No end in sight to clash of the ash

Donal Hickey talks to hurley maker John Torpey.

ONE of the country’s leading hurley makers insists there will always be a demand for ash, despite the scarcity of the native variety.

“A scarcity of ash for hurleys! What scarcity?” asks John Torpey. He was one of several knowledgeable people to react to a recent column, which reported on an opening in the market for plastic and synthetic hurleys of various kinds, because of a shortage of ash in Ireland for crafting the traditional camán.

John accepted there’s a serious shortage of homegrown ash, but said there’s plenty of suitable ash to be got in other European countries. All the ash he uses in his Co Clare hurley making business is imported and he said the quality is just as good as, if not better than, native Irish ash.

“People are always experimenting with laminated and carbon fibre hurleys, but they always come back to the traditional ash,” he said.

“When did you see a game called off because there were no hurleys? There will always be a demand for ash hurleys, for as long as the game is played.”

The higher profile of hurling — boosted by professional marketing and more televised coverage of top championship matches — has led to a 30% jump in demand for hurleys in recent years. All over the country, boys and girls are anxious to get sticks into their hands, even in counties with no hurling tradition.

Though he has 30 acres planted with ash, John sources ash for the 80,000 plus hurleys he produces each year in Sixmilebridge from other European countries.

Having learned the craft from his late uncle, Paddy Torpey of Callaghan’s Mills, he went on to make his own hurleys during his 36-year playing career. He won an All-Ireland junior medal with Wicklow, in 1967, at which time he was working in the garden county.

He is a former chairman of the Ash Hurley Makers’ Guild and seven members of the Clare team that recently defeated Waterford in the Munster championship used his hurleys. He also supplies leading hurlers in other counties.

John had been making hurleys by hand through the 1970s but, also being a farmer, could not cope with all the work. He invested in a lathe, in 1981, the business soon took off and he currently has six lathes and seven, full-time employees. His son, Seán, is also working in Torpey Wood Products.

There is a grant scheme for farmers interested in planting ash, but trees must be properly taken care of if they are to be suitable for hurley-making after 25 to 30 years.

“If a forest isn’t managed properly and pruned, the wood won’t be suitable,” he points out.

The late Clare TD, Dr Bill Loughnane, made a call in the Dáil in the 1950s for more farmers to get involved in ash planting. “The man had great foresight and it’s a pity they didn’t listen more carefully to him,” John says.

Around 50% of each ash plank used for making hurleys is wasted, but John is now making wood briquettes from shavings and other discarded wood for use in domestic stoves. He also plans to heat his factory and private house through a wood chip boiler.

Away from the hurling fields, but still on renewable energy systems, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Eamon Ryan visited Tipperary last week to check on progress with the recently announced Home Energy Saving Scheme.

A new project in North Tipperary is providing renewable energy heating systems, a district heating system and the creation of an “ecovillage” at Cloughjordan.

Speaking in Cloughjordan, Mr Ryan said Tipperary was steadily becoming one of the most energy efficient and eco-friendly counties in Ireland.

“I am particularly impressed by the extent and quality of this project here in Cloughjordan, which is an excellent example of how local innovation with European Union assistance can be the instrument of change,” he added.

He commended the Tipperary Institute and Tipperary County Council on their involvement in the project.

Mr Ryan also said the volume of applications received under Home Energy Saving Scheme in the region, after just one month running, was exceptional, with 1,300 applications from homeowners throughout North Tipperary, Limerick, Clare and

Dundalk.

“If, on a national scale, we can mirror the action and adopt the practices seen here in Tipperary, Ireland’s move towards cleaner and more sustainable living will soon be realised,” he remarked.

The focus of the €5m scheme is on older homes which have the poorest energy efficiency standards.

A house could require work such as attic insulation, interior or exterior wall insulation, high efficiency double-glazing, heating controls or a range of other energy efficient measures.

The scheme covers up to 30% of the cost of the work, to a maximum of €2,500.


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