They say it takes a village to rear a child because in a village one meets all sorts of people. That variety is good as in life we meet so many different types and that’s what makes our lives interesting.
On Tuesday morning last we were at the cows when the call came ‘Tom is dead’ – no surnames, nothing more only ‘Tom is dead’. Tom Ahern of Bartlemy village had died in hospital in Cork and truly I knew ’twas the end of an era for Bartlemy – the village that helped to raise us all.
When I was growing up the village had several ‘characters’ – people who made an impression on a young impressionable lad – Dave Ryan, Tom O’Brien, Paddy Ahern ‘Fagin’ and of course Tom. Amazingly they were all ‘connected’ – Tom O’Brien was Tom Ahern’s uncle and both Dave and ‘Fagin’ lived for years with Mike and Jo Ahern and their family.
Tom Ahern was a natural wit. Say something to him or ask him a question and in one second he could reply in verse! From a very young age his ability to think rapidly and answer instantly was obvious. In national school he sat with his second cousin, Mary Ahern from Hightown.
Whilst preparing for Confirmation the late Paddy Cronin NT was explaining to the class ‘And Jesus went up to a high mountain to be alone to pray’. Paddy spotted that Tom was caffling with Mary and quick as a flash asked ‘Tom, what was I saying?’ and Tom replied ‘that Jesus went up to a high mountain and sat on his a*** on the grass’!
Another time the teacher was explaining that ‘Jesus went to Capernaum’ and when asked to repeat what had been said, Tom replied that ‘Jesus went to the carnival’ – which was on in Bartlemy that week!
Like so many other Bartlemy natives, Tom spent a term in England in the late 50s and early 60s. When I remember him first he worked in the Forestry, going off daily on his motorbike.
The Aherns always kept a few cows in their own field and on ‘the long acre’ where ‘Fagin’ was the cow-minder and in later years when he got rid of the livestock he was a great gardener, growing every kind of vegetable. As well as being a natural poet, Tom was a gifted musician. He had equal mastery of the accordion, mouthorgan and the spoons.
Never one for public recitals he loved sessions at home – I recall the last time his brother Jack came home from Australia we had a great session in the hall. The musical gene was strong in the Aherns with Paddy, Bridget and Eileen all talented performers.
‘Old’ Mike Ahern, Tom’s grandfather had a shop in their home across from the church and for a while Tom took up that trade too. When in the early 90s Bartlemy lost both its post office and grocery shop Tom started up a ‘general store’. Initially, he told me there were two things he wouldn’t stock ‘salt and toilet rolls’ – explaining one could manage without either commodity!
His shop was really what you’d call a ‘cash and carry’ and when he had a lot of coins accumulated – pound coins were in that time – he decided to keep them safely by burying them in the field – well wrapped of course!
Well, he must have wrapped the plastic bag in a brown paper that was used for food because a neighbour’s dog brought the bag of silver to the doorstep!
Tom loved his pint or a drop of rum and of course his snuff. He seemed ever present around the village of Bartlemy with a salute or a word for anyone, young and old. Never in a hurry, he loved the chat and joke and you’d always be smiling when saying goodbye to him. And now the final farewell has come.
We extend our deepest sympathy to his sister Maun in Cork, brother Jack in Australia, nephews, nieces, grandnephews, grandnieces, sisters-in-law and his many friends. God Bless you and keep you Tom, truly one of the old stock.
— John Arnold