19 Jan 2022

Templemore: A slice of yesteryear from I Remember Karrigeen

Templemore Town Hall pictured after fire destroyed a portion of it.

Templemore Town Hall pictured after fire destroyed a portion of it.

The fictional town was based on Templemore

The following is an extract from I remember Karrigeen, a book written in 1944 by Templemore native Fr. Neil Kevin.

Neil was born in January 1903, the second son of Edward and Margaret Kevin, who ran a family drapery shop where Murphy's chemist now operates on the Main Street.

Karrigeen is the fictional name for Templemore and the book sees the author recalling life growing up in the town in the early 1900's. Chapter 2, A case of Phoenix, refers to the importance of the Town Hall as the focal point of the town.

Above: Fr Neil Kevin

Karrigeen has a population of two thousand. In it’s history there has been nothing to cause an asterisk. A story, of which there are several versions goes with the Abbey ruin. But in Ireland, ruins and stories are three a penny. Karrigeen is not a tourist centre. A guide book extant says it is a “Progressive market town on the river”. This gives a false impression. There is a river that flows under a bridge at the end of the town, but the river is small and the bridge has only one eye. Karrigeen is easy to live in. It makes ends meet and is contented. It offers to its inhabitants just as much leisure and as much variety of incident as are calculated to improve their inventiveness and imagination. “Characters grow in it with the ease and diversity of wildflowers”.

Though it looks vacantly at you most days, there is a sense in which the Town Hall is the hub of things. Everything public is done from The Steps – stone steps which lead up on either side to the outer balcony of the hall. For Karrigeen, that balcony has been the focal point of every national movement and commotion. From it the best political speakers in Ireland, and the worst, with their hands resting on the iron railing, have appealed to, and encouraged, and roused and coaxed, and exhorted, and flattered the “Men and Women of Karrigeen”. Waves of eloquence of many a kind have passed there over the upturned face of our town.

This, for Karrigeen, was the scene of the Parnell split, and all of the skin and hair bye-elections. Here crumbled the Irish Party and several fife and drum bands. On that balcony stood Sinn Fein and raised its hand for silence. Here was defeated the threat of conscription. Here have come Cumann na nGaedheal and Fianna Fail led by uncomfortable horsemen. The Steps ha survived them all and waits for others to come, waits for judgement day.

The Town Hall has weather cock but no one minds whether it works or not. Nobody cares for the winds are localised. They do not blow from the north and south, but from the mountain, or Borris or the railway station. In the Black and Tan war our town hall was burned down. But helped by a compensation grant, it rose again from the ashes. The risen phoenix has more concrete than its predecessor and is without the minarets that gave elegance.

If you had grown up in the pre-1914 Karrigeen and were not now afraid of being thought a sentimentalist, you would probably have a preference for the old town. Quiet enough, as it mostly was, you still would like to remember it when it was quietest – in the long sleepy sunny afternoons when the farmers had gone home and a solitary cart went up or down Main Street as in a dream. In the deep stillness, space contracted. The three-storied houses leaned across the street, gaping into one another’s windows, and all those homes that were so different seemed to be the same.

The risen Town Hall is the symbol of everlastingness, the outward sign of Karrigeen preserving her identity through time. You became aware of that identity when at times you see the children with the very faces that their fathers and mothers had, and watch them go about their games with the very same gait, playing the same games with no change in the den for spy, and falling in love and growing up in their children again. Each house lasts so long that a street is eternal.

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