By Jimmy Rhatigan
IS THERE a town or perhaps even a city in Ireland that can boast more or indeed as many famous people as the market town of Callan?
We doubt it.
Any proposed forensic research may prove otherwise, but at The Kilkenny Observer it is our belief that the native place of a multitude of literati is a goldmine of world class human brilliance.
A paperback on the life and times of a brave young boy called John Logan Power who rose to international fame despite a disastrous start in life once more serves to highlight the riches of a town that could be a world capital of historical tourism.
If Callan were a shop it would boast a sensational display window.
A collection of the great and the greater from several walks of life, people who made or are making their mark in various and walks of life, people who as a group could help to make Callan a dream destination when Covid moves on and local brain-power kicks in.
For instance it is not well known that the world renowned non-alcoholic drinks giant Coca Cola has its roots in a town that was founded by William Marshal in 1207 and reputedly gets its name from the High King of Ireland, Niall Caille.
It was in 1851 that Asa Griggs Candler was born. He was the founder of Coca Cola and became a very wealthy businessman.
The ancestral home of the Candler family was in Callan. Asa’s ancestor William Candler came to Ireland from England as a Captain in Cromwell’s Irish campaign.
He was subsequently granted the Barony of Callan for meritorious service in 1653. His family lived at Callan Castle.
Turning full circle, Asa Griggs Candler’s family home was built in the Beau Arts style in 1902, in Inman Park, Atlanta, Georgia, and is called Callan Castle.
American tycoon Asa founded the Coca Cola Company in 1892. In 1888 he had purchased the Coca Cola recipe from chemist John Stith Pemberton, Atlanta.
John Locke arrested
Poet, novelist, journalist and Fenian activist John Locke was born in Minauns, Callan in 1847.
He had his first of many poems published in 1863 at age 16.
He is best remembered for his poem The Calm Avonree. A plaque on the Town Hall building is dedicated to the patriot poet.
A talented hurler in his younger years, Locke will forever and a day be respected in his native place as the local GAA Club, John Lockes, founded in 1902 is named in his honour.
As a teen John Locke joined the Fenian movement. He wrote articles and poems for the Irish People Newspaper and was critical of British rule in Ireland.
The paper was suppressed and Locke was arrested and got six months in Kilkenny Jail.
Post jail he moved to Manchester where he organised Irish emigrants who were opposed to The Union.
Next stop was New York where he became a full-time journalist.
He made pals with the Big
Apple’s finest journalists and among his friends was scholar-patriot John O’Mahony.
The White House
Another son of Callan, nearby Desart to be precise, who performed brilliantly on the international stage was James Hoban who designed The White House and Leinster House and other prominent edifices.
Tony O’Malley was an Irish painter whose wonderful work continues to be appreciated around the world.
Tony who passed away in 2003 was a self-taught painter who started painting full time in 1958 following time as a clerk at the then Munster and Leinster Bank.
A talented artist, he was very proud of his home town and indeed of Coláiste Eamann Rís, the seat of education that no doubt helped to hone his talents as a student.
Tony and his wife, the former Jane Harris, a devoted couple, was always popular and highly respected in Callan.
For years, Tony’s sister, Rita ran a successful sweet shop in Bridge Street.
All of which leads us to another super son of Westcourt, Callan, one Edmund Ignatius Rice, founder of the Irish Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers.
The JCB Song
Born in 1762, he was a Catholic Missionary and educationalist.
He was born at a time when Catholics faced oppression under Penal Laws enforced by the British through reforms that were started in 1778 when he was a teenager.
He enjoyed a successful career in business and after his wife lost her life in an accident that also left his daughter disabled and with learning difficulties, he devoted his life to education of the poor.
Rice schools around the world continue to follow the traditions established by Edmund and not surprisingly a seat of education in his birth place is Coláiste Eamann Rís.
From general education to music, now a popular part of curriculums in schools throughout the country, we meet another popular and well known Callan man, Seamus Moore, singer and comedian.
Seamus won a talent contest with his own composition The JCB Song that was to catapult him to entertainment fame.
Highest in the world
He became known as the JCB Man and he was presented with a gold disc to mark over 50,000 sales.
His singalong albums include The Tinker’s Potcheen,The Piebald Ass, Fluthered on the Moon and EPs include The Big Bamboo, Bang Bang Rosie and The Pothole Song.
A modern phenomenon, a hugely talented man who flies the Callan flag with pride, particularly in the United States is Walter O’Brien whose family has been farming for decades in Callan.
Walter has one of the highest IQs in the world, with an estimated IQ of 197.
As a teenager he made headlines when he hacked NASA from his family’s farm.
His life inspired the CBS TV series, Scorpion. He is CEO of Scorpion Computer Services and executive producer of the Scorpion series.
Walter attended Callan CBS and then St Kieran’s College where he was a star pupil.
Then there is a wonderful roll of honour called Associates of Callan, yet more excellent souls to add to the series of brilliance.
These include Seán Ó Cleirigh, 15th Copyist of Psalter of Cashel, Domesday Book of Ireland. Pottlerath Castle,1453.
Poor Man’s University
Thomas Hunter of Ardglass 1831-1915. Schoolmaster in Callan. Young Ireland Patriot, founder of Hunter College, New York, Poor Man’s University of America.
John J Cudahy of Mulwaukee, American Ambassador to Belgium. Defender of patriot King Leopald.
Patrick Hurley 1878-1944 New York. Educated at Christian Brothers, Callan. American Consul at Reval, Riga, Nassau, Vienna. Consul General of Marseilles.
Most Rev Thomas O’Shea, SM 1870 of San Francisco. Archbishop of Wellington. Of Callan descent.
Last but not least Canon John Kennedy 1911-1984. Born, Ballyouskill, Kilkenny.
He studied for the priesthood in St Kieran’s College and later in Maynooth where he was ordained in 1936.
He was appointed PP of Callan in 1968 after serving as a professor specialising in Greek and Latin at St Kieran’s for 29 years.
During his time as parish priest (1968-1984) he used his great energies to revitalise the parish, completing a number of major projects.
The latter included the renovation of the parish church, Callan and the chapels at Newtown and Coolagh, along with renovation and extension of the parish hall; construction of a new home for the PP, John Locke Park and Mount Carmel Nursing Home.
Fr John was a great outgoing and friendly personality with a wonderful ability as a fundraiser that earned him the fond nickname of Johnny Cash.
So there we have it.
How can all that benefit Callan?
With a fantastic list of geniuses of yesterday and today, the foundations are there for a tourist haven with the foregone names as the fulcrum.
A good start to any Callan Renaissance would be to rename some rather innocuous street names to honour local literati, Rice Street, O’Malley Avenue, Moore Street and so forth.
That we believe, would be a positive start to any project to make a good town great, a heritage town that could be a focus for the tourists of the world, post Covid of course.