Sean Condon has vivid memories of Good Friday 1958. That day found him on a windswept, sleet-lashed hillside in Drangan with his father Ricky and grandfather Johnny cutting elm trees with a crosscut saw, the start of a slow, laborious process to make coffins.
Time has moved on and the Condons no longer make their own coffins but the funeral directors business in Clonmel- or undertakers as it was known then - that Johnny had started in 1912 is still thriving and this month celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Sean and his wife Ann, who run the business, will celebrate this significant milestone with a Condon family re-union at Hotel Minella, Clonmel on this Saturday night, May 12th, an event that will be attended by Seamus Griffin, president of the Irish Association of Funeral Directors.
Having served his time with builder/joiner Bill McGrath in Bridge Street, Johnny decided to branch out on his own as an undertaker and started in Dillon Street where the business is still located. The funeral parlour, or Teach Torraimh (house of rest), which occupies the space where three houses once stood, opened in April 1983.
Sean says that times were tough for his grandfather in the early days. A severe outbreak of ‘flu, or the black ‘flu as it was known, swept through the town in 1918 and on one day alone he had to deal with six funerals.
That was also the time when Johnny was making the coffins on his own. After the elm trees were cut the wood was taken to Cooney’s sawmill in Gravel Walk in Irishtown, where it was cut into lengths before being taken to Dillon Street and planed. If the timber was too wet it was brought to the gasworks to be dried and turned every hour to make sure it didn’t warp.
In 1920 Johnny bought a Humber car to replace the horse-drawn hearse, as the business grew.
As well as being a successful undertaker, Johnny was immersed in the local political and community life, serving as a Fianna Fail Mayor of Clonmel from 1939 to 1943 and was the first president of Clonmel Commercials Gaelic football club when it was founded in 1934. He died in 1978 at the grand old age of 96.
His son, Ricky had taken over the business in the late 1950s and when he died in 1973 Sean became the third family owner.
Although he has worked as a funeral director all his life Sean says that you never stop learning, as he shares information with other undertakers as he travels around the country.
Down the years a few people mistakenly believed their relatives were buried in the wrong graves, but Sean and Ann say that the vast majority of people are grateful for the service. They also operate a minibus service for schools.
Sean and Ann divide their time between their house in Dillon Street, which they call the office, and the family home at Ard na Sidhe on the Cashel Road. The couple have four daughters - Sinead, Niamh, Dara and Shauna - and six grandchildren.
A project on the 100th anniversary undertaken by their granddaughter, 12 year-old Eire Ryan, a pupil at the Sisters of Charity school, was highly commended in the schools heritage competition.
As the Condons prepare to embark on their next 100 years Sean says he has no intention of retiring - “what would I do with myself”, he asks, and says he will only finish when he’s taken out of Dillon Street “in a box”.