Recently acquired by Lár na Páirce was a very fine framed portrait on one of the most prominent figures in the early days of the G.A.A. According to the Tipperary Leader of 7 November 1884, three Thurlesmen were present at the foundation meeting of the G.A.A., namely Charles Culhane, William Delahunty and Michael Cantwell.
Charles (Charlie) Culhane was born in Thurles on 19 December 1858, the son of James Culhane and Bridget (nee O’Connor). He was educated in the local C.B.S. His father was a ‘feather and skin’ merchant and a native of Newcastle West, County Limerick. He traded at East Main Street, Thurles, and it was this trade that Charlie inherited and developed into a very successful ‘hides and skins’ business.
As a young man, Charlie was a very successful athlete, being a sprint specialist at the many local sports. At the Thurles Athletic Sports, in the College Field, in July 1878 he won both the 100 yards open event and 220 yard flat race for the ‘Thurles Champion Cup’. Charlie reclaimed that trophy in September 1880. He was also a noted pedestrian of much staying power, often walking twenty Irish miles in one day. His acknowledged interest in sport and undoubted nationalist outlook account for his presence at the G.A.A. ‘foundation meeting’ in Hayes’s Hotel, Thurles on 1 November 1884.
Charlie later owned premises on Friar Street, (Kenny’s presently) where he lived with his wife Johanna (nee Maher). His property on Pudding Lane (later Rossa Street), housed the printing press of the Tipperary Leader from 1882 to 1885. This bi-weekly publication strongly supported the Land League and nationalist causes generally, ideals with which Culhane was sympathetic. His sister was an active member of The Ladies Land League. Charlie contributed to the Parnell Testimonial in 1883 and to the Evicted Tenants Defence Fund in 1892. He was also a committee member of the Thurles Branch of the Irish National Federation (1892).
He always kept an interest in the fortunes of Thurles G.A.A. Club. Their All-Ireland victories of 1906 and 1908 particularly pleased him. In late December 1908 Charlie was one of the principal speakers at a function in the Confraternity Hall organised by Thurles G.A.A. club to honour All-Ireland captain Tom Semple.
Charlie Culhane was greatly identified with the Sinn Féin movement and was president of the local Sinn Féin club. During the War of Independence (1919-1921), he capably discharged the duties of magistrate during the conflict. During the infamous “night of terror” in Thurles, on 24 January 1920, his premises among others on Friar Street bore the brunt of military reprisal on local Sinn Féiners. Charlie Culhane along with J.M. Kennedy and D.H. Ryan were among the most prominent organisers of the volunteers in the Thurles area. As a result of his activities, Charlie was arrested by British forces and deported to Wormwood Scrubs prison and while there participated in a hunger strike. He was released shortly after the Truce (July 1921) but he never wavered from his Republican convictions.
He was a regular visitor to Britain and the U.S.A. on matters relating to his business – frequently sending cargoes (hides) to America. Local oral tradition informs us that some of these trips, particularly to the U.S.A., were used to fundraise for the nationalist cause, using his legitimate trading business to deceive the authorities. Statements issued by the National Park Bank of New York, found among Charlie’s papers, show a credit balance of $77,694.40 on 1 June 1925, while a statement for a ‘special’ account on 2 November of that year indicates a balance of $15,384.66.
Charlie was civic minded, politically aware and involved in many organisations in the town of Thurles. He was among a group who initiated the formation of a Young Men’s Society in the town in October 1883. He was elected on several occasions as Town Commissioner and later to the Urban Council, representing Sinn Féin. He was its chairman from the politically hazardous period of 1921 until his death on 4 January 1926. On 7 January 1922 the second Dáil approved the Anglo Irish Treaty. When Thurles Urban District Council discussed the Treaty, chairman Charles Culhane left the chair rather than accept a motion for approval. In his absence the vote for acceptance was unanimous.
The chief celebrant at his funeral mass was Most Rev Dr Harty. Among the clergy was “The General” – Fr. Matt Ryan, P.P. Knockavilla, the noted Land league and Conradh na Gaeilge activist. All the members of the Urban Council with Secretary J.M. Kennedy were in attendance. He was described as one of the leading citizens in the civic and business life of Thurles. The coffin, draped in the tri-colour was borne on the shoulders of a number of political friends, proceeded from the cathedral, up Liberty Square around the ’98 Memorial and back to St Mary’s Churchyard. Mr P Flynn, M.C.C. Fethard delivered an oration extolling Culhane’s patriotism.