaking of his empty beer bottles. There was a particular fracas on the night the Garda closed down the theatre as the Simpsons (Producers of the play) and Brendan Behan made their escape from the Garda by way of the back door of our residence.
Back to more serious matters, I really enjoyed college that year and in particular the subjects, botany, zoology, geology and organic chemistry. We had very good lecturers in these subjects and I particularly enjoyed the practicals; the idea of researching an issue and getting results appealed to me. There was a small library in the College of Science which was ideal for reference material and for study. I used it regularly and in particular on Saturday mornings. This and Sean Heavy’s study advice paid off handsomely when it came to the exams. Apart from getting 1st class honours I was also awarded the Hogan Gold Medal which meant that I didn’t have to pay any college fees for my remaining two years in University.
Summer in London
Like so many University students at that time I went to London for summer work. I still remember getting on the boat in Dun Laoghire to Hollyhead and then boarding the overnight train to Euston Station in Central London. Yes, I was somewhat apprehensive on that first journey abroad but all fear and apprehension dissipated when I saw London with its teaming millions of people of all colours, facial shapes and sizes. I adjusted very quickly as I met up with Helen Blundell and her sister Maria shortly after I arrived. They were very helpful in introducing me to London. I got digs in a large boarding house (Daws) in Camberwell and the following day I got work in a well known Ice Cream factory in Central London called ‘Eldorado’. In those days all you had to do was go to the Labour Exchange and you got a job right away. I worked in the Cold Room simply taking boxes of ice cream off the conveyor belt from the manufacturing halls upstairs and stacking them neatly. It was a one hour on and one hour off shift as the temperature in the storage halls was always well below zero. We had to wear protective clothing and large gloves. We worked in pairs and I was paired up with a big Greek who didn’t speak a word of English. My best efforts to use my Classical Greek vocabulary didn’t meet with much success except the odd smile or two. I worked every hour I got especially at weekends as we got double time for Sunday work. On August bank holiday we were paid ‘triple time’ so I worked form Friday to Monday without a break except the one hour shift relief. I clearly remember feeling very proud of myself having earned a ‘fortune’ over those three days. I met with Helen regularly and we went to many dances in the Garryowen and Hammersmith ballrooms which were essentially Irish dancehalls.
Aunt Ethel and Eva Timon.
I met with my cousin Eva Timon (later to become Eva Molony) who was born in Lissergool in Ireland but had grown up in London living with her Aunt Ethel who lived in Surrey. Eva had studied psychology and was interested in classical music and ballet so I got my first exposure to classical concerts and ballet on her instigation. She was a very kind and helpful person. I also visited Aunt Ethel and her husband Charles Ingham. They were both medical doctors and had spent most of their lives in London.Video based on film shot by Charles Ingham
Ethel (my father’s sister) was very removed from her upbringing in Lissergool both in her accent and her general attitude; to say she was a snob would be an understatement. Charles on the other hand was a very modest person despite his upbringing in a very well off family environment and being very wealthy also. While I enjoyed my visits to them and dutifully admired their house and rose bush gardens I was very much appalled by aunt Ethel’s attitude to the housekeeper who had worked for them for years and prepared all their meals. She was not allowed to enter the dining room and would pass in the food through a hatch from the kitchen. This attitude was also manifest when on one occasion, on being invited to Sunday lunch, I asked if I could take my friend along. Her initial response was “Of course” but when I told her that he was Jamaican and therefore coloured her response was “Certainly not”! I couldn’t bring a coloured person into her Surrey home. How things have changed since!! Perhaps they were creatures of their time but when I later heard that she had tried to have her father (my grandfather) speak with a polished Surrey accent, albeit he spoke English quite well as a schoolteacher in Ireland, I simply laughed. Clearly, she had changed quite a lot from her origins in rural Ireland.
Charles and Ethel travelled a lot in the fifties and sixties usually on cruise ships around the world and sent postcards to my father from ports all around the world. At that stage they were extremely well off as quite apart from their initial wealth Charles had inherited a large estate in Suffolk. They both were very devout Catholics and in later years they always took a priest with them on their travels. The culmination of this friendship with the church was that Ethel willed the entire estate to the church on her death – an estate worth more than one million pounds. It was little wonder that the Dean of Westminster made all arrangements for her funeral as we, the Timon relatives, simply looked on.
The Albert College
At that time the final two years of the Agricultural Science degree were completed at the Albert College in Glasnevin which was then owned by the University. So my first task on returning from the summer in London was to find digs in the Glasnevin area. As I got off the bus on Glasnevin Road I enquired with an elderly lady standing at the bus stop if she could direct me as to where I might get digs in the area. She looked me up and down very closely and then asked me if I was a pioneer (in other words, did I drink alcohol). When I said I didn’t drink she proceeded to take me to her house just a few yards away on Glasnevin Road and introduced herself as Mrs O Mahony. She showed me around the house (a beautiful detached four bedroom house) and explained that she and her daughter lived there and that her husband had recently died. She had not had students stay in her house before but would offer me digs if I so wished. I immediately accepted her offer and that was to remain my abode for the following two years. Albeit in her late seventies she was a very active woman and a great cook. Her daughter, Mrs Corcoran, worked as a buyer in Switzers and had one son who worked as an accountant in Bush Ireland and lived on the south side of Dublin; it seems she was estranged from her husband and he was never mentioned in conversation. I really enjoyed living in that house- it was like home from home. It was also a great place to study as I had the dining room all to myself every night. They encouraged me to study and would bring in a cup of tea to me each time they were having tea themselves quite apart from ensuring that the fire was always lighting brightly. In my estimation it was the best digs in Dublin and it was very convenient to the Botanic Gardens which I visited regularly for walks and indeed to study on fine weekends. Perhaps its greatest advantage was its proximity to the Albert College.
Third year in Agricultural Science was quite demanding. We had lectures and/or practicals all through the day from 9am to 5pm with a one hour break for lunch. The subjects included botany, zoology, and chemistry (all with an emphasis on agriculture), soil science, plant pathology and both plant and animal breeding. The latter subjects at that time were in my view taught at a very superficial level whereas soil science and plant pathology were more scientific in content. That posed a problem for me as I had an innate interest in animal breeding and genetics. Equally statistics was taught at a very superficial level and I still have clear memories of the lecturer in plant breeding at the time struggling to explain a Latin Square experimental design and data analysis. Overall I enjoyed the lectures and in particular the laboratory practicals. I made new friends with some of the students who joined us in third year from Galway and Cork Universities; it was the practice at that time that students studying Agricultural Science could complete their first two years in any of the National Universities or Trinity College, Dublin.
Quite apart from lectures and study and having very good digs I really enjoyed third year in college in lots of ways. I played a lot of football and handball. I joined Sean Mc Dermott’s football club as UCD sports grounds were on the other side of the city and there were a number of friends playing with that club at that time. I played football practically every weekend and in spring and summer months I played a lot of handball; there was a ball alley further down Glasnevin Road. I made several new friends, Tom Thomas, Hugh Sweeney, Des Feely and many others. The Albert College was a very friendly place and so closely knit that it was easy to make friends. I continued the study routine I had learned in second year which meant that I studied after lectures, often in the small library in the Albert College and again after the evening meal in O Mahonys. After that I went out to the cinema or went dancing three or four nights a week, usually at nine o clock in the evening, having already completed two to three hours study by that time. Many of the ‘always on the town students’ thought that I was out so much that I never studied. Hugh Sweeney moved into digs with the family next to O Mahonys and soon began to practice my study routine; consequently, we both regularly headed for town together at about 8.30 to 9.00 pm. We must have seen every film screened in the old cinema in Phibsboro.
I continued to visit the Hester and Bollins families most weekends and regularly visited PT and Kitty Gallagher. As I was so madly in love with Helen Blundell it never occurred to me to date any other girl. Indeed I wrote to Helen every weekend as she lived in London at that time. She came back on holiday to Frenchpark every Christmas and we would see a lot of each other at those times. I was also staunchly Catholic in those days and considered it would be a sin to cheat on her not that I remember ever wanting to. Albeit I was not a ‘holy Joe’ I went to Mass every Sunday and often to morning Mass; certainly, I went to morning Mass during Lent. In those days it was considered a ‘mortal sin’ to think of sex let alone to have sex with a girl. Whereas I didn’t consider myself a prude it simply shows how much the Catholic Church influenced our thinking in those days. Added to that I was still very principled and strongly Republican in my thinking. When it came to the exams in third year I strictly followed Heavy’s dictum, viz., “Never study once the exams commence”. I didn’t and it worked a dream again. I would remember things in the exams that I thought I had long forgotten; obviously, the mind was clear and relaxed. Once again I got 1st Class Honours in my exams.
London – A Qualified Painter!
As in second year, I went to London for the summer. Of course I had an added incentive now to go to London as Helen lived there. To my surprise each time I went to the Labour exchange to seek employment the regular response in a Cockney accent was; “Do you have a trade mate?” After two or three visits saying No I decided that I’d say I was a painter and ‘presto’ I was offered a job as a painter with a company in Greenwich that had a contract to paint some schools in that area of London. I went to see the foreman who asked in his Cockney accent: “Do you have your whites mate”. I said Yes without knowing really what he meant and later realised he meant ‘overalls’. In any event I started the following Monday as a fully qualified painter, fitted out in brand new overalls and signed up to be paid more than twice what I would earn as unskilled worker. The first day the foreman put me mixing paint for the team of painters, six or more on the first day. That was easy enough as I followed his instructions closely. Day two was the ‘tester’ as I joined the team painting high walls around a number of classrooms in the school. Yes, I had done some painting at home on occasion but I had never had to walk on a very springy plank and paint high walls and ceilings which were at least 15 to 20 feet from the ground. It took me some time to get my balance but clearly I did and after a few days, I was ‘Happy as Larry’ walking and painting on high scaffolding planks.
Working with a bunch of Cockneys was an experience never to forget. Not only was their language (eg., ‘Blow up mate’ meant it was time for the tea break) and accents different but they openly discussed their lives and in particular their sex lives in very explicit terms most of which were not repeatable in mixed company. I became quite friendly with a young Cockney lad called Peter. He was in his fourth year as an apprentice painter earning much less than I was. He had a motorbike and I travelled much of west London as his pillion passenger. I eventually confided in him that I was a student, not a painter. He didn’t seem to mind and got me out of lots of scrapes on different jobs that we worked on. For example, when we moved on to a job painting newly built apartments and I was asked to ‘paint out’ one room. My instant reaction was to paint from the top down; in fact, as Peter pointed out to me, the correct approach is to paint the skirting boards and doors first and only then start on the ceilings and walls. In any event I managed to get by and when I was leaving in September and told them I was a student (I wanted to get reimbursement of income tax) the company foreman said I would be welcome to come back again next year.
Final Year in UCD
The final year in Agricultural Science was more onerous subject wise than third year as two additional subjects were on the timetable, viz., agricultural machinery and general agriculture. Professor James Ruane had joined the faculty as Dean and had expanded the syllabus extensively. More fundamentally he changed the allocation of marks to different subjects giving himself a key role in determining the fate of students seeking an honours degree. In my view the changes did not necessarily improve the degree course and in certain respects weakened the scientific level of the course. Little did I know then that several years later as an External Examiner of final year students in UCD that I would be part of a study group that would significantly change the course subjects and reduce the power that he had garnered for the position as Professor of Agriculture.
In any event, I continued my study routine and at the same time enjoyed college life outside college hours be it in football, going to the cinema and dances. In final year it was the responsibility of the final year students to organize and run the AGS dance, a weekly event held in the Olympia Ballroom off George’s Street. The Committee Chairman selected that year was John O Mara from Tipperary and he organized the dances in a very professional way such that they became one of the most popular and profitable dances in Dublin. Each member of our class had a very well defined role to play. I was asked to do MC which meant I had to be on stage and introduce the band and the different dances. After the first night I enjoyed the role and it suited me in that I didn’t have nor was I looking for a girlfriend. I also had the privilege of meeting and introducing some of the top singers and dance bands in the country at that time. Perhaps the most distinguished part of my role as MC was to introduce Brendan Boyer and the Royal Showband on their first appearance in Dublin. John O Mara had heard them in Waterford sometime earlier, recognised their talent and signed them up on very good terms for three dances at the AGS. Very shortly after their first show in the Olympia they became widely in demand nationally. By the time they came back to the AGS in February they were commanding fees ten times their contracted price with the AGS dance. We had a very successful year and made a large profit which funded a study visit to Holland for all the final year students; more than 100 students in total.
As it transpired I didn’t go on that tour as the University had offered 10 travelling scholarships to the top 10 students in third year. We went to Germany and Holland for 10 days in June 1959 and had a very interesting educational tour. We travelled by boat from Dun Laoire to Holyhead, by train to London and then by boat from London to Holland. The latter was very interesting as the boat was full of middle aged Dutch women who were returning to Holland after spending some time picking potatoes on farms in England. I don’t think I ever saw such big muscled ‘tough’ women in my life before or since. From Holland we travelled by train to Dusseldorf and then began visits to research centres, farm training schools and farms in Northern Germany and Holland. We travelled back from Bremerhaven to Ireland on a large liner sailing to America with a stop off in Cork. That was interesting in that a number of people from Fairymount came out on the tender seeing off relatives immigrating to the USA. I have a distinct memory of that ship in that I took one of its ashtrays as a present for my father. On giving it to him and telling him that I had taken it from the ship it was made clear to me that I had stolen it and that I should confess it in confession. This I did on going back to Dublin only to be told that I should put 10 shillings in the poor box as my penance. Ten shillings was a lot of money in those days and considerably more that the ashtray was worth. I can’t remember that I stole anything since; certainly, I didn’t confess it.
The final written exams were held in September. It was the summer of 1959, the best summer on record in Ireland. We had the best part of three months to study for the final exams. I swam every morning and studied in the afternoons usually in the Botanic Gardens. Helen was back in Dublin at this stage so we met up most evenings and usually went to the cinema or for a walk on Dun Laoire pier. Once the exams started I stuck to my routine and never opened a book during that period.
I did well in the exams and got a 1st Class Honours degree. Now decision making time arrived. What was I going to do? As it happened I got offers to do post graduate study in a number of areas; soil science and botany were first offered to me. Then in the post I got a letter offering me a scholarship from An Foras Taluntais – a recently established Agricultural Research Institute, headed by Dr. Tom Walsh, who had strongly impressed me when he addressed the final year students in our last days in college. I had applied and interviewed for the scholarship but didn’t really expect to get it as it was open to all disciplines and limited to three in number. I immediately accepted it and applied to Professor Mc Gregor-Cooper in Durham University, England to study animal breeding and genetics. To my delight I was accepted and so began a three year Ph D programme in King’s College, University of Durham, Newcastle upon Tyne.
University of Durham – Geordie Land
I travelled by plane to Newcastle upon Tyne via Belfast in early October 1959. On the plane was Feargal Quinn, later to become Owner/Founding Director of Super Quinn Food Chain and Senator in Dail Eireann. We knew each other in UCD and sat together on the plane. He was travelling to Newcastle upon Tyne to launch a marketing programme for Red Island Holiday Camp in north County Dublin which was owned and operated by his parents. On arrival, we both booked into the Jesmond Hotel on Jesmond Road in Newcastle. The following morning he went on his marketing trip while
I made my way into King’s College which was just down the road from the hotel. After introducing myself to Professor Mc Gregor Cooper, Head of the Durham University Agricultural School, he suggested that I go and look for digs and come back the following day. I walked back up Jesmond Road and enquired about accommodation from a lady who was up on a ladder cleaning windows on one of the houses close to the road. She came down from the ladder, looked quizzically at me and after a few questions as to where I came from she offered me accommodation in her small house on Jesmond Lane further up the road. Her name was Mrs Robinson, a real Jordie widowed in her sixties as she later told me. Her husband had died some time earlier and her son worked with Tyne Tees Television; he had served in the British Army in Northern Ireland. Her knowledge of Ireland or its geography was minimal; she didn’t realise that the Irish Sea separated the two islands. On the other hand, she was a very kind, generous landlady and her only fault was her tendency to cook very big and very tasty meals for me. Consequently, I put on over one stone in weight in my first three months there. Feargal Quinn also came and stayed in those digs that first week and on his subsequent visits to the North of England.
On going back to Kings College the following day I was introduced to Dr Rex Patchell, as my tutor. He was from New Zealand, a mathematician who had specialised in Genetics later in his career. On our first meeting he seemed very remote and a person of very few words. He advised me where the library was and suggested as my first assignment that I read “Einstein’s Theory of Relativity” and that we would discuss it next week. I quickly understood that I was in a real University environment now and that it was very much up to myself to advance my knowledge; the days of attending lectures and taking or getting ‘notes’ were over. I was then shown to the Post Graduate Reading Room which had its own small library. I was to get very fond of this room as my ‘anchor’ in King’s College. This is where I first became acquainted with Douglas Faulkner’s recently published text book “Quantitative Genetics”, which became my bible as I finally tried to get to grips with animal breeding and genetics. Yes, I regularly discussed issues I had difficulty in understanding with Rex Patchell and he was generally very helpful but I also found it useful to discuss problems with fellow postgraduates and especially with Maurice Bichard who was at that time finishing up his three year Ph D programme on animal breeding. In the second term I became distinctly conscious of my limitations in mathematics as the basis to understand quantitative genetics and experimental statistics and tried to find a course or lectures to meet my needs. Unfortunately, I had to wait some seven years to satisfy that need when I had the opportunity to spend some time at North Carolina State University. On the other hand I developed a good working knowledge of animal breeding and genetics; albeit taking all aspects of probability theory on trust. At the end of first year it was suggested that I should undertake research on the measurement and inheritance of lamb carcass quality. This I tackled with relish and quickly came to know Cockle Park, the University Research Station north of Morpeth in Northumberland. That was in 1960.
In June of 1960, Helen moved over from Dublin and got a job at the Ministry of Defence in Newcastle upon Tyne. Naturally, this added a new and very happy dimension to my life. We were very much in love and very happy together. I had bought a Lambretta scooter earlier that year and we spent many happy weekends travelling around Northumberland – a most beautiful county. When I told my landlady about Helen and that we were thinking of getting married her response in typical Geordie was “Why man, your way too young to get married”. However, that did not stop us as we enthusiastically planned to get married in September 1960.
I moved out to Cockle Park in June and boarded in the Tower Post Graduate Student Rooms. I had a room at the top of the tower next to Maurice Bichard and I have many memories of the whirring noises in those rooms as we both spun the now very ancient manual calculators to determine the variance and standard errors of whatever data sets we were working on. I enjoyed living in the Tower and my days at Cockle Park. I got to know and made friends with the other post graduates and the staff at the Research Farm; it was a very lively place at that time and I still have many nice memories of the ‘craic’ we had as we retired to the kitchen at around 10 pm each night before heading off to bed. A mixture of English, Welsh, Scottish, Indian, Channel Islands and Irish humours and personalities made for lots of fun and banter, not to mention arguments about research protocols, the politics of the day or nationalism versus the Crown.
I started my research project in July. It involved recording lambs from the Clun Forest flock as they reached slaughter age, identifying them at the slaughter house in North Shields, making several carcass measurements and then taking the carcasses back to the laboratory for further measurement and dissection. The lambs usually were taken to the North Shields slaughter house at six o clock in the morning so I had to be there when they arrived; usually at 6.30 am. After following and measuring the lambs down the slaughter line I would take the carcasses selected for dissection back to Cockle Park. Dissection into fat, muscle and bone was an arduous process and had to be completed as quickly as possible so as to avoid loss of moisture. The experimental stage of the project was carried out over two years, resulting in large sets of data to determine the extent to which various linear measurements of the carcass or of individual muscles (e.g., longisimus dorsi) might be useful to predict carcass composition; the specific gravity of each joint was also determined to ascertain its value as a predictor of carcass composition.
On completing the first year of experimental work I went back to Ireland in September to get married. We were married in University Church on St. Stephen’s Green on 20 September 1960. It was a very memorable day and we were both very happy. We had our reception in the Gresham Hotel and I remember being distinctly very nervous in making my first public speech that day. I also remember being very impressed by the capacity of my father to speak in public and to make light hearted jokes which he normally didn’t do. Lots of relations and friends gave us money as presents; that and a rather generous present from our parents gave us enough money to buy our first car. We travelled throughout the South and West of Ireland on our honeymoon and checked on car prices at various dealers on the way. Finally, in a very remote village on the Roscommon-Leitrim border we found a dealer who sold us a new Morris Minor at little more than the dealership price. And so we had our first car, a dark green Morris Minor. I felt as proud as punch and we were both ‘over the moon’ with our new car.
We drove back to Newcastle upon Tyne via the ferry from Larne to Stranraer. We rented a farm house outside Ashington in Northumberland and so began our married life on a less than generous scholarship which I was granted by An Foras Taluntais. Fortunately, Ashington was a mining village (Population of 15,999 people!) where miners earned very big wages and were very keen to have the best and latest in house furniture. It had very well stocked furniture sales rooms and consequently we were able to fully furnish our newly rented house for very little money. Ashington was very convenient to Cockle Park. The research farm sold milk to the staff and all post graduate students at very nominal prices from its prized Jersey herd. That coupled with the availability of lamb meat from my experimental work meant that we had some very cheap food items on our household budget. Added to that An Foras Taluntais increased my scholarship stipend on being informed that I was married.
Our daughter, Derbhile, was born while we lived in this house but shortly after her birth the farmer requested the house back for his new dairy herdsman so we had to move into Ashington; we rented a terraced house in the midst of the mining community, number 9, Row 3. This was an experience in itself. The miner’s tradition was to grow leaks in their front garden and then compete in the local ‘Leak Show’ as to who grew the best leaks. No, we didn’t compete but we really settled in very well in that community and we had very nice and helpful neighbours. Our second daughter, Deirdre, was born in Number 9.
We went back to Ireland for Christmas 1961. Before returning to England I swapped cars with my father (he had just purchased a new Ford Anglia) as at that time you could import a car into England for 12 months only. As my 12 month period had expired we legitimately imported the new car in Helen’s name and presumed everything was ok. However, we very soon found out that I was not entitled to drive this car when to my horror I was stopped by a Policeman and a Customs & Excise Officer one Saturday morning on my way into Cockle Park. They confiscated the car on the spot and indicated that they would be taking proceedings against us for fraudulent importing the car. The car was garaged at the local Ford Dealership in Morpeth and despite several representations by Professor Mc Gregor Cooper, Durham University and the local Conservative MP the Customs & Excise Office refused to release the car. Finally, some 10 months later following an intervention by Brian Lenihan, then Minister for External Affairs in Ireland, the car was released to my father who had to come over to Newcastle to take the car back to Ireland. Neither Helen nor I were allowed to drive the car.
I was later to find out how accidentally the Customs & Excise got to know of the car and my driving it. Mrs Gibbons who worked in the Cockle Park laboratory and with whom I was very friendly had a brother who worked in the Customs & Excise. In general conversation with him on one of his rare visits to her home, she inadvertently mentioned the Irish student working in the laboratory adding that he must be very well off as he had brought two new cars in from Ireland over the last year or so. Without showing her any indication of his interest in the conversation he set about ‘shadowing’ me and my use of the car in going to Cockle Park each day. He then decided to confiscate the car and took a policeman along with him on that Saturday morning in February 1961. Shortly after that I purchased a 30 year old Austin 10 for £15 and believe it or not it never let me down. I had to have some means of transport as there wasn’t any bus service to Cockle Park.
I spent the final six months of my studies analysing the data and in writing my thesis. In comparison to present day computers the University Computer, a state of the art IBM at the time, was something to behold. Firstly, it was massive in size about 2 meters in length and width, about 1 1/2 metres in height and had to be housed in an air conditioned room at a specific temperature. Data were entered on a punch tape which was then read by an optical reader. Basic instructions were entered in binary form using the Aski codes. The computer was housed in the Maths Department. To make matters worse, post graduate students were only allowed to use the computer after midnight!! I spent many long nights in that computer room simply to solve some matrix equations that with modern computers can be solved in seconds. Frequently, the tape reader would show an error due to humidity problems and I would have to start the data input from the beginning. I often left that computer room at six o clock in the morning completely exhausted. In any event I finally got all the data analysed and began the process of tabulating the results. Essentially, the results consisted of correlation and regression matrices describing the relationships between the various carcass measurements, sample joint composition and specific gravity and their accuracy in predicting carcass composition and carcass quality. Separately, I analysed the data to estimate the genetic parameters (genetic variances and co-variances, heritability’s and genetic correlations) of lamb growth rate and body composition, viz., muscle, fat and bone.
I then started to draft my Ph.D. thesis. I had already completed a fairly exhaustive literature review of the subject in my many visits to the University Library throughout the previous two years. As I drafted each chapter I would visit with Professor Mc Gregor Cooper, usually on Sunday evenings at his home, and have his comments on the drafts. He was most helpful. Then on completion of the thesis I had a three hour question and answer session with Professor Ian Mason from the Institute of Animal Genetics, Edinburgh; he was the External Examiner of my work and I had visited the Institute on a number of occasions during my studies. At that point my studies were over and I was awarded a Ph.D.
My next thoughts were focused on getting a job. On informing Dr. Walsh, Director of An Foras Taluntais that I had completed my studies he immediately wrote back to offer me a job as Research Officer, in the Animal Breeding & Genetics Department, located in Castleknock, Co. Dublin. At around the same time, Professor Cooper called me in to his office to meet with the Director of Walls Ice Cream, who were initiating a commercial investment in pig breeding; he offered me a job as Geneticist in the new company, a salary of £ 3,000 pa, a house just outside London and a company car. The salary scale of a Research Officer in An Foras Taluntais started at £ 900 pa. I didn’t take long to make up my mind. My Republican idealism and zeal ‘to work for Ireland’ as Lemass had so clearly articulated at the L&H meeting some four years earlier took over and I began to pack my bags for Ireland just days before Christmas Day, 1962. I started work in An Foras Taluntais in January 1963.
Back to Ireland
I travelled back to Ireland with a load of furniture in an Austin A70 Pick-up which I had purchased specially to take our furniture home; Helen and the two children travelled by plane. I crossed over from Stranrear to Larne and then down to Dublin through Belfast on my way to Roscommon. As I drove through Belfast I was unexpectedly stopped by an RUC policeman demanding that I take down the Irish Tricolour flag that was mounted on the dashboard. It had been put there by one of the postgraduate students (Jack Adams) as a ‘joke’ in recognition of the many banter sessions we had in the lab. about Irish republicanism and his regular assertion and jocose branding of me as “that mad Irish Republican”. I was not even conscious that this small flag stood on the dashboard. Needless to say, I took it down as the officer clearly indicated that I would have to accompany him to the barracks if I refused. It certainly brought home to me the political sensitivities that prevailed in Northern Ireland in those times.
We spent Christmas in Fairymount and as I recall had a very nice time with my parents and with my brother Brendan and his new wife, Mel. We also visited Helen’s family in Frenchpark.
Back in Dublin our first job was to find a house to rent. We got a house on Killmacud Road on the south side of the city albeit I would start work on the 6th of January in the Animal Production Division of An Foras Taluntais in Castleknock on the north side of the Liffey. We rented the downstairs of a rather large old house; the upstairs with a separate entrance door was occupied by Joe Dunleavy and his wife and young daughter. Joe Dunleavy was a very specialised artisan house builder and particularly skilled in furniture making. We became very friendly with them. At that time we also regularly visited my Dublin relations (the Bollins and Hester families and the Gallaghers in Clontarf) and Helens relations in Whitehall (Blundells) and Ranalagh (Ensors and Quinns). I also made contact with and regularly visited the O Connors who lived just down the road from Killmacud. David O Connor had married Una Timon who was a first cousin of my father; they had three children, Terry, David and Ciaran. Una was born in Multyfarnham, Co. Weastmeath and had three brothers, all priests (Fathers Vincent, Ambrose and Michael) and one sister Maeve who was a nun (Sister Columba) in Athlone. Her father Michael Timon (my grand uncle) had moved up to Multyfarnham as a national school teacher and he married Mary Barry; they had a small shop also just outside the entrance to Multyfarnham College. I have many pleasant memories of my visits with Una and the O Connor family; Una was a very bright and cheerful person. They were very keen GAA supporters and regularly went to Croke Park.
An Foras Taluntais (The Agricultural Institute)
In 1963 An Foras Taluntais was a very young institution; it had been established in 1959 to undertake research to spearhead and underpin the development of Irish agriculture. At that time Ireland was a relatively underdeveloped country and agriculture was its most important industry both in terms of employment, gross national product and national exports. The agricultural industry was poorly developed at that time; generally speaking farming was still very traditional and the agricultural processing and product trading and export industries were embryonic in their development.
Dr Tom Walshe, a scientist and enthusiastic visionary, had been appointed Director of An Foras Taluntais and it was his unbridled ambition and personal mission to spearhead the transformation of agriculture in all its aspects. He was a bundle of energy so much so that his thoughts ran ahead of his words such that he regularly used the words “what you may call it” and thus it became a habitual part of his speech; indeed it was a distinct part of his mojo. A soil scientist by training he had a very broad grasp and deep vision and interest in science in general. He used the term ‘genetic engineering’ in his discussions on my sheep breeding long before it became a defined term in the genetics literature. It was a pleasure and honour to begin my career and work as a young scientist in an organization spearheaded by Tom Walsh. As a very new Institute most of the staff was young and there was a great sense of purpose and vigour everywhere. Dunsinea, a short distance from Castleknock was the Headquarters of the Animal Production and it was my first duty station. I was assigned to the Animal Breeding & Genetics Department which was headed up by Vivian Vial a geneticist from New Zealand. In typical Kiwi parlance his language was handsomely sprinkled with the word ‘bastard’ which to him and Kiwis in general is a term of endearment. His usage of the term in the presence of some senior civil servants got him into trouble on a number of occasions. We had a very talented and ambitious team in that department in those early days which included Dr Paddy Cunningham who was later to become a world famous animal scientist. There were many other distinguished scientists at Dunsinea and at its associated animal research stations at Grange, Moorpark and Creagh. It was a great environment in which to work and begin my career (see my CV, attached Annex 1).
Living in Castleknock
Within one year of moving back to Dublin and starting work at Dunsinea, we bought a house in Castleknock. Ireland in the early sixties was just beginning to develop. A lot of new houses were being built along the Navan Road and on the Castleknock Road. We purchased a well proportioned four bedroom semidetached house on Castleknock Road for the princely sum of £4,000. We quickly made lots of friends in the area as many of the residents were young married couples like ourselves with young families.
Roger and Clare Mc Carrick became very close friends and as they didn’t have any children themselves they gradually became ‘proxy’ parents to ours; in particular, our third daughter, Orla, addressed Clare Mc Carrick as Mum in her infant years. Helen and I were very happy in those years and as my salary for the time was quite adequate we could afford a full-time housekeeper.
The family grew in size to six in our years in Castleknock. Contraception was nonexistent in Ireland in those days and the Catholic Church was very stern in its condemnation of all forms of birth control; both Helen and I were very devout Catholics at that time. Fortunately all our children were very healthy, intelligent and well behaved; I can say this very honestly of Derbhile, Deirdre, Padraic, Feargal, Orla and Rionach the baby of the family. Timon Children in Castelknock They integrated very well with the other children in the neighbourhood and were not very demanding on Helen or I. Consequently, we were able to socialise a lot and apart from the Mc Carricks we made close friends with John and Ursula Mc Carthy and Seamus and Sile Sheehy; both worked at the University. We regularly played tennis at weekends in Dunsinea and visited each other’s houses frequently.
As I recall there was a party most weekends in one or other of our houses. We also went to the theatre and the cinema quite often. Life was good and we regularly visited our respective relations in Dublin on Sundays or made visits down to Roscommon to see our parents. Initially neither Helen nor I drank alcohol but seeing our friends have a drink at weekends we decided to join them. I was 27 years old when I took my first drink.
Dunsinea Research Centre
Planning and conducting research became the primary motivation in life (my raison d’etre so to speak) during my time at Durham University; however, facilities at the University were meagre in comparison with An Foras Taluntais. As a new Institute if you had a good proposal and could rationally argue its merits funding was not a problem in those days. On completion of writing three scientific papers based on my Ph.D. studies which were subsequently published in the British Journal, Animal Production, I began to plan a comprehensive Sheep Breeding Research Programme for An Foras Taluntais. I got great encouragement from Vivian Vial, my boss, from Simon Curran, Chief of the Animal Production and indeed from Tom Walshe whenever I had occasion to meet him; he worked at the Institute’s headquarters on Merrion Road at that time.
At that time sheep production was not very well developed. The national lowland sheep breed at that time was the Galway breed. It was a large sheep with poor conformation and very low fecundity; flocks averaged 1.2 to 1.3 lambs per ewe per annum. There were two hill breeds, the Wicklow Cheviot in the East and the Blackface Mountain in the West. The productivity of these breeds was also low largely limited by the terrain on which they were farmed. The dominant breed for crossbred fat lamb production was the Suffolk. That was the challenge that we faced. The twin aims of the sheep genetics programme were to increase fecundity in the lowland ewe flock and to improve the growth and carcass conformation of lambs such that they would be more suitable for export markets.
We planned a two pronged approach to increasing ewe fecundity. On the one hand we initiated a long term genetic selection programme involving the establishment of a flock of 1000 Galway ewes; this flock was established on a newly rented farm at Roundfort, Co. Mayo and was divided into Nucleus and Testing sub-flocks. Predicted genetic gain suggested that progress would be slow; at best around 2% per annum. Consequently we sought other avenues of progress. We imported a flock of Finnish Landrace sheep from Finland as that breed was renowned for its fecundity but it had very poor growth and body conformation.
An accidental encounter!
Then almost by accident we initiated another approach. On a very fine Sunday morning in April 1964 I was returning back to Dublin after spending the weekend in Roscommon. I was forced to cross the Shannon at Shannonbridge as the bridge in Athlone was closed for some reason. After crossing the bridge I caught up with a farmer who was driving a flock of Galway sheep along the road. I lowered the window and commented that his sheep looked very nice. He smiled and replied pointing to a particular ewe and said, “Do you see that girl over there – she had 11 lambs in the past year”. I immediately stopped the car, got out and said “I don’t believe you”. Some hours later I left his house having seen three photographs of the ewe in question and his daughter as published in the local paper. These showed that this ewe had 4 lambs in March 1963, 3 lambs in September 1963 and another 4 lambs in March 1964. I was dumbfounded but instantly I recalled a comment made some months earlier by the Professor of Genetics at Liverpool University that despite the quantitative nature (many genes) of most animal production traits do not exclude the possibility of major genes. Here was an example I thought. Despite my best efforts the farmer refused to consider selling the sheep at any price. However, on the following morning I was busy designing a simple prepaid post card to be issued to all agricultural instructors across the country in which to enquire if they had come across on their visits to farms ewes with exceptional performances such as the one I had just accidently come across. I defined three categories of exceptional performance and indicated that An Foras Taluntais would be interested to purchase such ewes but only at commercial prices. Thus was established the ‘High Fertility’ flock which over a two year period counted over 150 ewes. Strictly speaking it should have been called the ‘High Fecundity’ flock. It was later to become an invaluable genetic resource as we planned the development of a new lowland sheep, the Belclare breed.
The exploitation of ‘heterosis’ in first cross (F1) ewes was another avenue we researched. To this end we established a flock of Greyface (Border Leicester x Blackface Mountain) and Halfbred (Border Leicester x Wicklow Cheviot) ewes at Lullymore Research Station and quickly established the beneficial advantage of crossbreeding as a way of increasing ewe productivity. To complete the ewe productivity research programme we initiated flock recording in a large Wicklow Cheviot flock (Mansfield’s farm) for two years (1964 and 1965) and started a Blackface Mountain breeding programme on Torc Mountain which is part of the Killarney National Park Demesne then operated by the Board of Works. We withdrew from this farm after two years as some ‘local ecological/elite’ objected to any work on Torc Mountain that might in any way interfere with the Red Deer herd. While the evidence was to the contrary in that the deer benefited from the winter feed programme we developed for the sheep flock, we decided to withdraw as we did not wish to be drawn into a local controversy that was ongoing for years.
In tandem with the ewe productivity research we also initiated a large scale evaluation of meat sire breeds in terms of growth, body conformation and carcass composition. A total of eight breeds (Suffolk, Texel, Dorset Horn, Hampshire, Oxford Down, Lincoln, Ile de France and Dorset Down) involving the measurement of growth and carcass characteristics of 2038 lambs was carried out on the Galway Tester flock of 700 ewes then managed on Cloonacastle farm just outside Ballinrobe. All together this was a very large research programme and there was not any way I could have undertaken this work without the sterling services of an excellent team of technicians that I was very fortunate to have work with me. They included Christy O Hare, Tom Gonoud, Tom Hennessy, Pat O Dea and Tom Lally not to mention Mary Mason and Eileen Codd who worked with me in computerising and analysing the extensive data sets that this research programme generated. I am proud to say on their behalf and on my own that we got each year’s data analysed and published in the Institute’s Annual Research Reports. In 1965 we took on two University students, Joe Sreenan and Seamus Hanrahan on a Summer Student Employment scheme. They were both taking the Animal Genetics option in UCD’s third year Agricultural Science Degree course. They were both very bright individuals and were to feature again in my later career. Christy O Hare was a very big man in every sense but at six feet seven inches and weighing 18 stone (when fit) he was a commanding presence. On the other hand, Tom Gonoud was unusually small at just under 5 feet; however, he was not small in his endeavour or output. When we alighted the aeroplane on the tarmac at Helsinki airport to accompany back to Ireland the Finnish Landrace sheep we were importing, Professor Mayala of Helsinki University who met us was to remark; “Are you trying to demonstrate to us the genetic variance in human body size in Ireland”!! All I can say is that they were both remarkable dedicated technicians that enabled me to undertake a very comprehensive national sheep breeding research programme.
Using the results of this programme I attended and presented scientific research papers at several meetings in Great Britain and indeed in a number of European countries. My profile as a scientist grew rapidly and after 3 or 4 years I got several invitations to make keynote presentations on animal genetics and sheep breeding in particular across Europe. At the same time I became increasingly known to the farming industry in Ireland and regularly made presentations at meetings of farmers, the IFA and the agricultural advisory service. I wrote articles on sheep breeding and production for the Irish Farmers Journal almost weekly. I worked extremely long hours and indeed when the 5 ½ day week was reduced to 5 days I was most annoyed and continued to work on Saturday mornings, usually in the mouse lab, where I conducted a number of genetic studies on growth using mice as an experimental animal.
North Carolina University
Meanwhile our children continued to grow up healthy and in their turn began school. I travelled a lot be it to the Research farms in Mayo, Kerry or Offaly and to Farmers meetings all around the country. And still we had a happy family life. Yes, I was away on occasion attending meetings in Britain or Europe but our biggest family move challenge came in 1967. I got an invitation from North Carolina University to take up a one year assignment as a visiting Research Professor. Helen was happy that we uproot and take the whole family to America which we did in August 1967. We first flew to Toronto as Helen had two brothers living there; John and Arnold Blundell. We spent a very happy week there albeit a somewhat hectic social engagement. Then we flew down to Raleigh, North Carolina and were met at the airport by Professor Ed. Legates and his wife. A rental of a very nice detached house close to the University had been arranged for us; the owner, a staff member of the University who had himself gone on sabbatical had made his home available to us. The Legates had bought some essential groceries for us so we were up and running straight away.
That was on a Friday and I was in the mouse laboratory the following morning. On being introduced to Jean, a middle aged lady who was in charge of the mouse lab. I noticed a gun sitting on the lab. bench. I thought this was very strange and after some time I asked her if she had noticed it. “Yes, it’s mine she replied, have you not seen the two black men in the clean up room, they just started work here last Monday”. She assumed that I would immediately see her justification in displaying the gun to show them the likely consequences if they attempted to interfere with her. That was my first introduction to racial bigotry in the US. It wasn’t to be my last as over the next few days I got to see that most coloured people lived at one end of the city – a very shabby run down area – whereas the white population lived on the other end. Where the few coloured families (largely University staff) were allowed to reside on the ‘white side’ of the city the road outside their houses was not tarmacadamed. So we had a ring side seat on racial discrimination in the US in the mid sixties. On the other hand there was no evidence of the inevitable underlying tensions on the University campus.
I really enjoyed University life and got to work on the genetics of growth and feed efficiency in mice straight away. I worked with Dr. Gene Eisen who was a distinguished Research Professor in this field. We planned a series of experiments which I eagerly undertook. It was a pleasure to work with him and the research environment within the University was excellent. I also got a chance to attend early morning lectures on matrix algebra, integral calculus and distribution theory, areas of mathematics I had felt deficient in during my studies at Durham University. There was a very serious commitment to research within the Animal Science, the Genetics and the Statistics departments within the University and there were regular exchanges and seminars among the three Universities in the University Triangle (viz., Duke University. The University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University). I published the year’s work in three papers in the Journal “Genetics” and one in the Journal “Theoretical & Applied Genetics”.
Life in North Carolina was very pleasant. The weather was beautiful (Mediterranean sun for nine months of the year) with the exception of August which was very humid. By and large the people were very friendly and in the affluent area that we lived they seemed to be very well off; two cars in the driveway with ‘His’ and ‘Her’ plates on the front. That would be very exceptional in Ireland in those days. All the cars were large 2 – 3 litre saloons that gobbled up petrol; on the other hand petrol was very cheap as were the cars themselves. We purchased a 2 year old 3 litre Plymouth for something like $ 700. Our house was pleasantly furnished so we had very comfortable surroundings. Perhaps the most memorable and unexpected event happened on our third day in Raleigh. I went to the bank (Wachovia Bank) to open an account in the knowledge that I had transferred sufficient funds to that bank from my account in Ireland. The bank manager agreed that their records showed that the funds had been transferred but as they were still in their New York Headquarters he could not authorise my account asking me if I had any evidence of creditworthiness. I said No as it was my first working day in the US. He advised me to go to the local supermarket, purchase whatever goods I needed and ask them to give me credit as I didn’t have any money to pay for them. This I did and sure enough they gave me credit. Then I went back to the Bank Manager and he opened an account for me and gave me a cheque book!!What a palaver, US style!!
Another interesting memento arose on the first day Derbhile and Deirdre went to school in Raleigh; they came home to inform us that the first thing they had to do in school each morning was to “pledge allegiance to the American flag”. Naturally we didn’t object to this but found it very interesting. We made lots of friends through school and through the church but there was also a sizable Irish contingent in Raleigh particularly in the University. We made friends with the Hanrahans (Seamus was a postgraduate in the Animal Science Department), the Harringtons ( Dermot was on a scholarship in the Statistics Department and with Tim Coogan and Michael Cuddy both of whom were post graduate students in the University. In hindsight I regret we didn’t travel very much around the State as it is very beautiful, especially in the autumn (Fall as they say in America) when the leaves turned a golden brown. I was too committed to my research programme and confined myself to viewing the trees on the campus.
A final reminder of the racial and political bigotry that existed in North Carolina at that time became very evident on the day that Robert Kennedy was shot. There was palpable shock and grief on campus but when I came home that evening I just couldn’t believe my ears as I watched Jesse Helms (North Carolina Senator and owner of the Raleigh Television Station) on the Six o Clock news. His opening words were “Lets thank the Lord – God this day has removed from us America’s greatest enemy – Robert Kennedy has been shot – Lets thank the Lord”. He then went on to criticise Kennedy with all the venom he could muster. Incidentally, the North Carolina Democratic Party was having a weeklong conference in Raleigh at that time. After much debate as to whether they should show any recognition of Robert Kennedy’s death they finally decided to adjourn for one hour!! And Senator Jesse Helms continued to be elected and serve in the US Senate for the next 35 years!!
We left North Carolina in 1968 with many good memories and I was particularly happy with my one assignment there. We travelled back through New York and spent a very pleasant week visiting Helens relations, the Breslins and her cousins, Elsie and Cliff. The weather was beautiful and I have very pleasant memories of sightseeing in New York and being invited to several barbecues. The end of our first week there coincided with the American Annual Animal Science Conference being held in Washington that year. Elsie loaned me her brand new Cadillac Coupe so I drove down to Washington in style. The drive was an experience in itself as I was not very accustomised in those days to driving on a highway. Initially as I read the many warning signs on the highway, in large letters – “Don’t fall asleep” – I thought it was crazy. Who would fall asleep while driving I thought? However, after driving 500 miles I saw the logic of the signs.
On returning to New York we then travelled on to Toronto and spent a further week with Helen’s brothers John and Arnold and their families. We had a very pleasant week in Toronto. Arnold at that time had several apartments on rental and I accompanied him on a number of occasions as he collected the rent from his clients. It was the time when the ‘Flower Power’ movement was in full swing and I can still see those young boys and girls walking around in a haze just smiling and holding a flower up to their faces. Clearly they were drugged out of their minds and I had never experienced anything like that before; nor do I wish to again.
Returning to Ireland and An Foras Taluntais
We travelled back to Ireland at the end of August, 1968. My parents had come up to Dublin and were waiting for us at the airport. In a matter of days I was back to work in Dunsinea as if I had never been away except that I now had a much more fundamental understanding of quantitative genetics and experimental statistics thanks to the broadening of my knowledge of mathematics in North Carolina. I continued to work very long hours which were often extended by the increasing number of invitations I got to speak at various farmers meetings around the country. Over the next two years I attended and made presentations at a number of Animal Science Conferences and Seminars in Britain and Europe and this in turn enhanced my profile as a geneticist internationally. Also when I was invited to deliver a course of lectures on Quantitative Genetics to students of Trinity College Dublin I felt very honoured.
At that time I was also regularly invited to take part in a number of RTE radio programmes on sheep farming so my profile with the Irish sheep industry was also enhanced. This in turn led to an invitation I received from RTE to present a series of television programmes on RTE’s Telefis Feirme programme. RTE Programme on Paris Lamb Market I scripted and presented a series of weekly programmes on RTE television in mid 1969 and spring 1970. I presented a total of eight programmes. This involved a lot of work most of which I undertook in the evenings and at weekends. It was a very hectic time as I had to research, select and travel to several sheep farms around the country as well as preparing for and recording studio presentations. It was all the more demanding as the producer and film crews seemed more concerned about the camera and sound dimensions of the ‘shots’ than the actual content of the programmes. Overall I was quite happy with the programmes and when it emerged that the series got a European award for content and relevance I felt justly proud of the exercise. That the BBC saw fit to transmit three of the programmes on British TV was also a distinction. Yes, I got lots of complimentary phone calls and expressions of appreciation from sheep farmers around the country but one phone call following screening of the third programme (on ovulation, fertilization and implantation of the embryo ) stands out in my memory. I described how reproduction works using a plastic model of the sheep’s reproductive organs. An elderly lady from Dublin city phoned me that night to thank me saying that she had five very healthy children in her day but never understood how she had them until she saw the programme. At this stage my research programme was generating lots of data and I spent a lot of time on statistical analysis and compilation of the results; I presented initial findings at BSAP meetings in 1968 and 1869 and also at the European Association of Animal Production Summer Conference in Paris, 1969.
On the home front we were enjoying very much living in Castelknock and our children were growing in size and number. Our second youngest child, Orla, was born in February 1968. Helen gave birth to Orla at home under the supervision of Dr. Rodgers, our local GP. He was an excellent GP and would often stay and have a cup of tea after his official visit. He often called to our house over the following year. On one of his visits, we were both very surprised when he told us that his health (his heart) was not great and that he was going to retire early; he had bought a farm in the south of England and that he hoped to live a stress free life farming. He then told us that he and his father owned a large farm in Meath which was now up for sale. More to the point he told us that he owned a five acre site near Abbotstown which he also wished to sell and that he would give us first refusal if we were interested. Naturally, the chance to build a house on a five acre site was very appealing and when he mentioned a price of £5,000 we jumped at it straight away. He arranged the sale and transfer of the land over the following week. We now had a new challenge to plan a house suited to the site. The site was on the lower road from Blancherstown to Dunsink and had a lovely downhill view on to the Dodder river. An architect friend of mine planned a large split-level house for us to be built on top of the hill with quite a long drive up from the road. When we purchased the five acres it had been rented as grazing to a horse breeder in Castleknock village.
We continued the rental and this required me to fence off the ‘house site area’ as I had immediately planted trees around the site of the house including some apple trees. Joe Dunleavy, the builder we had met when we first returned from England closely advised me on the building of the house and together with the architect we prepared a bill of quantities for the house. The plan was that I would have the house built on subcontract as some quotations I got from builders for the whole job were very expensive; Joe Dunleavy was adamant that we could build the house much cheaper on a subcontract basis and that he would keep a close eye on the development. I had marked out and dug the foundations and would have poured the concrete but for a cement strike in 1969 which lasted several months. Nor was I to know what was in store for me later that year.
The Western Research Centre
In 1969, Dr. Walshe and the Council of An Foras Taluntais had commissioned a management review of the Institute. They hired a team of Research Management Consultants from Canada. Among many recommendations the main recommendation envisaged the reorganization of the existing Divisional structure into four Research Centres and the establishment of a new Centre in the West of Ireland, The Western Research Centre. By and large the Plan was widely welcomed but when individuals were named as Directors of the new Centres there was a strong reaction from Moorpark as Michael Walsh, the then Officer-in Charge of Moorpark was very disappointed that he was not chosen as Head of Moorpark; he was offered the post as Head of the new centre but he refused it. Late on a Friday evening I had a phone call from Dr. Walshe’s secretary asking if I could meet the Director at 7 o clock that evening. I did and he asked me if I would accept the position of Head of the new Western Research Centre and as Assistant Director of An Foras Taluntais. He told me further that the Council had approved my promotion to Senior Principle Research Officer and hence that salary should not be a part of my decision to accept the post or not. He asked that I would let him have my decision by Monday morning.
Naturally, it was a very big decision to make as it entailed many considerations not least of which was the uprooting of my family from Dublin to the West of Ireland. Further, and to this day I’m not sure if I made the right decision, it meant that I would have to give up all the hard work I had undertaken to build what was at that stage a very comprehensive sheep genetics research programme. Helen and I discussed it at length over the weekend both on our own and with our close friends, Roger and Clair Mc Carrick. By Monday morning I had made my mind up to take the post but I had identified a number of conditions. I met Dr. Walshe on Monday as arranged and informed him that I would be very proud and happy to accept the post but that I had a few conditions.
I explained that I didn’t think that the Creagh Research Station at Ballinrobe was adequate as a research farm and that it was my opinion that we needed a new research farm. He agreed on the spot and authorised me to search for a new research farm straight away. I then added that I felt there was need for at least four more research scientist posts in the new centre, specifying the areas of sheep genetics, sheep physiology, cattle physiology and economics. While he agreed with me he indicated that he would have to get Council approval on these additional resources. On that basis, I accepted the post and it was announced in the media the following day. And so my new title within An Foras Taluntais was from that day ‘Assistant Director of the Institute’ and ‘Head of the newly established Western Research Centre’. It was a massive promotion for me as I had never been Head of Department or in any way involved in Research Management. As I was to say later to the Archbishop of Tuam when Dr. Walshe introduced me to him it was like going from being a curate to being an Archbishop in one step.
Nor was it that I accepted the post for the salary; I had already been promoted to Senior and then Principal Research Officer in a short number of years and as Dr. Walshe had indicated in my Friday meeting I was about to be promoted to Senior Principal Research Officer in a matter of days. I accepted the post in the context of my deeply held Republican and Lemassean principles to ‘work for the country’ and I felt that agriculture in the West of Ireland needed challenge, positivity and leadership to move forward. There had been too much negative discussion on the lack of development and pessimism about the West that needed to be challenged. I immediately set about advertising and finding suitable candidates for the new posts that I had negotiated with Dr. Walshe; I already had three candidates in mind, Drs Sreenan, Hanrahan and Quirke. Fortunately all three expressed interest in the posts and were duly appointed after a series of interviews. I didn’t proceed with the Economics post at that time as I awaited the completion of Jim Higgins Ph D studies in the US. I made several visits to the West and held discussions with the Institute staff already working in the region; at that stage there were already six Institute stations in the West that had been part of the original Divisional structure. And of course my biggest challenge was to locate a new stretch of land on which to build a new headquarters for the Western Research Centre.
Relocating to the West
My immediate personal challenge was to find a suitable family house in Galway; we decided to live in Galway even though my immediate base would be at Creagh Research Station. We had little difficulty in selling our home in Castleknock but finding a suitable house in Galway proved to be a more difficult matter. I made a number of visits to Galway, usually by train on Sundays, to look at houses that had been identified by auctioneers that we had informed of our interests to buy a house in Galway. My heart dictated that I look at houses on the road towards An Spidéal because of my fond memories of the Gaeltacht and An Spidéal in particular. In fact I looked at a very impressive and suitable new house just outside Bearna only to have Joe Dunleavy dismiss it out of hand when he saw it and identified that the foundations were resting on a boggy soil that would ‘sink’ in a few years. Luckily I took his advice as the house had to be demolished after a few years as the foundations crumbled. We eventually identified a new housing development on Taylors Hill. There were 4, 5 and 6 bedroom houses being built by a new Building Contractor firm, Kavanagh & Cotter; we purchased a six bedroom house close to the entrance to the estate. These houses would not be available for 9 to 12 months so now we had to find a house to rent. We rented a large detached house on Lower Salthill, The Nook, on a month to month basis. And so we made our move to Galway bringing all our furniture, effects and indeed our housekeeper, Elizabeth, who welcomed the move as she also came from the West.
Living in Galway didn’t in any way prove inconvenient for my work other that I now drove to Ballinrobe each day. I usually got there at 8.45 and rarely left until 6.00 pm. By this stage Sean Flanagan, Joe Screenan and Seamus Hanrahan had joined the research staff of the Western Research Centre and we shared cars on most days. However, my duties as Assistant Director involved my participation in Central Directorate meetings at the Institute Headquarters in Dublin. This and other engagements meant that I took my own car most days. At that stage it was not uncommon that I would leave Galway at six o clock in the morning and return at 9 or 10 o clock that evening.
We joined the social scene in Galway rather quickly and in particular Galway Golf club. Tom Ford who had graduated with me in 1959 was then Captain of the club and he facilitated our joining the golf club rather easily. We both took to playing golf very quickly. We made friends very easily and soon became settled in our new surroundings. Derbhile and Deirdre went to school in Taylors Hill Convent and we simply awaited the completion of our new home on Taylors Hill. Dan Kavanagh was very helpful in facilitating changes to our house, the only problem being to find him. He was more often than not out sailing on Galway Bay and this led to the building programme falling behind target. In the end the company got into serious difficulty with the Bank and we were very fortunate to have taken possession of our house before the company went bankrupt. After a few glitches we settled into our new home and were very pleased that the house (six bedrooms) accommodated our large family. We quickly made friends with our Ardmore neighbours the Fransons, the Toomeys and the Currans. At this stage our social circle including some members of the Golf club became quite extensive and we engaged in a lot of evening and weekend partying often till late in the night or indeed the early hours of the morning. At the time this all seemed great but it took its toll eventually. Often I would have to be on the road the following day at six o clock in the morning on route to Dublin or wherever and return again that evening only to start the party all over again. The main victim of all this socialising was my relationship with Helen. Perhaps, this was aggravated further by too much drinking on my part albeit I had a capacity to imbibe a lot in those days.
Our situation got more difficult when I purchased an investment property in Greenfields. This happened by chance. Der. Toomey (our neighbour and friend), Manager of AIB where we had our account, phoned me at work to say that AIB Bank had a repossessed house in Greenfields and that I should buy it as it was very good value; he said he would arrange the finance and that I should call in to his office on my way home at 5 o clock. This I did and signed all papers he put in front of me. When I got home to tell Helen of our good fortune she noticed and then strongly objected that the property was not in joint names; I had not noticed this in my brief meeting with Der. Toomey as he had prepared all the papers. This issue which could have been easily rectified now became a further issue between us and our relationship deteriorated further. Our once perfect relationship now became problematic and in retrospect we both agreed that neither of us handled the situation very well. However, that did not affect my work commitment; if any, I worked harder. I worked 14 to 16 hours each day and usually worked on Saturdays also; looking back on those days I have no doubt that I didn’t spend enough time with my family. Quite apart from Institute duties I got involved in lots of other academic and business activities.
Priorities for the Western Research Centre
On establishing the Western Research Centre the headquarters was initially based at the Creagh Research Station just outside Ballinrobe in County Mayo. I immediately set about looking for a suitable property for a new research station as agreed with Dr. Walshe in my acceptance of the post. To this end I sent out letters of enquiry to all agricultural advisers in Connaught as to the availability of farms in their area that might be suitable as a research farm and available on long term lease to An Foras Taluntais. At that stage the Western Research Centre had research facilities at Creagh, Co. Mayo (Limestone soil) Glenamoy in North Mayo (Peatland soil), Maam in Co. Galway (Mountain land), Ballinamore in Co. Leitrim (Drumlin soil) as well as Test Farms at Blindwell, Co. Galway (Sheep) and Drumboylan, Co. Roscommon (Dairying on wetlands). Despite the number of research facilities and land acreage the Centre lacked adequate and uniform land on which to design and conduct representative research protocols. Furthermore the Centre didn’t have clearly articulated research goals or strategies to meet the needs of agriculture in the West of Ireland.
The first task was to arrange discussion and dialogue with the research and technical staff in the centre including the newly recruited staff. Meetings were arranged to discuss research priorities, research project design and planning and centre management structures. The need for new facilities and the consolidation of existing facilities were highlighted. Arising from these meetings programme priorities were established to address farm production systems based on the mixed grazing of cattle and sheep and sheep-tillage farming systems. To support and underpin these farming systems specific research priorities were also focused on sheep genetics, sheep and cattle physiology, parasitology, sheep nutrition and grassland management. Soil survey and soil engineering with emphasis on land drainage and reclamation were also priority areas; animal health with emphasis on mineral deficiencies (e.g. copper and cobalt) was also singled out. Based on these discussions an overall Priority Research Programme and a detailed annual budget for the Centre was developed and submitted to the Central Directorate and the Council of An Foras Taluntais for approval.
As Assistant Director of the Institute I was a member of the Central Directorate and hence had a dual mandate not only as Head of the Western Research Centre but also as a member of the Central Directorate. This involved regular meetings at the Institute’s headquarters in Dublin.
At that stage as much of the programme as possible was undertaken at the existing research facilities in the West but it was quiet clear that the acquisition of a new research facility was a priority. The newly recruited research scientists came on board and a sense of enthusiasm and focus quickly developed within the centre. We held our first open day at Creagh in 1972 and it attracted quite a respectable attendance, 500 people approximately. At that stage the main animal production focus at Creagh was on mixed grazing of cattle and sheep. The all sheep stocking rate trials were suspended and replaced with a long term study of mixed grazing. Dr. Tom Nolan initiated this work which involved the determination of optimum stocking rates and sheep-cattle ratios in the system. This work became highly regarded and attracted much interest. In parallel with this project Alberta Kearney initiated a long term study to determine best options in the control of parasitic worms in sheep at different stocking rates. This work clearly showed the benefits of pre-parturition dosing of ewes followed by strategic pre-weaning dosing of lambs and a post weaning change of pasture (after silage). This has been the only livestock experiment I have witnessed where a real interaction (cross over as distinct to interactions of scale) of effects occurred. Liam Sheehan, on the other hand, apart from managing and providing an analytical chemistry laboratory service undertook nutrition studies to compare barley and maize in the rations of early weaned lambs. This work was part funded by the US Feed Grains Council. Dr. Sean Quirke initiated a Sheep Physiology programme at Creagh focusing on reproductive efficiency. His measurement of ovulation rates in the High Fertility flock produced some very interesting results over the years. One ewe in that flock had exhibited an ovulation of 13 ova (comparable to a pig) and more interestingly her daughter exhibited an ovulation of 7 ove as a ewe lamb!! This was a starkling observation. Bloods from these sheep sent to the INRA laboratory in Paris (Jouy en Josas) were later to play a key part in determining the genetic control of ovulation rate in humans as well as in other animals.
However much as the Creagh programme was developing our search for a new research facility continued unabated. We looked at farms near Loughrea, Renville and Gort in Co. Galway and Gurteen Agricultural College in Co. Mayo but none of them had the size and uniformity that we needed. Late on a Friday evening as I was about to leave the office (my colleagues with whom I shared the car were calling on me) the phone rang. It was from an Agricultural Advisor in Tuam to say he had a farm in mind in the Tuam area that might be suitable. I signalled to my colleagues to go and that I would take the Station car. I considered that if somebody took the trouble to phone at such a late hour I at least owed him the courtesy of meeting him and seeing what he was suggesting. So I travelled to Tuam, picked him up and he directed me to Belclare. It was dark at this stage but as he described the farm and as best as I could see with the car headlamps I immediately sensed that this farm might be what we were looking for. I drove out to see the farm the following morning, phoned the Agricultural Advisor and met him at 10 o clock and we drove along the two roads that bordered the farm; in fact there were two farms involved, owned by two brothers, and in total amounting to 445 acres of very homogenous limestone land. By 11 o clock he had introduced me to the owners, the Morris family, and by the following Wednesday I had negotiated a 15 lease (extendable for a further 10 years) on the property at very reasonable terms. A further attraction was the existence across the road of the Castlehackett estate which had more than 1000 acres within its boundary. Naturally, I had a number of discussions with Dr. Walshe before I signed the lease. He in turn had discussed the matter with the Chairman of the Council and got his approval. Now we had a fine research farm but we needed the capital funds to build the research facilities and offices. As it happened there were strict national government restrictions on capital expenditure at that time and it became clear very quickly that the Council could not approve any additional capital expenditure whatsoever.
Belclare Research Centre
In 1973, we had a 445 acre farm without any buildings let alone office or laboratory facilities and a government restriction not to spend any public capital expenditure. Added to this we had a team of research scientists, many of whom were newly recruited, who were ‘at the ready’ and very keen to commence their research programmes. At that stage I was pretty well known in the agricultural and business communities across the country and particularly in the West; the establishment of the Western Research Centre had been given considerable publicity. My first task was to get office accommodation up and running. I contacted Tony O Reilly who at that stage had just begun to launch his business empire having gotten much national and international recognition for his stewardship of The Irish Dairy Board (His branding of Kerry Gold was a classic success) and Eirn Foods. His company Fitzwilton Holdings had just acquired Terrapin Buildings which offered easily erected buildings on the Irish market. Dr Walshe and I met with him in his Fitzwilton office at 8 0 clock in the morning and to my amazement he offered to provide a 24 office Terrapin block to the centre as a gift. Perhaps this was his first act of philanthropy in Ireland for which he was later to become globally famous around the world throughout his stunning career. The offices were erected in a matter of weeks. I then approached The Coyle Group in Galway (I had provided advice to the Group on occasion) and John Coyle provided free of charge all the concrete materials to erect a large slatted cattle shed plus a large machinery/workshop building. I should say at this stage that we had hired a great bunch of young local farm staff from the Belclare area who prepared all the foundations for these buildings. Next we needed sheep housing and a trip to Bagnalstown in Co. Carlow resulted in Keenan’s Farm Machinery Engineers providing us with the materials to build two large sheep sheds, again free gratis.
At this stage we were ready to get started. We moved the sheep breeding programme from Creagh to Belclare and also transferred some of the research, technician and farm staff to the new centre; we provided a minibus transport facility for those staff who had established their home in Ballinrobe. I appointed Christy O Hare (my longstanding technician and manager of the sheep breeding programme) as Station Manager and John Lyons (also from Creagh) as Farm Manager. There was not any staff resistance to the move but the local Ballinrobe traders and politicians began to protest on the basis that the town would lose business as a result of the move to Belclare. In any event, after some nasty untruthful articles in the tabloid papers and a public protest meeting in Ballinrobe we faced down the critics and the protest ceased. In a very short time we were up and running at Belclare and the research programme gained momentum very quickly. The Ballinrobe and Belclare farm staff integrated very quickly thanks in no small part to John Lyons and Christy O Hare. The work programme in Creagh continued with emphasis on mixed stocking, sheep nutrition and parasitology. Sheep physiology research was carried out by Dr. Sean Quirke both at Creagh and Belclare.
The programme at Belclare evolved as we got the research facilities up and running. It embraced sheep breeding, cattle and sheep physiology, grassland management, sheep production systems, suckler beef production systems, and a dairy herd with emphasis to demonstrate the latest research findings from the Institute’s Dairy Research Centre at Moorpark, Co. Cork. Athenry Cooperative Marts and the Athenry Dairy Cooperative were hugely helpful in providing working capital for much of this work; monies that were repaid as receipts from the farm accrued.
Clearly I was quite busy in getting the new centre up and running. Apart from dealing with the development of the physical facilities I was busy in discussing research protocols with individual staff; additionally, we regularly organised research seminars to focus discussion on proper research planning and prioritisation. As the Centre became known publically I got invitations to serve on the boards of several companies (seven in all) in the region and an invitation to teach a course on Agricultural Science to first year science students in University College Galway, added to my workload. Additionally, I had to prepare and attend monthly meetings of the Central Directorate at the Institute’s headquarters in Dublin. Clearly I was very busy in those days but it did not just end there. I was also asked to act as External Examiner to the Final Year Genetics Honours Students at University College Dublin; an invitation I readily accepted as it enabled me to keep abreast of current advances in genetics. I also got invitations to participate on the board of NCEA (National Council for Education Awards) at a time when it addressed the very sensitive issues relating to the awarding of degrees by the then non university institutions such as the Limerick Institute of Higher Education (later to become the University Of Limerick) and the Regional Technical Colleges. In that context I also participated in a study group relating to syllabus development in some of the colleges within the Limerick campus; this entailed visits to Britain and the Netherlands. At this time I was also awarded a scholarship to visit New Zealand to study sheep research organisation and sheep farming. Clearly the days were not long enough to cover all I wished to do in those days.
Highlights of the Research Programme
However, the rewards were ever growing as Belclare became increasingly known both nationally and internationally. Dr. Sreenan’s work on cattle physiology attracted international attention and more importantly much appreciated funds from the EEC Science Programme as it was known at that time. The rather small and modest cattle physiology laboratory produced results on the control of ovulation and embryo collection, storage and transfer techniques that attracted much attention and indeed attracted scientists from across Europe to come and work at Belclare; not least of which was Ian Wilmut who later became famous for his work on cloning of Dolly the sheep. The laboratory developed close links with the Biochemistry Department in University College Galway and usually was host to two or three postgraduate students each year. Close links were also developed with INRA, the French National Agricultural Research Institute and with the Animal Reproduction Physiology Centre at Cambridge University.
Work on the development of a new more efficient sheep breed, later to become known as the Belclare breed continued apace; at this stage I transferred responsibility for sheep breeding to Dr. Seamus Hanrahan and he conducted the research programme with distinction. At this stage we imported a representative sample of the Llynn sheep breed from Wales as this breed brought better body conformation to the ‘mix’ without diluting reproductive capacity. After some further on-farm testing of the ‘Belclare Improver’ the Belclare breed was launched.
Twinning in Suckler Beef Production systems was also tested drawing on the advances in embryo transfer technology. Whereas the efficiency of twinning in beef production was significant the complexity (Heat detection and Artificial Insemination) of the system limited it’s uptake by farmers who were usually engaged in part time farming.
Very significant and successful research was undertaken by Dr. Sean Quirke on the physiology of sheep reproduction and lamb growth. As regards reproductive physiology he carried out very successful and definitive work on oestrus synchronization and the control of ovulation in sheep; his work showed that lamb output could be significantly increased by 30% with the simple administration of the hormonal product ‘Fecundin’. His work on lamb growth rate showed that Clenbuterol – a beta-agonist – not only increased lamb growth rate but also increased muscle deposition such that the carcass was heavier and leaner. The American company, Cyanamid, made a significant contribution to this work by way of a cheque for $ 30,000. Unfortunately both of these products were taken off the market when the EEC ruled that all chemical interventions in livestock production be banned. Both of these products were and are perfectly safe in livestock production and at most the banned use of liver from treated animals would have sufficed to ensure consumer safety. A European ban on the use of these products and indeed more poignantly on genetic engineering in plant and animal production has put European agriculture at a distinct disadvantage viz a viz Agriculture in the US, South America and Asia.
Very significant research was also undertaken in reference to sheep and tillage production systems. Firstly, the Blindwell Test farm was completely reorganized so as to focus on sheep and tillage under Dr. Sean Flanagan. The use of fodder beet within the tillage system was evaluated by Dr. Flanagan as regards ewe nutrition and by Seamus Fitzgerald as regards lamb fattening. A series of trials showed that fodder beet could support very high levels of lamb production per hectare because of fodder beet’s exceptionally high dry matter output per hectare.
Whereas the Centre did not engage directly in research on dairying a 100 cow dairy herd was established on land rented from the Castlehacket Estate which was directly across the road from the Institute lands. Mr Paley, the owner of the estate, was particularly generous to the Institute and offered over 300 acres of land to the Institute at a very nominal rental per acre. His generosity and that of Athenry Dairy Cooperative and Athenry Mart who supplied the 100 heifers free of charge enabled the Institute to set up the dairy herd as a demonstration of the latest research from Moorepark.
First Open Day at Belclare
The first Open Day at Belclare was an outstanding success. Over 4000 farmers from all over the country attended. Research results and recommendations were highlighted on professionally presented boards at a number of exhibits around the Centre. We hired Burke Bus Company to move the attendees around the centre; it worked very well. My abiding memory of that first Open Day was how well the new Centre looked and how the farm staff had so enthusiastically and diligently ensured that everything about the farm yards was clean, neat and tidy. Equally, the stands and exhibits were very impressive as were the staff presentations by the technical and research staff. As I recall three Government Ministers attended the Open Day and of course the National and Regional Media were present. The Open Day got very favourable reviews and comment in the Press the following day. From that day onwards the Belclare Research Station became a household name in the Agricultural calendar.
Perhaps not well known was that the Western Research Centre had to be managed and run on a very tight budget basis. Each year a programme and budget had to be prepared and presented, first to the Central Directorate and the Director, Dr. Walshe, and then to the Council. Once approved there were regular evaluations and assessment at Central Directorate level and deviations from the ‘net budget allocation’ were never allowed. In hindsight, this was a good thing as there is often an attitude in the research community that money should not dictate research goals. As long as Dr. Walshe was Director this attitude was not entertained. Yes, there were occasions where we got ‘help’ from bodies such as Athenry Marts to show or conceal expenditures or receipts at year end so as to balance the books but inevitably this was a very short term expedient. The Centre’s accountant, Pat Moore, was particularly helpful to me in this context and in all of the Centres budgetary processes; his ability to add up budget lines mentally often exceeded his contemporary’s use of calculators as we argued budget matters at Central Directorate level.
Inevitably, a time of consolidation arose within the Centre. As initially established the Centre comprised research facilities at Creagh, Glenamoy, Ballinamore and Maam with field stations at Blindwell and Drumboylan. Then the Belclare Research Station was added. From a budgetary standpoint it soon became clear that some consolidation was needed. Glenamoy, a peatland research centre that had been established in the 1940’s and that had researched the use of deep peat in agriculture, horticulture and forestry over the decades became the focus of our assessments.
Rather interestingly the research programmes at Glenamoy had shown over the years that deep peat with appropriate fertilizer could produce high yields of all crops including grass comparable to mineral soils but utilization in all crop types posed a problem simply because of the water table levels of this soil type. It is interesting to note that there are similar dry matter levels in peat as in milk, about 10 to 11 percent. As regards livestock the high moisture levels of the soil provided an ideal breeding ground for Liver fluke which made sheep or cattle production wholly uneconomic. Equally, the production of grass for dried grass meal production was uneconomic because of the high energy costs associated with harvesting; as a board member of Min Fheir Teo, a Grass Meal Company in Geesala, I had direct experience of the fuel costs associated with harvesting apart from ‘down days’ associated with high rainfall in North Mayo. In overview, it was clear that utilization of deep peat in any form of intensive agriculture was to say the least very problematic. Consequently, it was decided to close the Glenamoy Research Station. The resident research officers, Louis Grubb and Mike Hope Cawdery were transferred to Ballinamore and the technical staff members were transferred to Belclare. I had the unenviable task of negotiating redundancy terms with the farm staff but I’m happy to recall that we parted on friendly terms.
Quickly after that we closed the dairy test farm in Drumboylan and the Hill Sheep research farm in Maam; in any event it was a rented property and its lease had run out. Michael O Toole, Station Manager at Maam transferred to Creagh. At the same time John Mulqueen moved from Ballinamore to Creagh to become Station Manager. John Mulqueen worked as a drainage/soil reclamation scientist and it is not an exaggeration to say that he was the most hard working and most competent person within the Centre. His contribution to the use of wet and compacted soils in Ireland is phenomenal not only in agriculture and forestry but also in sport. He initially developed the ‘all weather’ playing pitch which now is common place across Britain and Ireland as well as in race and golf course drainage designs. Apart from his ever present commitment as a scientist and problem solver his unique characteristic was his unusual disposition to welcome being wrong; his motto was that you always learn something when you are shown to be wrong.
Quite clearly I was extremely busy in those early days as Head of the Western Research Centre, not to mention the many other roles and responsibilities that had been thrust on me. Yes, I usually worked a 16 hour day but I found time at the weekends to spend some time with the family. We quite often went for day trips on Sundays down to Fairymount to see my parents and to Tibohine to see my brother Brendan, Mel and their family who had built and just moved into their new house. We regularly visited Helen’s relations (Kennys) in Frenchpark and Sister Richard, a nun in the Convent in Carrick on Shannon.
Back in Galway both Helen and I played golf most weekends and socialising in Galway Golf Club continued. The children were all developing their own personalities and interests. All were quite good at school and generally very well behaved. Padraic was particularly interested in sports and had lots of success with the underage teams in Salthill as they won several county championships from age 10 to 16. He also had interest in golf but not as demonstratively as Derbhile and Deirdre. They both attended underage golf lessons at Galway Golf Club and as the Pro, Bob Wallace, recognised their abilities he gave dozens of lessons to them and also to their school friend, Cliona O Neill, of his own volition and free of charge. When I realised this I arranged that a large whisky awaited him in the bar each evening when he finished. As a team, the trio went on to win the Connaught Girls Schools Golf Competition, then won the All Ireland Semi final only to be beaten on the 20th hole in the All Ireland Final. Feargal, our fourth child, was very intelligent and always had new or interesting comment to make on all sorts of issues. At an early age it was clear that he had little or no interest in sport; on the other hand he had a wide ranging interest in general affairs and seemed to prefer adult company to his peers. At this stage Orla and Rionach had settled well in school and spent a lot of time playing around the park; most families in Ardmore had young children at that stage.
My father died in March 1977. It was a complete shock as he had been in good health up to then. However, he developed pneumonia and as his chest was damaged from smoking (he smoked 4 packets of cigarettes a day!) his health deteriorated very quickly. I drove him up the Regional Hospital in Galway (Merlin Park) and he only lasted four days. I was shattered when he died as I loved him deeply; he was a very kind and considerate father. His funeral was massive as he was very widely known and very popular; his coffin was draped with the tricolour as a mark of respect for his involvement in the fight for Irish Freedom. There were many tributes to him in the local papers. His death had a big influence on me. Initially my mother’s reaction was very strange; she blamed him for dying and leaving her on her own.
After some time she insisted on going into an Old People’s Home and had chosen Castle Magarret House outside Ballindine. She phoned me to take her in there but I immediately sensed that she would not stay long there. She had just retired from teaching and she clearly was too young to go into such an institution at that stage. She phoned me a week later and had decided that she wanted to go home. That she did and I managed to get a companion/housekeeper (Ita) for her from the County Home in Loughrea. From there on she blossomed and for the next 16 years she lived a very active life pursuing her favourite interest – dancing several times a week. I visited her quite often and she became aware that my own home life was not that happy.
Around this time I travelled abroad on a number of consultancy missions to Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, Cyprus, South Africa and Togo. I was also away from home a lot on Institute and other work commitments and was not as faithful to my marriage as I should have been. On my return from Togo in late December 1979 I decided to move into the house in Greenfields that I had purchased some years earlier; the down stairs apartment had become vacant. I tried to see the children as often as I could but in hindsight I regret that I didn’t spend more time with them. At this stage I got involved in a relationship that I thought would solve all my problems and bring happiness once more into my life. I was to be very disappointed and despite my best efforts over a considerable length of time I soon realised that this relationship was not going anywhere. The girl in question appeared to be more interested in having a good time rather than settling down to a permanent relationship; she was later to describe herself at that time as ‘wild’ and that perhaps is an understatement.
One of the impacts of this not very best moment of my life was that Helen initiated legal separation proceedings which resulted in a two day legal shemozzle in the Four Courts which was harrowing on all concerned other than the legal-eagles that were more concerned with their fees than the feelings of Helen or myself. There was absolutely no need for a second day in court other than to double the fees I had to pay. The court in fact ruled that I pay less maintenance than I was already providing and which I continued to provide. When the court ended I saw Helen’s solicitor badger her for money; To get rid of him I paid him her fees and took Helen and Derbhile who was accompanying her for a drink at the nearest bar, being just glad to get out of there. Sometime later I met the barrister who had acted as Junior Council on Helen’s legal team and he told me that Helen’s solicitor was one of the meanest money-grabbing solicitors that he had ever met.
Belclare Research gets widespread attention.
The Belclare Research Station went from strength to strength. The Cattle Physiology Programme led by Dr. Joe Sreenan attracted worldwide attention at this stage and usually had at least 2 post doctoral fellows and a number of MSc and Ph D students. The emphasis at this stage was on twinning in beef production, the second calf arising from an implanted embryo. The technology was well developed and work began on the management and nutrition of twin bearing cows. Much good research was carried out but obviously the system was too complicated for farmers who engaged in suckler beef production.
On the other hand the sheep breeding programme led by Dr Seamus Hanrahan was making great progress in developing a new sheep breed; the introduction of the Llynn breed gave the sheep greater farmer appeal as it gave the Belclare Improver as it was then known greater conformation without diluting the fecundity of the sheep. Initially, Belclare Improver rams were distributed to interested collaborating farmers. In a matter of a few years the interest was so great that a number of farmers decided to form The Belclare Breed Society; they purchased some female breeding stock from the Belclare Research Centre and thus began the foundation of the Belclare breed. Within a few years it became the most sought after female breed in the country simply because of its fecundity. At this stage there was little justification in retaining the Finnish Landrace breed, the High Fertility flock or the Galway Selection line. However, Physiologist Dr Sean Quirke saved embryos from each of these lines which are in deep freeze storage to this day.
It is worth recalling that Dr Quirke regularly measured ovulation rates in all of these genetic stocks. One female sheep from the High Fertility deserves special mention in that blood samples from this sheep played a major part in understanding the genetic control of ovulation in humans not to mention sheep. The ewe in question had a most unusual ovulation rate of 13 ova and two daughters of this ewe showed ovulations of 7 ova as ewe lambs. This was very remarkable and in collaboration with Jouy-en-Josas, the French Animal Research Centre bloods from these sheep were sent to France for analysis. Some years later as published in a paper in the prestigious science journal, Nature, it transpired that these blood samples played a significant role in a better understanding of the genetic control of ovulation in all species including humans.
The emphasis on integrating sheep more efficiently in sheep-tillage systems continued with emphasis on fodder beet and clover dominant pastures. Blindwell Test farm became the focal point to demonstrate these new production techniques. The Centre also established a sheep-tillage farm in Carlow in collaboration with the Oakpark Research Centre. At this stage I felt a little uncomfortable in An Foras Taluntais. Dr Walshe had moved over to the Advisory Service known as ACOT at that stage. His successor Dr Pierce Ryan had little of Dr Walshe’s vision and drive and hence An Foras Taluntais lost much of its appeal as a place to work. There is little doubt that this had a big bearing on my decision to look elsewhere for challenges in the work place.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
In early January, 1985, I had a letter from Dr Jazerowski, Director, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome, Italy, stating that they were looking for candidates to apply for the Small Ruminants post in the Animal Production Division of FAO which had just become vacant. I replied by giving him short CV’s of three of the best sheep research scientists in An Foras Taluntais. He responded by phone to say that it was his wish that I might consider the post and he invited me to Rome to discuss the position with him. I duly visited him in Rome and he offered me the post. I indicated that I would consider the offer but that I needed time to discuss the matter with the Director of An Foras Taluntais, Dr Pierce Ryan. I sought a one year leave of absence from AFT which was duly granted. I then informed Dr Jazerowski that I would consider the offer on a twelve month basis. I then had an offer from him as a P4 post. I responded that I would only consider the post at the P5 level – the highest professional level post in the United Nations. He invited me for a further meeting in Rome at which he indicated that my salary would be at the P5 level but that he couldn’t formally offer me the P5 grade until I committed to a three year contract. I accepted his offer and I duly was appointed at the P5 level some 12 months later. I then formally sought a 12 month leave of absence from AFT and moved to Rome on 8 April 1985. It was a sea change in my professional career and it afforded me a level of salary and expenses more than twice my salary in AFT.
I found an apartment off Via Gallia very close to FAO which meant that I could walk to work each day. I enjoyed Rome right away and joined Aqua Santa Golf club which was also nearby. I was often asked why I moved to Rome- my answer was that “ I could play bad golf in good weather and that I appreciated not having to pay tax on my salary” – one of the perks in working for the United Nations.
A Life Changing Moment
Moving to Rome was a life changing moment but meeting Mary O Brien was an even more momentous occasion. I had met Mary before I decided to move to Rome but she was seeing someone else initially. I felt very attracted to her and found that she was very intelligent with a good sense of humour; she had wide ranging interests and had loads of energy. We socialised a number of times but I had the distinct impression that she was not very interested in me especially as I was considerably older than her. When I moved to Rome I wrote to her every week and then invited her to come to Rome. She instantly fell in love with Rome, its churches, its architecture and its history. However, she went back to Tuam as she was very committed to the family business – Luke O Brien’s Shoes. She later went to the USA on holiday to meet some of her O’Brien cousins. At this stage I had sought a divorce and found that I could get married in New York. On a phone call to the US I asked Mary to marry me and to my surprise she agreed. We got married in New York on 11 August 1989.
FAO – The Animal Production Division
After an initial 12 months probation period I was appointed Head of the Livestock Production Group. My first concern was to consider my situation in An Foras Taluntais. I met with the Director, Dr Ryan, and negotiated an early retirement package with him. I was then free to commit myself to FAO. My immediate boss was Dr Paul Auriol, a Frenchman, but as the Director, Dr Jazerowski, was very much hands on I found myself regularly in discussion with him. The Livestock Production Group became very active, we built the staff compliment to 5 Professional Officers and 3 Associate Professional Officers. Over a very short period we became technically responsible for over 60 field projects mostly funded by UNDP and over 40 TCP (FAO funded) projects – the overall budget of these projects exceeded $100 million. These projects were spread over Latin America, Africa and Asia and involved all of us undertaking a lot of travel. Quite separately, we had an internal FAO programme (Regular Programme Budget (which more than quadrupled in a short number of years. I very much enjoyed working in and leading this Group. It was very much an international group with staff from Germany, Britain, Norway, France and Chile not to mention the many consultants we engaged from all over the world.
One of the first pieces of advice that I got from the Director was that most if not all of the staff in FAO were highly intelligent individuals being representative of the higher echelon staff in the Universities and Public Service Departments of the many countries (Developed and Developing) that were members of the United Nations. I found this to be very true but this in turn did not mean that the staff were fully engaged with development work as they might be. To my surprise I found that many of the staff in FAO were more concerned with discussing issues related to development rather than engage in development projects as such. Many of these professionals were usually well dressed, talked continuously about development issues in the third world but had little appetite to engage with projects that directly addressed development in these countries. I branded them as enjoying “dressing up for the races but not having any interest in racing”. Indeed there were a good few of the professional staff in the Animal Production Division that fitted into this category not least in the Animal Genetics Programme. It appeared that these staff were happy to arrange Expert Consultations, Seminars and Workshops to discuss the Conservation and Development of Animal Genetics in the Developing Countries but had little interest in initiating development as such. The staff of the Livestock Production Group, of which I was proud to lead were of a very different view; hence we initiated and guided many development projects across the developing countries.
One of the first development objectives of my research programme was the establishment of Research Networks for Small Ruminants in the different regions. This involved the arrangement of Expert Consultations in each of the UN regions, viz., Latin America and The Caribbean, Southern Africa, The Near East, Asia and Central Europe so as to establish research priorities for each region. Once established we arranged that each region would continue consultations among its regional staff and that the FAO Regional Offices would support these activities. However, most of the activities of the Livestock Production Group was directly concerned with development projects in these regions. Many of these projects were funded by UNDP and if I have any concerns about UN work it is that each project incurred a considerable amount of time in attending trivial meetings at the behest of UNDP. I’m very happy to say that a good number of our projects resulted in Investment Projects be they funded by the World Bank, IFAD, other Investment Agencies or National Governments. The project that sticks out in my mind in this regard was the World Bank Project in Turkey which addressed the development of the Gap Region in Turkey which had witnessed a massive Irrigation Programme involving more than 750 million hectares.
On the other hand, several very promising projects never realised their full potential because of political turmoil in the countries in question. This was not uncommon in Africa; I have a very bad memory of a very successful Livestock Project in Cote de Ivor which had a very promising beginning only to be completely abandoned on the outbreak of political unrest in the country. Political change affected projects in very different ways. Mongolia is a case in point. Following the emergence of Mongolia as an independent country in the 1990’s, having being a member of the Soviet Union where collective state run farms was the norm, FAO/UNDP was requested to initiate a Development Project for the country’s livestock industry. On visiting the country it became clear that the skills needed to grow the basic food staples (Potatoes and Vegetables) had diminished during the period of large state run farming. On the spot we adjusted the project to largely focus on the growing of potatoes and vegetables with little emphasis on livestock except simple technologies such as keeping milk fresh (horses and sheep were the principal livestock) in the absence of electricity and refrigeration on the farms.
I enjoyed working in the Animal Production Division and in particular leading the Livestock Production Group. Yes, there were Departmental procedures and rules that were annoying and largely unnecessary but that aside the challenges and opportunities to effect scientific change were many. Little did I know then that I was being head hunted by another Division within FAO, viz., The Research Division within the Sustainable Development Department.
Living in Rome
Living in Rome in the 1980’s and 1990’s was very pleasant; the weather usually was very good and more importantly very predictable. Sitting or eating outdoors was the norm for nine months of the year. As mentioned earlier, Mary came to Rome in 1987 and we got married in New York that year. I had moved from Via Illeria to Via Academia Albertina at that stage. This was a large apartment on the top floor of a 5 storey apartment block and more importantly it had a very large balcony. It was still quite close to FAO and I got into work usually in less than 15 minutes. We enjoyed our new surroundings and felt quite at home there in a very short time. The local restaurants, the ‘Sard’ and the ‘Stuffed Animals’(aptly named by my daughter Deirdre as it had stuffed animals in the main window) became our regular eating out haunts. We were very happy in that apartment and in our new surroundings in Rome. We played golf in Aqua Santa Golf Club many weekends and often played 9 holes in the evenings after work. Mary initially focused on learning Italian and after a very short period became quite fluent in Italian. She then applied for and was appointed Assistant Manager in a hotel quite close to FAO, The Lancelot. We made lots of friends in FAO and regularly socialised with them over dinner in our apartment or in the local restaurants. Mary developed a language friendship with some Italians wishing to improve their English; in this way she increased her fluency in Italian very considerably. She also immersed herself in Italian culture and art and in a very short time got to love Rome. Initially her main focus was on Church Art and it’s not an exaggeration to say that she must have visited most if not all of Rome’s 1000 churches. Of course she visited all of Rome’s museums and ‘dragged’ me to several concerts, operas and musical recitals. Her interest in Rome and its artistic expression never waned over the course of our living there.
Italy – A Country of Contrasts!
We both loved Italy, perhaps for different reasons. I was intrigued by Italy from my very first days in Rome. I still remember my first impressions of the Coliseum on the first weekend in Rome. I was gobsmacked that the Romans could build such a magnificent edifice over 2000 years earlier when they had little or no technology other than the lever; it still is a magnificent expression of the genius and ability of Italian engineering. That same engineering ingenuity is still evident in their network of Autostrada across a country that is straddled with very high mountains. In total contrast to the Autostrada, the minor roads, particularly around Rome, are best characterised by their potholes and very poor state of repair.
Geologically, Italy is a country of contrasts backboned by very high mountains and rich flat valleys. Many of their towns are situated on top of mountains which make them unique not just in the winding roads and S-bends that have to be manoeuvred to reach the top but also in the beauty and isolation of these towns that stretches back many centuries. As drivers of any form of mechanically propelled vehicle be it on the autostrada, on winding roads to the hilltops or indeed in their cities the Italians are also a people of contrasts; they drive very fast, yet they are extremely competent and alert drivers. This same contrast is also obvious in their homes; the external appearance of many of their apartments or villas leaves much to be desired, yet within the home the decor and cleanliness is immaculate. The same is true of their attire; most Italians, male and female, pay a lot of attention to their dress – the ‘bella figura’ is very important to them as a people. Consequently, it usually is very difficult to distinguish between the millionaire and the poor person as they sit side by side each other in the same restaurant. This perhaps is the most endearing feature of Italians as a people. Their attachment to the family is another feature that contrasts strongly with other European countries.
Mary and I very much enjoyed observing these differences as we lived in Rome and/or as we travelled extensively across Italy. Usually, we visited nearby towns such as Orvieto, Bracciano and Perugia over weekends and travelled further afield over Bank Holiday weekends or during holidays. Our first port of call in every town we visited was the Centro Piazza where usually the Church dominated the landscape; Mary’s first port of call always not to say a prayer but to see the internal design of the Church, its frescos and stained glass windows. There is much more to see in Italy. Despite living there for the best part of 20 years there is still so much more to see as we learn on our many holidays to Italy since we returned to Ireland.
Rome and the Family
One of the many ‘percs’ in working for FAO was that it funded the travel costs of my children to visit me in Rome each year while they were still in education. All six of them visited Rome quite often; Deirdre, perhaps most often. It afforded me an opportunity to interact with them that I didn’t have in Ireland because of my separation from the family. Added to that my FAO salary was such that I could financially support Helen and the family considerably better than I could on my Irish salary. It gave me great pleasure to be able to give them a good time on their visits to Rome and have money in their pockets when they returned to Ireland. They soon learned my favourite restaurants and golfing haunts. As they got older I was able to give them one of our two cars so that they could discover Italy for themselves. During these visits they got to know and like Mary; sometimes I felt they liked her more than their father but that is not unusual. I always missed them when they returned to Ireland but we were able to see them more often on my many holiday visits to Ireland; usually in August when the humidity in Rome is a little uncomfortable and at Christmas.
Moving to Via Ardeatina
While we were very happy in Via Academia we decided to look for alternative accommodation largely as a result of the landowner’s (Dr. Corradi) reaction to a woodworm problem we brought to her attention. When Mary drew her attention to the extensive woodworm infestation (literally hundreds of holes) in a cabinet in the living room, her reaction was that Mary should inject each hole with insecticide. That was enough to set Mary on the search for a new apartment. Within weeks she found a property in Via della Torre, just off the Ardeatina, and also quite close to FAO. We moved there in a matter of weeks and could now enjoy living on the ground floor and having a garden in front of the Villa. The owner, Dr Franco Morra, a lawyer, lived upstairs, and had a separate entrance to his accommodation. We were very happy there for a number of years and became quite friendly with Dr Morra as he regularly would come downstairs and sit outside with us after dinner. I got to like and trust him completely; I regarded him as a true friend and would have trusted him with my life. Little did I know that there was an unsavoury side to him.
After two years in Via della Torre we learned that there was a small villa for sale just 200 metres down the road where we lived. Yes, we discussed the matter with Franco Morra and assured him that we would try to get another FAO tenant for him. He seemed pleased. When we eventually purchased the villa from the Collici family Mary had to undertake much of the moving of our furniture as I was on duty travel in South America. When we had moved into our new home (Via Castelsaraceno, 25) Mary had left the old accommodation in pristine condition and in addition we had found him new tenants who moved in on the day we moved out. To our surprise, Franco Morra visited us in our new home and instead of admiring our new surroundings and its garden at the back, he proceeded to tell us why he was not going to reimburse our deposit (2 months rent) and further that he intended to bill us for the legal advice he had given us. I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing and asked him to leave. With the help of Dr Garabaldi, a solicitor in FAO, we initiated court proceedings against him. Not only was he compelled to reimburse the deposit but he was further obliged to reimburse me the extra rent I had paid over and above the rent he was legally entitled to charge (the eco-canone); it was normal for landlords to charge FAO and other UN staff rents that were considerably in excess of the legal rental levels. This was a substantial amount and I had the pleasure of seeing him write out the cheque and pass it to Dr Garabaldi. This was an ugly experience as we settled into our new home but I was very impressed by the speed with which the Italian legal system worked.
Via Castelsaraceno, 25, Roma
We enjoyed living in Via Castelsaraceno and got to know our neighbours in a very short time. Mary’s proficiency in Italian was of considerable help in this regard. The design of the Villa (it was really a small villa, usually referred to as a villeno) really suited us. It occupied two floors, each with separate entrances. The first floor, which we occupied, consisted of a large living room, a kitchen, two bedrooms (one of which we converted into a dining room com study) and a bathroom. Downstairs with its separate entrance, consisted of a very large living room with a fireplace, a kitchen cum study, a bedroom and a bathroom. We furnished the living room with bed/sofas such that it could be used by guests as a sleeping area. At the rear of the house was a small garden that was bounded by a very large garden and villa to the north. This had the effect of having lots of birds in our garden which we appreciated very much. I have many pleasant memories of eating out in that garden, a feature of which was the abundance of lemons on the two lemon trees at the side of the house.
There were four restaurants within a few hundred metres of the house on Via Ardeatina. We found the nearest restaurant to be just what we needed. The food was always very good and very consistent over the years; it was also very reasonably priced. In fact we found that we could eat out in that restaurant as cheaply as we could eat at home. It served its customers outside for 9 months of the year which we enjoyed very much. It also served its own wine which was practically as cheap as water. Of course I couldn’t resist their white wine which I would copiously consume each time we ate there. We had many very pleasant evenings in the ‘local’ and we were usually joined by Fintan and Kathryn Scanlan each weekend albeit they lived outside Rome, near Ostia. They also enjoyed the food at this ‘local’ and its very reasonably priced white wine. I have many pleasant memories of the restaurant and we always go back there when we visit Rome. It’s been a family business down the years and it is now run by their only son, Ellio.
Yes, we have many pleasant memories of Via Castelsaraceno; but two memories stand out, one pleasant if not intriguing and the other not so nice. The not so nice memory concerned a fire that started in the kitchen. Mary was away and I was in bed. At around 4.30 in the morning I was awoken by loud blasts coming from the kitchen. To my consternation I saw the far end of the kitchen counter in flames. My first reaction was to turn off the gas and awaken our neighbours, the Doras, next door. They immediately called the Fire Brigade which seemed to arrive in minutes. They quickly got the fire under control but the water and smoke made quite a mess of the kitchen and the adjoining living room. Their report indicated that the fire started in the dishwasher which I had turned on just before going to bed. Ever since I’m reluctant to turn a dishwasher on before going to bed.
The second memory worth recording concerned the care that birds take of their members who become incapacitated. One evening we noticed a young bird that had difficulty in flying. We left out some food for it and passed no further heed. Next morning we saw that the bird had gone down (perhaps fallen) to the downstairs entrance door of the house. We proceeded to leave it food each night before we went to bed. It became clear from the birds droppings that a number of birds had been down where the injured bird lay. This happened every night until the injured bird was able to fly; it seems to me that they were keeping him company in his distress.
FAO/SDR – The Sustainable Development Department
As mentioned earlier I was head hunted by the Sustainable Development Research Division (SDR) following a seminar I gave on Prioritization of Research and Development in the Developing Countries. The Secretary of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) Dr. John Monyo, and Dr. Alex Mc Calla, Chairman of TAC both contacted me saying that they would very much appreciate my joining the small group of scientists working in TAC for the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR); I was offered promotion also. On considering the offer I realised that it gave me an opportunity to interact with the many scientists that worked in the then 18 International Agricultural Research Centres across the world. Yes, I was happy leading the Livestock Production Systems Group but this post offered me new challenges and opportunities. I accepted the offer and moved to TAC which was then located on the Christoforo Columbo just walking distance from where I then lived on Via Accademia Albertina. I initially enjoyed the new assignment and began to adjust and get to know the roles and responsibilities of the different International Research Centres. Establishing research priorities was a central part of TAC’s work and based on these priorities making recommendations on the annual budgets to be allocated to each Centre; later budgets were allocated on a biennial basis. Of course there were comprehensive reviews of each centre undertaken by TAC and a team of eminent scientists drawn from across the globe. This was the most interesting and challenging aspect of TAC’s work which I enjoyed very much. I prepared a number of position papers in support of these reviews.
It then became clear to me that the research prioritization process was not particularly suitable for agricultural research in the developing countries, as a fundamental aspect of the process drew on agricultural commodity prices as realised in the Rotterdam market; a market very distant from much of the developing countries. Dr. Gryssels, who was primarily responsible for this commodity research prioritization process took exception to my questioning the ongoing process and it appeared he did not understand the statistical flaws in the process that I drew attention to. As he had become the ‘darling’ of TAC and the CGIAR system, a position he guarded and cultivated in a very political manner over a number of years, it was of little effect that I should challenge him; as he had Drs Moyno and Mc Calla in his trust there was little I could do. However, when asked to prepare a position paper on Root and Tuber Crops Research I made a comparison of research priorities based on the existing TAC/Gryssels model and priorities based on the nutritive value (an index based on the protein and carbohydrate content of each commodity) of each crop. The results were very different and crops such as potatoes lost ground to crops such as cassava. Clearly, CIP (The International Potato Research Centre) did not welcome the paper and Dr Gryssels was very quick to highlight their annoyance with my contribution. To my disappointment I quickly learned that the CGIAR was very much an ‘old boys club’ and rocking the boat was not welcomed.
Working with Dr. Stein Bie.
Dr Stein Bie (Norwegian) joined FAO as Director of SDR some 12 months before the World Food Summit in 1996. He invited me to work with him as Senior Advisor (Science & Technology) in the preparation of papers for the Summit and coincidently policy papers for the Director General, Dr Diouf, with whom he had a long standing acquaintance. This was quite a relief for me for two reasons. Firstly, I had lost much interest in TAC despite the fact that Dr. Gryssels had recoiled somewhat after he was passed over for Dr Moyno’s post. The primary reason was that I found Dr. Bie to be one of the most intelligent people I ever encountered and a joy to work with. Without question, it was for me the most fulfilling assignment within FAO, even if some of our contributions to the World Food Summit fell on deaf ears. For example, we wrote a critique on Globalization and its potential detrimental effect on global governance and in particular as it would affect the developing world. From a 21 century perspective it’s now quite clear that there was much merit in our critique.
However, the most interesting aspect of my new assignment was the development of FAO’s position on Agricultural Research and the Work Programme for SDR. In this context I worked very closely with Stein Bie. Unfortunately, in a short space of time he left to become Director General of ISNAR, one of the CGIAR centres based in Holland; we kept in contact and he invited me to participate in ISNAR’s Research Prioritization process which I accepted and enjoyed very much.
Following Dr. Bie’s move to Holland I continued to be requested to prepare policy papers for the Director General. I enjoyed this task but undertook other work within the Research Service (SDRR) in the Division. My biggest challenge arose when the Director General was invited to give the Plenary Paper in a Conference in Oslo on the Genetic Modification of Organisms (GMO’s). This had become a very contentious subject across the world with much scaremongering from those lobby groups who were (and still are) bitterly opposed to any form of GMO’s. The UN had not taken a position in this debate at this time. I was asked to draft the paper. I undertook considerable research on all the information thus far published on the subject and came to the conclusion that properly used the genetic modification of crops and animals was not only safe but also the only avenue open to society to feed the ever expanding world population of the future. The title of the paper was predetermined by the Conference Organizers as “To GMO or Not”; a very specific and poignant title. As the Conference was being held in Oslo, the home of Alfred Nobel, it was very fitting that a contentious subject such as the genetic modification of plants, animals and all living organisms should be addressed and discussed in his city of birth. Naturally, I researched the subject matter in great detail including the main arguments which were being advanced against GMO’s. I prepared a draft of the paper which I really expected to be sent back with suggestions for modification. I was completely surprised when the DG accepted the draft as written despite some suggestions to tone down its recommendations from some ADG offices. In effect, it stated very clearly that the UN-FAO supported the genetic modification of any organism that could contribute to enhanced food production. This was a very important shift in UN-FAO policy and as a result the paper attracted large attention from the media. The Head of Media in FAO informed me that they had never before received such media attention and queries for an FAO paper; naturally, I was very pleased and the DG complimented me on my work. Little did I know that he would publish the paper under his own name some months later; this was not in keeping with UN convention.
In November 1999 I reached retirement age on my 62nd birthday. Retirement was quite a shock to the system and following FAO custom I was invited out to lunch practically every day of the month of November. These lunches were hosted by friends I had made in FAO over the years. Usually, they were long drawn out affairs with lots of wine consumed. I drank so much wine in November and December 1999 that I was completely frazzled as I entered the new millennium and such that I didn’t drink any more wine for at least 12 months. In that period I played a lot of golf and continued to undertake consultancy assignments for FAO. The last and perhaps the most interesting consultancy that I undertook was an authors contract to prepare a paper on “Agricultural Research towards 2020/30”. This assignment required me to read extensively across topics of science and scientific research as presented by widely published authors in the world of science and development. This was the first time that I accessed the world of science through Internet sites; it was an eye opener for me to be able to read papers in the prestigious worldwide science journals as I sat in my study in Castelsaraceno. It made retirement a little easier.
Moving back to Ireland
In 2002 we began to think of buying a house in Ireland, more as a holiday home, as we had not as yet decided to move back to Ireland. Mary then decided to give up her teaching assignments as she didn’t particularly like the way I was living; long lunches with retired FAO employees involving lots of wine each day. We both travelled to Ireland in February 2002. More by chance than anything else we found a house in Caherlistrane that we both liked. We purchased it on the spot and by May of that year we were the happy owners of a four bedroom dormer bungalow with a large garden. We moved back to Ireland that summer and brought a lot of furniture from Rome, some of which we purchased specifically for Caherlistrane and some from the house in Castelsaraceno.
Initially, it was our intention to spend more time in Rome than in Ireland but a number of events changed our minds in this regard; not least was the arrival of a beautiful young Labrador dog as a stray in our garden one Sunday morning. Despite several attempts to find the owner of the dog it emerged that Bruce (the name we called the dog) became and still is a permanent feature of our home. His presence meant that we were not as free to travel up and down to Rome as we had initially planned. However a more important development caused us to make Caherlistrane our home. Mary was asked if she would take up a teaching assignment in a nearby school, St Benins. As a qualified Home Economics teacher the teaching post was very suited to her and of course she accepted the offer. That put pay to our thinking of Rome as our home; rather it became our holiday home.
Caherlistrane had attractions for both of us. Mary soon discovered that our nearest neighbours, Louis O Brien, Billy O Brien and Mrs O Brien were cousins and indeed that another cousin, Bernard O Brien, lived close by also. Caherlistrane also had its attraction for me as many of the farm staff that worked in Belclare (just over the road) came from Caherlistrane and surrounding districts. Hence, we settled in very easily.
My Family and Grandchildren
Perhaps the greatest advantage in returning to Ireland was that it afforded me the opportunity to gel with my family in ways that were not possible when I was living in Rome. Following advice given to UN retirees in the FAO Retirement Seminar series it was good that I found a house some distance outside Galway as we were strongly advised in those seminars to be very wary not to encroach on established family relationships and routines.
My biggest problem was what to do with all the spare time I now had. Yes, I took to gardening but basically to look after the lawn as Mary was the real gardener with lots of ideas and plans for shrubs and flowers. After some time I decided to relearn the Gaelic that I once knew but had forgotten over the years. I enrolled in NUIG for a two-year Diploma in Gaelic, an experience I enjoyed very much. Not only did it afford me an opportunity to improve my knowledge of Gaelic and in particular the grammar which I had forgotten over the years but it also afforded me the challenge of being a student again and meeting young students that certainly could be my grandchildren. As attendance at lectures required me to be in Galway three mornings a week I also had the privilege of picking up some of my grandchildren (Padraic’s children) from school in the afternoons; this was also a very fulfilling role for me. I was happy to be awarded an Honours Diploma at the end of the two years and for some time I continued to write some articles in Gaelic.
The Grown up Family
It was very rewarding and a great pleasure to witness how professionally successful all of my children had become – no doubt a reflection of the guidance given them by their mother as I had been absent for so many years. Derbhile had studied Agricultural Science in University College Dublin and later was awarded an MBA from Limerick University. Initially, she worked in Teagasc at Moorepark as Head of Research Dissemination and later transferred to University College Cork, where she still works. She has two lovely boys, Roger and Harry. Both are very competent and also interested in sports, in particular Roger. Harry had a keen interest in music.
Deirdre, my second oldest daughter studied medicine, specialising in anaesthetics. She is married to Mick O Hare and lives and works as a consultant in Freemans Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne. They have three very endearing boys, viz., Connor (now in University studying Media and Drama), Padraic (studying for his O Levels this year) and Darragh who will become a teenager this year. All three are intellectually very bright and Darragh appears to be a very competent footballer. Connor and Padraic are very competent in music and in particular the piano.
Padraic, my oldest son, studied Commerce in University College Galway, and later was also awarded an MBA. After a short period working for an American company (Red Devil) in Roscommon, he bought out the company, moved it to Tuam, Co. Galway and renamed it Chameleon Colour Tinting & Mixing Systems. The company is very successful, is export oriented and Padraic works extremely hard travelling extensively across the globe. He is married to Colette Dillon and they have four very talented children, viz., Charlie, Alex, Jenney and Catherine. All four have set a very high intellectual standard for the other cousins to follow. Charlie is currently in 5th year studying Medicine and has achieved first class honours in all his exams to date. He also is a very competent sportsman and was a member of the Galway Minor Gaelic Football team a few years ago. Alex, also an Honours student, has studied Engineering and will complete his final undergraduate year in June of this year. He is quite an accomplished golfer but his main hobby is fishing. Padraic and Colette’s oldest daughter, Jenney, is also studying medicine and had been a first class honours student in all her exams to date. Her main sporting interest is hockey. Finally, Catherine, perhaps the brightest of them all, will sit for the Leaving Certificate next year. Quite possibly she will also follow in Charlie and Jenney’s footsteps and study medicine. Catherine has also excelled in sports, in under-age Soccer, Gaelic and more recently in Hockey. She has all the ability and commitment of her mother, Colette. Quite apart from their intellectual or sporting abilities all four are very mannerly and kind individuals.
Feargal, my second son, is particularly bright. He also studied Engineering both at Undergraduate and at Master levels and then set up his own company, SIM Ireland, which specialises in using Simulation technologies to help companies improve their work practices. He has been very successful in garnering consultancies from many of the top manufacturing companies in Ireland including companies like Intel, Eircom, Guinness and many more. He never married and prefers to live a life of his own choosing. His main hobbies are water sports and in particular kayaking, bird watching and working for the Galway Foundation for Injured Bird Retrieval. His interests are quite different from the rest of the family.
Orla, my third daughter, initially studied commerce in University College Galway and then specialised in accountancy. She worked for some time in private practice but then was recruited by University College Galway and appointed as Head of the Research Accountancy Department – a very senior and demanding position. She has three very special boys all of whom are very interested in the Irish language and attend the Jesuit School which attaches high priority to the Irish language. Cormac her oldest boy has studied all subjects through Irish up to Junior Certificate and so has Fionnachta her second boy. After Junior Certificate the school teaches all subjects through the English language. Ruaidhrí, her youngest boy, is just beginning secondary school this year also in the Jes. All three are very mannerly and very pleasant company. Interestingly, all three are very keen on the Boys Scouts movement and Cormac now holds a position on its national Executive. He has also competed and was successful in National and International Boy Scout competitions, most recently in Iceland.
Rionach, the youngest of the family, is married to Paul O Hare and has three children, Rachael, Henry and Ruth. She also studied Commerce at graduate and post graduate levels in University College Galway. Rionach works in Chameleon as financial advisor with her brother Padraic who owns and is Managing Director of the company. I have the pleasure of interacting with her three children each Wednesday after school in teaching them Irish. All three are very intelligent and thoughtful children. It’s a pleasure to be in their company. All three, but especially Henry are gifted in IT and Computer use, a trait and training they get from their father Paul who is very gifted in these areas.
Relatives in Roscommon
Unfortunately, my brother Brendan died in the year that we were moving back to Ireland. I was able to spend time with him in the hospital but it wasn’t the type of interaction I had looked forward to on my retirement. However, I have been able to develop good relationships with his children, Maria, Padraic, Frances and Sean. His wife, Mel, sadly passed away in 2015.
Maria Timon married Tony Samra and they have two boys Luke and Dillon. They live in Wales at present. Maria has had a very successful career as a Financial Advisor, having worked as a partner with Anderson Consultancy both in America and Europe. She is currently working for Barkley’s Bank as well as doing some consultancies from a home based firm run by her husband, Tony. I enjoy meeting Maria and her family albeit on occasions of death and sadness sometimes.
Her sister Frances is married to Tom Mc Cann and they have two children, Niamh and Tomás. They have built a beautiful home in Fairymount. Both work very hard and are devoted parents to Niamh and Tomás both of whom have done very well in school. Niamh is following a Timon tradition and is studying to become a teacher in St. Patrick’s College, Dromcondra where her great, great grandfather was the first student to be enrolled when the college first opened in the late 1880’s.
Brendan and Mel’s oldest son, Padraic, is married to Noreen and they have five children, four girls and one boy, all with traditional Irish names, viz., Orla, Saoirse, Ciara, Padraic and Tara. Padraic Snr. farms the original Timon farm and other land but also works for the Western Health Board as a maintainance engineer. He works extremely hard but is devoted to his five children, four girls and one boy. He has built a very nice home in Grallagh just a few hundred yards from his sister’s Frances house.
Séan Timon is the youngest of Brendan’s family. He lives in New York and has his own company which specialises in the reconstruction and modernisation of downtown apartments in New York. Mary and I had a very pleasant visit with him and his family some years ago when visiting New York. He is married to Vineeta and they have two children, Rishi and Shivani.
Christmas Get-Together and Teenage Recognition.
One of my greatest pleasures is to bring the family together at least once a year and to watch the interaction between the 15 grandchildren. We do this usually between Christmas and New Year at a time that ensures all the family will be present. It’s usually on the 30th December as Deirdre and family usually come to Ireland after Christmas and Derbhile usually goes back to Cork for New Year’s eve. We regularly have this get-together meal in Da Roberta’s as they can accommodate 25 – 30 seated around one table. My greatest pleasure is in seeing how all the cousins get on so well with the older cousins (Padraic’s family) looking after the younger members. I have not seen one row or upset in all our get-togethers to date.
Another practice I have initiated since I retired and returned to Ireland is to buy an i-Pad for all grandchildren when they become teenagers and a computer when they go to University. This has been a very satisfying exercise for me as I usually take the grandchild in question to the computer store and encourage them to make their selection. Of late and as the modern computers are touch-screen i-Pads are becoming less favoured and the last two teenagers went for computers. However, I still have a number to go and I can only hope that I’m still in the land of the living when Ruth goes to University.
Genealogy and The Timon Family Tree
However, around this time I met an elderly cousin of mine, Nora Timon, whom I hadn’t met since my childhood. She lived in Ballinteer, Dublin, at this stage and had married Dan Finlay. Despite her advancing years (she was well over 90 at this stage) she was a fund of knowledge about the Timon Family and its origins in Tibohine. Her knowledge of and enthusiasm about the Timon family was infectious and I instantly became hooked on the genealogy of the Timon Family, As it involved much research it was the sort of challenge I needed and I took to it right away. It has given me tremendous satisfaction over the years. I probably would not be writing these memoirs if I had not got involved in researching the family genealogy. Perhaps the greatest satisfaction I have had as I researched the Timon family back to the 1700’s over nine generations was the discovery of several cousins that I simply didn’t know existed, not only in Ireland but also in the US and Britain. It has been an exciting journey not only in finding out information on my ancestors but also in meeting in the flesh lots of cousins I was not aware of before I started this genealogy research.
Perhaps my greatest excitement was in getting to know Tom Timon who lives in Stanford, Connecticut, USA. He is an exceptionally nice man and we had the pleasure of his company in Caherlistrane when he visited Ireland in 2009. Albeit 84 years at that stage (he is 91 years today as I write this memoir) he was most active and his visit to Ireland encouraged me to arrange ‘Timon Get-Togethers’ in Tibohine and in Dublin. This was the first time I met lots of Timon cousins I didn’t really know existed. It was a very special moment.Tom Timon meeting cousins at The Roscommon Timon Get-Together 2009
Mary and I have visited Tom in New York on two occasions where we also met with Irene and Doris Timon as well as Noreen Timon, a niece of Toms.
Tom’s visit was also the first occasion we had to formally meet our Dublin cousins, Geraldine and Mary Findlay (Nora Timon’s daughters), Mary Romstedt (Rita Timon’s daughter) and Clare Greally
(Catherine Timon’s grandaughter and daughter of Horace Greally). I also met Tommy Timon’s sons (Brendan, Liam and Michael) and Michael Maxwell (grandson of Mary Kate Timon). I also had the pleasure of meeting Sr. Bernadette and Teresa Egan (daughters of Mary Kate Timon) as well as all the Beirne cousins (descendents of Kathleen Timon and Mel Timon). I have become quite friendly with Adrian Beirne as he was instrumental with me in erecting headstones in the old Tibohine graveyard on the graves of the three Timon brothers, Edward, Michael and John. Through Tom and Sr. Bernadette, coupled with Internet searches, I finally located several Timon cousins in England albeit they spelled the name as Tymon as this was the spelling the original brothers (Michael and John) were given when they joined the British Constabulary in Manchester in the late 1800’s. I currently have contact with Anthony Tymon and Catherine Tymon, both of whom live in Cheshire at present.
To-day and My Thoughts for the Future
Currently I am in my 79th year and luckily I still have good health. I enjoy meeting my grandchildren as often as their busy schedules allow. I’m very happy that all 15 grandchildren are very healthy and all are progressing well in school. Padraic’s children are the oldest; three of them are in University as I write. I began a practice of buying each grandchild an i-Pad when they reached their teenage years and a computer of their choice when they go to University. I hope I will live long enough to see the youngest (Ruth and Ruadhri) go to University such that I can buy them a computer of their choice.
I have spent a lot of time recently reading the history of the human race and how civilization has advanced over the millennia of recorded history. This in turn has prompted me to think about how future generations of ‘homo sapiens’ will evolve. As a committed believer in Evolution I have no doubt that man will evolve still further but the time frame will be hundreds of thousands of years before we have a new species evolving from ‘homo sapiens’; but evolve it will. However, societal evolution will continue apace. When I think back on the changes that have happened over the past 70 years or so it is mindboggling to think of the changes that have occurred in my own lifetime. Throughout history the most consistent component of change that has characterised societal evolution and advance has been to do with ‘connectivity’; whither it was the invention of language, the invention of the wheel, the taming of horses and horse drawn transport, the invention of sailing ships, the development of the combustion engine coupled with the invention of the steam engine, the advance of air travel to the 20/21st century phenomenon of wifi communications. No doubt, there will be further advances in communications in this century, perhaps, advances in identifying the logistics of the sense of touch and feel such that teleconferencing will take on a new dimension. Recently, there have been advances in the logistics of the sense of smell such that people at great distance from each other can identify what perfume an individual is wearing. Perhaps, Paddy Callaghan’s vision that someday “a man in Ireland will be able to shake hands with a man in America” will be realised.
In parallel with these comparatively benign developments there have been advances in what are often called the Promethean technologies, so called after Prometheus, the God of Fire. These include fire itself, gun powder, gelignite and atomic fission; more recently, genetic engineering has been bracketed with these Promethian technologies. Certainly, genetic engineering has great potential to contribute to the better advancement of society and is currently realising major change in the area of agriculture and human disease control. This will most likely continue but some ‘environmentalists’ are concerned that GMO’s will harm society; I don’t share that view and deeply believe that the world will fail to produce enough food for its ever expanding population if it does not fully harness the potential of genetic engineering towards the advancement of livestock and crop agriculture.
But perhaps the biggest advances in science will come from the ‘neuro’ scientists as we get to know how the brain works. Emphasis in science over the past 50 years or so has focussed on the human body (somatic enquiry) and has led to enormous advances in the genetic identification and control of human diseases and abnormalities. It is my view that the next fifty years will see similar advances in brain function and abnormalities. This may lead to a greater degree of bimodality in society as the better off cash in on such advances. This is already happening in the exploitation of advances in Communications and Information Technologies. Without question, the world will be a very different place by the turn of the 21st Century. Indeed, the advances in science and technology and in particular in the genetics of brain function, will usher in seismic changes in society and ‘Homo Sapiens’ abilities; they will I believe ultimately (it most likely will take thousands of years.) lead to a new ‘Homo’ species. Sadly, I won’t live to see the initial neurological brain enhancements that most likely will be manifest before the turn of this century.
However, man’s capacity to harness science towards societal improvement will be tempered by his capacity to limit emissions that are influencing the global climate. This is a major challenge and the current emphasis on renewable sources of energy, in my view, leaves much to be desired. Certainly an energy audit on the energy (Mega joules) input in many of these so-called renewables will show negative balances; this is certainly true of energy crops such as rape seed or indeed any crop that has to be cultivated to any degree. Indeed it’s ominous that even wind energy has to be subsidized to compete. It is my view that cleaner atomic energy or some yet to be harnessed fission products (e.g. Helium) will provide the only sustainable energy source for the future; again the fear of Promethean technologies will have to be overcome.
Appendix 1. Resume and Curriculum Vitae
Vivian M. Timon
B. Agr. Sc., Ph D., Dip. G.
Date of Birth 11 November 1937
Place of Birth Roscommon, Ireland.
Caherlistrane, Co. Galway.
Expertise and Professional Experience
o Policy, Programme Planning and Project Development
o National Research Systems-Research Prioritization and Management
o International Agricultural Research (ARI’s/ IARCS/ CGIAR)
o Sustainable Development, Food Security and Agrobiodiversity
o Tropical Agriculture- Integrated Animal Production Systems
o Writing/Document Preparation Skills : Technical and General
Dr. Louise Fresco
ADG, Agricultural Department, FAO.
Dr. S. W. Bie
Director-General, ISNAR, The Hague, Holland
Professor E. P Cunningham. Trinity College, Dublin.
Vivian M. Timon
B. Agr. Sc (Hons), Ph D (Genetics), Dip.G
1959 B. Agr. Sc.(lst. Hons) University College Dublin, N U I.
(Gold Medal and Scholarship)
1963 Ph D (Genetics) Kings College, University of Durham,
1967 Post-doctoral Fellowship North Carolina State University,
Raleigh, North Carolina.
2007 Diploma in Gaelic Studies, National University of Ireland.
2000 – To date: Technical Consultancy Assignments for FAO; Preparation of scientific Reviews on: (i) Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) for ODG/DG, (ii) Chapter on “Future of Agricultural Research “for the FAO/ES study and publication, “Agriculture Towards the Year 2025/30”.
1996 – 2000: Senior Adviser (Science & Technology)/Senior Agricultural Research Officer, SDR Division.
Since January 1996, I have been assisting the Director, Research, Extension and Training Division (SDR) in the reorientation and restructuring of the SDR Division arising from the significant expansion of the Division and adjustments to the Programme of Work and Budget 1996-97, recently approved by the Programme and Finance Committees. The work largely relates to the articulation of a Departmental framework, Strategic foci and Priority activities relating to Sustainable Development, with particular emphasis on the work programme, operational structure and working relationships within the SDR Division. Considerable attention is also been given to the articulation of new integrated development support paradigms, aimed at identifying and harnessing the synergies and complementarities that are fundamental to sustainable development.
As Senior Agricultural Research Officer, I was responsible for FAO’s technical support to the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in Asia, Central and Eastern Europe as well as global support to Agricultural Research Planning and Programming. This included the articulation of methodologies relating to Research Policy formulation, determination of Research Priorities, Research Management Systems and Protocols, Technology Transfer, Evaluation of Research outputs and Impact Assessment.
1992 – 1996: Senior Agricultural Research Officer, TAC Secretariat, SDR Division.
The terms of reference and duties of the post embraced all of the responsibilities of the Secretariat in providing scientific and logistical support to the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Principal activities included: (i) The monitoring and evaluation of International Research Priorities with particular reference to the determination of CGIAR Priorities and Strategies which are reviewed on a System wide basis every five years; (ii) The provision of technical and logistical support to the External Programme and Management Review (EPMR) process in which each of the sixteen CGIAR research centres is reviewed on a quinquennial basis; (iii) The provision of technical and logistical support to the regular (and as necessary the special) meetings of the Technical Advisory Committee, including TAC Working Groups and Subcommittees; (iv) Keeping abreast of scientific developments in areas of specialization which include biotechnology and advances in animal genetics, tropical animal production technologies and integrated crop-livestock systems research.
1986 – 1992: Senior Animal Production Officer, in charge of the Livestock Production Systems Group, Animal Production Service, AGA.
The duties and responsibilities of this post involved: (i) The development of effective strategies for the advancement of animal agriculture in the major agro-ecosystems across the developing world – particular attention being given to integrated crop-livestock systems; (ii) The provision of technical support to the development of Livestock Production in the Tropics – the Livestock Production Systems Group provided technical support to more than 170 field projects, involving Project Planning, Backstopping and Evaluation; (iii) Preparation and monitoring of the Groups Programme of Work and Budget; (iv) Supervision and monitoring of the Work Programmes of the Professional (5 Professional Officers and 3 Associate Professional Officers) and Secretarial (4 posts) staff of the Group; (v) Liaison with Professional and Administrative staff in other FAO Divisions, including membership of a number of Inter-Divisional and Inter-Departmental Committees. Regularly, deputised as Acting- Service Chief, particularly in the period 1990 – 1991 when the Service Chief was Officer in Charge of the Division.
1985 -1986: Animal Production Officer (Small Ruminants), in the Animal Production Service, AGA.
As a technical officer responsible for the Small Ruminant Programme, which included over 100 field projects, and as the Initiator and Coordinator of Small Ruminant Networks in Asia, Africa and South America, the duties and responsibilities of this post were wide ranging. They involved: (i) Advice and assistance to member state governments in the preparation of Livestock Policies and Development Strategies; (ii) Assistance to governments in the preparation and implementation of Livestock Development Plans; (in) Participation in Appraisal and Formulation Missions to different countries, in addition to the technical backstopping of field missions relating to the advancement of livestock production and Small Ruminant Production in particular; (iv) The preparation, organization and arrangement of official FAO Meetings, including Expert Consultations, Seminars and Training Workshops.
1970 -1985: Assistant Director of the Irish Agricultural Institute, and Director of the Western Research Centre.
Responsibilities included: (i) Research Management, including the establishment of research priorities, research programme formulation, implementation and evaluation in the major animal science disciplines , viz., genetics, physiology, nutrition, animal health and animal management; (ii) Staff Management, including staff training and development particularly in areas of technology transfer and the publication of scientific and popular research reports; (Hi) Financial Resource Management, including budget preparation, control and accountability, staff recruitment and Personnel Management together with the development and maintenance of research laboratories, land and Office facilities of the Western Research Centre, which involved a staff of 350 persons and an annual budget of more than US$ 15 million equivalent. As Assistant Director and a member of the Central Directorate of the Irish Agricultural Institute, I had a shared responsibility (with six other fellow Directors) for the overall direction and management of The Agricultural Institute involving an annual budget of US$ 65 million and a research core of 250 scientists and 500 technicians.
1963 -1970: Research Scientist, Animal Breeding and Genetics Department, The Agricultural Institute, with specific responsibility for sheep breeding research; Planned, initiated and directed the Institute’s sheep breeding programme from 1963 to 1970.
Parallel University Appointments
Professorships and/or lectureships at North Carolina State University (1967, 1976), Trinity College, University of Dublin (1967 -1970) and University College Galway (1977-1979); External Examiner (Genetics), University College Dublin (1976 -1979) and University of London (1969 -1971).
Member of the N. C.E.A. Board of Science and Paramedical Studies (1977 -1985)
Board member of Thomond College and The National Institute of Higher Education, The University of Limerick (1975 -1977).
Appointed by the Minister of Industry, Tourism and Energy to the Board of Mm Fheir Tea., (1976 -1980)
Member and Chairman of the European Community DG Xll Committee on Science and Technology for Development: Sub-Programme for Tropical and Sub-tropical Agriculture (1980 -1984).
Member of a number of National Panels to study Higher Education, National Science Policy and Technology transfer strategies relating to the advancement of agriculture.
Membership of relevant Scientific Societies.
British Society of Animal Production; European Association of Animal Production; American Society of Animal Science; Irish Genetics Society; Irish Grassland and Animal Production Society; Irish Council for European Studies; Western Regional Scientific Council (Founder Member and 1st. Chairman).
Published over 80 research papers in Irish, British, European and American scientific journals as well as presenting research papers to scientific meetings in the USA, Australia and New Zealand and particularly in Ireland, Britain and other European countries.
Popular media communications include: Presentation of a series of 8 Educational Programmes on TV dealing with Genetics and Reproduction; In the period, 1969 -1985, regular participation on Radio and TV programmes relating to agricultural development and livestock production in particular; Published numerous (well over 100) popular articles for farming papers and magazines.
Prior to joining FAO, I was closely involved in the development of Irish Agriculture not only in a research context, but also in reference to Agricultural Education and Extension, Agricultural Cooperative Societies, Rural Organizations and the Irish Farmers Association; the development ethos on which Irish Agriculture made significant advance in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, was based on very close collaboration and active interaction between all participants in the development process, not least the benefiting farmer. R&D was perceived as the engine of growth and consequently, the research scientist played many roles in the development continuum. With this background, I had little difficulty adapting to the “Challenges of Agriculture” in the developing countries, and in particular to the constraints on, and opportunities to advance Tropical Animal Production.
I have first- hand experience of Tropical Animal Production in more than 40 developing countries; I have considerable experience in collaborating with most of the Multilateral and prominent Bilateral Agencies engaged in Development Support; I have close contact with International Agricultural Research and indeed with a number of the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) and their evolving Networks, and finally I have a good knowledge of FAO, its corporate, institutional and operational procedures and instruments, and perhaps most important I have a good working relationship with a wide range of FAO professional staff.
 Ciarán ó Coigligh (eag.), Filíocht Ghaeilge Phádraig Mhic Phiarais (BÁC: An Clóchomhar Tta, 1981), 49.