Tributes have been paid of one of Tipperary GAA’s great archivists Sam Melbourne who passed away on Wednesday August 7.
Sam was born near Curaheen in the Horse & Jockey in 1923 and carved out a special niche for himself in GAA history by his collection of GAA memorabilia that is famous not alone nationally but much further afield.
Sam commenced his collection in 1937 with a Hurley he received from fellow Moycarkey man Johnny Ryan, an All-Ireland medallist that year. The collection subsequently grew to over three hundred Hurleys from former stars in every county in Ireland. Indeed to many his sports shop in Thurles in the fifties was a colourful place with photos, scrapbooks, newspaper cuttings and jerseys of former players attracting people from far and wide.
Later his collection of G.A.A. material forms the basis of Lár na Páirce, the Museum of Gaelic Games on Slievenamon Road in Thurles. The oldest hurley in Sam’s collection dates back to Ennis in 1870. According to Sam he never met with a refusal when he asked a player for an item. His collection which spanned well over seventy years includes over 300 hurleys, signed by their star owners, photographs, whistles, jerseys, footballs and sliotars, newspaper cuttings and trophies, all relating to the history and deeds of great hurlers and footballers.
Sam moved to Dublin in 1956 and when someone suggested he should put the material on show he jumped at the idea. One of the first places he brought his exhibition was to Ballycotton on the invitation of Jack Lynch and Fr. Bertie Troy. He once recalled in an interview with GAA Historian Seamus J King that he used load up his collection in a Hiace van on a Friday evening and drive to some G,A,A, club or community centre anywhere in the country, set up his exhibition on Saturday and return home on Sunday evening.
He would give a talk, answer all kinds of questions and even add to his collection during the visit. He admits this was a wonderful part of his life and he used to love doing it. He continued collecting right up to the late 1980s when his collection had grown so large his garage was no longer big enough to contain it. Eventually he retired from collecting in 1988 and the Tipperary county board purchased it.
The county board looked around for a location to house the collection and, in conjunction with Thurles Development Association and Shannon Development, the old Bank of Ireland building on Slievenamon Road was purchased, refurbished and opened as a Museum of Gaelic Games by President Mary Robinson on November 8, 1994, one hundred and ten years and a week after the foundation of the G.A.A. in Hayes’s Hotel. It ensured that Sam Melbourne’s collection would continue to be available for viewing by the general public. He continued visiting GAA friends after his retirement and was a regular visitor to his native Moycarkey-Borris.
Sam passed away peacefully at his home in Dublin on Wednesday August 7 in his 91st year. He is survived by his wife Charlotte, his children Edgar, Desmond, Alan and Ruby, his daughters-in-law and son-in-law, ten grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, relatives, neighbours and friends. His Removal took place from Cunningham’s Funeral Home, Clonsilla Village last Saturday afternoon to St. Michan’s Church, Church of Ireland, Church Street and his burial took place afterwards at St. Mary’s Churchyard, Clonsilla.