‘Placing it on the back-boiler’ is the more modern version of ‘putting it on the long finger’. That is exactly where Thurles has been, industry and job-wise, for the past fifteen years. Reading the front-page headline in last week’s ‘Tipperary Star’ - ‘Tipperary H.Q.s going North or South - Clonmel or Nenagh? – made my blood boil.
At the South Tipp. County Council meeting, Tipperary Town and Cashel were even mentioned as possible alternatives, accepting, no doubt, Thurles had already toppled from the back-boiler into the fire. To their credit Cllrs Tom Woods and Denis Lacey both thought a re-unified county would be expected to have a central base, not two offices either end.
I was born into a farming community in South Tipp, spending the first part of my life there and later moving to where I now reside, for the past thirty-eight years, on the suburbs of Thurles in North Tipp. Credit me with knowing the county pretty thoroughly and being unbiased in my suggestions.
The hands of a clock operate from the centre and administration comes from there – otherwise there is no balance. Likewise Thurles is the most central town of choice to provide a balanced central Administration and Service Headquarters for the entire county. Not Nenagh, bordering on Offaly in the North, nor Clonmel, divided by the River Suir from Waterford in the South. These towns are at extremes that are over 80km apart. It was bad futuristic planning initially to put expensive new buildings in both towns, possibly now only useful for ancillary services. The economics of moving to Thurles and building new headquarters there will in time prove its viability.
Thurles has the best commuter rail, bus and haulage services in Ireland - with networks connecting the entire country. The Dublin-Cork motorway on the perimeter of the town supports it. Though once booming in industry, its main employment sector is now in the world of academia. Thurles has more educational institutes, boarding colleges and Third Level facilities, catering for thousands of pupils, than any other town of its size in the land. It is also a Cathedral town and home to the famous Semple Stadium and Hayes’s Hotel – the founding place of the GAA. Situated on the River Suir, the town is full of history and the surrounding countryside has fishing, riding, beautiful scenery and every other activity the tourist could dream about. The population of the town was 7,379 in 2011 and projected to increase to 8,037 in 2016 and 8,509 by 2020.
Apart from the Border, this ‘county union’ has never been tried before, so there is no template. The important thing is to get it right from the start, working from Thurles in the centre and the rest will roll out to plan. A rich and otherwise historic hinterland will herald Thurles as the headquarters and worthy Capital of the Premier County.