Thomas Aherne’s sudden and untimely passing took us all by surprise and it will take some time to come to grips with his death. This wonderful Christian gentleman was for so many of us, ever present and seemed to be around as generations came and went. In his 85th year, he did only what he would do best, slipped away quietly, without any fuss, he did it his way.
His unselfish contribution to life was huge and he gave of his time generously and regularly to people and organisations who needed help or assistance. Thomas was a doer and a giver.
Growing up in Ringaskiddy in the 1930’s he sensed the great quality and richness of his local community despite the very difficult economic times. Hurling & Football, Plays and Drama, Hunting, Cards and many other activities gave him a lesson and foundation for the years ahead.
He worked as the local Postman and later spent many years with Irish Life Assurance Company. Through these occupations he got to know nearly everybody in the community. He loved Hurling & Football and was always closely associated with the Shamrock Club. He loved the game of camogie too and was present in Cobh in 1949 when The Shamrock Camogie team defeated Blackrock in the Senior final. In the early 1970’s the Club were in a bad state for jerseys. They only had a bag of rags and no money to replace them. Thomas got to hear about the situation and undertook to organise a concert to raise funds for a new set. He rounded up a huge pool of local talent. Paddy the Bird sang “Down in the garden where the bluebells grow”, Dan O’Leary from the top of Raffeen Hill gave us his version of “The German Clockmaker” and Der Brennan gave his best rendition of “Carrigdhoun”. Norrie Hickey, Jackie O’Driscoll, Kathleen Collins were some others who took to the boards as well. However the top billing for the night was the famous Janeczek Sisters from Cork City, an all girls group who were making national headlines at the time. They came on stage at 1am and the packed Community Centre dispersed at 2.30am in the morning. When all was over and most importantly, the money counted, it was found, not only had he raised enough money for one set of jerseys but there was enough there for a second set too. In a short time Shamrocks went from a bag of rags to two spanking new sets, thanks to Thomas. The Club honoured Thomas later by electing him as a Vice President for life.
The COPE FOUNDATION, formerly the Cork Polio and General Aftercare Association, founded by John Bermingham and Jerry Buttimer, was a charity close to Thomas’s heart. He gave countless hours over many years organising entertainment and other worthwhile activities to support this wonderful and deserving cause.
He did so much too for The Wheelchair Association. In 1980 he invited the Wheelchair members to take part in the Ringaskiddy Lower Harbour Festival. The local population were fascinated by the wonderful athletes in their chairs competing in so many races and competitions.
He was a life long member of The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association and received the highest accolade for being a member over 70 years. In the olden days he was very much involved in organising Social Functions for the local Pioneer Branch in the Forester’s Hall.
The Annual Bus Excursions were a big event in the calendar and trips were organised to Tramore, Killarney, Glengarriffe and other destinations.
He loved the stage and took part in many shows and concerts in the Forester’s Hall and later the Community Hall. Thomas and Humphrey Jeffers were renown for their famous act involving politicians on the soap box. They would bring the house down with their timely quips and comments. His good friend Humphrey Jeffers, served as Treasurer of the Shamrock G.A.A. Club for twenty five years and was a prolific play writer too.
Thomas loved his own place and The Oratory in Ringaskiddy was so special to him. He greatly admired the people who first set it up as a Church in 1923 and particularly the late Bill James who did so much work including constructing the statue of Christ The King. Thomas would be seen regularly and often cleaning and painting the Building over many years and thankfully he lived to see the wonderful renovation work that was carried out there in the past year.
His contribution to the local Community Centre cannot pass without mention too. When things need to be done, painting, replacement of furniture, Thomas was always waiting in the wings to lend a helpful hand.
Barnahaley Cemetery was a special interest for Thomas. This very old site, going back to the 1690’s contained within its walls generations of local people. Thomas always believed that a well kept and maintained Cemetery was the best way to preserve and respect their memories. He painted the gates and did many other chores there too. His most notable achievement was his one man campaign to get a new extension and after many years of hard negotiations and patience land was acquired and hence a place for the local community to lay their dead to rest into the future. The People owe him a huge expression of appreciation.
This Grotto depicting Our Lady of Lourdes was opened in 1954. It was built with voluntary labour and Thomas was among many of the young men who participated. Having been completed a committee was in place to help preserve and maintain the facility. Like so many such committees it faded away and the only person left standing was Thomas. It was a labour of love for Thomas and he prided himself in keeping it in pristine condition especially for the 15th of August, the Feast Day of the Assumption. He would have it decked with bunting and flags and that day was of huge importance to him annually.
He was always very loyal and He faithfully drove an Opel Car always supplied by Johnson and Perrott.
He had an interest in politics too and he was a loyal and faithful supporter of the Labour Party. His idol was, of course, the late Dan Desmond TD.
The arrival of multi national industries in Ringaskiddy caused him many concerns especially the cavalier way in which operations were set up and carried out particularly by Governments and Local Authorities. He was one of the first people to highlight the complete lack of any social plan for the area. He worked tirelessly to ensure a better deal for the people and today we see the fruits of some of his efforts. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the anti Asbestos Campaign in the mid 1970’s which highlighted the low standards prevailing among Industry and Planners.
He has left us a legacy which will be almost impossible for any person to follow. However, we can acknowledge his work by doing something positive for our Community and Charities that need a helping hand. We say good bye to a local Christian Gentleman, Ní bheidh a leithéad ann arís.
To his wife Lilia, Son Lorcan, daughters Ethel and Irene, grandaughter Saoirse, together with his many relatives and friends, we extend heartfelt sympathies.