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About the Author:
Thomas (Tosty) Briody is a native of Mullahoran in south-west Cavan. He was born on October 28th, 1913. His path to Forestry was a circuitous one, via Agriculture and Horticulture. The Economic War changed the path of his life. He was forced to abandon his studies in Dublin, as well as his hopes of getting to University, and go home to help out with his father’s auctioneering business. After spending some four years at home he went to Ballyhaise Agricultural College and from there to Albert College, Glasnevin to study Horticulture. In the spring of 1938, he opted to abandon his Horticultural studies and instead study forestry at Avondale Forestry School, Co. Wicklow. His first posting as a trainee and later (after completing his studies) as forest foreman was to the Kilsheelan/Clonmel forest. He was to spend much of his forestry career as forester-in-charge of the adjacent Carrick-on-Suir forest, which straddled the counties of Waterford, Tipperary and Kilkenny, but he cut his teeth as a forester in the Sleeve Blooms, the border area of Monaghan and the west of Ireland. The author retired from Forestry in early 1979, and has resided ever since in Carrickbeg, Co. Waterford in the former Forestry residence (in the shade of the Crehanagh Wood) where he has lived now for more than fifty years. As well as penning his memoirs of childhood, path to Forestry and subsequent career as a state forestry, Thomas Briody has made extensive sound recordings of recollections of his long life, spanning almost a century. These recordings contain much that is not in his manuscript and it is hoped to make them available at some future date, as well as certain written reminiscences of his Cavan childhood not included in either volume of his memoirs. Together these two corpora, manuscript and sound recordings, constitute a valuable source for the study of memory.
Thomas (Tosty) Briody died peacefully in the bosom of his family on November 23rd, 2012, some six weeks after the launch of In the Service of the State and almost four weeks after reaching his ninety-ninth birthday. In the service of the State was launched in the Carraig Hotel, Carrick-on-Suir on October 14th by Donal Magner (author of Stopping by Woods/Lilliput Press). After the book was formally launched, as the only surviving founding member of the Society of Irish Foresters –founded seventy years before in Autumn 1942− he was presented with a medal specially minted in his honour by John McLoughlin, President of the Society.
About the Book:
This is the second volume of the memoirs of Thomas (Tosty) Briody, continuing the story from where The Road to Avondale left off. At the age of 98, the author is one of the oldest state foresters in Ireland, and to date the only Irish Forester to pen his memoirs. The present volume recounts his story from shortly before he got married in July 1943 up until his retirement from Forestry in early 1979. In the service of the state tells of the author’s trials and tribulations as a state forester in the four provinces of Ireland: Clonaslee forest (Co Laois); Mount Bellew forest (Co Galway); Castleblaney forest (Co Monagahan); Foxford forest (Co Mayo); and Carrick-on-Suir forest (Counties Waterford, Tipperary and Kilkenny). Although he lived for much of his Forestry career far away from his native Cavan, this book also contains much of Cavan interest. This is not surprising as Cavan was never far from his heart. The book sheds valuable insight on Irish Forestry in pre-Coillte days as well as on the mentality of the Irish Civil Service of the time. The story of his childhood, path to Forestry, and early years as a forester are recounted in the first volume of his memoirs, The Road to Avondale (Choice Publishing; Drogheda 2009)
In the Service of the State was edited by Mícheál Briody
I fondly look back on the September and October of 1942. In fact, the Autumn was turning out to be better than the Summer. The leaves of the trees still green heralded a riot of brown and gold colours.
There is a magic of its own when the swirling leaves come down. After all my might-have-beens I was glad that I was a forester. I felt a great sense of accomplishment after being one year a forester-in-charge. I had helped to keep the trains running and the hospitals and Government offices heated. We managed this in the absence of coal. The procuring of firewood fuel actually served to clear up the forests.
Little did I know that my plans for Slievenamon were to come to naught. In helping Dan McGuire solve his problem I had unwittingly landed myself in Clonaslee. Being a forester in Slievenmon, and living in Ballydine, meant that I was only a few hours away by bicycle from Portlaw where my girlfriend lived. But apart from that I had become very attached to the area ever since I first saw it in September 1938 when a trainee forester. In fact, I liked the Kilsheelan area so much that I spent my first Christmas away from home there in 1938.
The Emergency Fuel Scheme was now ticking over and I had time to plan how to bring Slievenamon forest back to its former glory. It was one of our oldest forests. I had allowed our fuel scheme to take firewood only where it could be dispensed with. There were places where the presence of birch, alder and elder in a forest crop are indispensible. One of my big disappointments was that in leaving Slievenamon I was no longer able to control its future growth. There were so many different points of view among foresters about planting a forest. A fire had swept through the most promising of the plantations three years previous to my coming. I now had the task of replanting those areas. Such a task required great skill and patience because of the scorched top soil. I was looking forward to the challenge.
The period between Eamonn's birth and our receiving notification of the transfer was a sort of respite for us. Nora decided that she would bring the family south for a long-planned holiday once the older children got holidays from school. I would stay at home to get things in order. The planting season was over. It was to be a Summer in which I would rest on my laurels. Everything was under control and then news of the transfer came. From the transfer notice, I gleaned who was replacing me. He had been enquiring about the forest some months previous. I had given him the details.
Nora and family did not go south. Instead we paid a visit to Castleblaney to investigate. We went there with the Verlings. It was a new forest. The house which was to be the forest residence had not been lived in for years. We did not have a key but managed to get in through a window. We did not notice the range was defective. This was a terrible mistake. The house was known as the North Lodge and was beside Lake Muckno. It was a beautiful house but would appear to be suffering from dampness. It was being redecorated. From enquiries we heard that the lake was dangerous near the North Lodge and there had
been a drowning there. The house was two miles from schools and part of the journey would be along the lakeshore. The children would have to wait two years until they were big enough to go to school on their
own. There were no travelling expenses for a car or bicycle.
We contacted our Hire Purchase Company, told them our story and asked them to take back the car as part of a settlement. We had fourteen instalments paid and we thought that they were having the best of the bargain. No. They would not take back the car. They insisted that we keep the car and pay them the instalments as they came due. Now I attempted to sell the car. The bottom had fallen out of the second-handcar market at the time. I wasted a lot of money trying to sell that car. In fact I had paid another four instalments before I got rid of it. I was in Castleblaney forest by that time.
I wrote to Peadar O'Grady in Head Office. A meeting with officials was arranged. We were told to come on such a day. We went there in an effort to get a transfer to a forest where I would have expenses for a car. Nora was with me. There we also met Joe Hanahoe, who was also at Head Office. O'Grady and Hanahoe did most of the talking for me. I'm sure they both did all he could. We got nowhere. One Inspector I met said: 'It's the car you're fighting for. Think of all the good men who are on bicycles!' He presumed I was very
mercenary. We were expected to be idealistic for Forestry and not put ourselves first. It was a time when Forestry was expecting the public to accept an extended Forestry programme when there were so many
other things demanding attention. Another Inspector said: 'You're fighting for the Association instead of for yourself.' He was referring to the Association of Irish State Foresters. Nora was a great woman to make a statement. She also pleaded our case but to no avail. We did not meet Chief Inspector Seán O'Sullivan that day - he was absent. Whether it would have made any difference if we had, God only knows!
Mr Malone told me that he knew where there was the owner of a car who would take me home. As we approached the forest gate, I noticed that a man in uniform was coming towards us. It was none other than the Sergeant who had dumped me there on the previous evening. He congratulated both of us. He told me he had watched the forest fire on the hill through the upstairs barracks' window. He had noted its demise and had come to bring me home. I may have had strange thoughts about him last evening and his abrupt departure from the scene, but this early morning he appeared to have the wings of an angel. We both carried out our duties in different ways.
He was very chatty on the way home and asked me about the fire. I remember nodding off as I tried to answer his questions. When I awakened the car had stopped at our hall door and the Sergeant was
outside talking to my wife. I got out of the car in a cramped condition and the Sergeant performed his last act of charity when he helped me up the steps. He thanked me again and this time he included my wife.
As his car went out the gate, I heard her exclaim: 'What a nice man!' Later when we went in she was aghast at the state of my clothes and footwear. My only Sunday suit had numerous holes burned in it by sparks and my new shoes were half-burnt.
I sent in a claim for my suit and shoes. It passed through the District Office but was sent back by Head Office, saying that my duties at a fire were to direct operations not to participate in them. I wrote again stating that I had to go to a forest that I did not know and that as a result I was often in the midst of the fire in directing operations. I also stated that several men's lives were in danger that night and that this
necessitated also that I be in the thick of it. I got no reply. The trouble with Head Office was that you were not dealing with a specific individual. You were dealing with a shoal of regulations which you should have become acquainted with by heart at the time you were put in charge. In time you learned to leave sleeping dogs lie.
Perhaps at this stage in my story I should mention something which in the early years in Carrick-on-Suir afforded me great pleasure but which in time was to cause me great distress. It involved a small area of Scots pine. It comprised some three acres and had been planted five feet by five feet. It was situated on the top of Sheskin hill beyond the black gate in the Coolnamuck property. I have mentioned above how this area of Scots Pine was nearly lost to fire when a protective burning operation got out of control. When I first saw the area, I could not believe my eyes. I had always liked Scots pine but had never been allowed to plant it. When I became a forester, Scots pine was not being planted. It was the view of our economic experts that it could not even pay the rent and rates of the areas in which it was planted. Friends of the species cited the profitable crops that were raised in Scotland. There Scots pine was planted adjacent to the nursery it was reared in or at least within a radius of eight miles. This did not happen in Ireland with disastrous results. It was a native Irish tree and deserved better treatment. I will admit that the pioneers had a difficult time in selling Forestry to a public that had other priorities at the same time. As far as possible we had to show a profit. We planted the trees that produced the best crops. Scots pine fell by the wayside. As someone put it, 'Scots pine would not pay for itself.'
Imagine my delight when I saw that little three-acre area at the top of Sheskin Hill. It must have been planted before the Department of Lands had acquired the area. The records available to me did not go
back that far. I reckoned from the stump of a cut tree that it was forty years old. What a wonder it would be when it would mature at ninety years. The pity was that I would not live to see it. But someone else
would and thus the critics would be confounded. When I first saw this area it still contained some 700 trees per acre. E.S.B. and P&T poles had already been extracted and more would be extracted as they
matured. One day all that would survive would be 200 beautiful trees per acre. It would eventually be an economic crop. In a strange way, I was glad that I would not be there to see them cut down. Little did I
know I would reach an age greater than mature Scots pine!
A strong bond developed between me and the men I met in Ballyhaise and Glasnevin, but after leaving Avondale I rarely met them apart from field days or refresher courses. I met Dan McGuire thirty years later at one of his centres (Kill near Dublin). I did not recognize him. We had not met for years. When I was in Clonaslee and Ger Horgan was in Kinnity, he did duty for me and I did duty for him. It is ironic that I went into Forestry because of Joe Hanahoe, but we travelled very different paths. Joe was made an Inspector in the 1940's and was one of the 'Twelve Apostles'. This was a name given a batch of young foresters who were appointed Inspectors during the war. Peadar O'Grady and Dan McGuire, also classmates of mine, were among the Twelve Apostles. Joe Hanohoe came twice to me in Mount Bellew. When I was fighting the transfer to Castleblaney, I went up to Head Office and Joe brought me around on that fruitless task. He also
came down especially to meet me at a field day in Carrick in the 1970's. He was trying to make out that I was better off than he was. I didn't believe him. Who knows, of course, if I had become an Inspector
like Joe, I might not have lived long enough to pen this account, nor wished to take up the pen. I did not meet Dan O'Sullivan after leaving Avondale so much but he wrote to me a lot when I was in Clonaslee.
When I was being made an honorary member of the Society of Irish Foresters, I was delighted to meet Pat O'Sullivan, a son of Dan's. We have been great friends ever since. Pat helped me considerably
distributing the first volume of my memoirs, The Road to Avondale. Last Summer Pat treated my daughter-in-law Tuula, my son Mícheál and myself to lunch in the Woodenbridge Hotel. We were on our way
to my daughter Joan's in Drogheda. In the hotel I noted among the many old photographs one of Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan. It brought back memories - family ties. Kitty was a third cousin of mine.
When a student in Avondale I used sometimes visit the Woodenbridge Hotel to exchange local news with a girl from Loughduff in Mullahoran. I think her name was Lynch. She was a bookkeeper in the hotel. She later married a forester. The Summer before Pat gave all three of us a guided tour of Avondale House. I could show him the room where almost seventy years before his father, Dan, along with Dan Nyhan and myself, had climbed in a window late at night to be caught in the act by our Superintendent, Alistair Grant. That infringement of the house rules almost ended our time in Forestry, but we lived to fight another day.
In the Service of the State
Also by Author, Thomas Briody