Michael Byrne, Offaly History
Ladies and Gentlemen
It’s a great pleasure for me to be asked to launch this the third volume of the Tommy Harris photographs of Clara and district. The first volume appeared in 2010 and the second in 2012 and now in December 2015 we have the third volume. To Brendan O’Meara, Brendan Kenny and their team of helpers it a great achievement.
So who was Tommy Harris? He was an ordinary simple man who worked in Kenny’s shop in Clara for almost all his life. Tommy was born in Liverpool about 1900 and because he was orphaned earlier he came to Clara to be looked after by his aunt Kate Nugent. Perhaps early privations gave him the sense of purpose and dedication which he had all his life, whether it was working in Kenny’s shop, taking photographs, or writing to the great and good around the world and getting back autographed letters of thanks. When Tommy was interviewed for the Tullamore Tribune by journalist Dave Pate in 1978 (the year before his death) it was this aspect of his vocation that was signalled out.
For the Kenny family and the owner of the famous shop, M.F. Kenny, it was Tommy’s dedication to his work and his kind word for everyone that most impressed his employer. So much so that he supplied Tommy with a Brownie Box camera and a regular supply of 6 X 116 Kodak film. As a shop employee and an affable person Tommy knew everyone in Clara and was well liked. This is obvious in the pictures in that he was welcome in everyone’s house (be they rich or poor folk) and people relaxed instead of posing for his photographs.
It is true to see that all the major events in Clara and those that were important for families in their modest private celebrations of the 1950s and 1960s are covered in the Harris collection. This is what makes the collection so interesting and different to other Offaly collections such as Biddulph (Magan), Lawrence, Fr Browne, among others. Clara would be, if not unique, one of small band of towns, with such an important collection depicting small town life fifty to 80 years ago.
This, the third volume follows on the high standard of the previous two issues and means that almost 2000 picture from the collection are now in the public demesne for all to enjoy. Brendan O’Meara and Brendan Kenny and their team have gone further in adding so much important detail with each picture of the events and families in Clara. In time these books will be available as PDFs also and will be searchable for names and places. These publications cannot but inspire more work on the history of the town and people of Clara. Tommy Harris, the quiet inoffensive photographer has provided many hours of joy and some sadness to those who look bank in anguish. For most of us it will be wonder that he achieved so much with so little. His editors here tonight have done him and the town of Clara a great service. I have pleasure in declaring this book launched and may it fill many a Christmas stocking this Christmas. It will be the money well spent.