By Gerry Moran
Jim Maher passed away on the June 13. Jim taught me in 3rd class in the Christian Brothers Primary School, known to one and all as ‘The Brothers’. Jim was also known to one and all as ‘Foxy’. I have no idea where that nickname came from but ‘Foxy’ he was until in later years I came to know him as Jim, a fellow teacher, fellow school principal and fellow author.
Indeed I was in awe of Jim’s output (Irish and local history, a biography of Harry Boland and The Flying Column West Kilkenny 1916-1921 just to mention two) even into his Eighties.
I have some great memories of Jim as a teacher. The first, a serious one. Every morning before class commenced Jim would have us all stand and join with him in a simple Hail Mary for a ‘very special intention’. That intention I later discovered was for Jim’s sister Ann (wife of the late Jim Bateman of Springhill Hotel fame) who was seriously ill and died quite young. As an eight-year old I was hugely impressed by my teacher’s emotion, and devotion, throughout that short prayer.
On a lighter note I vividly remember a time when Jim, in a convivial mood, scrunched up a pound note (not to be scoffed at back in the Fifties) into a small ball and leaning back in his chair threw it towards a slight opening, maybe a couple of inches, at the top of our classroom window, the purpose being to slot the ‘ball’ through the gap. Time after time Jim tossed the ‘ball’ at the window and time after time it failed to go out much to the amusement of us, his pupils – Jim’s intended purpose, no doubt, to inject a little levity into the school day.
And then, after numerous attempts, lo and behold, Jim’s shot was straight and true and out the window went the pound note! And where did it land? In a patch of grass outside about a foot high. There was no laughing now. Jim leapt from his chair, threw open the bottom half of the window, grabbed the nearest lad to him and didn’t quite throw him out the window but most certainly hastened his exit to try and retrieve the pound note.
Soon each and every one of us were out scouring the long grass. The pound was eventually found and Jim rewarded the finder with a thruppenny bit. Or maybe it was a tanner (six pence).
And then there was Dick Lyons. Dick and I were classmates since ‘Baby Infants’ with the Presentation Nuns. Dick was a character and emigrated early in life to the US (and if perchance this gets to you, Dick, my heartiest greetings to you and yours). One fine day Jim, frustrated by Dick’s antics, threw a stick of chalk at Dick (not an uncommon practice back then). And what did the bold Dick do? He threw the stub of chalk back at ‘Foxy’! Shock, horror in the classroom! Did Dick Lyons just throw a ‘missile’ (albeit a stick of chalk) at his teacher? He did. And to the best of my recollection, Jim, ‘Foxy’ Maher laughed.
Fair dues, Jim.
Now Jim, as a teacher, was considered tough and had in his possession a tattered old leather that was literally falling apart at the seams, comical really, until you were on the receiving end of it for a flurry of ‘slaps.’ However as we progressed to sixth class and the more serious use (and misuse) of the leather by one Brother Grennan, known to one and all as ‘Jack’ because of his resemblance to the Hollywood actor, Jack Palance, we looked back on those ‘slaps’ of Jim’s as harmless and came to realise that he was a gentleman at heart.
In latter years I became quite friendly with Jim and grew fond of the man. I’d bump into him, and his wife Mary, regularly in the Kilkenny Design restaurant where we’d sit a while and chat. I’d also bump into him in the archival room of the library in John’s Green where he sourced material for his history books. I have no memory of ever crying for a deceased teacher but I shed a tear for Jim ‘Foxy’ Maher when I heard of his passing.
Rest in peace, Jim. Ar dheis Dé go raibh d’anam dílis.