J. Barron: The life of a noted historian
Jonathan A. Smyth
Thomas J. Barron, historian, was nominated as one of twelve
contenders for the 1983, Cavan Person of the Year.
Although he did not win first place, he did receive an award
with this inscription, In a time when society is changing
faster than ever before, Tom Barron has dedicated himself
to study, discovery, documentation and presentation of the
ancient art, culture, and history of Cavan. Without Tom
Barron much of the authentic history and culture would never
have been documented and we today and our children tomorrow
will know about our past in this region largely because
of Tom Barron.
Thomas James Barron was born on the 13th November 1903,
the son of John James Barron and Margaret Barron nee White.
The family resided at Cornaveagh in the Parish of Knockbride.
Thomas also had two brothers and a sister. From an early
age, he developed an interest in the historical and archaeological
aspects of the locality. In the Barrons home, there
was an ancient stone-carved horse, possibly a Celtic idol,
which Thomas and his siblings used as a toy. The stone horse
was eventually passed to another family, much too the later
regret of Thomas Barron. He once confessed that the stone
horse was what created his initial interest in ancient history.
From his teens, Thomas began to keep bees for producing
honey; this was to become a life long interest.
In the early 1930s, he was invited to take up the
position of monitor, (trainee teacher), at Garvagh National
School. Around 1935, he was promoted to the position of
headmaster at Knockbride N.S. In the period of 1936 to 1939,
he helped to construct an extensive file on the history
of Knockbride Parish, which subsequently made up part of
the folklore commission files. Mr. Barron placed the following
collectors note with the file: great pains
were taken to obtain the most authoritive versions of the
different subjects. In numerous instances I worked in collaboration
with other collectors, and our joint work is in every
case indicated. Subjects ranged from the The
Trouble of 1798 to The Treasure in Knockbride
Lake. Copies of the folklore files are held in the
Johnston Central Library, Cavan.
During the 1930s, his reputation as a historian began
to develop. This was due to his involvement with the study
of the famous tricephallic (three-faced) stone head, known
as the Corleck head. The stone head was originally discovered
in the nineteenth century at a quarry on Corleck hill, in
Knockbride Parish. In the 1920s, the young Thomas
had interviewed many of the old inhabitants of Knockbride
in order to record the story of the Corleck head. In 1937,
the Pre-historic society of England recorded, that the stone
head was kindly deposited on loan in the National
Museum (Dublin) in 1937 by the owner Mr. H. Gibson Hall,
of Drumeague, through the mediation of a correspondent of
the Museum: Mr. Thomas J. Barron, the local schoolmaster.
Many years later, Mr. Barron commissioned a copy of the
Corleck head, which he eventually donated to Cavans
County Museum at Ballyjamesduff. He continued carrying out
further excavations and searches in Knockbride before locating
the two-faced Corraghy head and also a rams head in stone,
thus completing what became known as the Drumeague pantheon.
Mr. Barrons early writing appeared in such eminent
publications as the Royal Irish Academy journal.
In August 1944, he married Sarah Elizabeth Mahood, from
Canningstown, Co. Cavan. His wife was a teacher at Latsey
N.S. In the early 1950s he became Principal of the
Model N.S in Bailieboro.
In the years ahead, he continued to excavate the crannógs
on Knockbride lake, while using the grid pattern established
by the archaeologist Mr. Mortimer Wheeler. Both Thomas J.
Barron and his neighbour, Mr Patrick McBreen, would row
their boat out to the crannogs, where they unearthed many
interesting artefacts including a cannon ball from the 1641
rebellion. The cannon ball remained on view in the school
at Knockbride for many years. Among the objects retrieved,
he found many quern stones and he later wrote a paper on
quern stones which appeared in the Clogher record. At one
time, Thomas Barron presented a quern stone and an antique
spinning wheel to St. Aidans Comprehensive School
in Cootehill, where he hoped these items would be of interest
to students of history.
In 1956, Cumann Seanchais Bhreifne, Cavans
Historical Society, was formed by persons including, Thomas
J. Barron and Rev. Francis J. McKiernan, later Bishop of
Kilmore. The Historical Society published their first journal
in 1958, both Mr. Barron, Rev. McKiernan, Thomas Halton
and Brian OMordha formed the journals first joint-editorship
team. Mr. Barron would eventually serve as an Honorary President
of Cumann Seanchais Bhreifne in the 1990s.
Some of the papers he wrote for the Breifne Journal include,
The Pre-history of the Breifne region, Rev.
Alexander McWhidd: a 17th Century minister, and a
study on the Stair Nuadat Find Fenim and Sliabh nDhe
Thomas also believed that the Romans had come to Ireland,
an analysis that has now been proven. Other than history,
his interests included gardening and in both 1952 and 1954,
he submitted specimens to the Herbarium at the National
Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin.
`In September 1971, an event was held in the Farnham Hotel
in Cavan to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Bishop
Beddells birth. Beddell was noted for having oversaw
the translation of the Old Testament into Irish. For the
celebrations, Mr.Barron set up a display of his fine collection
of Irish Antiquarian books. Thomas was a fluent Irish speaker
who regularly conversed in his native language.
Around the mid 1970s, Mr. Barron retired from teaching.
In retirement he continued to research and document history.
His studies were often interrupted by travels to places
such as Norway, Greece and the Holy Land. These holidays
abroad, usually cruises, comprised of visits to the various
archaeological locations and museums. Sarah, his wife, died
in September, 1978 and from that time he went to live in
Virginia. Respected as an authority on Cavan history, Thomas
often was sought for his opinion by those in the world of
the media. In 1977, he assisted the BBC in the production
of a documentary featuring Celtic Idols. By the 1980s,
he became very interested in the folklore surrounding historical
Brigid who has a long association with Knockbride. His writings
continued to appear in a variety of publications, including
Guth agus Tuairm, The Torch, Bailieborough Community Annual,
Drumlin and The Heart Of Bhreifne.
Mr. Thomas J. Barron died in March, 1992. For those who
knew him, he had a fine intellect, great analytical abilities
and tireless interest in local history. His obituary said
that he was a Historian of National Repute.
However, to the people of Knockbride, he is affectionately
remembered as Master Barron, their teacher and historian.