April 28, 2004
Semple Stadium Thurles
Tom Semple will always be remembered
The Patron of the G.A.A, Archbishop Dermot Clifford on a glorious Easter Sunday morning unveiled a stone memorial by James Slattery to the legendary Thurles Sarsfields an Tipperary hurler and distinguished GAA official, Tom Semple (1879 -1943) after whom Semple Stadium in Thurles is named.
It was erected by the local Durlas Eile ui Fhogartaigh Memorial Committee with support from Thurles Sarsfields GAA Club who were represented by Chairman, Tom Barry. Thurles Town Manager and former Chairman, Liam Uas O Donnchu. Durlas Og chief, Jimmy Coppinger represented his club. Semple won his first all-Ireland in 1900 with Two Mile Borris and Captained Thurles Blues to victor in 1906 and 1908.
He organised the committee who in 1910 purchased the showgrounds in Thurles and this later became known as Thurles Sportsfield. In 1971 it was renamed Semple Stadium in his honour and it became the hurling mecca to all lovers of the ancient game. He held the posts of County Board Chairman and represented the Premier County on the Munster Council and Central Council. He also played an important role for Republicans in the War of Independence organising dispatches through his position on the Great Southern & Western Railway in Thurles. He died on April 11, 1943.
Several hundred people in the Easter sunshine, including Semple's son and daughter, Martin Semple who came from Denver Colorado and Anne Semple Gunning of Dublin (who was with her husband, Sean) attended the unveiling in St Mary's Churchyard in Thurles where Semple is buried. They and their brother, Fr Jim Semple, salt Lake City, Utah are the only direct descendants of Semple. There were four generations of Semples present.
Other relatives present included Semple's grandson, former Tipperary and All-Ireland Intermediate hurling star, T.J. Semple of Thurles Sarsfields and his wife, Anne and son, Thomas; Mrs Josephine Semple. daughter-in-law of Tom Semple; Maureen Semple Thomas, granddaughter of SEmple and her husband , Thomas Thomas with their son, Kenneth Thomas and his wife, Monica and three children, Andrew, Callum and Odhran.
Their neighbours (and indeed, once, mine) who were present included Sean Ryan, Paddy Ryan and Alice Curran Hogan and John Curran, Padraig O'Gorman, all formerly of Fianna Road.
Dignitaries also included Defence Minister Ml Smith, Ml Lowry TD; Sean Fogarty, MCC, Munster Council Chairman of the GAA; Paddy Barry, Mayor of Thurles; Maire Hoctor TD. and many Councillors, including Harry Ryan, MCC; John Kenehan, Thurles TC; John Kennedy, Thurles TC and Jim Ryan, Thurles TC.
There too were Peter Cleary Junior, President of Thurles Lions Club and Peter Cleary of Friar Street, Thurles; Enda Walsh of Thurles Credit Union.
Tipperary hurling greats Michael Murphy of Thurles Sarsfields and Pat Stakelum also attended. Kilkenny hurling personality, Captain Canice Brennan was there also.
There too was Galwegian, Captain Michael Walsh of Seskin who scaled Mt. Kilimanjaro for charity some years ago and who much be happy with that Galway win over Cork in the hurling league.
There was a parade to the graveyard led by Sean Treacy Pipe Band Moycarkey-Borris who later played the National Anthem and Faith of Our Fathers. A Guard of Honour drawn from the Third FA Regiment of the FCA under the command of Sergeant Tommy Mockle was inspected by both the Archbishop and Defence Minister, Michael Smith.
Sergeant Jim Hynes, drummer and Sgt.R.Kelleher, trumpeter of the Band of the Southern Command, Cork were on duty for the ceremonies also.
Mr Martin Semple on behalf of all of the Semple family thanked all and particularly those in the Memorial Committee for the great honour given to his father and the whole Semple family that day.
"We are proud of our father". Mr Semple mentioned the connection between the Sean Treacy Pipe band, Moycarkey Borris, not only with the Stadium but also with the all-Ireland medal Tom Semple won in 1900.
"My father worked with Dr Croke, the first Patron of the GAA and was very involved with the erection of the memorial to Dr Croke in Liberty Square.
Canon Fogarty, chronicler of the GAA story who had ministered to my father in his last days described Tom Semple in his book as symbolic of Matt The Thresher. a born leader of men on and off the field. As well as leading the Thurles Blues Tom Semple played his part in Cogadh na Saoirse (War of Independence) and what most people don't know is he was a Captain in the first Irish Army founded in the Free State. He never wanted to stay in that army very long and he came back to Thurles because first, last and always he was a member of the Thurles community. He wanted to stay here. My mother told me that on many occasions he was asked by the GS & WR (Great Southern & Western Railway) to take jobs in the various parts of the country and he always refused because he wanted to live all his days in Thurles.
"And he gave his life to the town of Durlas Eile Ui Fhogartaigh. The great stadium that he and the men of his generation founded was, as Mayor Barry indicated, a symbol of the GAA throughout the country. He also recognised how important this town was in the life of the GAA and how important the GAA is to the life of Ireland.
And for that reason we are really proud that this memorial in the Garden of Remembrance will be unveiled to him today. It's just within steps of his last resting place", said Mr Semple.
Archbishop Clifford congratulated the members of the Durlas Eile Ui Fhogartaigh Memorial Committee for keeping the memory of Tom Semple green.
"It's right that we should do it because he has been an inspiration in his own lifetime. And he will continue to be so in the time ahead. Tom Semple is a a man about whom I never heard a bad word spoken He is not a native of Thurles but a Drombane man who came to Thurles because of his job in the Great Southern & Western Railway. He was a familiar figure on the Cork/Dublin train for many years.
"He became a famous hurling Captain of Thurles Blues, and later became an inspired coach and administrator of the GAA.
"A gifted hurler he was over 6ft tall and like a Greek Apollo and a shrewd judge of men and of hurling".
"Semple was known for his great long puck and once the ball ended up in a thatched house outside the field. And the game was held up.
"Later he used to urge the players to aim for the thatch, "Thro' the thatch"!.
"When he retired the whole team retired with him. He was one of the principal movers for the showgrounds in 1910 in Thurles when a working committee of twelve paid nine hundred pounds for the field.
"In due course the sportsfield became a worthy setting for contests between Tipperary and Cork.
Thurles people loved to go to the sportsfield where Semple was Chief Steward at the Games".
The Archbishop recalled when the Black and Tans surrounded the Croke Memorial in Liberty Square, Thurles when it was being unveiled. Archbishop Harty did the blessing and Tom Semple stood at his right hand.
"Archbishop Harty said that the people of Thurles would guard the Croke Memorial as they would their own lives.. We will guard this memorial to Semple and hold it in great honour. It is a privilege for me to be here to bless it and to unveil it", said Dr Clifford.
Defence Minister, Michael Smith, said: "Easter Sunday a day of great celebration for the Christian world that marks renewal, hope, salvation that we are here to celebrate a man who made such a lasting impact. To few people is given the capacity to do things in their lives which do not die with them."
Addressing Martin Semple, Mr Smith said : He was admired as a player and as a sportsperson, but his hurling feats were not the only strength he had. He was a key figure in making the IRA more effective in the Fight for Freedom.
His life spread itself wide with great generosity, great love for our national identity.
His name is immortalised in Semple Stadium. To those who love our Gaelic Games how often have we heard that if you can't play good hurling in Semple Stadium you can't play it anywhere else."
Mr Johnny Wort, Chairman of the Durlas Eile Ui Fhogartaigh committee, thanked numerous people and said their committee agenda is to make more people aware of the local history by erecting plaques around Thurles and in the Garden of Remembrance to mark historical events, honour heroes and to attract more tourism to the town.
Last year they head launched an Historical Walk of Thurles which is for tourists and all who are interested in the history of Thurles.
Mr Paddy Barry, Mayor of Thurles said the contribution Tom Semple made to the GAA in Thurles and throughout the country is "legendary". It was a coincidence that that on a visit to Salt Lake City on St Patrick's Day he had met Tom Semple's son, Rev James Semple and now he acknowledged Martin Semple who had travelled from the USA to be with them and with members of the Semple family who were there. He had met with Fr Patrick Carley in Salt Lake City and Paddy is a former Thurles Sarsfields star too.
He congratulated the Memorial committee and the Semple Memorial was the third project to be completed by them in the Garden of Remembrance.
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