‘He was truly unique’ – tributes paid after the death of Wexford author and historian Nicholas Furlong (93)
Many tributes have been paid following the death of famous author, historian, retired farmer and former journalist Nicholas Furlong of Drinagh who wrote 19 books including the memorable County Wexford series in the Rare Oul Times, which is still a publication prized decades after it was first produced.
icky, predeceased in 2015 by his beloved wife, antique dealer and art historian Mairéad (née Breslin), died Monday at Knockeen Nursing Home, aged 93.
His funeral will be held at the Piercestown Church on Friday, March 25 at 11 a.m. followed by interment at Piercestown Cemetery, where Mairead was buried.
Nicky’s death, following a short illness, is widely mourned by her family and many friends and colleagues in Wexford and across the country.
The legendary Wexfordman’s reputation was so influential that he didn’t have to wait until his death for further tributes to be paid to him – in 2007 he was the subject of “Essays in Honor of Nicholas Furlong”, edited by local historian Bernard Browne, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the county.
An only son, Nicky grew up on the family farm in Mulgannon and Kellystown, Drinagh, his father also owning a pub on Wexford’s high street, where the stories he heard and the many characters he met during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, inspired much of his later writing as a newspaper columnist, author of numerous books, playwright and screenwriter for radio and television.
He attended Presentation Convent and Christian Brothers Primary Schools, St Peter’s College and Salesian Agricultural College in Warrenstown, Co. Meath, and went on to earn an extra-mural honors degree in Social Economic Studies from UCD while while attending Scoil na gCeard in Wexford.
He joined the Pierces farm machinery makers of Wexford and later became an inspector and ‘beet agent’ for the Irish Sugar Company, which gave him great insight into the life of farming families throughout County Wexford.
His writing career began as a freelance journalist in the late 1950s. He became a columnist for the People Newspaper Group under the pen name “Pat O’Leary”, a hugely popular weekly column. Later, in 1995, he became a weekly contributor to the former Echo Newspaper Group, writing the Furlong at Large column.
His long career as an author and journalist spanned four decades during which he was a columnist for The Irish Press and Irish Farmers Journal and a contributor to Biatas, the Journal of Irish Sugar Company; as well as Celtic Connection, Vancouver, Canada; Hibernian Monthly Review and various publications produced by Tara Publishing, Dublin. He has written articles on agriculture and agribusiness for the Irish Independent and the Irish Press.
He is the author of hundreds of articles on historical subjects as well as three plays on the Irish Revolution, directed by the great Tomás Mac Anna of the Abbey Theater in the 1960s.
He has contributed to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the Royal Irish Academy Dictionary of Irish National Biography and numerous national magazines including Ireland of the Welcomes and History Ireland.
He was a screenwriter for the satirical show Hall’s Pictorial Weekly on national RTE television in the 1960s and 1970s and won the Hibernia Media Award for Best Feature Writer.
Nicky’s interest in history grew with her membership in the Wexford Historical Society. He was elected President of the Society and was also elected Life Fellow and Vice-President (Leinster) of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. He was a board member of the Uí Chennselaig society.
He was a former press officer for Wexford Festival Opera and was elected to the Festival Council in the late 1960s. He was also a trustee for many years of the popular historical tours held at the Opera Festival.
He wrote four volumes of County Wexford in the Rare Oul’ Times, a unique and increasingly valuable book containing the earliest black and white photographs of his home county from the 1800s through the mid-1980s. His other works bestsellers include Diarmait King of Leinster, A Hurling Decade and The Women of 1798.
Last Christmas, Three Sisters Press in Rosslare published an updated version of their acclaimed book 30 years earlier, ‘The Rebels’ Priest’, about their lifelong hero, Father John Murphy, who led the rebellion in 1798.
Nicky has spent nearly 10 years researching the life of Priest Boolavogue with his travels taking him to England, France and Spain.
His history writings have led to invitations to America by the Irish American Cultural Institute on prestigious speaking tours from Phoenix, Arizona to Fordham University in New York. Fluent in Irish and German, he has also appeared in numerous radio and television documentaries on Irish, British and German channels.
His comic novel Young Farmer Seeks Wife, published many years ago by Merlin Press, enjoyed a new global audience online after it was re-released as an e-book in 2019. It was loosely based on Nicky’s own experiences. as a young man.
As the only son of a farming family, he was expected to marry “a good, sensible girl who could carry a ton of hay on her back”, as he put it in an interview at the time.
But instead, he fell in “an irretrievable and heroic love” with Mairéad Breslin, a young woman from Dublin’s Merrion Square who knew nothing about farming but left the glamor of Shannon Airport behind. where she worked as a supervisor and “landed in the cowshite at Mulgannon”. where his parents’ 130-acre farm was located.
As the only male heir to all the land owned by his father, uncle and aunts (his only sister Ina emigrated to Vancouver), Nicky had no choice but to become a farmer. But deep down he was a writer and his new wife encouraged his passion.
“I was really a writer and they steered me into farming. Psychologically it had a terrible effect on me. I started to get very depressed because I was in the wrong job. didn’t know until my young wife told me,” Nicky said in the interview.
“This girl didn’t know anything about farming before she met me, but after we got married, she immediately put her head down and charged,” he said.
“She was wonderful, she was brilliant. She was a great businesswoman. She did everything but plow and milk. We worked together on the farm.”
When her Uncle John passed away, leaving a 200 acre farm in Drinagh, Nicky had two farms to run. He said: “In the end I couldn’t cope, so I sold the family farm and concentrated on the one here, but I also had a second career, because we have now discovered that I was a writer.”
Nicky’s friend Michael Freeman of Three Sisters Press said his death left a huge void in the lives of those who knew him, loved him and sought his advice.
“Nicky was a rare genius in his field as a writer and author, orator and actor. He knew his town and County Wexford. He knew every village and every important personage there.
“He wrote earnestly researched and fearless chronicles of the particularities of agricultural, rural, social and economic change, expressing his views with impact. the ordinary reader could only guess, but Nicky’s targets certainly figured it out.
“Along with the thousands of true stories he delivered to the public with aplomb, panache and efficiency, there were the many false stories he told on national radio and television, such as the one about barking rabbits of Crossabeg which arose because of a male rabbit crossed with a terrier.
Michael said Nicky Furlong’s 19 books are his legacy with at least five unpublished pieces stored among his many other works in the county council archives – a portrait of Mairead Furlong, who was instrumental in creating the Wexford County Art Collection, hangs in the County Hall.
Another friend, retired Wexford librarian Celestine Murphy, who provided assistance on the second edition of her book Fr Murphy, visited Nicky in Knockeen for the last time about a week before her death.
“He was one of a kind. He was exceptionally kind to me. I could always tell him things other people couldn’t and he was laughing. I have beautiful pictures of him taken the day we brought him copies of the reissued book,” she said, adding that Mairéad’s passing was a huge loss for Nicky.
Former Hurling County Manager Liam Griffin said he was deeply saddened to learn of Nicky’s passing and revealed his book ‘A Hurling Decade’ had been a great inspiration to him through difficult times. “His fellow man will not be seen again,” he added.
Bernard Browne, who edited the book of essays honoring Nicky, described him as “truly unique, both in personality and as an interpreter of his community – with a sharp wit and the ability to find wonderful sparkling turns of phrase.
“Always engaged and engaging, he was a great Wexford historian, novelist and playwright with an in-depth knowledge of County Wexford’s history, people and resources.”
Nicky is survived by her sister Ina in Vancouver; his nieces Martina, Castleknock, County Dublin and Paula, Wisconsin, USA and his nephew Justin, Galway; Mairéad’s sister-in-law, Dr Ann Breslin, Dundrum, Dublin and her extended family and many friends.