Friday evening last proved to be a red latter day in the history of The Cathedral Town as the final meeting of Thurles Town Council, took place in the chamber at Slievenamon Road.
154 years ago the council was formed to look after the needs of the townfolk, but now, like so many other Town Councils throughout the land, they are to be abolished with the stroke of a pen and replaced with municipal districts. As and from June 1st, Thurles Town Council will be no more and will be consigned to history.
The council leaves a magnificent legacy in the form of so much social housing; brilliant infrastructure for water, sewerage, roads, footpaths; an environmental programme which seeks to promote and protect in equal measure; and a system of governance which has served the people for 15 and a half decades.
All of this was something worth celebrating and the council members did just that on Friday evening having completed their last meeting.
There was indeed an air of sadness in the chamber as the final chapter was written. All members described the decision by Environment Minister Phil Hogan as regrettable and wrong, but said that with the future so uncertain and unsure in terms of how the new districts will work out, Thurles is on a firm footing and should be able to adapt to the changes being enforced.
Mayor Michael Grogan, having spoken about the impact the council has made over the last five years and some of the big decisions taken, invited members to have their say and contribute to what he described as an historic debate. All members did and all paid tribute to the current management and staff, as well as to past staff members and management who had worked so hard to steer the council in a progressive direction.
Councillor John Kenehan was the longest serving member on the current council having been elected on four consecutive occasions, followed by Councillors John Kennedy, Jim Ryan, Noel O’Dwyer, Michael Grogan, David Doran, Evelyn Nevin and Gerard Fogarty who was co-opted during the lifetime of the council in place of Gerard O’Brien who took up the position of State Solicitor for Tipperary and had to resign his seat.
Town Manager Mr Matt Shortt, who served as Town Engineer earlier in his career, said that there was always a great sense of pride associated with Thurles Town Council staff and management. Problems which cropped were sorted out and he made particular reference to the jovial but at times robust exchanges in the chamber - none more so than during the lifetime of the current council.
Mr Shortt added that the success of Thurles under the new model would be down to the people working within it and he looked forward to the town progressing and developing.
There was a special round of applause for Thurles Town Clerk Mr Michael Ryan - the longest serving Town Clerk currently in Local Government in Ireland at this time. A legend in local government circles known throughout the length and breadth of the country, Michael has given virtually all of his career to the town and has run a very efficient, caring and progressive authority.
Mr Ryan spoke warmly about the council and told councillors, tongue in cheek, than a lot had been achieved despite them. When starting out in his career with the County Council in Nenagh he was informed, he said, that there were two sides to local government - common sense and law. At this stage in his career, he could safely say that common sense always wins out and would always promote an outlook of being non-judgemental when dealing with people. There were no textbooks to deal with some of the problems which arose, he said, but by speaking to people and working with them, generally the solution was found.
Reflecting on the up-coming local elections, he wished all candidates well and said that it takes a lot of courage to put the name on the ballot paper. He noted that when the council was formed back in 1861 the three major projects were the provision of public lighting, the sinking of pumps for a water scheme, and the paving of streets - not a lot has changed really, he said.
However the jewel in the crown has been the provision of housing. “The number of houses provided by this council over the years has been unreal and as a local authority we can be very proud of that. I feel that the council is the closest to the people because we can actually make things happen. I would always argue that the County Council deals with files, whereas the Town Council deals with people. That’s the difference,” he said.
County Manager Mr Joe MacGrath was present for the occasion and he addressed the members as well as the celebration in the Anner Hotel afterwards which included past members, management and staff, and current members, management and staff.
In thanking the elected members, management and staff, he looked forward to the new regime and said that Thurles can proceed with confidence as a new chapter begins. He gave a firm commitment to pursue the infrastructural projects currently in the pipeline and said that Thurles has a very strong positive message to sell.
Past councillors gone to their eternal reward were remembered on the night including the likes of the late Paddy Durack and Anne Mernagh who had served with many of the current members. Former members who attended the function included: Antoin O’Briain, Mae Quinn, Billy Quinlan, Michael Sutton, Andrew Callanan, Sean Costelloe, Paddy Barry and Martin Ryan.
Former management members included Messrs. John McGinley, Risteard O’Domhnaill, Terry O’Niaidh and Tom Barry - all former Managers, and long serving council official Alice O’Connell.
The evening was a great success - a fitting celebration to make the end of an era in The Cathedral Town.