Matty Maher proprietor of McSorley’s old Ale House and originally from Threecastles in County Kilkenny, died on the 11th January this year aged 80. His funeral on a bright, crisp morning was attended by hundreds of family and friends. His casket was escorted by two pipers from the New York fire department and carried under an arch of Hurley’s.

McSorley’s Old Ale House, opened in the mid to late 1800s, by Irish immigrant John McSorley from Omagh in County Tyrone and is the oldest Irish pub in Manhattan’s Lower East Side of New York City.

 

It is currently is about 164 years old.  Many famous people have visited over the past hundred years including Abraham Lincoln, whose his chair now looks down over the bar, along with dusty fire helmets. The walls are covered with old artwork and newspaper articles and the floors covered with sawdust.  Apparently, no piece of memorabilia has been removed from the establishment since 1910, from Houdini’s handcuffs, which remain on the rail, to the priceless turkey wishbones hanging from the oil lamp above the bar.

 

The story goes that some local soldiers being shipped out to France during World War 1 celebrated their final meal with their families, a turkey dinner, and each brought the wishbone to the bar. The plan was that they would return and claim their wishbones. The wishbones that remain are those of the young men who never returned.

 

McSorley’s has retained it’s Irish ownership since its establishment and it’s present owner is Matty’s daughter Teresa.  Matty ran the Ale House for over 50 years and is survived by his wife Tess and five daughters and grandchildren.

At the age of 25, when still living in Ireland, Matty Maher noticed a car broken down on the side of the road. Inside was the then owner of McSorley’s, Harry Kirwan from Lisdowney Co Kilkenny.  Kirwin was home on a visit to Ireland when he was stranded with a flat tyre on the side of the road.  Matty picked him up and helped him get back on the road again.  In gratitude Harry told him that if he was ever in New York City there was a job for him in McSorley's.  He took up the offer in 1964, working as a waiter and bartender before buying the place from Kirwin's son, Danny, in 1977.

 

McSorley’s was famously a men-only establishment when Maher began plying his trade there, with its slogan boasting “good ale, raw onions and no ladies.”

A gender discrimination case in 1970 forced the pub to reverse it’s men-only policy and to drop the last two words of its enduring slogan. Matty’s daughter, Teresa Maher de la Haba would become the first female bartender to ever serve behind the bar and later became the owner after her father’s retirement.

Matty was a larger than life character, he was a five-foot-eight spark plug, with the Irish gift of the gab. His generosity knew no bounds as ale was often served free to visitors he hadn’t seen for years. You had a choice - light or dark beer and he knew all of  his regular customers. The busy bar has two mottos, “Be Good or Be Gone" and "We were here before you were born." You can get a sense of what this bar is about from these two sayings, you get the vibe that this place is no nonsense, good fun and great stories. Matty was an accomplished accordion player who liked traditional music and following his favourite hurling county.

When he left poverty back in Ireland, he was determined to leave it behind for good. He saw an opportunity and believed in the American Dream. He was a traditional Irish publican who often told patrons that “It’s not what you become in life but what you overcome.”

Old John McSorley's favourite poem The Man behind the Bar makes a fitting epitaph for Matty Maher.

“When St Peter sees him coming, he will leave the gates ajar, for he knows he's had his hell on earth, has the man behind the bar”.

Matty Maher and McSorley's Ale House New York City

Teresa & Matty Maher

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Tullaroan's path to the 1887 All Ireland.

In 1887 Tullaroan became the first ever County Champions after beating Mooncoin.  The match was held on Kilkenny Working Men’s Club grounds on the Freshford Road and had one of the biggest crowds in attendance for a county hurling match of those times. At a time when goals outweighed any number of points, an all-important late goal is what won it for Tullaroan and with a final score of Tullaroan 1.1 to Mooncoin 0.4, never was the expression ‘goals win matches’ of greater significance.

Following their victory, Tullaroan had the honour of being the first hurling club to represent Kilkenny on the national stage.  This was an open draw competition and Tullaroan were drawn to meet the champions of Cork on July 24th 1887 in Dungarvan.  A huge crowd travelled to Dungarvan by train for this match, with passengers changing at trains at Waterford.  Such was their numbers that passengers climbed on top of carriages, lay flat and linked arms for safety and to avoid low bridges and bellowing engine smoke!

Hurling was not the only sport being played in Dungarvan on that day.  The Tullaroan hurlers were accompanied to Dungarvan by the Kilkenny Football champions from Kilmacow for what was scheduled to be a Kilkenny/Cork All-Ireland Championship double-header.  Unfortunately however, that wasn’t to be.  It was both success and disappointment for the Cats as the hurling did not go ahead and Kilkenny received a walkover as the team that travelled from Cork (St Finbars) hadn’t played all the qualifying matches and were not the County’s champions.

Not forgetting the football, Kilmacow won their game beating the Cork county Champions by 4 points to no score.

 

Tullaroan’s next fixture was the All-Ireland Hurling Quarter-Final against the Limerick Champions and they travelled to Dublin fully expecting to play Castleconnell in the grounds of the St. Patrick’s Club in Inchicore on August 28th, 1887.  Kilkenny were togged out in their new jersey colours of Black & Amber for the match.  Amazingly Tullaroan received yet another walk-over in this fixture, this time as a result of a dispute about which hurling club had the right to represent Limerick!

On to the All-Ireland Hurling Semi-Final and Tullaroan’s next scheduled opponents were Thurles the Tipperary Champions.  This match was fixed for Clonmel on Sunday, October 23rd, 1887.  On arriving at the venue, Tullaroan and Thurles found the pitch to be occupied by the hurling teams Clonmel and the previously suspended Moycarkey.  Clonmel and Moycarkey were in dispute as to whether proper procedures had been followed in suspending Moycarkey.

 

Incredibly for the third time in as many months, the Tullaroan players were forced to leave the venue without enjoying any competitive action and the Game was re-fixed for Urlingford on Thursday afternoon 27th October 1887.  Alas Kilkenny finally came to the end of this intriguing competition by losing the game to Thurles with a final match result of 4 goals to no score.  Tipperary went on to win the All Ireland beating Galway.  The 1887 All Ireland was played in Birr Co Offally on the 3rd April 1888 and was the very first all Ireland organised by the Gaelic Athletic Assocation for inter-county hurling teams in Ireland.

Final score Tipperary 1.1 Galway no score.

E&OE.

BEFORE THERE WAS MATT THE MILLER’S TAVERN 

THERE WAS MATT THE MILLER.

Kilkenny, the medieval capital of Ireland, stands in the shade of the majestic Kilkenny Castle. In years gone by all castles had their own mills, which were served by local peasants, who would turn their crops in to their landlord in lieu of rent. In Kilkenny, these crops were delivered daily to a young miller named Matt who ran the Mill at its present site of John’s Bridge.

Now young Matt was an enterprising lad. He kept the best of the barley to one side and developed his own home brew. As the years went by so Matt’s brew grew stronger and more popular and he opened his own tavern in the mill.

Now at this time, condemned men were led to the gallows below Greensbridge and their last stop was said to be Matt’s tavern.

Folklore says that Kilkenny’s most infamous thieves and rogues had their last request granted of fresh fish from the adjoining River Nore, a loaf of home-made soda bread and a jug of Matt’s ale.

As the story goes, twice a year the ghost of Matt is seen in the cellar bar of Matt The Millers, just to be sure the finest of brews are still being served to the condemned rogues and thieves of Kilkenny.

Jack in The Box and Spike Island Cobh Co Cork

Did you ever wonder where the name Jack In The Box comes from?

 

On a recent visit to Spike Island I heard the interesting story of James Grey, who had been sentenced to a number of years imprisonment for stealing items of value from trains and ships.

James grey was a Manchester born thief who would become infamous as the criminal 'Jack In The Box'. Grey constructed a large wooden box with clever levers and hinges that meant it could be opened from the inside. He would climb inside his trunk, have a friend mail it to accomplices in Cork, Belfast and Liverpool, and while the box was en route he would climb out and pillage the carriage!

He stole jewellery, fine clothing and anything of value he could fit into his trunk before climbing back inside and on to his accomplices, leaving the mystified train staff to try and deduce how the goods were taken. His crafty thefts went unsolved for years, until a rent collector who had read in the Times about a reward for some fine shawls that were stolen from the Dublin to Cork train, visited Grey's lodgings and noticed those very same shawls draped across the chair he sat on! The house was searched and police found his clever rigged trunk and so in 1856, James Grey was arrested and sentenced to 4 years in Prison. He returned to Cork in a very different box, this time to serve his sentence at Spike Island, then the largest prison in Ireland and Britain and most probably the world. So the story goes, Jack InThe Box was a clever thief who got complacent and paid the price.

James Grey (Jack in the Box)

Spike Island Cobh Co Cork

Of the many awards Adi Roche has received, the most recent was from the Belarusian Ambassador Sergei Aleinik on behalf of his Government.  The Ambassador bestowed a Certificate of Distinction on the Irish humanitarian, for her outstanding role in rehabilitating so many children through the charity ‘Adi Roche’s Chernobyl Children International’.

Belarus is a country ravaged by the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.  Adi Roche from Clonmel in Tipperary and now living in Cork became involved and so began her life’s work.  The Chernobyl Children’s Project International was established in 1991 and has delivered over €105 million in aid to the area’s most affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.  The CCPI has brought over 25,000 children to Ireland on rest and recuperation trips, and some for life saving surgery.

Jim is a former Kilkenny person of the year and a member of O'Loughlin Gaels GAA club. He took with him a number of volunteers including classmate Eamon Morrissey and his brother Frank who himself has a long association with Belarus.  This trip was an opportunity to meet up with Vacillie, a twenty eight year old young man with a heart of gold, who has been coming to Kilkenny to stay with Frank, his wife Eileen and family every year for the last seven years. 

April 2018:

On April 19th, Jim Kavanagh from the outskirts of Kilkenny city, made the 3,000km journey to Belarus by truck.  This was his 63rd humanitarian trip to Belarus where he delivered a huge truck load of aid. The truck was packed full of nappies, clothes, toiletries and toys when it left the city.

Throughout the trip Frank and Eamon helped with deliveries and with bringing aid locally to orphanages and Homes of Hope.  They then drove a van that was used locally back to Kilkenny covering thousands of kilometres and travelling through numerous countries including Poland, Germany, Holland and the UK. As a society we congratulate and commend Frank and Eileen, including our classmate Eamon and all volunteers for their un-selfish, caring and ongoing commitment to the CCPI and to Vacillie who is now a lasting member of the Morrissey family.

 

Jim Kavanagh with volunteers including Eamon & Frank Morrissey

Adi Roche & Ambassador Sergei Aleinik

Frank & Vacillie

Volunteer helpers sorting nappies for delivery

There are many ways you can help with Chernobyl Children Project International. The CCPI welcomes all efforts and contributions. In Kilkenny, Hennessy’s Sports in Newpark Shopping Centre (Proprietor Frank Morrissey) will accept all quality children’s clothes, nappies and toys etc. 

Frank & Helpers

Our Own Robin Hood.

Kilkenny’s real life ‘Robin Hood’ – James Freney

 

Our City and county may be small compared to the rest of Ireland, but it has produced some of the finest and most interesting characters over the centuries.  One such person was the notorious Kilkenny Highwayman, ‘Captain’ James Freney our very own Robin Hood.  Freney plagued the highways and countryside of Kilkenny and surrounding counties in the 1740s demanding money and valuables and threatening his victims.   However as long as his victims co-operated, he responded in kind.  Whenever they pleaded a special case he would return some of their money.  In this and in other ways, he remained ever the gentleman, even helping the poor.  This is the story of his life.

 

The Freney’s of Inistioge were a respectable family who had been wealthy and powerful in the region since the 13th century, having their seat at Ballyreddy Castle. Unfortunately during the 1650s they lost their lands and were reduced in status. James Freney Sr was a servant working at the home of one Joseph Robbins at Ballyduff in Thomastown, who worked his way up to become steward of the estate.  In 1718 he married Robbins's housemaid, Alice Phelan, and their son James was born the following year at Alice's father's home at Inistioge.

 

Mrs. Robbins was fond of the young James and paid for his education.  When her husband Joseph died, their son George inherited the estate and he employed James as a trainee butler. However James, who was now 16, was fond of gambling, dancing, hurling and cockfighting and had little interest in his work. 

 

In 1742 he moved to Waterford where he met and married a young lady by the name of Anne McSorley, the daughter of shopkeepers.  He used his own savings and his wife’s small dowry to open a public house.  This provoked opposition because he was not a freeman of the city.  And because of his confession of religion, he could not conduct a business without paying a special duty, which he refused to do.  Soon the local men of commerce drove him out of business and the couple moved back to Thomastown.

 

Back in Thomastown, his old employer George Robbins hired him as a groom but he was soon in debt and owing his creditors a huge sum of money which he could not pay.  He then met John Reddy, a member of the Kellymount gang of robbers and his career as a highwayman and robber began.

 

From Ballyduff he led a hectic life with his gang, robbing around south Kilkenny and Wexford. No tax collector could ply his trade, no great house could rest easy and no coach could travel the roads for several counties around with fear of a visit from Freney. Tradition tells that he worked in Ballyduff by day, but when guests arrived, he stole away to their houses to rob them. He would then be back in time to help them mount their horses in the morning.  He managed to settle some old scores and remained a general vexation to the authorities for some time.

 

In 1745, Freney contracted smallpox and lost the sight of one eye. However, it did not diminish his shooting skills.  There is an old gun known as the ‘Blunderbuss’ a wonderful piece of craftsmanship, on display today in Rothe House Museum.  The engraving on the butt of this gun shows the insignia of Lord Waterford, and it is believed that Freney stole the gun from him during a raid.

 

As his notoriety grew, he travelled to Cork to lie low and from there he went to England where he posed for a time as a merchant in Bath and Bristol before returning to Ireland.  In January 1748 he was proclaimed an outlaw with a £100 reward offered for his capture.  He was given until August to surrender or suffer the charge of high treason.

 

Freney eventually surrendered in April 1749 having negotiated a pardon for himself through Councillor Robbins, his old employer's brother.  A deal was brokered with the chief justice where he was allowed to emigrate.  It is believed this deal was procured because the authorities feared executing him would make him a folk hero and lead to further disturbances.  However it also meant betraying his companions and as a result the rest of the Kellymount gang went to the gallows.

 

It is not known where or how long he was abroad, if at all, but James Freney must have still had influential friends as in 1776 he was employed as a Supernumerary Tidewaiter (a kind of Customs Official), at New Ross Port. He held this post until his death in December 1788.  Unlike other rapparees and highwaymen of the eighteenth century, he died in his bed and was buried in Inistioge, in an unmarked grave.  Some of his hoard is reputed to be buried on Brandon Hill, near Graiguenamanagh and to this day remains undiscovered!

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