Templemore's Tom McGrath 'calls it a day' after a career spanning 42 years
On 15th June last Tom McGrath, finally “Hung Up The Biro” when he retired after almost 42 years working in the public service.
I met up with Tom recently and got him to reminisce over those last 42 years.
In the Templemore context, Tom spent over 35 years as Town Clerk. Those years saw many changes, chief among them being achieving a solution to the longstanding problem of water shortages in the town area through the construction of the Collegehill Scheme. This now supplies water to not just the town of Templemore but, to much of the surrounding areas of Killea, Clonmore, Templetuohy, Castleiney and Loughmore.
The upgrading of the Waste Water Treatment Plant was another milestone and again took a long time to achieve due to financial constraints mainly.
Housing was always a priority with local authorities, and Town Councils especially. Tom’s era saw the construction of Railway View, Woodville Crescent, Richmond Grove and Priory Place as well as the acquisition of 9 houses in Oakdale Park under the Part V planning process. In latter years the Long Term Leasing Scheme was seen as a substitute for the Local Authority Building Programmes and proved a short term success in Templemore due to the availability of good quality houses following the cutbacks in recruitment at the Garda College. Housing is now a huge issue nationally with the effects of inadequate building programmes coming home to roost.
Resources were also applied to upgrading the older units in the Housing stock through bathroom and extension programmes along with heating and insulation upgrades. Much of this work was financed from the Council’s own resources with some State investment.
The Town Park was always a major asset to the town and Tom says he would like to think that the man hours that were devoted to it have yielded a rich dividend. The Sensory Garden recently erected on the Swimming Pool site is a welcome addition. Sadly, the Lake Fountain has been out of action for some time. This was installed as part of the Lake Project spearheaded by the late Jim Hassey, and designed to add oxygen to the water and reduce weed growth. It was doing its job and a nice feature in the Park. Plans to carry out some works to the Blackcastle and Arch are in train and welcomed.
Role of elected members
Tom remembers the elected members who played a key role in the operation of the Town Councils and the town is the poorer following their departure. The Councillors were central to the entire finance function in adopting the Annual Budget, Making the Rate, approving borrowings and the Annual Financial Statement. They also acted as the “lookout” for the public with the Monthly Meeting always liable to be a lengthy and often lively session !!!!
It should be pointed out that Councillors were volunteers and until relatively recent times were paid a meagre allowance. As of May 2014 they were paid a combined allowance of just over 6,000 euros each in salary and expenses. This is far less than the figures being bandied about in the national media at that time. These figures are available for public viewing as indeed are all Public Service salaries and allowances.
Through the work of a small active local Committee relations with our twin towns Premilhat and Potenza Picena are being maintained. This is an important area with Templemore benefitting from visits each year as well as students travelling to our “Twins” on exchange trips
The Council always had a close association with the College with the town benefitting from its location in terms of trade and profile. The impact of the College on the town was never more evident than in the years where there was no recruitment. The Council presented the “Templemore Medal” to the College which is awarded to the best academic student at each graduation.
Purchase of lands
Historically Town Councils were encouraged to plan for the future by purchasing land in their areas. This applied to housing land initially but there were other uses in more recent times such as road widening, ring roads and the opening up of “backlands” for future development.
In 2012/13 the Council secured 51 acres of land on the Roscrea Road. This was aimed at extending the Town Park and recreating the link that once existed between the Blackcastle and Roscrea Roads. The Park Housing Estate (116 houses) was built on part of the original Town Park as are the Pitch and Putt, GAA and Athletic Club facilities.
Comparison between Town Council era 2017 v 2013?
The abolition of the Town Council was a huge blow to Templemore as it left the town without direct representation in the Council Chamber. The merger of North and South Tipperary made the “Pond” bigger and the fish has got smaller. Time will be the judge of the whole process but initial indicators are not very favourable.
Summing up Tom says:
“The position of Town Clerk was a challenge in that I was only 22 years old when offered the position with a limited knowledge of what was involved. Thankfully I had a lot of support and grew into the role. Experience was in plentiful supply with the late Johnny Mc Donnell (Town Foreman) a tower of strength. He was followed by the recently deceased Joe Mockler, with Alex Cummins the main man in recent years. They, along with the other outdoor staff members are at the front line come rain, hail or shine and give great service in often trying circumstances.
On the admin side Mary Costigan, Margaret Sheedy and Sinead Kelly were the “first line of defence” and often had to bear the brunt of unfair criticism and the frustration being felt by members of the public. Overall, one came to understand how people can be upset and frustrated by the lack of action of public bodies. As an administrator I too experienced that frustration many times and this helped in my development as a public servant.”
Following the “Abolition” Tom was redeployed to Planning Section, Tipperary County Council, Nenagh where his experience was put to good use. What was another daunting challenge at such a stage in his career became a most enjoyable and rewarding experience. New challenges were faced and conquered, new friends were made and the odd old foe even became an ally!!! Forgive, forget and move on was always the motto.
Prior to his departure a most pleasant function was arranged in Tom’s honour by his new colleagues. This was attended by a large number of Members and Staff past and present with the many speakers paying tribute to Tom’s many and varied traits. Amongst the attendance were former Members of Templemore Town Council including Henry Young who was in attendance at Tom’s first Meeting with the Council in August 1978.
He praised Tom’s honesty and integrity and thanked him for his friendship over the years. The only other surviving Member of that Council – Ned Meagher - was unavoidably absent but sent his good wishes.
Also present were Tom’s wife Bernie and children Paul and Siobhan while son Liam was absent due to work commitments.
Tom was especially pleased to meet Mary Fogarty (formerly of Halfway Shop, Loughmore), who was a great friend of his mother Tess and Jimmy Morris, (Nenagh) one of his “keyboard friends” and another “hurling afficianado” !!!!!
We wish Tom the very best of health and happiness in his retirement, as he keeps fit and trim on his morning runs in the park, and has ample time to play golf and follow his GAA interests.