Tom Lambe - A Hurler of Note
Tom Lambe of Redwood, Lorrha was one of thirty-four recipients of Sean Gael awards from G.A.A. President, Christy Cooney, at the Dome, Semple Stadium, Thurles on Sunday, November 1. Ninety-one years of age, having been born on August 24, 1918. he walked up to the podium to collect his presentation without any of the afflictions to his body that one might expect so many years to bring: he was sprightly and moved with ease.
Watching him I recalled to myself a summer's day in 1948 or 1949 when I was bringing home a load of turf from Redwood bog. I had a full load of black, stone turf and I was sitting on the top of the creel driving the horse and following my father who was on the front load. As I was passing Lambe's, or Bill Kennedy's house as it was still called, Tom came out and stopped us. He had a hurley in his hand and handed it up to me: 'Take that, it should suit you', he said, or something to that effect.
It was the first decent hurley stick I ever had. It made a strong impression on me because I can recall the occasion sixty years later as vividly as on the day. I can see us stopping, Tom coming out and reaching the hurley up to me. I don't remember what went before or after, the filling of the load in the bog or throwing it into the shed later. It was a special moment in my life and the sun was shining also.
I suppose it wasn't only the hurl that made the occasion special but the man from whom it came. Tom was a special player on the Lorrha senior team that won the North Tipperary senior hurling championship in 1948 and went on to lose to Holycross-Ballycahill in the county final. Tony Reddin had made his name that year against Borrisoleigh in the North final and if he was my God, Tom Lambe was next to him, playing at wingback.
All these thoughts came winging back to me in the Dome and I got a great desire to have a decent chat with the man, when we had time on our side. There were so many questions I wanted to ask him about life in Redwood and his own background in hurling as he grew up in the shadow of Redwood Castle. So I went to visit him in Coorless, Rathcabbin, where he has lived since he married Nancy Sherlock in August 1949.
Tom was the second of a family of six, four boys and two girls born to Bill Lambe and Margaret Kennedy. His earliest memory goes back to the Civil War. He recalls Free State soldiers crossing the fields to his home and inquiring for Sommerville's Pub. Ned Mannion. originally from Portumna, was hiding out there and the Free State had got word of it. Later in the day the soldiers passed back with the arrested Ned in tow. They were heading back to the Shannon to board the boat that had brought them into the neighbourhood. Tom is of the belief that more of the people in the neighbourhood were Republican than Free Stater.
It was understandable that the Free Staters would have come into the area by boat. Not only were the roads dangerous for lorry loads of soldiers but the road around Redwood at the time wasn't much more than a dirt track. The road as such finished at Loughmane's gate beyond Killycross at one side and at Bill Kennedy's house down from Redwood Castle on the other. In between was a partly gravel track with plenty of potholes. In fact the road at Bill Kennedy's used to continue down to the Shannon and was kept in repair by the County Council. Local landlord, Trench, had land down to the river bank and the road provided access.
Tom went to school at the age of five years to the local national school, which was beside Redwood Castle. It was a two-storey building that had been converted to a school at some stage. Believed to have been a 'seat of learning' in the past, it later served as a police barrack, and eventually a school. Interestingly, Tom's father remembers four different schools in the area as he grew up. He went to a hedge school, which was located in Gleeson's field behind Redwood Chapel. The master was Brian Carroll from Curragha and the twelve scholars paid one penny per day to be taught.
Tom's teachers were Miss Kelly in charge of juniors, who used to stay at Ryans in Ballea, and Mrs. Grogan, who came originally from Whitegate, Co. Clare, and who lived at Grange. She was extremely cross. Tom remembers getting lots of stick, plenty of beatings while in school. He believed Mrs. Crogan had a set on him though at the same time he admitted that he was a bit of a leader among the boys and up to all kinds of devilment. As a result it was many a time he got the stick, not only on the hands, but across the bare legs as well. On numerous occasions he went home with red weals to show for the beatings he received. He believed the teachers had favourites and that fact, plus the beatings turned him against school. His feelings were such that he recalls when Mrs. Grogan, who had been in ill-health, died in 1928, the children cheered!
The roof of the Castle school was in bad repair and began to let in the rain. It was decided to build a new school at Kilmurray, between the Castle and Redwood Church. The site of the new school had been a graveyard at some stage. (Kill, in the name suggests a church and it probably had a graveyard beside it.) At any rate Tom recalls bones being thrown up when the foundations were being dug. The boys and girls moved into the new two-teacher school in 1926.
It wasn't all bad memories for Tom at primary school. Hurling made him forget the worst aspects of schooling. There was a bit of a field in the front of the school where the boys played at lunch time and after school as well. They organised games among themselves. Tom remembers the great amount of talent at the time with the Sullivans, Kennedys, Brownes, Lambs and Guinans. They had no difficulty getting a team together. Major (He wasn't a real major but given the title because of his fine physique) Sammon, a farmer up the road, who had much more interest in hurling than in farming, used to come to the school to referee their games. Games were also organised with the other schools in the parish and played on a Sunday afternnoon. Tom recalls that they beat Rathcabbin and Lorrha schools for three years running. They had to negotiate a venue for the games with some farmer, usually halfways between the schools. Paddy Sullivan's field in the Lordspark was a venue for one of the games with Rathcabbin. They had no jerseys to wear and used a variety of hurleys, from crooked stick to the real thing. Interestingly there was no such thing as football.
According to Eugene O'Meara, who was a few years younger than Tom and attended Lorrha school, Tom was the star hurler in the parish as a juvenile. He was head and shoulders over all around him and dominated the middle of the field. There were no interclub juvenile competitions at the time and Lorrha didn't enter a minor competition until 1941. The result was that Tom had no platform outside the parish to show off his hurling skills
Tom had left school by 1939 when the present Redwood National School was opened. Asked why another new school was built so soon after Kilmurray, Tom said that Canon Moloney had sold the priest's field in Rathcabbin and decided to build three new schools in the parish with the proceeds and Redwood was the first.
In fact Tom stayed at school until he was fifteen years of age. He had to wait until then to get confirmed and Dr. Fogarty did the honours. While he was in the school he, and the rest of the boys and girls, had to bring a sod of turf a day to heat the school. Tom used to serve Mass for Fr. O'Flynn, who died in 1935. Fr. O'Flynn had a habit of hitting the boys on the altar whenever he wanted anything done. The result was that they gave him a wide berth. Asked what he did when he left school Tom said he went home to wheel turf in the bog. He had no more formal schooling but he picked up the ways of farming from his father and from him he also learned building skills, which stood him in good stead during his farming life.
There wasn't much in the line of social activities for someone growing up in Redwood in the nineteen- thirties. The main recreation was hurling and with many young lads of the same age around there were plenty of opportunities. Tom recalls that Bonfire Night on June 21 was a big night in the area. The bonfire was lit outside Guinan's gate and Thomas Moran and Tom Kennedy used to provide the music with their melodeons.
Fair days also provided some relief from the monotony of daily life. There were fairs at Birr and Portumna. August 15 was a very big day in Portumna. Of course agricultural life was fairly depressed during the thirties with very poor prices for products. Tom recalls driving four cattle to Birr in 1932 and missing a sale at £7 each. The cattle were driven home, fed for the winter and sold to a butcher at the end of the spring for £8 each.
Of course it was cheap to live. Skerries Champions were the main potato and a great source of nourishment. Tom recalls his mother used to boil a pot of potatoes in the evening and turn them out on the the table with butter and salt. He remembers going to bed with a swoollen stomach on many occasions. They killed their own meat, made their own butter and had little resource to the shops except for a few things like tea.
Tom started dancing about twenty years of age and most of the dances were house dances. He remembers they used to go over to Thomas Moran's to listen to the gramaphone. He was one of the few who had one and it contained the big horn for the projection of sound. One great side effect of these visits was that Mrs. Moran used to make a pot of rice and they filled their bellies as well as listened to the music.
Tom started playing senior hurling in 1938, following two unsuccessful years in the junior ranks. It wasn't a very auspicious start as Lorrha were beaten 11-3 to 1-0 by Roscrea with Tom playing at right corner forward. There's a picture of him on a seven-a-side team in the gold medal tournament at Woodford in 1939. There were a number of junior teams in the parish during this period, including one in Redwood. In fact there was a long tradition of hurling in Redwood, going back to the early days of the Association, and before. Teams from Redwood used to cross the Shannon to play Meelick and Tiernascragh, and vice versa. Rathcabbin had the pick of the parish team. There was general dissatisfaction with their picking method as they were very slow to pick anyone from Redwood. Lorrha were relegated to intermediate in 1940.
Generally the parish was divided and failed to deliver on its true potential. It took the arrival oif Fr. Paddy O'Meara in 1946 to bang heads together and get a unified team from the parish. Before this happened Tom played intermediate and used to play wing- and centreforward. He reckons he played his best hurling at this time and he preferred playing in the forwards to the backs, where he was to end his career. The fact that there was no intercounty junior championship between 1942 and 1945 inclusive may explain why Tom never played with the county. Already during the thirties he started running cross-country which was a huge participatory sport at the time. He won a county junior title in 1944. He is of the opinion that such running wasn't much good for hurling, slowing you down rather than anything else.
Once the parish was united success came. Lorrha won the county intermediate title in 1946 after a tough encounter against Maycarkey-Borris at Gaile, and went senior. Divisional senior success followed in 1948 before defeat by Holycross-Ballycahill in the county final. Asked if Lorrha were overtrained for the final, Tom is very definite: 'No, not overtrained, but overpowered.' According to him they came up against a much superior team on the day. The Holycross forwards were very good and their backs, particularly John Doyle and Pat Stakelum, were much too good for them. He makes the interesting point that many of the Lorrha lads had gone past their best at that stage, were in fact thirty years and over. Also, some key players did not perform well on the day.
Tom, himself was thirty years old in that final. He married Nancy Sherlock, whose father had won two divisional titles with Lorrha in 1914 and 1924 ˆ he was captain in 1924 - , in 1949 and retired in 1951. Ironically, he got a call-up for a county trial the same year and went to Ennis for a match against Clare, but was never called off the bench. He made one return to the game, in 1959, as full-back on the junior team and had as company, three other oldies, Billy and Hubie Hogan and Mick Brophy, plus a number of good minors. They had some success and there's a photograph of the team in the Lorrha G.A.A. history. Tom served as a selector on the senior team will Billy Hogan for a couple of years around 1970
Tom was one of the best hurlers ever in the parish. As a juvenile he was head and shoulders over the opposition. He was unfortunate to reach maturity at a time when Lorrha were relegated to intermediate level. Equally so, in the absence of an intercounty junior championship during the war years, he never got recognition on the bigger stage. Seven-a-Side tournaments were quite common at the time and Tom was always an automatic choice on the Lorrha side. As well as being a good hurler, he had a high level of fitness that resulted from life on the farm but also a life style that excluded smoking and drinking. He was always lean and hard, a formidable opponent and a courageous player, who stood back from nothing.
Tipperary G.A.A. Yearbook 2010, pp. 170-173