A Memory of Pallas Green
by Guest Columnist Kat McMahon
Tracing our ancestors we discovered that my husband, Patrick's great grandfather had come from Pallas Green, County Limerick in Ireland. On our latest holiday in the Emerald Isle we decided to pay a visit to the ancestral home of John Grace, the aforementioned great grandfather.
Pallas Green is a very small town. Population 306 if you add all the farmers in the surrounding area together. It is so small that there is only one pub! Chaser O'Brian's Pub is a story unto itself but it was here that this story begins.
The pub was easy to find. It is on the main Limerick to Tipperary road about equal distance from them both. It is painted a bright orange with a thatched roof and every window is loaded with bowers of flowers. Once inside one is immediately greeted with what looks like a movie set version of what an Irish pub should look like and so seldom does! Beautiful oak bar with lots of barstools, lots of nooks and crannies with comfy couches and tables. Many separate little rooms all with a view to the bar. Big bog oak fireplace and incredible amounts of paraphernalia on the walls and on shelves all around the rooms, the walls painted a dark green. The floor area around the bar is stone, but the floor areas around the couches are carpeted in a red and green tartan plaid, and the bar itself is almost mind boggling in the amount of choice available, although everyone there that day was having the Guinness.
We sat at the bar. My husband ordered a Guinness for himself and a coffee for me. Three other people were at the bar and a younger girl was the bartender. It was about 11:30 in the morning and the lunch crowd hadn't as yet appeared.
Curiosity is an Irish trait, and it was soon learned that we were looking for our ancestors. "What name is it?" one old geezer at the bar questioned. "Is it yer grandfather?" another wanted to know, and seemed to have difficulty in establishing whether it was my grandfather or my husband's. "Grace is it? Michael would know. Michael knows everybody." "Yes," the bartender agreed. "You really should go see Michael Dwyer." "He lives across the street, the pink house," another volunteered. "Go see Michael, he's the historian." Historian was said with reverence as if he were someone very important.
Since they all seemed to agree that we should go see Michael Dwyer we ventured across the street. Had a bit of difficulty opening a rusty iron gate into the overgrown front yard. Went up to the door and knocked but no answer. We walked around to the back of the house on a stone path through more overgrown shrubbery and saw a small garden. We called out but heard no reply.
We went back to our car and decided to drive around and see if we could find graveyards. This we did . More disappointment as most of the old stones had weathered to the point that the inscriptions were gone. We drove back to the pub to see if anyone there would know about the oldest church thinking there might be a graveyard nearby with some of our ancestors and hoping that maybe there might be some with inscriptions we could read. They did indeed know of a church and gave us instructions However these were interspersed with many references to "Too bad, Michael isn't here. Ye really should see Michael."
We found the church built in 1883 right around the time that our John Grace had left Pallas Green for America and the only graves we found were of two priests.
Walking around the church we found a path half shrouded in shrubbery and entered through a double iron gate. We opened the gates and walked through. The path led upward, some places were steep and rocky and others well worn dirt. We reached the top and were greeted by a view of incredible beauty. A patchwork of greens and golds and silver of streams etched by the ages. Here we found a large colored map and a memorial to Lieutenant Sarsfield and the Battle of Limerick in 1691. As I looked over the fields divided by hedges dotted by the white of sheep and the brown here and there of a cow or two; I thought of how it must have been all those years ago. And of all the men young and old who joined the fight-- and kept the English out of Limerick for one more year. I wondered if one of our Grace ancestors had fought with them.
Driving back to the main road we again found ourselves at the pub. We were debating about going back in when we saw a very old man walking by. The clothes he was wearing were old and threadbare and appeared very dirty.I looked at my husband and said, "You don't suppose that's Michael Dwyer?" He replied, "No, that couldn't be him."
We were still talking in the car when a fellow we had seen in the pub earlier came out. He told us, "I see yer back, Michael's come home. Ye can see him now."
We again walked through the rusty iron gate and up to the door of the pink house. The old man we had seen walking by came to the door. "Michael Dwyer?" I asked. "The same," he replied. Up close we noted the clear blue of his eyes. He was tall and thin. Slightly stooped now but once had been a man of fine stature. I introduced ourselves, and Michael Dwyer invited us in.
The interior of the house matched that of the man himself. The floor was partially stone and partially dirt. We were in a kitchen - living area that had a stove, no sink, an old table, some boxes with old magazines here and there, and three very rickety old chairs that didn't match each other. One chair at one time had been upholstered the other two were wood, one had no back. He invited us to sit down offering me the nicest of the chairs. Michael sat in the chair with no back and my husband took the other.
We told him that the people at the pub had suggested we see him because we were looking for our ancestors that had come from Pallas Green. He asked the name. "Grace, ye say. Well... there's a family up in Templebraden by that name and... I think another in Oola. Did ya drive through there? It's on the road to Tipperary."
Then he began telling us many stories. We told him we had driven up to the church in Templebraden but that we couldn't find an older one. "No, ye wouldn't find it. It was turned into a creamery once the new church was built. Times were hard and the family runnin' it abandoned it years ago. Not even the stones are left now."
We told him the church had been locked. "I'm not surprised. We no longer have a full time priest here. Only comes once a week now. Used to be a lot of people livin' here... So many gone... America... Australia. Nothin' much left o' our town now. When I was a lad 'twas a fine place. On the main road ya know. Lots of people here then." He told us that many of his family had left and gone to Philadelphia and California in America.
He proceeded to tell us tales of the past. As he spoke we could see the respected historian the people at the pub has told us about. He was over ninety years old but his mind was quick and full of facts; not only of only the past but also the list of all the families still living anywhere in the area! "Don't know if yer related to any of the Grace's still around here. Ye need to go to the Heritage Center in Tipperary, They have all the records for the Pallas Green - Emly Parish." We told him we were in fact going there later today. "Ah good, ye'll be findin' all yer lookin' fer there."
He continued on in his narrative of Pallas Green and we sat there listening for almost two hours, enthralled by this man of many stories and so much knowledge. We no longer noticed the meager surroundings. The warmth of this man and the love of his town enchanted us and we could see why the townspeople spoke of him with so much respect and almost awe. He told us that his mother had been a McMahon and looked hopefully at us and said, "Maybe we're... A lot of McMahon's around here. Do ye know where yer father's family came from?" We didn't know if there was any relation in common but both of us liked the idea that there might be. We expressed concern for him and he told us, "Ah, they take good care o' me in the pub. A little soup." And with a wink, "A bit of the drink!"
Time sometimes passes so quickly. We had the appointment at the Heritage Center in Tipperary and had to leave. Back in the car I regretted that I hadn't taken a picture of Mr. Dwyer. But then maybe that was for the best. A photograph might only have shown the wizened old man we had first seen on the street and not Mr. Michael Dwyer, the Historian of Pallas Green.
This story was written in 2001 just after coming home from a trip to Ireland. We now have returned from another visit to Pallas Green. Time passes and places change. Chaser O'Brian's pub is now Chaser Fitzgerald's. The interior has been completely redone. The color scheme has changed and the bar is smaller. There is now a carvery where those lovely old "snuggies" once were. Was kind of sad to see TV screen all around but the locals were enjoying the game. It was really crowded mainly with younger people. One of the young lads there told me the saddest news of all: Mr. Dwyer, the Historian had passed away. He is buried in the graveyard across the street.
My husband and I walked over and searched among the stones until we found his lovely black marble monument. It reads:
Artist and Historian
Died 29 January 2002 - age 89 Years
A Friend to All
Gave Freely his Time and Knowledge
Fresh flowers were on his grave.
Even as I write this to you I get quite emotional. He really was a special man.
Ed. note: A viewer just sent the above photo of Mr. Michael Dwyer. The acknowledgment reads "Knock Printing Service."
Until next time.
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