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09 Dec 2021

New book celebrates sporting and nationalist heroes from one Tipperary parish

Declan Blanchfield's book Roads to Freedom - Heroes From Our Past is now on sale

New book celebrates sporting and nationalist heroes from one Tipperary parish

The front cover of Roads to Freedom-Heroes From Our Past

A Ballyneale man has published a book celebrating two iconic Tipperary sporting and nationalist heroes from a century ago and the role members of his own family played in the GAA and War of Independence.
Declan Blanchfield’s book Roads to Freedom - Heroes From Our Past follows the lives and legacies of gold medal winning Olympic champion Tom Kiely from Ballyneale and Michael Hogan, the Grangemockler footballer killed by Crown forces in the 1920 Bloody Sunday massacre.
The author was drawn to write about the champion Kiely and Michael Hogan because of the close connections he sees between both men alongside the fact they grew up in the neighbouring communities where his family hails from.
“There was only 16 years between Tom Kiely winning the Olympic medal and Michael Hogan’s death on Bloody Sunday. They both played football for Grangemockler and they both came from similar farming backgrounds,” Mr Blanchfield points out.
The first section of Roads to Freedom charts the Champion Kiely’s rise from teenage athlete trained by the famed Davin brothers, including GAA founding president Maurice Davin, to winner of the gold medal in the all-round competition, now known as the decathlon, at the 1904 Olympics in St Louis.
Mr Blanchfield tells Tom Kiely’s extraordinary story through fictional dialogue and uses the same literary technique to recount the sporting life and tragic end of Michael Hogan at the Tipperary v Dublin charity match in Croke Park on November 21, 1920.
He highlights how the different fates of Kiely and Hogan helped to raise the profile of Ireland as a nation and strengthened Irish people’s sense of identity in the years leading up to independence.
Mr Blanchfield said he was prompted to write the book while researching his family history.
His great grandfather on his mother’s side, Tommy Shelly from South Lodge, Grangemockler was one of the founding members of Grangemockler GAA Club and it was his field, Pairc na Lochanna, where the club’s footballers trained during the War of Independence period.
His granduncle, Jerry Shelly, was also a Grangemockler player on the Tipperary football team in Croke Park on Bloody Sunday and was lucky to survive the massacre. His experience of that terrible day is recounted in the book. Jerry later went on to be a prominent figure in the GAA in south Tipperary and was instrumental in founding the Davins GAA Club with members of the Davin family.
Part of the third section of Roads to Freedom documents that family history of involvement in the GAA and also the struggle for independence.
In the short story, Daily Risks, Declan pays tribute to his grandaunt Lena Shelly who acted as an IRA messenger and intelligence officer during the War of Independence.
He also documents his grandfather Jimmy Shelly’s service as an IRA intelligence officer during the war.
“This is my way of acknowledging their efforts,” he explained about why he wrote Roads to Freedom.
The latter part of the book also features three fictional stories based loosely on true events in the decades after independence and a tribute to one of Ballyneale’s favourite characters of the past, the late Jimmy Aylward.
Mr Blanchfield sourced a lot of information for Roads to Freedom from a treasure trove of local history books, which he has meticulously referenced, and from family members, friends and neighbours.
Print copies of Roads to Freedom are now on sale at Lisadobber Bar, Ballyneale; Ger Ambrose Jewellers, O'Connell Street, Clonmel and the Tudor Artisan Hub in Carrick-on-Suir. They are also available in paperback and Kindle online through Amazon: link is: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09HK2LD45

Pictured below: Declan Blanchfield, author of Roads to Freedom - Heroes From Our Past, standing at the Shelly family grave in Grangemockler.

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