The untimely death of Eileen Bell was met with much sadness. For many years Eileen was part of ‘The Nationalist’ family as our correspondent in New Inn - a role that was taken up by her daughter Sandra English in more recent times.
Eileen was also a regular contributor to Tipp Mid-West Radio over a number of years. She started on Cashel and District Radio in February 2002 and continued on Tipperary Mid-West when the two stations were amalgamated in 2007.
During that period Eileen’s New Inn report was a fixture on the program and she often prefaced her contribution by stating that she didn’t have much to say. Nevertheless, she always succeeded in mentioning five or six items relating to the parish and keeping the parishioners up to date. She never failed to mention the cards in Knockgraffon on a Wednesday night! Her weekly contributions to The Nationalist were also popular with readers.
There was no more fitting person than Eileen to report on New Inn. Even though she wasn’t a native of the parish she became very much a part of it following her marriage to Gerry in 1968.
This identification with her adopted place was given fine expression in 1987, when she published her first book, ‘Around New Inn & Knockgraffon.’ She was modest about her achievement. In a foreword she stated: “Much of the information is hearsay and is therefore open to contradiction.”
However, Fr. Meehan, P.P. who introduced the publication, differed. He wrote: “The people of this community should be forever grateful to Eileen Bell for this monumental work involving over three years of careful research from all available sources. It was indeed a labour of love for Eileen.”
The book brings together a wealth of information on the history of the parish, illustrated by a great selection of photographs, the compiling of which must have been painstaking in the extreme. While the text tells us much on the history of places this collection reveals to us the faces of the people who lived there.
Eileen sourced information on many of the famous people who came from New Inn. Dorothea Herbert of Glebe House is featured and her unrequited love of Rockwell owner, John Roe. World high jump champion of 1895, James M. Ryan of Ballyslateen appears in a handsome picture. Dan Breen’s on-the-run sojourn in Glenegat House is mentioned and Pat Cleary, of early G.A.A. prominence, is outlined.
The book did more than anyone to highlight the success of Lena Rice, who was born on the 21st June 1866 at Marlhill and went on to become ladies singles champion at Wimbledon in 1890! As far as I can recall from the time of the book’s publication, Eileen told me that she had got some of the information on Rice from Wimbledon at the time but that she also supplied information to the All-England Tennis Club which they hadn’t got. This illustrates Eileen’s research interest and her desire to have the complete story. It is probably true to say that as a result of her researches into the importance of Rice’s achievements, the first and only Irish woman to win a championship at Wimbledon, the direction sign to her grave was erected in the village.
Eileen updated the book in 2003 because she was ‘inundated with requests to do a follow-up’, but also because she had collected further information on the parish, in particular ‘the Halloran story’.
Before touching on this one paragraph in the introduction tells us much about Eileen’s love of the place. She writes: “To many people the name, New Inn, means nothing. For those born and reared in the parish, wherever they may be today, New Inn is very special. To them it means home and in the words of the famous song ‘There’s No Place Like Home’. Certainly there is no place like this peaceful parish which is bursting with history. Down through the years the parishes of New Inn and Knockgraffon combined have produced a variety of famous people in many different walks of life. Over the years the parish has grown into a thriving, mature and peaceful place, ideal for parents to raise children in these difficult and troubled times.”
The new history that had come to light in the intervening years was the story of the Halloran family. In 1862 Gustave Thiebault, the landlord at Rockwell, was murdered and three sons of an evicted tenant, Patrick Halloran of Boytonrath, were arrested for his murder. They were acquitted in court but the three brothers, Edmund, John and Thomas, emigrated to the U.S. and nothing was heard of them for 125 years.
In 1961 the first contact was made by a descendant regarding the brothers and this culminated in 1987, when a party of 38 of the Halloran clan, mainly from Minnesota, came to Ireland to visit their ancestral home in Boytonrath. They were feted at New Inn and Eileen took a great interest in the story and facilitated the visit.
Eileen published a third book in 2008 - ‘Rosegreen: Then & Now.’ She did for the village and surrounding area what she had earlier done for New Inn. She had a real connection to the place having been born in the lodge at Ballydoyle, where her father worked in the forties before moving to Cashel. The book is notable for some wonderful photographs, including one of her parents, Pa Joe and Bridget O’Connor with Eileen, about three years old, on her father’s knee.
Along with her books she also did a vast amount of research on the graveyard in Loch Kent when it was being renovated in 1985 under the guidance of Fr. Meehan and Gerry Bell, and she used the old fashioned method of the pencil and paper to trace over old headstones and study them later at home to make out who was buried there. But she didn’t stop there. She endeavoured to make contact with living relations where possible and revealed the burial places of many famous parishioners. It all paid off in 1987 when the first Mass was held there in over 200 years, concelebrated by Archbishop Clifford and witnessed by a large congregation.
Eileen’s interest and researches into the Halloran and other stories tells us of her passionate love of place and her intense desire to become acquainted with the whole story. This was also reflected in her involvement in community projects in the parish. Whereas her greatest interest was in the G.A.A. and Fianna Fáil, there was always time and space for other activities. If she weren’t directly involved she lent her time and interest to helping others out. If it was a sports day or a festival she was one of the first to put her name forward and she inculcated this community involvement into her six children, Fergus, Dessie, Ivan, Sandra, SherriAnn and Raeleen, who find themselves equally committed to their communities wherever their lives take them.
Eileen Bell was the great volunteer, the first to put her hand up when the community was in need or work required to be done. She set a tremendous example to her family and to the community of New Inn and Knockgraffon and she will be missed greatly by all who have known her.
May she rest in peace