The Master Jim Kennedy

The Master – Jim Kennedy

by Dr. Willie Nolan

Although he died on 30 May 1942, aged 56 years the name of Jim Kennedy has not been forgotten in the hills between Ballingarry and Glengoole. Known affectionately as ‘the Master’, Jim Kennedy attended Marlborough Training College in Dublin for two years. He came out on probation in 1907 and, according to Michael Ivers of Earlshill, he worked in a school in Templetuohy before being appointed to Lisnamrock school on 1 November 1910. He moved from the family home to a house and fourteen acres of land which he purchased from a man named Curran. This house is now removed but stood in what is now Barry’s land opposite Michael Ivers (the old yard) and close to the steeple and engine pit one of the many pits which dotted the area. The house became a meeting place where local lore was discussed and the late Dick Maher remembered older men such as Dick and Sean Kerwick, Mr. McEvoy, coming there at night. Jim Kennedy seems to have been active in the promotion of the Irish language and it seems that he spent some time at Ring College in Waterford. Although my mother and all her family went to Lisnamrock school they were never conscious of the ‘master’ leaving any ‘writing’ behind.

Some years ago in the course of research work in the archives of the Irish Folklore Department in U.C.D. I got out manuscript 562 which I thought may have something on the Warhouse in Farrenrory. These documents are part of what is known as the Schools Manuscript Collection of the Irish Folklore Commission and they are collected in the 1930’s from schools around the country. Usually the teacher would ask his pupils to get any stories, legends, local lore from the older people and this would be copied and sent to Dublin in special copybooks. Anyway I opened up M562 and to my great delight written on the inside cover was:

Barony: Slieveardagh, Parish: Baile An Gharrdha.

School: Lios na mBroc, Oide: Seamus O’Cinneide.

It was a goldmine and all of the material was written in the master’s elegant hand. Here rescued from the old people was the history of the hills, its people, their doings and their sayings. It was full of life, like the Cashel sets they had danced on the flag floors. One hundred and eight pages which revealed all our pasts. It was an endless procession of stories: the great bull which travelled each night from Knockadive (the Black Hill) to topple the work of the masons on the Rock of Cashel: the names and locations of every Ring Fort, Pit; the Fraction Fights, the Mines, the Reapers, the Hurlers and the Weight Throwers. Every field was given its Irish name and he included a collection of the common Irish words in the English of the area. Not only that but he illustrated and described in detail all kinds of implements usually made from local material.

Here, I thought, was a man making his mark, leaving his signature. I looked at the meticulous writing, the neatness and the detail and tried to picture a man in his fifties writing by an oil lamp in the house under the trees and over the pits. He may have been in ill health when he wrote his great legacy but he obviously enjoyed being given a chance to exercise his talents. It was a strange coincidence indeed that someone who was reared a few fields away and whose maternal relations all went to his school in Lisnamrock, should stumble across such a masterpiece. Hopefully it will all be published sometime soon but it seems appropriate that some few examples of Jim Kennedy, the ‘Master’ should appear on this occasion.

I would appeal to any of the readers of this publication who have memories of the Master to jot them down so as the details of his life will be clearer. For help in compiling this short note I would like to thank, Denis and John Barry, Josie Troy, Peggy Dalton, Bridget Glasheen, Mrs Nolan, Tom Nolan, Michael Ivers, Jimmy Kiely and my late uncle Dick Maher of Earlshill. Permission to quote from the Schools’ Manuscript Collection was kindly given by the Professor of Irish Folklore, U.C.D.