Irish lives


Timothy Buckley 1862–1945:TIMOTHY BUCKLEY, tailor and storyteller, was born December 23rd, 1862, in Lounihan, Kilgarvan, Co Kerry, seventh of 13 children of Pádraig Buckley, farmer, and Healy Buckley (née Seamhrach). He attended Kilgarvan primary school, and at the age of nine suffered a form of infantile paralysis that permanently afflicted his lower right leg, leaving him dependent on a crutch.

He began to train as a tailor in 1875, serving a five-year apprenticeship in Kenmare, Co Kerry, before moving to Cork city, where he remained for the next 14 years. He also spent time in Scotland, Dublin, Mallow, Co Cork, and Achill, Co Mayo before returning to Cork, where in 1903 he married Anastasia (“Ansty”) McCarthy. They settled in Gougane Barra, Co Cork, and had two sons.

Buckley was a renowned storyteller, with a particular interest and expertise in Irish language and folklore. Visitors to his cottage included Frank O’Connor – who described him as “a rural Dr Johnson” – and Sean O’Faolain. Another friend, Eric Cross, immortalised the Buckleys in a book entitled The Tailor and Ansty (1942), which recorded the tailors philosophy and anecdotes, as well as his lively banter with Ansty and guests in their home.

The earthy tone of the book and its frank handling of sexuality provoked political and clerical censure, and the work was banned for alleged indecency. Sir John Keane tabled a senate motion opposing this prohibition, and a four-day debate ensued with Prof William Magennis as his antagonist.

Subjected to rigorous state and clerical scrutiny – sections of the text quoted in the senate were struck from the official record, and a deputation of priests coerced Buckley into burning his own copy – the tailor nevertheless remained sanguine about the censorship (which was upheld until the 1960s), though it deeply distressed Ansty.

From July to October 1942 Buckley was visited by Seán Ó Cróinín (1915–65) of the Irish Folklore Commission. His record of the tailor’s folktales, charms, and anecdotes was later published by Aindrias Ó Muimhneacháin as Seanchas an Táilliúra (1978), which presents a rather different picture of Buckley from that painted by Cross. Several of Buckley’s habitual expressions remain well known, notably glac bog an saol agus glacfaidh an saol bog tú (take life easy and life will take it easy with you).

He died on April 21st, 1945, and is buried with Ansty in Gougane Barra. Their headstone was designed by Seamus Murphy. Buckley’s death is the subject of O’Faolains story The silence of the valley (1947). The Tailor and Ansty was successfully adapted by PJ OConnor for both stage and screen.

Jude McCarthy and Sinéad Sturgeon

From the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography. See for more details