From Holycross to Clonmel - Noel Buckley shares what County Tipperary means to him



Noel Buckley, shares his views of his native county Tipperary

A native of Holycross, Noel  attended the local national school  and went from there to Thurles CBS.   As a result of the visit of John Paul II to Ireland in 1979 he became involved in youth and community work, deciding to go to college in Materdei to complete a degree in Religious Science.  He began his teaching career in the Presentation Secondary School in Clonmel in 1985.  In 1988 he married his wife Gaye and moved to  Clonmel. In 1995 Noel and his family moved to live in the beautiful village of Marlfield.

What's your idea of a perfect day, or perfect weekend  in Tipperary?

I am a keen gardener so any day I am in my garden is a perfect day.  I am also a great GAA fan and the perfect weekend is when Tipp are playing championship in Semple Stadium in Thurles.  I have been going there since I was a small child and I have lovely happy memories of us as a family heading off to matches on Sunday there and in other pitches around mid Tipp.  Through the GAA you make great friendships and in a sense through that you acquire a second family where you come to share many magical moments along with the heartache of losing a match.  Later when I introduced my own kids to GAA I loved bringing them and their friends to see Tipp play. 

A perfect weekend is Saturday in the Garden, sowing or harvesting my vegetables along with keeping the flower beds and lawn.  Sunday morning for me is a walk with my dogs in the countryside, or mountain walking up Slievenamon or the Comeraghs, lunch with my family and during the GAA season off to support my local club St Mary’s, Holycross or Upperchurch.

 If Tipp are not out on a weekend match then watching the live action of the other hurling counties on TV with my family.  Throughout my life time the sound of Sunday has been Michael O’Hehir, Michael O Muircheartaigh or Marty Morrissey and the roar of a crowd at a match.  This summer with Covid-19 I am going to really miss that.

Who has made the greatest contribution to Tipperary in your lifetime - and why?

For me it would have to be Willie Hayes and Archbishop Morris. In restoring Holycross Abbey they have left a legacy and a symbol that will last many generations into the future.  In taking on this project they not only restored the Abbey but also transformed my native village of Holycross. 

When I was in primary school a new curate came to the parish, Willie Hayes and he had this far seeing vision of restoring it as a parish church.  Many of the older folk in the parish did not believe it could be done.  

There was great excitement as we learned the long history of the Abbey.  We watched the project unfold before our eyes, the graves in the church being dug up and re interred, the stripping of  the ivy covered walls revealing the beautiful stonework and the re roofing using the old traditional skills. I as a young teenager helped with the stewarding when it officially opened in 1976. 

 It was a proud day for Tipperary and the people of the parish. As a parish we were blessed to have had a man of vision like Willie Hayes among us and the support of Archbishop Morris who gave his backing to making that vision a reality.  It shows what can be done when a local community has someone among them who has the vision and courage to pursue it. Both these men have restored something of beauty from our past which stands out on the Tipperary landscape.

What's your first Tipperary memory?

I have many but the golden one is in 1987.  I grew up in the “famine years of Tipp hurling so one of my most memorable moments was heading off with my cousins in 1987 to Killarney to the replay of the Munster final between Cork and Tipp in 1987, the weather was fantastic, the atmosphere magic and I had a seat right in the centre of the pitch for an epic repeat battle between Cork and Tipp.  Short of a result at the end of normal time I remember the sense of anticipation as we waited for extra time to start. 

The tide turned in the replay when my native parish club man Michael Doyle came on as a sub and scored two key goals.  When the final whistle went, I remember the run on to the pitch and those famous words of Richard Stakelum “the famine is over”. Going home from Killarney that night was a memorable journey and the next night in Borrisoleigh was electric with hope and anticipation for the future of Tipperary hurling. You could say that weekend marked the beginning of a brighter future for Tipp hurling and my kids were fortunate to grow up in an era of Tipp success.

What's your favourite part of the county - and why?

My favourite part of the county is South Tipperary and until I came to work in Clonmel I hardly knew it except for the odd visit to Clonmel. What captures me is its beauty, the richness and diversity of its countryside.  In the course of my work I have driven into most towns in Ireland at some stage but Clonmel must be one of the most beautiful towns to drive into with the Comeraghs in the background, the distant mountains of the Galtees, Knockmealdowns and Slievenamon visible from the wider angle and in summer you are captured by the ripening fields of corn.  

Then there is the beautiful Suir and its recently developed Blue way along with the beautiful village of Marlfield with its wildlife lake and St Patrick’s Well.  As an outdoor enthusiast I find it is heaven on my doorstep, in a few minutes I can be on one of the mountains, or simply cycling or walking the Blueway.  In my own village of Marlfield I love the changing seasons, the colour foliage and watch out for the birth of the young ducks and swans on the wildlife lake.  It has everything you need to nourish the human spirit and body.

What do you think gives Tipperary its unique identity?

For me it has to be its people and the land.  As a farmer’s son I am conscious of the richness of its land.  

We are in the heart of the golden vale and what better place to produce fresh food. In terms of its people its their friendship and sense of community along with the desire to contribute social capital to their area.

You can see examples of that all-around Tipperary with local festivals, tidy towns committees and the beautiful villages of Kilsheelan, Marlfield, and Terryglass to name but a few which reflect that spirit of commitment. 

Community development in places like Upperchurch where they have a great pride in their place, the development of the Blue way along the Suir and the local contribution to the arts in places like Carrich on Suir, Thurles and the Holycross Drama festival

What's the biggest challenge facing the county today?

The biggest challenges facing the county today are the decline of our towns and villages.  The heart has been torn out of towns like Clonmel and Thurles with many shops shut.  Local authorities need to ask themselves some serious questions before it is too late.  Allowing out of town developments was a mistake in the first place.  Towns and villages have been the heart of local communities. 

The loss of local shops and services in villages is leading to a future of ghost villages and towns.  Covid 19  in the last few weeks has reminded us all of the importance of the local shop and the local infrastructure such as post offices etc.  We need our local authorities to engage with the people of the county on creating a vision for how we can reimagine our towns in the 21st century.

Progress can not be stopped but the successfully always learn to adopt to the new realities.  Places like Upperchurch and Ballymaccarbery here in Waterford have taken on that challenge successfully.  Our County Council urgently needs to address it at county level.

 If you had the power to change one thing in, or about Tipperary, what would it be?

In Tipperary we a blessed with a rich landscape and fantastic farmland.  I would make us the food capital of Ireland and I believe the seeds of it are there with a lot of small farm enterprises which have emerged over the last decade.  Covid 19 has taught us the importance of buying and shopping local.

I think as a county we should encourage and support our farmers to diversify into new areas such as vegetable and fruit growing, foster more organic production, more native woodland and hedgerows and  nourish a richer biodiversity because in Tipperary we have such a rich landscape from rich farmland, forest, bog, uplands mountains and rivers.  

I would support chefs, restaurants and small coffee shops to take that excellent local produce and create beautiful food experiences for diners for which I think there is a growing market.  Our towns can through these become new social spaces that draw people in and I would have more of our streets pedestrianised to facilitate social gathering and good food experiences which would create more footfall in our towns.  

Tipperary is an undiscovered county in terms of tourism.  True we have huge crowds going to the Rock of Cashel, Cahir etc but they do not overnight in our county, they fly through without discovering the richness of our county.  I would market our mountains, cycling trails and our rivers as places to come to, stay and enjoy them, relax with fine dining experiences and meet the local friendly people. 

To enable that we need to have a county plan with that focus along with supporting the necessary infrastructure and a marketing strategy with Tipperary as the destination that has everything from history, arts, good food and a rich and varied landscape that facilitates a wide range of activities