That Thomas Croke, later to become Archbishop of Cashel, and one of the great Irish patriots of the turbulent 19th century was born in the vicinity of Castlecor Demesne, there is no doubt. His Baptismal Certificate gives the following details: Thomas Croke was Baptised according to the form prescribed in the Roman Ritual in the Church of St. John the Baptist Kilbrin, Parish of Ballyclough on the 6th day of January, 1823.
Parents: William Croke and Isabella Plummer. Sponsors: William Croke and Catherine Flynn Dromin. The small townland in which the house he was born in is situated, was part of the demesne, but tradition has it that the Croke family migrated to Castlecor from somewhere between Liscarroll and Ballyhea, taking the northern road that runs via Cooline. On this road lies the ancient burial ground of Killabraher, and this cemetery seems to have been the family burial ground of the Croke family. A certain Mr. Croke had a hedge-school near Liscarroll and he lies buried in out of the way Killabraher.
The surname Croke is a rare name. MacLysaght states that the Crokes were in Co. Kilkenny since the early 14th century. How and when they spread to North Cork is not known, but the family to which the Archbishop belonged were comfortable farmers and people of influence in their neighbourhood. One of his uncles, the Very Rev. Thomas Croke, V.G. was Parish Priest cf Charleville for over forty years. Thomas seems to have been a family name, and this uncle, a man with strong patriotic convictions, had much to do with the moulding of the character of his famous nephew. The following anecdote gives an insight into the kind of man this uncle was.
On the fist anniversary of the deaths of the Manchester Martyrs, November 23rd 1868, Father T. Croke P.P. of Charleville decided that an Anniversary Mass would be said in the Church at Charleville on that date. Thomas Saunders, a Justice of the Peace, delivered a letter to Father Croke, on the night before the Mass was to be celebrated, requesting him to let him know by seven o’clock on the morning of November 23rd if a ceremony other than a Requiem Mass was to take place, such as an excuse for holding a meeting which would most probably assume an illegal character and therefore making it necessary for him as J. P. to preserve the peace. Father Croke happened to be very ill when he received this letter and could not reply to it until about three weeks afterwards. The following extract from this letter of reply shows clearly the intensity of his patriotism.
“O Tempora, O Mores, A Mass for the dead to assume an illegal character. Such however, is the law laid down by a magistrate. Now for my answer. Had my state of health permitted it I would not only have sanctioned Masses to be said in my Church for the souls of Allen, O’B1·1en and Larkin but would have celebrated Masses for them myself". The Reverend Pastor concludes as follows "I am a very old man, nearly 85 years of age, and 41 years Pastor of Charleville. During this time I have contributed to preserve the peace and order in my parish, and to promote kindly feeling and friendly intercourse in all the relations of life among all professing Christians. In conclusion I would recommend the following aphorism to your consideration. Think deeply and you will not repent of what you have done, said or written.
There is very scanty information about the background of the future Archbishop, and of the years he spent in Castlecor prior to his going to live with his uncle in Charleville. He attended the local school at Ballygraddy Village, which was situated at Lackeel cross-roads, the place where the townlands of Ballygraddy and Lackeel meet. This school was supported by Major Deane-Freeman of Castlecor. The Master William Curtin was allowed £20 per annum, also a house and a garden. His mother’s name was Plummer, a family that gave its name to Mount Plummer near Broadford, Co. Limerick. She being a Protestant, until four years before her death, and the daughter of an army Sergeant it is not easy to visualise that such a marriage could take place. Of course love will always find its way. Both families perhaps had connections with the running of the affairs of the family who lived in the Big House (lsabella Plummer reared her children as devout Catholics, five of them choosing the Religious life, two as priests and three as nuns). The fame of the Archbishop, no doubt has obscured the greatness of other members of the family. One of them, his sister Isabella, called after her mother, became famous as the celebrated Rev. Mother Croke. She was for many years Superior in the Convent of Mercy, Charleville, a Convent founded by her uncle when P.P. of Charleville.
Mother Joseph was the Founderess of the Convent of Mercy in Buttevant, and referred to it as “Paradise”. The following is a tribute paid to her on the occasion of her death in 1888. “Mother Joseph Croke was a great woman, an outstanding character and true Sister of Mercy. She had the mind of a man but the heart of a Mother for all those confided to her care. Through life, her benevolence, and goodness were used for all who sought her aid, high and low equally. Uncountable are the number of young persons whom she helped to forward - sometimes to emigrate or settle down in life, but especially girls who felt the call of God urging them to consecrate themselves to his service either at home or abroad. Love for the poor was a notable trait in her character". She held the office of Superioress of St. Mary’s for six terms. Towards the end of the 80th year God called her to Himself. Her brother, His Grace most Rev. Dr. Croke and five other Bishops presided at the obsequies besides numerous Clergymen and friends. Mother Joseph was one of the two Sisters who volunteered from the Charleville Community to join the "Band" of Sisters of Mercy going courageously to the Crimean Battlefield, there to alleviate and console the wounded sufferers in Hospital. His sister Mother Ignatius Croke went to Australia and founded the Mercy Convent at Bathurst. In far foreign fields, at home and abroad many members of the Croke family distinguished themselves, and like their master whom they served so faithfully Bene omnia fecerunt.
The young Thomas Croke left Dromin and went to reside with his uncle when he was about twelve years of age. As a young lad he was athletic and vigorous and no doubt often rambled through the Demesne. His career before he became Archbishop of Cashel is eventful and interesting . After studying in the Irish College in Paris, he completed his studies for the priesthood in the Irish College in Rome. He was one of the most distinguished class to be awarded the Degree of Divinity, in 1846 winning gold and silver medals. he sold these medals giving the proceeds towards the relief of the terrible havoc caused by the Great Famine. The year of his ordination 1847 coincided with the death of O’Connell and he was one of the chief celebrants of a special Mass for the Liberator in Rome. Shortly after this he returned to Ireland to serve for a short while as Curate under his uncle in Charleville. After this he was successively Professor of Rhetoric at Carlow College, Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Irish College in Paris, once more curate in Charleville, curate in Midleton and curate in Mallow. Dr. Croke was appointed President of St. Coleman’s College, Fermoy in 1858, and in 1865 he was appointed to his first Parish at Doneraile, also being appointed Chancellor of the Diocese of Cloyne. He travelled to Rome as theologian to Most Rev. Dr. Keane his Bishop, who was attending the First Vatican Council. He was then appointed Bishop of Auckland, New Zealand, where he laboured devotedly for four years making many converts among the Maoris. In 1875 he reached the zenith of his career when he was appointed to the see of Cashel in succession to Archbishop Leahy. This is but a list of his duties and appointments but during all these years he left his mark on many spheres outside the limits of his priestly and Pastoral demands; and after his appointment to Cashel he bestrode the irish scene like a Colossus, his championing of the Land League and before that his Patronage of the G.A.A. mark him down as a Patriot of the highest order. He was a friend of John Devoy, Michael Davitt and until the split of Charles Stewart Parnell, William O’Brien often stayed at the Palace in Thurles. When Charles Kickham died Dr. Croke wrote a letter of condolence to Mr. A. Kickham in which he said Ireland has lost in your brother Charles one of her best and bravest and most patriotic s0ns”. Let him speak for himself.
"I am a Nationalist as is well known, of over forty years standing. During that period I have taken a prominent part, and, as I trust not an inglorius part in every movement that had for its object to elevate the Irish people and root them to their native sod. A young Irelander and hillside man with Mitchel and Meagher I was a Land Leaguer with Gavan Duffy and a Home Ruler with Parnell".
Perhaps the decade or more years which the young Thomas Croke spent under the shadow of the Great House at Castlecor were the years which made him what he was - a True son of Erin.
Pádraig A. O'Riain
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