A Giant Oak has Fallen

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A lovely piece wrote by Stephen Gleeson about the Late Great Phil Bourke.

A giant oak has fallen... was the opening line of Fr. Tony's beautiful funeral eulogy to remember Phil Bourke who passed away a few days ago. Phil Bourke is a name revered as a craftsman, an artist and a hurleymaker. Many generations of children and grown-ups walked, cycled or drove to Phil Bourke's hurley making workshop in Upperchurch village and left drawing breath and beaming that they had just received a beautiful hurley. All hurleys, were made with skill and love. From the child learning the game to an experienced All Star about to play in an All-Ireland final, a fine craft and dedication to perfection could be sensed from the piece of ash Phil Bourke shaped just for you.

Phil was born in 'The Hollow', Shevery, Upperchurch in 1926 and celebrated his 95th birthday in the company of his family just five days before his passing. He walked to school, and from his days as a child he was always close to nature and close to wildlife. All his life he enjoyed being part of nature. A favoured pastime was walking the hills and valley in the company of his dog and friends. Phil worked with the council and cycled to work in areas as diverse as Golden and Gortnahoe. He was skilled as a stone mason and at construction, building the wall by Upperchurch Church and bringing electricity to the Church in the 1950s. In his 70s, Phil took up carving and excelled at it, creating fabulous pieces with intricate patterns from Bog Oak and other types of wood. He knew what trees grew well and where; where each could be found and how they felt. The results of his carving can be found in Templebeg at Tobhar Phadraig, at the Prayer Garden in Kilcommon and at the entrance to Scoil Iosagain in Upperchurch village. It was as a hurley maker he was best known. Students of the game travelled from far and near to get a 'Phil Bourke hurley'. From the USA, from mainland Europe and from across the island, people treasured the ash plant they got from Phil. Weekly reports of hurling matches in the 'Tipperary Star' and 'Nenagh Guardian' as well as national papers were often filled with reports of hurling games where the heroes used Phil Bourke hurleys.

All-Ireland winning hurlers such as Michael Cleary, Joe Hayes, Michael Ryan and Tommy Dunne always used Phil Bourke hurleys. In 'Tipperary Game of My Life' book, Tommy Dunne said I was very particular about my hurleys. Phil Bourke of Upperchurch was an absolute genius who made special hurleys that just fitted me perfectly. He has a wisdom and an approach to life that made me feel grateful to know him. A storyteller, a nature lover and a hurley maker, Phil was always early for morning mass and attended daily. Just five days after Phil celebrated his 95th birthday in the company of his family, word of the renowned craftsman's passing began to trickle across Tipperary and beyond. A realisation dawned on many that Friday morning, that an artist had passed on. Phil loved sport, loved prayer and loved life. His loss is immense to those who knew him. Sympathy to friends and family. A giant oak has fallen. May he rest in peace.

Thanks to Michael P Ryan for the photographs.

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