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Jim deserves Freedom of City

by Jimmy Rhatigan

RETIRED TEACHER Jim Maher is a former school principal with high principles.

The Kilkenny City man spent two decades as boss Tullaroan Boys’ School, home of a namesake with a different spelling, hurling legend Lory Meagher.

Jim is our very own Eight Wonder of the World.

He is not only a good person.

He is a great man.

Surely a candidate for the Freeman of Kilkenny City, he has a super Curriculum Vitae following a lifetime in education, sport, writing, promotion of our native tongue and the opening up of the pages of Irish history as he shed real light on our War of Independence.

Gentleman Jim would never have made a good politician.

He is as straight as a die. 

He would never make a promise that he didn’t intend to keep. 

His focus is on passing on knowledge to his people, not those only who speak the Irish Language he loves but all in communities that long for a better Ireland to live and love in.

Much of his unbelievably active life was recalled at a ceremony in City Hall when Andrew McGuinness presented the one time Kennyswell Road now Circular Road resident with a special award’.


The latter acknowledges ‘Jim’s outstanding contribution to recording local and national history through his work as an author, historian, teacher and academic’.

A citation added that the award was ‘a small token of appreciation for successfully carrying out such important work that benefits Kilkenny.’

Jim never traded in secondhand information or press releases nor would he dare to dabble in the now sadly popular pastime of plagiarism, the modern home of lazy rogue journalism.

He spent God only knows how many hours on the road meeting men and women who had been embroiled in the War of Independence in the Kilkenny and Tipperary regions.

He got the story from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

He cobbled the tales together, put them into print, a gift to our nation, a present that should be treasured forever as a work that few if anybody else would even think of shouldering.

He spent long spells researching for his books in the library at Trinity College.

Andrew McGuinness presents Mayor’s Award to Mr Maher. In support is Jim’s son Dr Michael Maher


He knew he was on the right track, a passenger on the Kilkenny/Dublin train day after day, so much so that other commuters began to suspect that he was a sub driver on call.

He got a great kick out of the chat he overheard en route to Dublin. It was what we might call hot air on a cold Winter’s morn’.

“That man with the white hair across the carriage, he’s on this Dublin train every day.”

Jim loved the banter: he enjoyed what might to others have become boring back and forward journeys to Dublin.

He was a man on a mission.

Aptly, the award evening for Jim, his family, friends and invited guests also marked his 89th birthday.

Mayor McGuinness spoke about Jim’s life and his huge contribution to the story of the War of Independence, a book that gripped fellow historians and lovers of the stories of Irish conflicts and struggles.

Displaying his undoubted oratorial skills and passion for traditional nationalist scribing, the birthday boy spoke in English and as Gaeilge.


He had earlier warned the attendance that he would have a few suggestions to make.

One was that the graves of those who lost their lives should be cared for and a memorial should be built in honour of those who were killed in the War of Independence.

Deputy John McGuinness said he would be fully behind any plans to erect such a monument in our city.

Kilkenny Press has learned that plans are afoot to form a committee to carry out Jim’s wishes.

God works in mysterious ways, we are told.  Jim Maher has his own way of administering a little gentle persuasion.

As elder lemons that grappled to digest the gargantuan contribution that Mr Maher has made and continues to make to life in his native city and county, we rambled back to the 1950s. 

In the land of fadó, fadó we sat in desks in front of the wise and wonderful one who was our teacher in 3rd Class at Kilkenny CBS, James’s Street.

We didn’t like Mr Maher.

We loved him.


That he was one of our own was a matter of huge pride, even at a time when we much preferred playing soccer or hurling than doing homework.

As squirts from the Fatima Place, Emmet Street, St Theresa’s Terrace and the Kennyswell Road, to Mr Maher we were neighbours’ children.

Taking a leaf out of the late Paddy Crosbie’s TV series of the ago, we had own school around the corner and we had our very own teacher from around another corner.

Some tough Christian Brothers tested our mettle with leather straps but while Mr Maher ran a good ship, he was fair and kind and we never considered jumping overboard.

That he played a role in helping to fashion our young lives, there is no doubt.

For instance, local poet and scribe Gerry Moran was one of the star pupils in rang a trí.

The notion has to be that he knew that neighbour Jim was a class act.

Whatever it was that spurred him to great heights, Gerry followed in Jim’s footsteps.


CBS Secondary School, James’s Street was the next move for all of us, then Gerry went on to university, teacher training college, into the classroom as a teacher who climbed to school principal.

Following good example is always a clever idea and on that score most of us carried worthwhile good habits from Stephens Street to workplaces around the world.

Both Jim and Gerry will be familiar with Oliver Goldsmith’s Deserted Village, a tribute in verse to a knowledgeable teacher.

The following lines brought me back circa 62 years to the fledgling teaching years of one Jim Maher.

And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew

That one small head could carry all he knew.

Full well the busy whisper, circling round

Conveyed the dismal tidings when he frowned; 

Yet he was kind; or if severe in aught,

The love he bore to learning was in fault.

The village all declared how much he knew; 

‘Twas certain he could write, and cipher too; 

Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage,

And even the story ran that he could gauge


Jim may be related to cowboy John Wayne in that he shares his True Grit.

To copperfasten his Wayne ways, he too is a Quiet Man, a warrior who believes in the power of the pen, a man of substance who had a way with words, orally and in print.

No hard work was too much as he toiled towards his goal of writing what proved to be three great books.

His first book was The Flying Column West Kilkenny 1916-1921 (1987).

His second was Harry Boland A Biography (1998) and he followed up with the Oath is Dead and Gone (2011).

In 2015 his first book was extended, updated and re-issued under the title In the Shade of Slievenamon.

Professional publishers, Mercier Press, remind that Jim researched the Civil War for a long period and focused on Harry Boland’s efforts to avoid the war.

Jim’s partner in prime is his loving wife Mary, a daughter of Kilmacow, a comrade in arms, a kindred spirit, a fellow teacher who spent much of her teaching career in St Canice’s, Kilkenny City School.

Mary and Jim have always been so proud of their loving family.

After a short stint in Kildare, Jim returned home to teach in Kilkenny CBS Primary.

He then moved to Tullaroan where he was principal from 1972 to 1992 and retired as principal at Christmas 1992.

He is a fluent Irish speaker, has always been highly regarded as an athletic coach and respected too as a hurling coach, guiding Tullaroan School to several championships.

Jim was the first teacher to select Kilkenny hurling great Tommy Walsh on a school team.

Tommy also lined out for another great of the noble career of school principal, Ned Kennedy of Freshford, a lifetime friend and fellow historian of Jim Maher.

Andrew McGuinness set the ball rolling when he honoured JM.

The time is right for someone, whoever, to do the right thing.

Jim Maher, Freeman of Kilkenny City has a nice ring to it.

With thanks to retired school principal Ned Kennedy of Freshford and Willie Barron of Hugginstown.

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