Keeper of the flame still burns bright

Scholar, intellectual, gaelgoir and historian are some of the terms used to describe Dr Mainchin Seoighe (Mannix Joyce) but the most common is - a gentleman.

Dr Seoighe is from Tankardstown, Kilmallock, where his family have lived for six generations. He hasn't moved far as he currently resides in a bungalow next door to the house he was born in.

He is an author and columnist of some repute and as he worked full time for the Limerick County Council, all his journalistic output would have been completed in his spare time.

He had written 10 books in Irish and English and was a columnist for the Limerick Leader from 1944 until recently. His column, Odds and Ends, was one of the longest running of its type in the country. His own particular interests are history, the Irish language, folklore, politics and travel, and his columns and books reflect these subjects.

Due to the volume and quality of his work, Dr Seoighe was awarded an Honourary Doctorate by the National University of Ireland in Galway in 1990.

"Of course I was very pleased and delighted. I knew of the professor in Galway and he told me he would be nominating me for a doctorate. Then when I heard I was chosen, I was honoured", said Dr Seoighe.

Despite receiving one of the most prestigious accolades given out by an Irish university, Dr Seoighe had to start somewhere and that somewhere was Bruree primary school.

"I had a teacher called Donncha Horgan who was very keen on Irish, he was a native of the parish and he had taken part in the War of Independence. He was also a great promoter of local history," said Dr Seoighe, who them spent a year in Kilfinane Vocational School before continuing his education in Charleville CBS. At the age of 17, Dr. Seoighe won a scholarship to Carrigaholt in Clare, it broadened his horizons and gave him his first taste of travel.

"Up to that time I had only been in two counties - Limerick and Charleville in Cork. It was a beautiful day and it was the first time I saw the sea," said Dr Seoighe. Dr Seoighe in later years travelled to over 30 countries so that bus trip to Clare was the beginning of it all.

After completing school, Dr Seoighe began his one and only job in Limerick County Council. "I started on February 17, 1941, and I retired on August 18, 1985. It was a lovely place to work, there was a cross section of people from all backgrounds and all walks of life. When I started there was still some people working there who were there at the Council's beginning in 1889," he remembered fondly.

In all this time working with the County Council, Dr Seoighe always travelled to work by bus. "I used to cycle into Bruree and then get the bus from there into Limerick. Petrol was very scarce during the Second World War so sometimes I had to cycle to work." I balked at the idea of cycling well over 20 miles to work" but Dr Seoighe smiled and said "Shur that was nothing." "I could often look out my office window into O'Connell street and I wouldn't see a single car, petrol was that scarce," said Dr Seoighe.

Dr Seoighe began his career with the County Council in the rates department. "I used to send out notice to people who hadn't paid their rates and sometimes I collected them as well so I wasn't the most popular fellow in the world," he joked.

Dr Seoighe was then promoted to information officer, a job he remained in for the rest of his 44 year career.

"Generally I would begin my day by buying and reading all the newspapers to see if there was anything relevant to the County Council. I might have to write letters to newspapers and answer queries about the County Council from the public," he said.

Dr Seoighe and the County Council were obviously ahead of their time as his duties sound very similar to those of a modern press officer. A part of the job that Dr Seoighe particularly enjoyed was preparing the annual report.

"As well as all the usual facts and figures, I would try and be a bit creative and invite people to submit articles on topics of interest," said Dr Seoighe.

You would imagine that writing books and columns in your spare time would be enough for anybody but not so for Dr Seoighe.

At various stages in his life he was Chairman of the Kilmallock Historical Society, a member of the Placenames Commission, Honourary curator of the De Valera museum, Secretary of the Joyce Brothers School in Kilfinane, part of the Bruree/Rockhill Development association and he often thought Irish at night classes in Bruree and surrounding areas.

If that wasn't enough Dr Seoighe was renowned for going out of his way to help students with school and college work.

As a young journalist myself I was interested to hear how Dr Seoighe began his career.

"I always enjoyed writing essays in school and I had bits and pieces published. I was a big fan of Roddy the Rover, aka Aodhan de Blacan, who was a daily columnist for the The Irish Press. I don't think his work was ever equalled, he was a great linguist and had a wealth of knowledge on all topics. He used to often run competitions and I entered one and won. He gave me great encouragement and we began writing to each other. I even went up to his home in Blackrock in Dundalk to visit for a week. MJ McManus, the literary editor of The Irish Press was also a big influence."

Dr Seoighe's 57-year relationship with the Limerick Leader began after a chance meeting with former editor Con Cregan. "I remember Con Cregan as being a nice man, he asked me to submit an article to the paper, but I was shy about putting my name to it. I was in a play at the time and there was a character in it called Mangaire Sugach (The Merry Peddler), so I used it as a pen name," said Dr Seoighe.

To his surprise the article was published so he submitted another and that was published. Dr Seoighe revealed his true identity and the rest as they say is history. It is estimated that he wrote over 3,000 columns for the Limerick Leader and some were so popular that they were repeated.

Which newspapers does he read? "Well the Irish Press until it folded and because my wife is from Kanturk we get the Irish Examiner and sometimes the Irish Independent. I also read Foinse and the Irish Catholic on a Sunday."

He admires John Waters from the Irish Times, Dan Buckley from the Irish Examiner and Gene Kerrigan from the Sunday Independent.

Dr Seoighe mentioned his wife Prionseas, who is a former primary school teacher, and who he met while attending evening classes in Irish in Bruree. The couple have been married for many a year and recently after a brief illness Dr Seoighe went to recuperate in Beech Lodge Nursing Home just down the road from him in Bruree.

After a minor car accident Mrs Seoighe joined her husband to recover in the same nursing home. Thankfully the couple are restored to full health and are back living in their pretty home in Tankardstown.

Dr Seoighe's mother and Eamon De Valera were contemporaries and when he was in Bruree he would often call to her home to see her. Through this Dr Seoighe and Eamon De Valera became friends.
Eamon De Valera's youngest son, Terry, recently published a book entitled, A Memoir. In the book Mr. De Valera publicly refutes allegations that his father Eamon, the man who had such influence on the birth and formation of this country, was illegitimate.

Terry De Valera goes on to prove the falseness of the allegations. I had never heard of these rumours and I'm also from Bruree, but who better to ask than Dr Seoighe, a personal friend of Eamon De Valera.

"Of course it's completely false and I believe once in the Dail he actually produced his baptismal certificate. I never heard any rumours in Bruree or in the locality of that nature. He had a strange name, the fact that his father died young and he was brought back to Bruree at a young age probably fuelled the rumour" said Dr Seoighe.

Was the perception of the Dev being an austere men was fair? "At close quarters he was very relaxed and he was very good to tell a story. He wasn't as severe as people think."

Dr Seoighe told me a story that Eamon De Valera had told him: a son born to a family was christened Denis but he died when quite young. Another son was born about a year later also called Denis. His grandmother, perhaps slightly confused had some vague thought of re-reincarnation in her mind, as she sang a song. The following is the song and the former President gave a wonderful imitation:
"Dinisheen, Dinisheen, Dinisheen, Din,
We reared you before, and we'll rear you ag'in."
It certainly shows a lighter side to Eamon De Valera.

I began the interview with Dr Seoighe by telling him about a man called John Twomey from Ballysheedy who had just turned 101. Dr Seoighe who is four score and five years of age smiled and said: "Shur I'm only a gasun so." We all know the picture that Frank McCourt painted of Limerick in the middle of the 20th century but Dr Seoighe takes a different view.

"I think it was a bit slanted, Cristoir O'Flynn wrote a book entitled Beautiful Limerick which takes on aspects of Angela's Ashes," said Dr Seoighe.

The works of Dr Seoighe are Mariodh Sean South, 1964, Cois Maighe na gCaor, 1965, A Local History of Bruree, Dromin/Athlaca, The Story of Kilmallock, A Portrait of Limerick, The Joyce Brothers of Glenosheen, County Limerick-It's People and Places, The Irish Quotation Book, Staker Wallis and Bruree and Corcomohide.

Courtesy Limerick Leader
August 2005