Mike O'Meara of the Hill
One of the earliest memories of Mick O'Meara of the Hill goes back to the Civil War that followed the Truce and Treaty of 1921/22. He remembers a troop of Republicans camped in Newtown, Rathcabbin and being fed at their house in Roughan. He also recalls how badly the people took the news of the death of Collins at the time.
A very early memory has his grandfather sitting at the end of the kitchen table: 'I was standing on the rungs of the table gripping the edge with my nose just over it and trying to see what was on it for dinner. There was a big square, willow-pattern dish with a big square of boiled bacon and boiled turnips, and also a large white enamelled dish of boiled potatoes. It was in the early days of the Black and Tans. Three well-built policemen walked in the kitchen door looking for my father, who talked to them for a while and then went into the room. After he came out he spoke to them again and they went away. My father went out after the dinner and I followed him to the field. He picked up an old, used stake and told me he was going down across the fields to meet the Peelers, and that he was going to kill the three of them. He added that I was to run back into the kitchen. I remember running into the house and telling them all what he was going to do. Some years afterwards my mother explained the incident. She told me the policemen came to collect a fine of £3 or, to arrest him in the event of refusal, for not attending to jury service at a court in Nenagh. He paid the fine.'
Mick will be 93 years of age next August and while the body is somewhat laid up due to an injury to his back some months back, his mind is still active and racing with memories. He was the third of six children, three boys and three girls. He was born on August 5, 1917 to James O'Meara of Roughan and his wife Brigid (nee Hough). James was vice-captain of the 1905 Lorrha team that won the first North Tipperary championship for the parish. The midwife had to be brought from Birr to assist the birth but Mick had made his entry into the world before she arrived.
Mick's maternal grandfather, Michael Hough, who was born in Ballymacegan in 1835, had bought the farm in Roughan in 1878. He was twelve years old at the height of the famine in 1847 and had clear memories of it. The family sowed a variety of potatoes called the Riles's, which had some resistance to blight. The grandfather went to a hedge school, which was in the open air in good weather and in a derelict school in bad weather. Each student had to bring two sods of turf daily. He was a decent scholar and could write a nice letter. He had the farm twelve or thirteen years before he married at 56 years in 1891. He remembered the Big Wind on January 6, 1839. They were living in a thatched house on a hundred-acre rented farm in Ballymacegan. They had an old retired ex-sailor working with them at the time and he was pacing up and down the kitchen all night. He kept repeating: 'This bloody shack is going to blow down on top of us. Oh, if I was only on a good ship out on the ocean, I'd be safe'.
Mick went to primary school at Gurteen at the age of four and a half years in 1922. The day he went was Whit Monday and when he arrived there was nobody around. His parents had forgotten it was a bank holiday so he had a free day his first day. The school is called Rathcabbin today. Where the village of that name stands is really two townlands, Gurteen and Derry. The old school was in Gurteen and the new one is located in Derry. According to Mick, Dick Bracken was of the opinion that the name 'Rathcabbin' meant a fort in hollow ground and the fort was located behind Kelly's shop in the village.
The school was a two-storey building, divided into two sections with the girls on the top floor and the boys on the ground and two teachers in each. There was no division in the rooms and all classes had to be taught within earshot of the rest. His teachers were Nora Moran from Redwood, who used to cycle to school every day, and never missed a day, hail, rain or shine, and Richard J. Bracken (1890-1961), a native of Banagher, who had come to the school in 1920 after being in Woodford since 1913, and was in charge of the senior classes. He remembers him as a great gardener and a very good teacher of nature study.
The two schools were strictly segregated with no contact allowed between the children. The girls got their break at 11 am before the boys and they also took their lunch at a different time.
This strict segregation was implemented until the schools were amalgamated in 1932. This came about as a result of a decline in numbers in the boys' school. An attempt was made in the same year to maintain the numbers in the school by keeping some of the boys, including Mick, back for six months after they reached the age of fourteen. However, this endeavour was given up after a half-year and the schools were amalgamated.
Mick missed no day from school during his first year and won the prize for the best attendance before going home for his summer holidays. The prize was the princely sum of 2/6 (approx. 16 cents), which was riches to a young lad at the time. It was the last year the prize was awarded.
The particular day Mick missed school was in 1922, when Tyquin was shot close to Rathcabbin. Many of the schoolchildren saw his remains on their way to school where his body was abandoned. (Tyquin, a native of Lusmagh, was the grandson of a Fenian. He joined the Free State army and was shot when he came to Rathcabbin to visit his girlfriend.)
He received his First Communion in Rathcabbin Church. Miss Moran prepared the children and it was all a very serious business. She gave each of them a holy picture in honour of the occasion. There was no such thing as presents of money at the time. He thinks it was Fr. Delahunty who administered the sacrament.
A contemporary of Fr. Delahunty's was Fr. Hayes and Mick has good memories of this priest. He tried to promote the temporal as well as the spiritual welfare of his parishioners. He recalls hearing him preach about the dangers of milking in dirty buckets on one occasion! Fr. Hayes also promoted hurling in the parish and was very involved with the club at North Board level.
There was plenty of poverty around. Mr. Bracken advised all the students that there would be a school photograph next week and everyone was to be properly dressed wearing a proper shirt and collar. One of the boys was asked why he didn't wear a collar – did he not ask his father for one. The young fellow said he did ask his father and Mr. Bracken asked what did his father say? "Pease sir, he said that he's not even able to put a collar on the horse".
Mick remembers getting his confirmation from Bishop Fogarty. He was serving Mass at the time and he recalls that the children came up the aisle in twos to the bishop, who was sitting at the altar. When it came near the end of the line Mick was pushed into it by one of the priests in front of one of the boys, who resented his entry. As he made his way up to the bishop the boy kept pushing him and making him uncomfortable. He remembers it vividly.
His mother told him that in her time there was a 'dunces' class' at confirmation. The weaker boys were examined by the Diocesan Examiner rather than the bishop, in order to save everybody's blushes. Confirmation used to alternate between Rathcabbin and Lorrha churches, with the examination on the first evening in one and confirmation in the other, and vice-versa.
Mick's memory from the whole experience is that he knew the whole catechism by heart but nothing of the meaning.
Mick played for Lorrha for the first time while at Gurteen school. The year was 1927 and he was only ten and a half years old at the time. An attempt was made in that year to organise an interclub competition for under-16s. There was a trial game between Gurteen and Lorrha schools at Ballincor Cross and Fr. Moloughney, who was the first priest in the parish to own a car, carried eleven of them in the car to the match. Mick scored a goal and was picked on the team to play Borrisokane, but they were badly beaten and there were no more underage interclub games until the end of the thirties.
Because he stayed on for an extra six months Mick was fourteen and a half when he left school. During this period he got high praise for a composition he did on Modes of Travelling. It was posted up in the classroom. The only further schooling he did was to attend Birr Technical School for about eighteen months to study Irish and book-keeping. He used to cycle in two evenings a week but it was tough going and he gave it up after that time. With the establishment of the Free State Irish became a compulsory subject in the primary schools but most of the teachers were untrained for teaching it. They were sent on crash courses but Mick recalls that some of his teachers had to depend on English translations of what they did, pasted into their text books. Because Mick liked Irish he decided to continue studying it for a while after leaving primary school.
Working on the Farm
The most pressing thing for Mick was to help out on the family farm. His father died at the age of forty-six and a half years in 1925, while Mick was still at school. His mother was left with six children between one to ten years of age. The oldest boy, Eddie, had gone to secondary school in Birr for two years after finishing in Rathcabbin but was run down and became ill. No sooner did Mick finish in June 1932 than he started work on a cousin's farm for ten shillings (approx. 64 cents)a week. This income was used to subsidise Mick's home farm.
He worked in this way until 1934 when they began to plough more on the family farm. De Valera had introduced two major initiatives to help Irish farming. The growing of wheat was encouraged with a price of 23/6 (approx. €1.50) per barrel for it. As well Dev halved the rent on land that had been purchased under the Land Acts and abolished debts that were over two years old. These developments provided great savings for farmers.
Life was difficult during the 'Economic War'. Mick often walked cattle to the fair in Birr and frequently ended up walking them home again. He sold two cattle very early one day to a fairly big landowner and thought he was made up. This landowner asked him to "look after them for a few hours". The landowner came back several times during the day to inspect the cattle. That evening, he came to Mick and told him he'd been trying to sell them on during the day (hoping to make a quick profit). He admitted he had no money and wouldn't be able to pay for them. Mick ended up having to walk them home again.
But it wasn't all work and no play. Mick used to play hurling while at Gurteen school but there were no underage games organised in the club. When he started playing with the club in 1934 he played junior and they had one outing which they lost. He continued playing junior in 1935 and 1936 and played on the day of the big row at Ballingarry in the match against Borrisokane. He was promoted senior at the end of 1936. He continued playing senior until 1940 when Lorrha were relegated to intermediate. There was little success during these years. There is a club photograph of a 1937 seven-a-side parish league team in which Mick is prominent in the front row.
There's another photograph of a Lorrha seven-a-side team that played in the Woodford Gold Medal Tournament in 1939. Mick is included and he played so well that he was called for a county trial in Nenagh some time later. He hit great form in the trial. Playing at full-forward he was able to run on to the ball, pick it with one hand and score points over his head without looking. He impressed with the number of scores he got. As a result of this display he was picked to play against Limerick in the Sweet Afton Cup final in April 1940. He scored a goal but had a number of good shots blocked by Paddy Scanlon in the Limerick goal and Tipperary lost. Two weeks later he was picked to play against Clare in the Thomond Feis competition, which Tipperary lost. A week later he was on against Kilkenny in the Monaghan Cup, which was played at Carrick-on-Suir because of the war. Kilkenny were All-Ireland champions but Tipperary won by 6-6 to 4-5. Asked if he still had his medal he said he never got it! Presumably it was given to some other player who lived closer to Thurles as was occasionally the custom in those times!
Mick's displays were good enough to command a place on the bench for the first round of the Munster championship against Cork at Thurles on June 2. Tipperary gave a poor performance and were beaten by 6-3 to 2-6.
Mick was dropped from the county panel after that game and didn't feature again for some years. He was probably a bit green from playing intermediate hurling. Also, as a busy farmer the travel and the late returns from training at Thurles didn't suit him. There was another factor also. Looking back to those years Mick believes the inter-county scene was too big a thing for him at the time. He lacked the confidence and ambition required to command a place on the county team. Lorrha is a long distance from Thurles, the centre of hurling in the county at the time, and not many Lorrha players made the breakthrough on the county stage. At the local level Mick felt pressurised to perform when selected. While some were quite supportive, others were waiting for him to fail.
He was picked on a North team for the Miller Shield in 1945 but didn't get a county call-up. In 1951 he was invited to play against Galway at Portumna but didn't bother as he was losing interest and was then thirty-three years of age. Had he been a few years younger he might well have made the full-forward position: Sonny Maher was the man in possession and he was ripe for replacement.
Mainly a Forward
When Mick started of playing with Lorrha he held numerous positions. We find him in the backline on one occasion, also centrefield, but gradually his ability as a forward was established. He was a natural forward who liked to score goals. He played wing-, centre-, corner- and full-forward but was most at home in the latter position. He had an outstanding shot and the ability to place it in the most effective spot in the goalmouth. Probably one of his greatest displays was in the Limerick LDF area final in 1944. Hubie Hogan, Tommy Ryan and Dan O'Meara were also on the team. He recalls that the full-forward line on the day was Martin Kennedy, Dinny Doorley and himself. They scored eleven goals between them, he himself getting five. He gives all the credit to Kennedy, who was absolutely brilliant: 'He laid on the ball and all I had to do was hit it into the net.' Kennedy said to him after the game: 'I'd love to have you hurling with me in my heyday.' Kennedy was about forty-six years old at the time and had already been dropped by Kildangan and he often told Mick that he cherished that LDF medal more than his All-Ireland medals, presumably because it was his last. Mick often regretted he hadn't someone like Kennedy with him in the full-forward line when playing with Lorrha.
Achievements with Lorrha
One of the highlights of his career with Lorrha was winning the 1946 county intermediate championship, the first county final to be won by the club. He played full-forward in the final against Moycarkey-Borris, with Paddy Guinan and Vincent Darcy on the two corners. It was also the club's first major victory since 1924 and after they won the North championship Mick Donoghue turned to him and said: 'We broke the witch's neck at last.'
(An interesting memory from 1946 was a motion to abolish the ban, which was passed at a Lorrha club meeting. Proposed by Fr. O'Meara, C.C., the recently arrived curate, it was seconded by Mick and created headlines in the local newspaper. Some of the more traditional members of the club immediately called a meeting of the club to have the motion reversed.)
Another highlight is the North senior hurling title in 1948 before going down to Holycross-Ballycahill in the county final. Mick was again full-forward with Brendan O'Donoghue and Billy Hogan on the corners. Mick believes the team adopted negative tactics on that day, standing behind their men and re-acting to their opponents' actions rather than going for the ball. Also, he is critical of the referee on the day, Jim Roche (Limerick), who wasn't the original appointment, who appeared to give free after free against Lorrha. The first two balls Mick got in his hand, he was penalised for no apparent reason. As well, Dan O'Meara, who was having an outstanding game on the day, was taken out of the game. Holycross might still have won but it would have been a different game.
Mick continued to play until 1954 without further success and was retired before the club won their next divisional title in 1956. He stayed away from the game for a few years before becoming a selector in 1960 with his namesake, Mick of Blakefield, and Tony Reddin. He was treasurer of the club from 1967 to 1978. During this time the club purchased nearly six acres from the Land Commission at Moatfield. The Land Commission didn't want to give a site in that place and offered a pitch in Ballyoughter, Rathcabbin instead. This was refused. The land had been leased to people before it was divided. Mick Killeen had the portion at Moatfield rented. So, Liam King and Paddy O'Meara, who was club secretary, rented a hurling pitch off Mick Killeen and put up goalposts. They refused to leave it. The Land Commission gave in after some time. The club held a house to house collection in the parish and paid for the land in one go. Later the field was fenced, two dressingrooms were built and the first section of the clubhouse, including toilets and showers as well as a septic tank were completed. It was the first time the club had its own field and Mick was delighted to be involved in the whole endeavour.
Mick's earliest memory of seeing Lorrha play was at Carrigahorig against Cloughjordan in the North semi-final at the end of August 1924. He travelled with his father in a pony and trap. He vividly recalls the Lorrha colours on the day. They were green with a gold sash. Interestingly the players in the 1905 photograph also wore a sash across their jerseys. In contrast there was no sash on the jerseys worn by the players in the 1914 team. Mick has a feeling that Lorrha wore blue before 1924 and then reverted to green and gold. When he started playing junior in the 1930s they wore the sash jerseys while the seniors wore the blue jersey. Then towards the end of the thirties the feeling developed that the blue jerseys were unlucky and that nothing was won with them so they reverted to the green and sash jersey for the beginning of the forties and they won the intermediate in the sash jersey. Extant photographs of 1937 and 1939 seven-a-side teams, however, don't show any sashes. It is impossible to say what colour the jerseys are. There's a 1947 seven-a-side team in what appears to be a new set of jerseys. Eugene O'Meara believes that Fr. Corcoran gave a set of blue and white jerseys to the club in that year and it was the first time they had numbers.
There was a new purpose about Lorrha in 1947, having been promoted to senior ranks. At the AGM of the club in February Fr. Paddy O'Meara was elected chairman, Fr. Comerford and Tom Duffy, joint vice-chairmen and R. J. Bracken as secretary and treasurer. A finance committee was set up and a card drive was organised to raise funds. A match was organised against St. Vincent's of Dublin for Easter Sunday.
A Talented Man
Mick married Carmel O'Meara (no relation) in February 1952. They were married by Fr. Michael O'Meara (Carmel's cousin) in Lorrha and Mick moved into Carmel's place in Curraghgloss. For six years beforehand he had been living at Watersons of Lisgreen, which he inherited. They have four children, Gerard, Declan, Emer and Deirdre.
Mick's talents weren't confined to the hurling field. He's a marvellous raconteur and is capable of regaling his listeners with a wealth of stories from a life full of exciting memories. He was a good comic actor and graced the boards in Rathcabbin Hall for many years. He was one of those who started the Rathcabbin Players in 1941 in order to raise funds for a Red Cross branch in the area. 'Troubled Bachelors' was the name of their first production and it was directed by R. J. 'Dick' Bracken, who had a tremendous interest in drama. Others involved in the production were Paddy Corcoran, Paddy Corrigan, Tommy Carroll and Kitty Kelly. In the following years they produced 'Roadside', a very funny play about tinkers and lords swapping places, and 'Still Running', a play about poitín. Later productions included the George Shields classics, 'Professor Tim' and 'Paul Twyning'.
With these productions their fame spread outside the parish and they received invitations to perform in Borrisokane, Cloughjordan and Shinrone. Other productions like 'Mrs Mulligan's Millions' and 'Grogan and the Ferret' followed, all directed by Dick Bracken. The plays were all produced in the primitive conditions of Rathcabbin Hall, working with candle or oil lamp. It didn't cost Mick much thought to make the round trip of seven miles from Curraghgloss to the hall. The choice of play was always made with good clean fun in mind, and all the money made went to such as the Red Cross, the FCA or the G.A.A. club
The plays were produced annually until 1959 when, through a variety of circumstances, the drama group ceased its operations and it was to be nearly thirty years before the smell of greasepaint permeated Rathcabbin Hall again. Mick never lost his interest and when Scór commenced in the early seventies, he became involved with Sheila Dillon in the production and staging of Novelty Acts. Eventually in 1985 he set about reforming the drama group. A number of people like Michael Hoctor, Sheila Dillon and Michael Houlihan rallied around him and the re-birth of the Rathcabbin Players soon became a reality. Mick was now director and under his guidance a number of one-act plays were produced before .'Paul Twyning' and 'Troubled Bachelors' were re-staged.
'The Field' in London
Success came quickly and their fame spread once again. Invitations from outside the parish arrived and eventually in 1997 they were invited to bring John B. Keane's 'The Field' to London, an event covered in detail by Gerry Slevin in 'The Guardian'. Not only did Mick produce but he donned the robes of the Bishop in the play and, in addition, doubled up as Dandy McCabe in the absence of Joe Cleary, giving a tour de force performance in two startlingly contrasting roles. The play was produced for two nights to packed houses
One of the most entertaining things he ever did was an act called 'The Blunder Brothers', together with Hubie Hogan, Vinnie Kennedy and Mick Brophy. He believes they could have developed it and, were it today, they might be a leading cabaret spot!
Mick's acting career continued until 2008, when he last appeared on stage as King George V in a pageant built around the people of the parish who fought in World War 1. Five or six years back he helped to form a variety group in Lorrha and produced a number of shows for them, as well as appearing on stage. The group continues to flourish as does the Rathcabbin drama group.
Mick's life has always been full of activity. At the farming end of things he served his time in the NFA and later the IFA. Before that he was involved in the formation of the Young Farmers Club in 1947 and 1948. Elected chairman, the club had an educational purpose and it eventually merged into Macra na Féirme in the mid-fifties. In the early fifties he was involved in the setting up of the North Tipperary Agricultural Wholesale Society, a properly constituted company with shareholders, which aimed to purchase manures and deeds for the members at wholesale prices. It had only a limited success because it depended on cash transactions and cash was in short supply among farmers at the time, who depended a lot on credit from merchants. He was also involved in the ploughing championships and acted as a judge for a good number of years.
Probably one of his keenest interests was the LDF and later the FCA, which replaced it in 1945. He played hurling with them but was a long time member of the shooting team. He joined the LDF in 1940 and continued in the FCA after 1945 right up to 1978. In 1941 Johnny Corcoran and himself won the Irish Press District Shield for .22 rifle shooting and repeated the victory in 1942. They represented the District in an area competition held in Limerick and won. As a result they were picked on the Limerick Area team in the All-Ireland. When the FCA came into existence after the war the areas were changed and Lorrha was in the Tipperary Area. The .303 rifle competition came into being in 1947 and a team of six from the county was entered in the All-Ireland. Mick came fourth in the individual All-Ireland and continued competing at the highest level for many years afterwards.
So, as he looks back on his life from the vista of nine-four years, Mick can be quietly proud of his achievements. Over this long span of years he has entertained a lot of people, whether on the field of play or on the stage in Rathcabbin Hall and further afield. Off both platforms he has entertained people he has met through his lively personality and intelligent mind. He has contributed significantly to the history of the parish and has been, without any shadow of doubt, a huge adornment to the life of the parish of Lorrha and Dorrha.