Castleisland Launch of Terryfaha – Stories Told by the Old People

Johnnie Roche (left) at the launch of his latest book with fellow Michael O’Donohoe Memorial Heritage Project founders, Janet Murphy and Tomo Burke. Photograph: Noel Nash.
Author, Johnnie Roche (left) pictured with life-long friend, Terence McQuinn at the launch in the River Island Hotel on Friday night. Photograph: Noel Nash.

It’s a page turner’ and, ‘congratulations to the man who sat with the blank sheet and pen,’ were some of the remarks at the launch of Terryfaha, Tears of Blood at the River Island Hotel, Castleisland on Friday evening, the fourth publication from local man John Roche.

The launch, a low-key affair in an intimate setting, included family and friends and supporters of John’s other books, the most recent being I’m of Kerry

John’s son Tommy acted as MC, while the official launch was facilitated by retired teacher Terence McQuinn, a friend of John’s for more than seven decades. 

Goldsmith’s Deserted Village

In commending John’s book, Terence quoted from Oliver Goldsmith’s Deserted Village:

And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew,
That one small head could carry all he knew.’ 

Terence was alluding to the book’s content, a compilation of stories John, a hale and hearty 86-year-old, heard as a boy around the firesides of Kerry, stories handed down generation on generation, a tradition John believes more or less ended with the advent of television. 

Holding Back on Things

John calculates that more than ninety per cent of the book’s content is true, ‘rough as some of the incidents are,’ he said, ‘they may seem grossly exaggerated but I can assure you they’re not.  I’m still holding back on things I’ve seen and am conscious that most younger people don’t want to hear.’

The story centres on the Grogan family in the fictional townland of Terryfaha, where the progress of Daniel O’Connell is on everyone’s lips. The reader is carried through nineteenth century Ireland and into the twentieth century through the inter-generations of this family and their neighbours.  This includes famine – described in a way that truly haunts- emigration, the Land War and the Civil War. 

Published at Janet’s Prompting

Janet Murphy, archivist for Castleisland District Heritage, encouraged John to publish the work – penned about twenty years ago – after reading a few chapters in 2020.  Janet spoke at the launch about the wonderful sense of community conveyed in the language of the book, when ‘we – the community’ bore no resemblance to today’s culture of ‘me.’

Janet read a few lines from her email correspondence with John in 2020, when the manuscript was typeset during Covid.  ‘It’s almost as if you are there in the 1830s and 1840s,’ she said, ‘though I type so frequently with blurred vision, tears rolling down my cheeks at the tragedy of it all.’ 

Tribute to Old Ireland

Janet went on to describe the two-volume work as one about survival in a way we can no longer relate to, ‘a way of life from which we are now completely detached.  It should be on the curriculum.’  She concluded by saying that it was Kerry history told from the other side, by the Irish people, the countless anonymous, who suffered great wrongs that went largely unrecorded.  

‘It is a magnificent tribute to old Ireland,’ she said, ‘and for this John should be very proud.’

Refreshments were served after the formalities, and guests mingled as John signed copies of his historical treasure.

Only 100 copies of the book have been privately printed, and are available locally in Jackie Reidy’s and Tommy Hickey’s.

John’s books are also available online with a click on this link:

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