At 10am, I get off the bus in Tipperary town; it is cold. (All photos are on the Facebook page, Galway COW) In spite of putting on an extra layer this morning I can feel the icy morning air penetrating through to my core and I straightaway regret not packing gloves.
Knowing absolutely nothing about Tipperary before leaving Galway, on the way down I read that has a relatively small population that is actually lower now than it was in the post-famine years at the end of the 1840s. To put it in context, according to the 1851 census there were 6,816 people here and in 2016 only 4,916.
A forum I peruse says it is not worth visiting because it doesn’t even have a cinema anymore. Later in the day I learn that it does in fact have a cinema, so one mustn’t believe everything one reads.
Getting off the bus and ambling up through the town, I am stunned there is no welcoming committee to mark my arrival. That was a joke, but what I am surprised by is the sheer number of business premises that look disused and abandoned with forlorn looking “For Sale” and “To Let” signs dangling outside.
Throughout the day I learn that the town has gone downhill significantly in recent years with one chap prophesising that in twenty more years all there would be left of the town was tumbleweed bouncing down the road. Another chap informs me they recently had a march to protest the governments lack of investment in it.
Wandering around, I meet a woman who enquires what I am taking pictures of and suggests I go to the top of a Hill where there is a walkway. She says it used to be a very popular spot for “courting couples” but that it wasn’t any more because they’d got rid of the bushes and I ask her if they perhaps burned them like what happened in the Bible.
Reaching the walkway on the hill, where the lady I met directed me to, I discover a Famine Graveyard where mass graves were filled during the famine years in the late 1840s. On a placard beside the site, I learn that between October 1849 and May 1850, 1400 people were buried here, 500 of which were children. With so many bodies buried there in such a short time one would expect many more gravestones but at a glance it’s clear that there isn’t even 500 and many of the ones there are from recent years.
Taking a gander towards the tourist office, I discover the town library, the cinema, and a coffee shop all under the one roof. A certifiable coffee addict, I order a cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso, which, at €4, is €1 dearer than a normal cappuccino, I notice that an espresso is €2 while a double espresso is €2.50 and so I enquire how it is that an extra shot of espresso with a cappuccino is double the price of what it is when one gets an extra shot in an espresso. She confers with her colleague who confirms the extra shot is a euro. “Don’t you think that’s weird,” I ask, ”how the price of a shot of espresso doubles based on the drink it’s added to?” “I’m just doing what I am told,” she says, to which I apologise and say I hadn’t wished to cause her any anguish.
After my coffee, I again go for a wander and take a few photos of churches and things like that. A monument at the corner of one of the Main Streets, called The Maid Of Erin, commemorates the death of the Manchester Martyrs that were executed by the English in 1867 for the murder of a policeman in their fight to end British rule in Ireland. They were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, also know as Fenians, and their names were: William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien.
The last thing I stumble across is a workhouse which was opened in 1841 with the capacity for 700 inmates. In the famine years multiple times that figure had the misfortune to wind up here, many of whom that subsequently ended up in the famine graveyard I mentioned earlier. In the cramped, overcrowded conditions, disease and death were rife. I take a few photos of the building and fancy I can almost hear pitiful sobs echoing from the walls.
According to irishworkhousecentre.ie, during the famine of 1847, landlords would often pay for tenants to emigrate to the four corners of the globe as it was better than having a tenant that couldn’t pay their rent.
Others, who perhaps had less compassionate landlords, often went to the workhouse, many perishing within. Disease and malnutrition were rampant in there, but in spite of this people clamoured to get in, and so the walls were high to keep people out.
One account speaks of 50 people a day queuing up outside each night, with half being dead by morning.
Making my way to the bus, I am both glad and saddened by my visit today and what with the current population being worse than the famine years a dark thought crosses my mind that it may be a suitable time to reopen the workhouse.
While on the bus back to Galway I decide to Google about the protest March and find a recent article from The Irish Times about it. According to it, the last factory there closed about fifteen years ago and unemployment is about five times higher than the national average. A local GP said that, due to economic hardship, that the physical and mental health of many inhabitants is at a low ebb and that he felt that if the economy could somehow be revitalized then people’s health would improve.
I’m not sure why exactly I decided to visit Tipperary today, but I am glad I did. I spoke with around a dozen locals and there is a very friendly, warm vibe there in spite of its recent difficulties. One would hope that somehow the locals can somehow band together and secure some sort of investment so as to inject a little vigour back into it.