The traveller who hasn’t been to Mullinahone cannot say he has travelled at all, quoted Archbishop Dermot Clifford from the well known song when he officially opened the 29th Kickham Country Weekend in the town on Friday night.
But he added that the man who hasn’t been educated at a creamery cannot say he has been educated at all!
The theme of the opening lecture was the impact of creameries on life in South Tipperary and was given by Maynooth professor Prionnsias Breathnach.
He was introduced by retired chairman of Mullinahone Co-Op Gerry Barrett who also chaired a forum on the lecture as the creamery movement held centre stage on the opening night of the now highly popular August gathering in Mullinahone.
It commemorates the life and times of the town’s famous son Charles J. Kickham and the impact his writings have had.
And Mullinahone, as the home of Mullinahone Co-Op, now trading successfully for 118 years, was an appropriate location for a discussion on the creamery and co-op movement.
It is now the longest creamery in operation in the country, having celebrated its centenary in 1993. It is still thriving today and its market for cheese exports includes Japan.
Archbishop Clifford recalled his young days as a child travelling to the creamery with his father in his native Co Kerry and how it had been such a hub of social activity and conversation.
“There was no generation gap, just young and old enjoying each other’s company together, and discussing the local news, the weather and sport. It was most instructive for young people, an informal school, where philosophy was taught free of charge. There’s a great lack when people haven’t been educated at what happens in a creamery growing up”.
He said he also had an association with creameries in Africa after he had been invited to Malawi with Bothar and was asked to open a new creamery or milk plant there.
However a local government minister arrived and felt he should be entitled to open it instead.
When the organisers told him that he had made no input to the development, he replied that he would build the roads to transport the milk.
“So I discovered that politicians all over the world have that bit of roguery”.
He said he was delighted to open the weekend events as a priest had told him on his arrival in his new diocese of Cashel and Emly twenty five years ago that ‘Tipperary is the home of the stranger’ and he had certainly found that in Mullinahone.
“Kickham Country is very close to my heart and I always receive a very warm welcome here. I always leave here after the talks and discussions feeling much better and uplifted.
“There is something about the people who attend this week and it’s because they revive the spirit of Charles J Kickham. He loved his native place and he loved company.”
He recalled how Kickham had been so happy to return home after four years spent in prison. And when asked what he had missed most while away, he replied – Women, children and fires”.
“So he was obviously a man who loved his home and his friends. I think of him sitting at his table writing ‘Knocknagow’ with his two little nieces peeping over his shoulder and pleading with him not let poor Nora Leahy die”.
He contrasted Kickham with composer Sean O Riada who had a red light outside his room and no one was allowed to approach the door when the red light was on as he was busy composing and didn’t want any interruption.
But Kickham loved to have people around him and he quoted a book about Kickham which said that the famous author would be in his element in Croke Park on All Ireland final Sunday watching the Tipperary team parade and listening to ‘Sliabh na mBan’ being played.
Festival chairman Billy Gardiner was delighted to welcome back so many regular visitors, some of whom had been attending for the nearly thirty years of the event, and told first time visitors that he hoped it would be the first of many.
He paid warm tribute to the organising ‘virtual’ committee, under secretary Sheila Foley, who once again had accomplished miracles without the need for meetings!
“Sheila over the years has perfected the art of conference calling”, Mr Gardiner said.
The weekend continued on Saturday with a guided bus tour, ‘A historical tour of Slieveardagh from New Birmingham to Kilcooley Abbey’ and in the evening a lecture was delivered by Dr Denis G Marnane on ‘The struggle for land - the family of Sean Treacy - A very Irish tragedy.’
The weekend concluded on Sunday with the anniversary mass for CJ Kickham and James followed by an oration ad laying of wreaths. The final event of the annual weekend was a poetry reading with music.