The vast majority of Irish places derive their names from the Irish language. One such place is Clonmel which first entered my consciousness on a dark wintery morning in 1976 when Father came racing up the stairs of the Bank House in my beloved Drogheda and announced to me while I was still half asleep: We’ve been transferred to Clonmel. I looked at him blankly with my heart breaking and said: Where’s that?
I dug out my old school atlas and my eyes and heart went down, down the page ’til I hit South Tipperary and Clommel that was to be ‘home’ for the next ten years.
In hindsight, I think if he had said we’ve been transferred to ‘The Valley of Honey’ which is how Clonmel ~ Cluain Meala translates from its Irish name, I would have been a lot more receptive and geared up for the marvels that were in store.
Clonmel is built on the banks of the River Suir and has immense natural beauty and social history associated with it. The outstanding features, for me, are the mountains that peer down on the bustling town. The Comeraghs, with places like the stunning Nire Valley are just a few short miles away and to the other side is Sliabh na mBan ( Mountain of the Women).
I was in Clonmel just a few days ago and Sliabh na mBan was decorated with snow as if donning her winter clothes for the last time this year. I wondered if this historic mountain knows how much she means to the people of Tipperary and how ‘the anthem’ of the county, that resounds around places like Semple Stadium and Croke Park when Tipperary hurlers and footballers battle it out, is all about her!
The Valley of Honey also conjures up visions of the apple orchards associated with Bulmers, the cider people and the sweet scent of apples that wafts over the town. And, of course, there’s the amazing story of Charles Bianconi who set up Ireland’s historic public transport system, that pre-dated railways, from Clonmel. Ach sin scéal eile ~ ( But that’s another story).