Most Tullamore inhabitants have interacted with the King Oak at some time in their lives. To climb its majestic lower branches – that now touch the ground and stretch to an amazing 50 meters was a sign of great courage. Teenage romances started and ended at this mysterious giant tree. As a young boy growing up in Tullamore, my fascination with the King Oak was tinged with fear. As children we were told that if a branch fell from the tree a member of the Hutton-Bury family – the owners of Charleville Estate, would die. In 1963, a bolt of lightening did strike the tree and true to legend, Colonel Charles Hutton-Bury died some weeks later.
Tom Roche – Founder and coordinator of the day-to-day running of Just Forests (voluntary).
My name is Tom Roche. I was born in Chapel Street, Tullamore, Co Offaly, Ireland. As a young boy I served an apprenticeship as a carpenter in a small family-run workshop in Market Square, Tullamore. It was a fascinating time for me. The workshop provided me with opportunities to engage with a very wide-ranging set of interrelated aspects of woodwork from cart and wheel making to joinery and furniture repairs. Also, during that era it was common practice to replace handles in shovels, forks and so on, rather that discard them.
The harvest time was a particularly busy time in the workshop as farmers needed ‘grass boards’ for their mowing machines and ‘connecting rods’ for their combine harvesters.
While working for Barney O’Connor was a great learning time for me, I was unknowingly preparing for an adventure that has shaped my life ever since. I was always attracted to ‘far away places’. So after failing the Royal Air Force (RAF) entrance exam in Belfast I applied for a visa to travel to Australia. During the sixties the Australian government were looking for tradesmen-carpenters, plasterers, plumbers and so on. In 1967, just one month after my eighteenth birthday I landed in Melbourne, Australia – a recipient of the Australian government’s ‘Assisted Passage Scheme’ for the sum of 10 pounds.
It was during my time as a ’rouseabout’ on a medium-sized sheep station in Sunday Creek, Broadford, Victoria, that my environmental education began. Each Saturday night 3 of us would have to share the same bath water. The last person out of the bath would pour the water into a bucket with a jug and then pour all the used bath water around the tree around the house.
Fuelwood was also very precious as it was our only source of energy for cooking and heating. We spent a number of hours every week collecting and splitting logs for fuelwood. My experiences have all shaped the way I look at natural resources today.
Voluntary experience includes:
Founder member of the LEO Club of Coburg, Melbourne, Australia – 1967-71
Member Vincent de Paul, Tullamore Branch – 1973-80’s
Concern Worldwide 1989 to date
Founder of Irish Woodworkers for Africa Ltd T/A Just Forests 1989
Big Brother- Big Sister, Tullamore Branch – 2009
Killarney Mountain Meitheal 2016