George Cunningham’s ‘the Round Tower at Roscrea and its Environs’ had its Dublin launch at St Patrick’s College last week. Hosted by the President of St Pat’s Professor Daire Keogh it was formally launched by renowned educationalist Professor John Coolahan. Among the large and significant scholarly attendance were prominent academics and figures from the book and educational world including the president the INTO, Brendan O’Sullivan. The reception was held in Belvedere House on the St Pat’s campus. To honour the occasion George Cunningham presented the library of St Pat’s ( anew 40 million library is being built) with a set of the 8 volume Trees of GB and Ireland.
George Cunningham's book, The Round Tower at Roscrea and its environs, was launched at St Pats Drumcondra by Prof John Coonohan. George use the opportunity to present a set of 8 books on the trees of Great Britain and Ireland to his old alma mater.
Professor Coolahan, a class mate of George’s in the class of 1961, in launching the book said..............
‘ I regard it as an honour and a privilege to be invited to launch George Cunningham's splendid new book - The Round Tower at Roscrea and its environs. However, as there is a very particular symbiotic relationship between this book and its author, I feel compelled to make some comments on the man as well as on the book. To do so here in our beloved St. Patrick's College, from which we set out on our professional careers fifty three years ago, makes it all the more pleasurable.
When we entered St. Pats in 1959 there were two year groups of about 100 students each . We were grouped into Roinn, or sections, according to our alphabetical names in Irish. Thus, names such as Cunningham, Colfer , Quinn, Coolahan , Day , and so on were grouped together for nearly everything. As a closed, boarding institution in those days, there was a good deal of natural bonding. We enjoyed our time here, and published a book on our 50th anniversary of graduating, in 2011, Golden Threads, celebrating our times here.
I remember a special occasion when the group just named met together, on a Corpus Christi morning , shortly before departing College. We sat at the fountain in the Quad and we talked about the Scattering which was about to take place , and where we might find ourselves throughout the country. One thing we brought from the College was a strong vocational commitment to teaching, and a realisation that the primary teacher played an important role in local communities. Well, of the small group , the late Billy Colfer of Wexford and the very alive George Cunningham had the good fortune to get appointed near their native place. Or, perhaps , I should say, their native places were very fortunate that these native sons came to serve there. Because both of these men have made herculean contributions in many capacities to their communities. But for today's event one would stress their contributions to the architectural, historical, and cultural traditions of their regions, and very particularly through their highly regarded publications. We pay tribute to Billy's memory , who was so untimely taken from us - Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
We are pleased to pay honour to George, here with us on the occasion of the launch of his book, which incorporates a lifetime of loving research and study. George is a Renaissance man , about whose multifaceted career one has written in an article entitled , Lifelong Learner and Lifelong Educator in a book , A Carnival of Learning , published in his honour, in 2012. This is not the occasion to go into detail on his many achievements and engagements, but it is in order to summarise a few. He was a very loved Principal Teacher in Coolderry Central School, and engaged with Continuous Personal Development for his colleagues by running the Roscrea Summer School for teachers for 23 years from 1977. He founded the Roscrea Conferences on Early Christian and Medieval Ireland, and will be directing his 54th successive Conference on the last weekend of this April. He has published and edited a vast range of publications. He founded and edits the annual ‘Roscrea People’, and has just edited the 40th volume of the series. As an internationally known bibliophile , he has one of the great private collections in Ireland of prestigious books and special editions. However, as a book lover he has a remarkable record of donating books to school libraries and charitable causes; recently this came to 50,000 volumes! As part of his distinctive conservation work of historical buildings he has worked for the conservation of great old libraries such as Bolton Library in Cashel, and on the other cycle of time , played a crucial role in building up the Library of Limerick University and its collections. As well as the architectural and historic building environment, George has contributed greatly to the appreciation of the flora, fauna, and landscape of Ireland .
However, it is his work on the historical and architectural which brings us back to make some remarks on the beautiful book which we are launching. The title is at once accurate and misleading. It is accurate in that it is, indeed , an excellent study of the Roscrea and its environs, but it is very much more than that. The detailed study of this round tower is accompanied by a treatment of round towers in other areas of Tipperary, but , also , in counties Offaly, Kildare , Carlow , Laois , Kilkenny and Galway. Furthermore , the scholarly work on round towers , in general , over recent centuries is also captured. So that , while Roscrea is the core example, we are also given a much broader conspectus on the round tower as one of the distinguishing features of the Irish built landscape .
As well as this range of treatment of Round Towers , the timescale covered dates from the late sixth century to the present day . The last inclusion I found is dated to January 2014! Within this great span of time, George has cleverly incorporated a great deal of historical happenings in Roscrea and the midlands throughout the centuries . His lifetime interest in and extensive knowledge of the area enlightens life as it was lived over such a long era and touches on the faith, the hopes, the disappointments , the achievements of many generations which go to form tradition and heritage . It is here that one feels the symbiotic relationship between man and book, to which I referred earlier. In some ways, the book is a paean of exultation to that heritage and the people who created it. In this context, the built heritage is not allowed to dominate and we are also treated to beautiful treatment of great works of art of the area such as The Book of Dimma and its Shrine , the Roscrea Brooch, and other national treasures.
Another striking feature of the book is its incorporation of so much scholarly, academic study, which gives a great sense of authority to the treatment . It is clear from the large list of acknowledgements that George has been able to draw from his host of scholarly friends for clarification and verification. A great achievement of George's is that his style of writing is inviting and engaging for a non specialist reader, while being underpinned by the most up-to-date scholarship.
I am holding to last one of the most attractive features of the volume, and that is, the extraordinary beauty of its presentation. It incorporate 370 illustrations, many of them in full colour. There are very high quality photographs of sites, ruins , buildings , artefacts , excavations, works of art . Many of these photographs are by the author, who is a distinguished photographer. There are a whole range of maps, some designed by the author. There are cartoons and drawings. There are beautiful prints from other volumes, some of which have rarely been published. Some of the aerial photos of Roscrea town by Brian Redmond are quite spectacular. The text and all of its valuable contents are incorporated in a beautiful book design. I referred to the author as a Renaissance man, and this is further collaborated when one notes that not alone did he write the volume, but he also designed it in association with Andrea Patterson in Walsh Printers, Roscrea , and published it by his own Parkmore Press. It should be noted, however, that this remarkable man has had a lifelong partner, supporter and stimulator in his charming wife , Carmel , who in her varied supporting role , also found time to compile the Index. We warmly congratulate them both on this singular achievement. It gives me genuine pleasure to launch formally in Saint Patrick's College, George's Alma Mater, The Round Tower at Roscrea and its environs . I warmly recommend it to you and friends as a book of significance, which will be a work of beauty and enlightenment on any Irish , and indeed, international bookshelf.’
The book is selling fast and anyone with an interest in the history of Roscrea however big or small is encouraged to get their copy now which is available locally or by sending an email to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org