The late Tom Nolan, Ballinastick, Coalbrook, Thurles
Tom Nolan was born on 16 April 1946 at Ballinastick, Coalbrook, Thurles. He was a half-twin, his brother Willie shared his birthday and his life, and he had three other siblings Mary, Julianne and Michael.
It could be said that he came from a mixed marriage, not in respect of religion, but in relation to class. His mother Mary Maher, Earlshill, came from coal mining stock and his father John Nolan, Mellison, was of a farming family. When his parents married they settled in the townland of Ballinastick in between Earlshill and Mellison. His home place was in the coal country of Slieveardagh which lay beyond the rim of the hill above Glengoole /New Birmingham. Though belonging physically to Ballingarry, the Nolans or Nowlans belonged spiritually to Glengoole and this village, which had everything in the 1950s, became the focus of his young life.
Primary school was in Glengoole where Michael O’Carroll from Thurles was principal. He travelled along the Mass path - not always in bare feet as he often told his children - which ran through the fields over the hill and up the glen. These were great times and they were free spirits. The open countryside was his playground. On the hill he was surrounded on all sides by maternal and paternal relations and visiting them was a ritual. The companions of his school days from hill and vale became friends for life and many were present as his coffin was lowered into the limestone on 24 January 2018.
After completing seventh class in Glengoole, it was decided that Tom would enrol in the Technical School (‘the Tech’) in Killenaule. It is presumed he attended there regularly for a couple of years. He preferred the school of life, however, and soon secured a job with Ballingarry Collieries at its mine or pit in Gurteen townland. Though working in difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions the miners formed a community of their own and the camaraderie of workmates carried them through.
Ballingarry collieries and Gurteen ‘landing’, in particular, were not pleasant places in January and Tom decided to move on. His Gleeson cousins from Earlshill and some neighbours had made the journey to Birmingham in the English midlands and Tom joined them there. Birmingham in the 1960s was a bustling place, still rebuilding after wartime bombing and it had a sizeable Irish community. He settled into the Irish town of Sparkhill in the south of the city and soon had a job in civil engineering. It was a grand name but basically meant putting in all the underground services that keep a great city alive. Laying electricity cables, telephone cables, sewage pipes and water mains became the daily menu for young Irishmen. He worked all over the city and sometimes in the pleasant outlying towns of Stratford –on-Avon and Burton-on-Trent.
After the weeks work the Irish hit the pubs and dance halls and Birmingham was well supplied with these. The Bear and The Antelope were the public houses where Ireland was recreated and the Harp and Shamrock provided venues for dancing at weekends. It was in the Harp that he met Ellen Griffin from Templenoe near Golden and she became the most important and influential person in his life. Ellen’s family, many of whom were in the Birmingham area, became his family to the very end. Two children, Sharon and Michael, were born in Birmingham. However, the call of Tipperary and home was too strong to resist and he returned in 1972. Tom was never bitter about his exile and always spoke well of the English of the West Midlands and always had a soft spot for Aston Villa FC.
He and Ellen settled in Ballynonty among the Healys, Walshs, McGarrys, Teehans, and where his great friends Joe and Biddy Gould were to later become custodians of the Jury Room pub. Tom embraced village life and two more children Anthony and Laura were born in Ballynonty. He spent over ten years working with Hally Builders, mainly in Clonmel and Cahir, with his friends Tom Raleigh and Joe Delaney. He threw himself into community activities - tug-o-war, athletics, hurling with Joe O’Dwyer’s team, the annual sport’s day – small things but big statements of neighbourliness and friendship.
After the opening of the Bord na Móna Briquette Factory at Killeens, Tom decided to seek work there and he began in 1982 and moved to the suburb of Kilbrennal. Perhaps remembering the total free for all in the survival of the fittest regime in Birmingham he became very involved in the FWUI and was chairman of the branch during the nine week strike in 1984/5, which was resolved to the satisfaction of the workers.
Tom’s life was irrevocably changed in May 2008 when his beloved Ellen died after enduring a long battle with cancer. He nursed her with loving care and was devastated by her passing when life promised them so much. But he kept going, helped by his four children. Ellen’s sisters, Bridget and Noreen, faithfully travelled every year from Birmingham to give him a hand with the spring cleaning. He retired from his job as lorry driver with Bord na Móna and devoted himself to his grandchildren (Cian, Luke, Leah, Fia, Finn, Caoimhe and Oisin) and the community of the Men’s Shed in Glengoole. Life has a strange way of squaring the circle.
Tom was a great supporter of the Labour Party and especially the much–respected Ned Brennan of Killenaule. He was a lovely, hardworking gregarious man. His family, including his sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, Victor, Fiona, Siobhán and Cormac, and his grandchildren, were his pride and joy. He knew no strangers, but loved the chat with anyone who came his way.
In contented retirement in Kilbrennal he had an open house policy and people called and chatted over cups of tea. Mick Fleming, George Maguire and Seán Bannon were regular callers. John Ryan came from Cashel and Tom and Ann Raleigh were visitors from his home place. He loved the confidential pint in Buddy’s in Brimagin on a Saturday night with Richie Cleary and Denis Kiely, friends from schooldays.
On Sundays he went after Mass with Larry Tierney to Denis Kiely’s hospitable house where they reviewed the week in the world and in Glengoole.
He was a decent, principled man who did his best to make the world a better place and those who spoke so well of him at his wake and funeral believed he had done so.