An Irishman's Diary
The one and only time I saw Lardy Corbett was in 1944. He was driving a herd of cattle to the fair of Tipperary, seven miles from where I was growing up.
He was a small man, about five foot six. His cap was tilted sideways on his head. His brown duster was down to his leggings and he had an ash plant tucked under his left arm.
It is said that he never lost an animal and easily kept his charges bunched together in the melees that were street fairs in those days. I am led to believe that as a drover he was a genius. He had no use for letters or maths yet he always knew exactly how many cattle he was in charge of and had an off-the-cuff name for each. It was an unusual and definitely intuitive way of keeping track of his animals which nobody understood.
This was borne out one day when, unusually for him, he was driving a small herd of sheep from Limerick to Cappamore for a pair of brothers who owned high ground there. The EU had started some grant scheme for sheep which interested them.
Half way home the brothers who were on their bicycles made a stop in Boher and corralled the sheep in the backyard of a pub. Having ordered a pint for Lardy they told him to go in ahead of them and they would follow. When eventually they came out to resume the journey Lardy threw his eye over his little flock and said, “Hold on lads, we’re missing a few”.
He scanned the sheep and went through them one by one saying: “You’re there, you’re there, you’re not there, you’re there, you’re not there” and so on. “There are two missing, lads,” he then announced. With that the two boys opened the shed in the yard and out jumped the two sheep which they had locked in to test Lardy’s powers.
He never drove for them again.
Lardy (Thomas) Corbett was born in Clonmel in 1902 and came with his mother to Cappamore in 1907. There were still street fairs in the village then and it is assumed here was where his romance with cattle began. He drove for some of the big farmers of Cappamore and Pallasgrean and he made it his full-time job.
The day of a fair he joined his cattle at two or three o’clock in the morning and had a headstart on the owner who set out in a trapcar to arrive at the fair by daylight. He would never take a lift home either. This was all done in frost or snow, rain or shine.
When a client of Lardy, Big Jim Togher, died, Lardy walked the four miles to his wake in Pallasgrean. Being a bit early the drinks hadn’t arrived from Doon. The Toghers were a bit slow off the mark anyway. When nobody asked Lardy had he had a mouth on him he got up and left in high dudgeon to walk the four miles back to Cappamore.
But he was in luck.
He ran into another wake on the way home. Paddy Burke, a council worker had died during the night and neighbours were beginning to dribble in to the wake. The new widow invited Lardy into the kitchen and for an hour or more kept him well supplied with bottles of stout. Lardy was finally ready to visit the corpse room where Paddy was laid out and with the matchbox under his chin.
“Hanna,” he said to the widow, “Paddy was a prince of a man and I’d rather bury 10 of the Burkes that one of the Toghers.” Then he continued his way back to Cappamore.
There are two life size memorials in the two parishes of Pallasgrean and Cappamore: one a bronze of Paddy Ryan, the Olympic gold medal hammer thrower sited in New Pallas; the other a painting of Lardy in Hayes’s Bar and Restaurant in Cappamore. Its creator a local artist gave Lardy the appearance of a man looking down on lesser beings.
Lardy was the last of the drovers, and if what I’ve researched about him is truth or falsehood I don’t care. I believe it anyway.