I had been recently thinking that it was sometime since I met, and had a chat with Micheál Drohan, and then, in the odd way of coincidences, I heard of his death, at the age of 94.
The 94 years was a surprise. Micheál seemed to transcend age, and in my memory, was not afflicted by any of its burdens. Indeed, he retained a quality of agelessness.
Though for most of his adult life, he lived in the eastern suburbs of Clonmel, I think of him as essentially a parishioner of St. Mary’s and a citizen of Irishtown. Irishtown had been the home of the large Drohan clan, since their grandfather came to town, from Carrick-on-Suir, in the late 19th century, to establish a business in coach-building.
His was a family which gave much to the cause of Irish independence in the early 20th century. His uncle, Frank, who is commemorated in the naming of the inner relief road in Clonmel as “The Frank Drohan Road,” was leader of the Volunteers in the town in Easter 1916, where they awaited the “orders from Dublin,” which never came. It was a family imbued with a great love for the Irish language and of the Irish countryside.
His father, Mick, had been associated with the early foundation of the Boy Scout movement in Clonmel, and with the enduring Irishtown institution - The Workmen’s Boat Club, which recently celebrated its 100th birthday. It was not only a club devoted to river sports and boating, but it had a sort of revolutionary core in social reform and labour relations.
Micheál himself was a printer and had served his time with “The Nationalist” with which he worked for a period and of which his uncle, Frank, was a director. Just as his life traversed, and indeed took in its stride, many economic and social changes in Ireland, there were parallel changes in his chosen trade. He came from the relatively “new invention” of linotype, with its clacketty-clack, and its smells of hot metal, to the constantly-changing technology of modern printing. According to some of his former workmates, he took the latter with ease, adapting to it “without a bother on him,” they would say. He spent most of his working life with the “Sporting Press.”
My personal memories of Micheál are suffused with warm gratitude. Like all of his family he loved the outdoors. At the time when there were few cars, or bicycles, he had explored, on foot, all his local countryside, especially the hills, rivers, streams and woodlands of the Tipperary/Waterford borders. I was fortunate to have as my friends his younger cousins, and Micheál encouraged us in long-distance hill-walking and mountain-climbing.
I recall our first cross-country trek to the Nire Valley on a route he picked out for us on the map and to which he gave us some extra verbal descriptions of the terrain. “Look out for the ruined house with the Gothic windows on the right, take a sharp left, then, hugging Clonanav, take sharp right.” He described the field which we should cross diagonally, in order to cut off a long stretch of road-walking. Then it was downhill to Ballylisheen Bridge. Triumph! Mission accomplished!
That was followed by many other Micheál Drohan directed walks, including Coumfea and the Coomlachs: “Climb out of the stream into Lyre East, look out for the lime-kiln, and take the boreen uphill.” It often takes many, many decades to identify the influences which encourages a fulfilling and life-enhancing passion!
Micheál not only knew his countryside, the weather-signs, the flora, the fauna, the trout pools, the birds, but he also knew all the landowners and the farmers. They also welcomed him, and by extension and association they welcomed us to their farms and farmyards, as we made our way to the hills. This knowledge of people and places was used by him when, later in life, he wrote features for this newspaper and for many other publications. He had a fund of anecdotes, yarns, experiences in camping, fishing, walking, all of which served as sources for his writing.
His life was touched by exceptional tragedy. His first wife died early in their marriage, and following the birth of a child, his second wife also unexpectedly died. Micheál devoted himself to the rearing of his two children, Billy and Susan. He spent the last few months of his life being cared for by Susan in her home in Dublin.
Micheál Drohan belonged to a special generation of Clonmel people. He will be remembered by his many friends as hard-working, thoughtful, understated and funny; a good and loyal friend. He loved his town and its beautiful hinterland and was happy in his own person.
May he rest in peace.