Tom hands over Abbeyleix Heritage tiller

FIT and lean and faster than he’s ever been. That’s Tom Cox. Yet, in a seemingly contradictory move, he is retiring. For the second time.

FIT and lean and faster than he’s ever been. That’s Tom Cox. Yet, in a seemingly contradictory move, he is retiring. For the second time.

Nine years ago, he quit the army after 30 years’ service, having reached the rank of Commandant.

Whereupon he took up a challenging new job--that of Manager of Abbeyleix Heritage Company. Now, much to the regret of the town’s inhabitants, he is stepping down from that post.

As local Councillor and Heritage Company Director John Joe Fennelly noted: “We were in dire straits when you (Tom) came here. You pulled the place together. You are part of Abbeyleix, Tom.”

John Joe was speaking at a function in the Heritage Centre last Wednesday evening, to mark Tom Cox’s retirement and to thank him for his work over the best part of a decade.

From Heritage Company Chairman Kevin O’Higgins, Tom was the recepient of a witty portrait of himself done by Dublin caricaturist Niall O’Loughlin. Tom’s wife, Berna, received a bouquet of flowers from Board member Helen Cruickshank.

Back for a moment to Tom’s fitness. Last July in Dublin, he took part in the annual Irish Runner Five miler and recorded his best time ever, 42.56.

Then again, as he pointed out, he has, so to speak, been on the road all his life. His father Colm, who sadly died last Easter, was in the army. As a result, the family--parents and 10 children--lived in many parts of the country, ending up in Kildare.

Colm was a Colonel when he retired. Interestingly, he was in the first Irish army observation group in the Lebanon. That was in 1958. Twenty years later, Tom followed in his father’s footsteps to that troubled country.

It was in Donegal that Tom met his wife Berna. Thankfully, his mother, Angela, is still hale and hearty.

“Over the years we have seen great changes in the Heritage Centre,” mused Tom at his retirement function. “One of the highlights was the opening of the playground which is in daily use.

“And, of course, the Heritage Centre received the Paddy Mulhall archives, thanks to Mai Mulhall. This will be a huge resource in time, locally, nationally and internationally.”

This year, the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, was also a poignant one for Abbeyleix since some of the carpets in that supposedly indestructible ship were made in the town. Tom pointed to a toolbox loaned to the Heritage Centre by Belfast man Patrick Thoms. The box belonged to a worker who helped build the Titanic.

Kevin O’Higgins told Tom: “It’s a sad night that we are losing you. The future is going to be very difficult without you. You have a huge love and knowledge of history, particularly of local history. You always had time for the visitors from many parts of the world who came here trying to trace their roots.”

On behalf the Heritage Company, Kevin wished Tom and Berna many years of happy retirement. Board member Andy Cole did the same and said it had always been a pleasure to work with Tom down through the years.

He had transformed the Company from the red into the black and, as Polonius had advised Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. had always “to thine ownself been true.”

Cllr John Bonham said he’d been shocked to hear that Tom was leaving. County Heritage Officer Catherine Casey said Laois Heritage Forum, of which Tom was Chairman, would be bereft without him. She added: “We are really going to miss you.”

Tom, replying, said: “I was not prepared for the effect that Abbeyleix and its history and heritage would have on me. The catalyst was the people I met. Through them, I learned about the town. The Heritage Centre is for the people and their projects. It should be constantly in use. The people should know it as their home for community projects.”

He thanked all who had helped him do his job, including staff members Ann Brennan, John Whelan and Joe Kennedy, Board members and the Co. Council.

He finished on a bright note.

“We have made our home in The Queen’s County,” he declared.