To bring out a book of memoirs is always a significant thing to bring out just the first book of memory at the age of 96 is very remarkable. Thomas Tosty Briody has achieved that with his extensive career story as a forester in an emerging Ireland. Born in Co.Cavan in 1913, his story covers the length and breadth of Ireland until his retirement near Carrick-on-Suir and in its pages – The Road to Avondale is a unique folk history and it even manages to take the decline of spoken Irish in rural Ireland. But this book is not some sociological study of an emerging republic but a warm and insightful look at the formative importance of place in difficult times.
From post-World War 1 the reader gets an accurate flavour of early schooling and the long gone rituals of place and time where porridge or stir about was an evening meal not a breakfast.
Play and pastimes, religion and the fierce rivalry of sport are outlined and the ritual of Communion and Confirmation memorably described. During the Civil War period such family rituals were the notable times that Republican and Free Stater talked together.
There is a wonderful optimism as the direct impact of the Wall Street Crash and the Economic War made things a lot harder than this global recession. Of friends going off to fight in wars and the dealings of banks who denied credit to small but hardworking farmers. The Wall Street Crash meant that many young Irish people had no land of milk and honey to emigrate to. Emigrants had to return to a poor country and it is curious to read that in 1931, things were so bad that in order to balance the national budget, the pay of Gardaí and teachers was reduced. The book is crammed with lovely historical snippets like Mr.Daly the Irish Editor of the Irish Press who went on to be Cearbhaill O’Dalaigh, President of Ireland.
Briody went off the agricultural college and set him up to join the foresters who were going to develop a vision of a green Ireland by harvesting its own resources. A glorious sense of self-sufficiency rather than some eco-dream.
The Irish government moved quickly setting up a series of semi-state organisations. The story of the Shannon Electricity Supply Board bringing in an expert from Wales to eradicate the muskrat is a gem and pre-figured the myxematosis story of the plague of rabbits.
As things began to improve people began to get notions of grandeur again like the teacher who wanted to change the place of Assinagap to Donkeyinagap or in the early forties people buying seeds to plant allotments and gardens and the resentment of people to being referred to as labourers rather that as workers.
The wartime emigration from the Carrick and Clonmel area to work in munitions
Factors in England, meant workers were hard to come by in the forests to prepare pit props for trench warfare. The bookends in 1942 with his marriage to Nora and a world of stories yet to tell. May the Lord, grant him time to delight us with further adventures, where it is hard to see the trees for the stories.