"I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live that his place will be proud of him," declared President Abraham Lincoln. Those words by the great American statesman are very applicable to the late Roche Williams, vice president of the Kilruane MacDonaghs club. He was immensely proud of his native village and Cloughjordan was rightly proud of Roche. He was a founder member of the Thomas MacDonagh Park committee in 1961. In his fifty years as chairman he oversaw the opening of the pitch in 1966, the erection of the Pavilion in 1969, the construction of the stand in 1995, the provision of the Complex in 2006 and the building of the hurling wall in 2009.
His affection for Thomas MacDonagh Park never wavered and his desire to enhance its facilities seldom dimmed during his lengthy tenure at the helm, attending his last meeting of the Park Committee on September 19th 2012. The phenomenal success of the Sale of Work on January 27th gladdened his heart and although physically frail it was entirely fitting that he was present in The Complex on that day to savour the satisfaction of the greatest fundraising venture in the history of the MacDonaghs club. As he surveyed the scene his thoughts may have rambled back to that very significant day in 1961 when Roche and his great friend Michael Banaghan watched young boys hurling on the village street. This regular scene in Cloughjordan's main thoroughfare was the spark that inspired the two neighbours to establish the Thomas MacDonagh Park Committee. From little acorns great oak trees grow. The Kilruane MacDonaghs club will be forever indebted to Roche, Michael and their colleagues for their foresight and fortitude, their dedication and determination, their patience and persistence in bringing this major project to a successful conclusion.
Thomas Roche Williams was born on August 16th 1927, the feast day of St. Roche. He was the eldest of five boys in the family of Jack Williams and Ellen Kennedy. In that year the E.S.B. was established, the famous aviator Charles Lindberg flew the Spirit of St. Louis on the first non-stop solo flight from New York to Paris, the 1916 leader Countess Markievicz passed to her eternal reward and Pope Benedict XVI first saw the light of day. Roche received his primary education in the school that was known as the "Little Chapel. In spite of the Spartan conditions, the most basic of facilities, the limited space and the rigid discipline, Roche developed a love of learning that was to last his long life. He made his Confirmation in 1938 and his classmates included: the Kilruane MacDonaghs club president Tom Cleary; his cousin Mick Williams who was to go on and play in two All-Ireland senior hurling finals with Dublin; the great athlete Mick Cleary from Behamore and his neighbour Paddy 'Budsy' Gardiner who was destined to star in "The Riordans". Roche attended Catlemartyr Secondary School in Cork and then went to St. Mary's College in Dundalk, where he did his Leaving Cert, going on to repeat that examination in Ballyfin College in Laois. It was there that his fellow students christened him The Rock. His brother Neil was to follow him to Ballyfin and he was called The Little Rock. A third member of the Williams Clan Pat arrived in the hallowed halls of the midland college and he was labelled Pebbles. Unsurprisingly, Roche's son Sean, maintains the geological connection as he carries the name Rocky. Roche won a county minor football championship medal while attending St. Marys who participated in the Louth championship. Roche attended St. Patrick's Teacher Training College in Drumcondra and qualified as a national teacher in 1948. He spent the period from November 1948 to June 1949 as supernumerary in the Patrician Brothers School in Mallow, Co. Cork. On September 1st 1949 Roche was appointed principal of Glenahilty N.S. . Roche travelled to U.C.G. at weekends to do his B.A. in the company of his neighbour Liam O'Byrne, who later became principal of Puckane School. On the retirement of Michael Honan, Roche became principal of Cloughjordan N.S. on July 1st 1954, a position he held for thirty nine years until his retirement in 1993.
He fostered a love of Gaelic games, language and culture in his pupils. Roche was proactive in the promotion of hurling in the tiny field behind the school. When the bell tolled to call the pupils back to class the cries of Naíonáin (Infants) from the older boys would reverberate around the playground. Roche would generally heed the plaintiff pleading of the senior pupils and give the nod to finish the match. While the infants trudged wearily back to their daily grind, the senior boys threw themselves into the fray once again with renewed vigour under the approving eye of the Master. Boys would urge their colleagues to keep the sliotar 'ar an talamh' (on the ground) in a not so subtle attempt to impress the watching Máistir. The annual games between Na Piarsaigh and Na Sairséalaigh on the day of the summer holidays were eagerly anticipated and fought with a ferocity that was comparable to any Munster Final. It was no coincidence that fifteen of the MacDonaghs senior panel, which won the All-Ireland club title in 1986, were past pupils of Cloughjordan School. How very appropriate that when the team returned in triumph to the village on that famous day that it was Roche who acted as fear 'a tí to welcome home the conquering heroes. He had done so on many previous occasions in the golden era of the late seventies and early eighties. Roche was the ideal candidate to fill this role as he had the ability to capture the mood of the moment and on those memorable nights.
Like the pupils in Goldsmith's "Deserted Village" we were amazed that "that one small head could carry all he knew". To us he seemed to have the wisdom of Solomon, if not always the patience of Job. We could distinguish between sins mortal and venial and knew when to fast and abstain on the days appointed. History came alive in the classroom with Roche. He captivated us with stories about the courage of Cúchulainn and the feats of the Fianna. Roche enthralled us with the tales of the mythical Fir Bolg and the magical Tuatha Dé Dannan. We marched with O'Neill and fought with the O'Donnell. We rallied to the cause of the rebels and we felt the hardship and pain of the Famine. We learned pride in our place and admiration for MacDonagh. The classroom echoed to the strains of "O'Donnell Abú" and the "The Foggy Dew". We could recite the lament of "Cill Chais" and Seán Ó Riordáin's "Cúl an Tí." We laughed at the antics of Jimín Mháire Thaidhg and shed a tear at death of An Croipí Bocht. Bhí suim ar leith ag Roche sa Ghaeilge agus rinne sé treán iarracht ár dteanga a chur chun cinn istigh sa seomra ranga agus timpeall an cheantair. Ghlac sé páirt sa tionscanmh Tiobraid Árann ag Labhairt agus lena chomhmhúinteoirí bhain sé taitneamh agus sult as an bhfeachtas sin.
Roche was a great community man, deeply immersed in the local activities. He embraced the arrival of the Eco Village, which helped to rejuvenate his beloved Cloughjordan, while he lamented the fact that the recession had forced many young men and women to emigrate. No doubt he often pondered words from one of his favourite songs "The Boys of Barr na Sráide":
"And now they toil in foreign soil, for they have gone their way
Deep in the heart of London Town or over in Broadway."
Roche served as a selector with the MacDonaghs juvenile teams in the halcyon days of the late fifties and early sixties, when the young hurlers won three county and seven divisional championships. He also acted as a mentor with the senior football team. He was a much respected member of the club committee for many years, where his wisdom and experience were invaluable assets. Roche thought before he spoke and rarely rushed to judgement. His delivery was measured and his diction unblemished. He remained calm in debate and discussion and articulated his opinions with clarity and conviction. Roche was elected vice-president of Kilruane MacDonaghs in 2001 and prior to that he had filled the role of vice-chairman. In 2007 he was presented with a prestigious Sean Ghael award and in 2011 he was honoured at the club's dinner dance in recognition of his loyal and committed service to Kilruane MacDonaghs and Thomas MacDonagh Park.
Roche sang with the church and community choirs, was a former chairman of the Parish Council, a member of North Tipperary V.E.C., secretary of the Borrisokane /Cloughjordan Branch of the I.N.T.O for thirty years and was also deeply involved with the Fianna Fail party. He enjoyed the cut and thrust of politics, particularly at election time when tension and rivalry among the parties was ratcheted up a notch or two. Roche accomplished so much for a man who never seemed to be in a hurry. No gathering in the village seemed complete without his presence. Not noted for punctuality, for Roche late was better than never. He was highly regarded a historian and was a very active member of the Cloughjordan Heritage Group. Roche played a key role in planning the Heritage Centre, which was officially opened on May 3rd. He was a recognised authority on Thomas MacDonagh and in 1999 he published "In and out of School, In the Home of the MacDonaghs", which traces the development of education in the parish, gives a general account of life in the locality from the earliest times, with special emphasis on the role of the MacDonagh family.
Roche was a very sociable character who enjoyed the camaraderie of the game of cards and revelled in many a rousing session of music and song. He was a great conversationalist who was at ease in the company of both young and old. Roche loved meeting the multitude of colourful characters who inhabited the village. He never tired of the yarns and tales about 'Foot Loose' and Paul Phillips, Bill Carroll of Emill and the wily boys from Kyle. He exemplified and typified all that was best in the village. You couldn't think of Roche without mentioning Cloughjordan and any talk of Cloughjordan was likely to contain some reference to Roche.
Above all he was a devoted family man. He was proud of his father's part in the struggle for independence. He appreciated his mother's determination to provide for her family after the death of her husband Jack. Roche celebrated the success of his brothers on the playing field. In 1963 he married Anne O'Leary from Templederry and in their home at 'Bun na Sráide' they raised a family of four boys and one girl. With the help of Anne, Roche instilled in his own family the thirst for knowledge that he himself had inherited from his mother and in his twilight years spent many happy hours in the company of his grand children.
Roche died on Friday April 26th, the feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel. On that evening the tricolour in Thomas MacDonagh Park fluttered gently at half mast as the Kilruane MacDonaghs juveniles took on Borrisokane. A minute's silence was observed before the start of the MacDonaghs and Nenagh senior game. The huge crowds that converged on his home and assembled at both the removal and funeral Mass were an eloquent testimony to the high esteem in which Roche was held. His coffin was draped in club colours and three generations of MacDonaghs players and supporters, augmented by representatives of different community organisations, formed a guard of honour on his final journey to Cloughjordan Church. On that same evening the MacDonaghs U14 hurlers were crowned North Féile hurling champions. The team management dedicated the victory to the memory of Roche Williams. We know that Roche would be pleased. Addressing the congregation at the funeral Mass, his daughter Mary paid a very eloquent tribute. In a graveside oration Jim Casey, a former pupil, detailed Roche's magnificent contribution to community life in the village he loved so well. With the stand of Thomas MacDonagh Park clearly visible in the distance, one of Cloughjordan's most iconic personalities was laid to rest. Roche has left us a lasting legacy. As long as the clash of the ash can be heard in MacDonagh Park his work will go on and his memory will never fade.
When Joseph MacDonagh, father of Thomas MacDonagh, died in 1894 a beautiful tribute was penned in the Nenagh News, which reflected the esteem and respect in which Joseph was held. The opening verses could have been written with Roche in mind.
"And he is gone, our kind good master
Who was a father to us all
And shall we hear no more his laughter
Nor listen to his whistle call
On the altar, in the schoolroom
With the plough and with the pen
In the excise, in the barrack
How he used to count his men
And his "men" across the ocean
Scattered far from pole to pole
Will exclaim with sad emotion
"May God have mercy on his soul."
To his daughter Mary, sons Seán, Pádraig, Conor and Tomás, his brothers Neil, Pat and Joe and extended family, sympathy is extended.
Ní fheicimid a leithéid arís. Solas na bhFlaitheas da anam uasal.