Martin O'Dwyer (Bob) 1937-2015
The recent death of Martin O'Dwyer (Bob) saw the passing of a man who did more than most to preserve and pass on to posterity the rich cultural and historical heritage of Cashel and County Tipperary. Martin was a man of great curiosity about the past and he was forever extending his knowledge. This took the form of collecting artifacts and collating information through conversations and interviews with people, who still retained a knowledge of the way life was lived and the way things were done in earlier times.
Probably the greatest monument to his curiosity and to his desire to preserve the past was the development of Cashel Folk Village in Dominic Street since 1984. This has become an important visitor centre in the county and a must-see attraction for visitors to Cashel. It has received glowing notices from the Public Sector Magazine, TV3 in Unravel Travel in Tipperary and Tripadvisor.
Housed in a building which has an history stretching back 400 years, it contains mostly original material relating to the history of Ireland in the twentieth century including the original Croke Memorial, which once stood on the Main Street of Cashel, and authentic Tinkers/Gypsy Caravan, a fully equipped Blacksmith's Forge, and a Brougham Carriage. As well the village includes an Irish Famine Museum and a Penal Chapel. Among the countless and original artifacts is a very rare and authentic Blueshirt Uniform.
However, its unique feature and one of which Martin was tremendously proud was the fact that it included a combined Easter Rising 1916-Irish War of Independence-Irish Civil War museum, with particular association to Tipperary involvement, the only one of its kind in the country. In more recent years Martin erected in the Folk Village an Easter Rising Memorial Plaza and a Garden of Remembrance commemorating the 16 executed leaders of the 1916 Rebellion.
Restoring the Past
Martin was the co-founder and later chairman of Cashel Arts and Heritage Society and this gave him great scope to develop his interest in the past as well as affording him opportunities to enable people to be more aware of their heritage through its protection and restoration.
One of the first projects the Society took on was the restoration of the Bothán Scoir, a seventeenth century labourer's cottage on the Clonmel Road. This single-storey house, built circa 1650, had fallen into disrepair and was in danger of being lost to Cashel's architectural history. It was lovingly restored and is now in use as a museum.
Opposite the Bothán Scoir was another part of Cashel's heritage that was also in danger of disappearing, the Gouts Pool. To many this was nothing more than a watering hole for horses bringing people into Cashel during past times. In fact it had much greater cultural and historical significance. It was used in the past as a 'ducking pond', into which petty criminals and misbehaving women were plunged as punishment for their crimes. The Corporation had, in fact, an official 'Ducker' to carry out the punishment. The offender was paraded through the streets and this was to cause public embarrassment and social disgrace to the victim. Martin and the Society rescued the Gouts Pool from obscurity. Lately it was decided to incorporate elements of St. Declan's Way, a medieval and trade route from Ardmore to Cashel, in a revamp of the place.
Probably the greatest project undertaken by the Society was the renewal of St. Mark's Famine Graveyard on the Clonmel Road and the erection of plaques on a commemorative wall, giving the name, age and date of death of every man, woman and child from St. Patrick's Hospital, who was buried anonymously in the graveyard, numbering close to 1,000 names in total. The narrative has it that any unclaimed dead person was carted from the hospital to the graveyard and buried unceremoniously in mass graves. The names of these people have now been rescued and have the consolation of an annual mass said in their honour.
Other significant projects undertaken by Cashel Arts and Heritage Society were highlighting the town walls and inititiating some restoration work, restoring the Kinane Fountain at Lowergate Square and indexing the Parish Records.
Imprerssive Canon of Written Work
In later years Martin added significantly to his heritage involvement by the production of an impressive canon of written work that involved him in extensive and painstaking research.
In 1999 he wrote A Biographical Dictionary of Tipperary, 'a collection of concise biographies of famous and noteworthy deceased people from Co. Tipperary.' It contains over 2000 entries and is a valuable font of knowledge and 'a milestone in honouring those who make up Co. Tipperary's colourful heritage.'
Next in 2000 he produced Cashel Memories, a collection of journalistic pieces on Cashel in the 19th Century written by distinguished native, Francis Phillips (1872-1968). This series threw significant light on the social, cultural and political life of Cashel during the period.
This was followed by Tipperary's Sons and Daughters 1916-1923, an account of Tipperary people, who distinguished themselves during Ireland's War of Independence.
In 2004 Martin published A Pictorial History of Tipperary 1916-1923. This was a 'tribute to our heroes and their fight for Irish Independence.' It is an impressive photographic record of the people involved during the period and a tribute to Martin's ability to source all kinds of visual material.
His next book, Seventy Seven of Mine Said Ireland, which appeared in 2006, was a tribute to the 77 men, who were executed during the Civil War. As well as being a compilation of existing tributes Martin made an important contribution by gaining access to personal diaries and notes. Also the account includes pictures of most of the executed.
In 2007 came Brigadier Dinny Lacey (1890-1923) by the men who knew him. An extensive production of over 300 pages, it gives a very full picture of the short life of the Tipperary patriot.
Martin published Death before Dishonour, an account of the 124 men killed by the Free State between August 1922 and December 1923 in 2010. This second book on the Civil War deals with the wayside murders: 'It vividly recalls the lives of forgotten volunteers and sheds light on the attempt to cover up the actions of the former comrades.'
His final book, The Pauper Priest – the Story of Fr. John Barry, which appeared in 2011 was the re-publication of a work that had first appeared in 1890. Born in Bohermore Parish, Co. Limerick in 1841, John Barry was ordained in 1866 and eventually sought to alleviate the plight of the poor in the Irish Workhouse system. He fell out of favour with the authorities, both lay and clerical, and eventually died in Cashel Workhouse in 1920 at the age of 79 years. His book is probably 'the most trenchant account we have from an inmate's perspective of Victorian workhouse conditions.'
Pamphlets and Videos
Martin O'Dwyer also produced a range of pamphlets and videos on many aspects of Irish heritage.
He immersed himself in folklore and became an authority on ancient customs. He was well informed on Holy Wells, Penal Crosses and Passion Symbols.
His research included work on Bill Shanahan, the outstanding all-round athlete. He was involved in a project in Dublin which included the erection of a plaque to Phil Shanahan, T.D. in the First Dail.. He did an intense study of Larry Carew, the wheelwright and carpenter.
He was fully involved in 1995 when the pageant, An Gorta Mór, was produced in Halla na Feile to mark the 150th anniversary of the Great Famine.
He was always available to groups and organisations to give talks on different aspects of Irish culture and society and to share his vast knowledge of the subject. On such occasions he was always open and curious for more knowledge from his listeners. He was ever generous with his knowledge to other people researching different aspects of Irish history and culture.
Martin O'Dwyer's conribution to our knowledge of Tipperary is immense. He has been one of the foremost contributors to our store of historical data and the range of that data is extraordinary. His efforts in extending our knowledge of our county and country is worthy of the highest commendation. He is to be admired for the originality of his research which was achieved by painstaking interviewing of many people and a thorough examination of material sources.
Away from his interests in history and heritage, Martin had committed involvement in Cashel Social Services and was a regular helper with the Meals on Wheels service.
Martin O'Dwyer, who was born on October 7, 1937, passed away on March 7, 2015. Pre-deceased by his wife, Agnes, and by sons, Shannon and Martin (Jr), he is survived by his four children, Tracey, Billie, Sally and Danny.
Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.
The Nationalist, May 20, 2015