Mary Hanrahan, Chairperson of Fethard Historical Society.
The Tipperariana Book Fair is on this Sunday, February 10 in Fethard Ballroom. This week we talk to Mary Hanrahan, chairperson of the Fethard Historical Society who organise the annual Book Fair.
What’s your idea of a perfect day, or perfect weekend in Tipperary?
There are lots of wonderful options to enjoy in Tipperary but one of my favourite family days out has to be taking a boat out on the Shannon. There’s nothing quite like ‘messing about on the river’, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine, taking in the beautiful scenery and then stopping off along the way for lunch in one of the lovely villages like Garrykennedy or Terryglass.
Who has made the greatest contribution to Tipperary in your lifetime - and why?
While acknowledging all the famous people who have come from Tipperary I would have to say that, in my opinion, local community groups are the people who have made the greatest contribution to Tipperary. These people hold their communities together: all those volunteers involved in the community councils, the sporting organisations, Tidy Towns, Meals on Wheels, historical, drama and musical societies etc. They fill in the blanks left by officialdom and respond to the needs of the local people. They add immeasurably to the quality of life in our towns and villages, promote inclusion, afford opportunities to all and protect our environment. They are the heartbeat of community.
What's your first Tipperary memory?
My earliest memory is our annual trek from the West Midlands of England, up through the mountains of Wales to Holyhead where we took the ferry to Dun Laoghaire, then the long winding road to Tipperary, where we were finally “home”. Seven of us squashed into a Volkswagen Beetle, the heavily loaded roof rack packed to capacity, and comfort stops few and far between. My mother had an unshakeable belief in our ability to tuck in ‘just one more’ mysterious parcel bound for some unknown recipient pressed on her by the local Irish nuns. Somehow, she never managed to say ‘No’. Our reward was glorious summer days of endless sunshine in the countryside with our cousins.
What's your favourite part of the county - and why?
I have to say that Fethard, where I’ve lived for almost forty years, is my favourite place. There’s a great sense of community here and the town itself, even though it was hit by the recession like so many other rural towns, is fighting valiantly to redress the balance. The Fethard Horse County Experience that opened in 2017 is a wonderful example of public/private collaboration. It is a state-of-the-art interactive experience that affords the visitor an overview of the town’s history combined with the story of the horse.
If you love history, especially, medieval history, as I do, then Fethard is a great place to live. The town is blessed with beautiful historic buildings many of which, such as the Augustinian Abbey and Holy Trinity Church, are still in use. When you look out from the town Wall over the Valley, it’s amazing to think that you’re looking at a view that has changed very little in seven hundred years.
If you love food, as I do, then you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to eating out in Fethard - there’s Emily’s, McCarthy’s and Dooks; everything from the full Irish, hearty lunches, coffee and cake to fine dining.
Finally, if you love books, as I do, then the annual Tipperariana Book Fair is especially for you. It takes place this year on Sunday, February 10 in the Ballroom, Fethard.
What do you think gives Tipperary its unique identity?
Tipperary is unique because it has a little bit of everything except a coastline. It is a county of contrasts: the lush green pastureland of the Golden Vale, the mountains including our renowned Slievenamon, the waterways. We have a multitude of historic sites including the iconic Rock of Cashel. We have artists, writers, musicians, artisan food producers and skilled crafts people. Above all, it’s the people who give Tipperary its unique identity and in these years of Commemorations, we remember especially all those from the county who fought for Irish freedom and who were involved in the founding of the Republic.
Do you have a favourite local writer or author?
As I’m involved with the Tipperariana Book Of the Year Award, I’m very aware of the astounding number of books published in and about Tipperary every year. My favourite authors at the moment have to be the four inspirational women, Josephine O’Neill, Karol de Falco, Mary O’Donnell and Breeda Ryan,who compiled this year’s winner Daughters of Dún Iascaigh. It’s a wonderful book that reflects a growing awareness of the need to reinstate women in our history and it will be on sale at the Tipperariana Book Fair.
What's the biggest challenge facing the county today?
I think the biggest challenge facing the county today is the regeneration of our rural towns and villages. This is vital if we are to preserve the sense of community I mentioned earlier. We need to provide opportunities for people to live and work in Tipperary. Too many of our educated, highly-skilled young people are leaving because they can’t envisage a future here. Similarly, many of our emigrants who want to come home just don’t think it’s feasible. We should aim to make our county the best place possible to live taking cognisance of all the factors involved: affordable housing, healthcare provision, childcare, employment opportunities and a commitment to protecting our environment.
If you had the power to change one thing in, or about Tipperary, what would it be?
I would redress the planning decisions that established shopping centres on the outskirts of our towns leading to the demise of the town centres. I would implement all the guidelines embodied in the Public Realm plans for towns like Fethard which comprise best practise aimed at protecting and enhancing all aspects of our rich heritage.