Mike Healy and the ‘Moss Tommy’ Schools Project

Who decorates that butterfly
The silkworm and the moth?
What artist claims the wings that fly
To the sweet forget-me-not?

– M J Reidy[1]

Mike Healy of Glenlarehan, Cordal, Castleisland was about twelve years old when he first became properly acquainted with his neighbour and lifelong friend, Maurice J Reidy (‘Moss Tommy’), the Cordal poet.[2]  It happened when Mike’s sister was taken ill and needed a doctor.  His mother sent him up to Moss Tommy because Moss Tommy had a van, and was able to take the sick child to Dr Moriarty in Castleisland.  Outside, Mike waited on a window-ledge with Moss Tommy.  They chatted, and a connection was made between them.


As the years went on, their friendship grew and it is clear in Mike’s recall of Moss Tommy’s life that the friendship was deep and lasting.[3]  Looking back now, Mike can see how a father-son relationship developed quite naturally as Mike had lost his own father when he was an infant.


Mike remembers Moss Tommy as a ‘genius’:


I spent twenty-five of the best years of my life palling around with Moss, I enjoyed every minute of him … He’d greet me with ‘Mikey boy how are you making out?’ and all your troubles would leave you.  My only regret is that there were not more years that I could have spent in his company.


Mike treasures a copy of Mirror of Truth, Moss Tommy’s natural poetry anthology published in America in 1983.  The content is timely amid growing concerns about our natural environment, and the trend towards technology over nature with the young.


Mike Healy studies his well-thumbed Mirror of Truth, the work of poet Moss Tommy (pictured centre)


Mike also treasures a collection of unpublished poetry he inherited from Moss Tommy, who charged him with introducing the work into the education system for the benefit of children, to which request Mike gave his word.


It is a promise that has weighed heavily on Mike since the death of the poet in 1988.  The years pass quickly by, but in September 2022, Mike approached the Tralee office of Norma Foley, Minister for Education, for help in fulfilling his late friend’s request.


Poetry in harmony with the spirit of nature 
and mind and soul remain immortal

– M J Reidy

Castleisland District Heritage was, in turn, approached by Anne O’Sullivan, Parliamentary Assistant to Minister Norma Foley for help in assisting Mike Healy.  A number of meetings with Mike followed, and the project was initiated.  This included discussions with Mike about the history of some of the poems in Mirror of Truth about which he has intimate knowledge.


Further help came from Marina O’Connor, former principal of the Boys’ National School in Castleisland.  Marina assisted in identifying local schools and classes and advising on the manner of approach.  It was decided to submit two examples of Moss Tommy’s poetry to the schools.  Those selected were The Spider and the Fly and Worms, and by way of introduction, both were illustrated by Noel Nash of Castleisland District Heritage.


Depictions of The Spider and the Fly by illustrator Noel Nash, Castleisland District Heritage


The schools were delighted to facilitate the work of a local wordsmith, and so from September to November 2023, students in seven schools were introduced to the literature of M J Reidy.  During the presentations, which were delivered by Mike Healy, Marina O’Connor and Castleisland District Heritage, Mike recited the verse and was able, from his lifelong acquaintance with the poet, to answer many questions from the students about the poet and his writings.  Some schools used the occasion to include an arts class.


A selection of images from the students of Gaelscoil Aogain


The welcome and enthusiastic response of the students during the visits was evidence of great success.


Participating Schools, left to right: Boys’ National School Castleisland, Curranes National School, Gaelscoil Castleisland, Kilmurry National School, Loughfouder National School, Muire Gan Smal Castleisland and Scartaglen National School


Mike Healy was heartened to know that he had helped to plant a poetic seed in young minds in accordance with his pledge to his friend.  Furthermore, he interprets a ‘never seen before’ sighting of a ‘hoggie’ (hedgehog) outside his front door during the late evening of the first school visit as symbolic of his dear friend’s gratitude for what has been initiated.[4]


Moss Tommy Reidy, Horse Breeder and Poet


Now don’t regret, nor ever fret,
Or hide your head in sorrow,
For what seem dull or dark today
  May be clear and bright tomorrow.[5]

– M J Reidy

Maurice J Reidy was born in 1917, one of four children of Thomas Reidy (1868-1952) and Helen Flaherty (1882-1958) of Kilcusnan.[6]  He was educated at Kilmurry National School and had a great interest in sports and athletics, competing locally in sports events.  He worked on the family farm at Glenlarehan with his siblings, Julia Mae, Kitty and John.  He has been described as an environmentalist ahead of his time in his farming practices which for a period included sheep farming.


Moss Tommy’s family kept horses and in the 1950s, he developed an interest in thoroughbreds. His mother used to say, ‘The horses on the land are like money in the bank.’ Moss Tommy subsequently bred horses for about twenty years.  At one time, he gave a mare to horse trainer Con Collins which was trained at the Curragh.


His venture was known as the ‘Little Stud’ and in 1966, Henry Alken owned by Mrs Victor McCalmont of Kilkenny and trained by Neville Crump won his first race at Hexham by ten lengths.  ‘By Arkle’s sire, Archive, Henry Alken is the fourteenth winner bred from mares standing at the Little Stud where Mr Maurice T Reidy has two stallions standing.’[7]


Mike Healy pictured with the sign for the ‘Little Stud (painted by Eleanor Scully) once affixed to a tree outside Moss Tommy’s home at Kilcusnan.  On the left and right, illustrations of Mike’s correspondence with Moss Tommy which includes postcards sent during the poet’s travels.  Some are addressed to Mike at ‘Leamy Doody View’ and ‘Martin’s Prairie, Glenlarhane’[8]

In 1967, Moss Tommy stated that his sires, Ballyplymouth (son of an Epsom Derby winner) and Thomasin were bred from dams that had bred 20 winners.  Spanish Ale was standing with them in 1970, the year in which Ballino, bred at the Little Stud, won his 24th race in England.[9]


In 1971, during an interview about one of his horses, My Virginian (sired by Thomasin out of Ballintra) which had won two races in England, Moss Tommy reckoned that over the years he had bred about sixty winners.[10]  In 1972, Good Thing out of The Nameless One bred and raced by Moss Tommy had victory in the Novice Chase in Tralee.[11]


A Rural Idyll: Above left shows Mike Healy and John Roche, Chairman of Castleisland District Heritage, outside ‘High Trees,’ Moss Tommy’s childhood home at Glenlarehan, Cordal. On the far right, the house can just about be seen nestled among the trees in the centre of the image


Moss Tommy was well read with an interest in poetry and in the 1970s, produced a number of collections including The Kerry Piper (1974) and Borders of Joy (1975).  He took to travelling around with his publications in a satchel to sell in various towns.[12]


He continued in this field until his death at the Isolation Hospital in Killarney on 15 May 1988:


The death has taken place of Maurice T Reidy, the Little Stud, Kilcusnin.  His remains were removed from Crowley’s Funeral Home to Castleisland Church.  Deceased was very interested in poetry and had several books of poems to his credit.[13]


John Roche, Mike Healy and Noel Nash (above left) stand at the family burial place of Moss Tommy (centre) at Kilmurry


[1] Unpublished poem held in IE CDH 68.

[2] Maurice J Reidy, known as Mossie Joe, Moss Tommy and Mosseen  This branch of the Reidy family was known in the area as the ‘Tommys’ to distinguish from other families of the same name.

[3] Mike informs us that Eleanor Scully of Schull who rented a house near Moss, painted a portrait of the poet which hung in his home.  It can be seen in video clips of Moss reciting his poetry.

[4] http://www.odonohoearchive.com/those-hoggies-love-to-meet-the-poetry-of-maurice-j-reidy/

[5] Unpublished poem held in IE CDH 68.  Another poem entitled ‘Father Con’ which begins: ‘His great aunt Minnie still survives/His hindred ‘not the least’/And celebrate this jubilee/Since Con became a priest.’ Father Con was Fr Cornelius Reidy who ministered abroad and seems to have retired to Castleisland.  His Jubilee celebration was held in the Manhattan Hotel, Tralee, Co Kerry.

[6] Helen was the daughter of Maurice Flaherty and Catherine Hickey. Material on Flaherty genealogy in IE CDH 95. 

[7] Kerryman, 10 December 1966.  Henry Alken followed his success with another comfortable win at Wolverhampton.

[8] See https://www.logainm.ie/en/24633 for variations of Leamy Doody (Léim Uí Dhúda).  ‘Martin’s Prairie’ alludes to Martin Brosnan, a friend of Moss Tommy who had land near him and sold it to the Land Commission.

[9] Kerryman, 14 March 1970.  ‘His half-brother will stand at the Little Stud for the season and this is good news for horse breeders. In his last race although carrying 12st 7lbs he beat the great English racer, Big George, at Haydock.’

[10] Kerryman, 24 April 1971.  ‘Mr Reidy kept My Virginian until he was two years old and then sold him for £300 to the well-known Clare trainer, Tom Costello, who subsequently disposed of him to Mrs Pollett, an English woman.  My Virginian is the first horse sired by Thomasin to race and the fact that he has trotted up in his first two outings should place a few extra quid in the way of Maurice Reidy through greater demand for the services of Thomasin.’

[11] Kerryman, 25 November 1972.  ‘The Nameless One showed great promise but after only three races an injury caused her to be retired.  She was bought by Bobby Barry of Bruff, Co Limerick.  Bobby owns and trains Good Thing.’

[12] http://www.odonohoearchive.com/the-poetry-of-maurice-j-reidy/  http://www.odonohoearchive.com/cead-mile-failte-penang-a-1970s-cultural-exchange/

[13] Kerryman, 20 May 1988.  Sincere sympathy was extended to his wife, daughter, son, sisters and brother.  Moss Tommy was married to Mary O’Dea from Causeway and they lived at Kilcusnan.  Music at the wedding party at Kilcusnan was by the famous Patrick O’Keeffe.  Their children are Daniel, a musician known as Dan Dan Reidy (who played in a band called Wallop the Cat with Mike Cronin and Mike Doyle), and Helen.  Moss Tommy’s siblings were Julia Mae Reidy (1914-2010), Catherine ‘Kitty’ Reidy (1916-1999) and John Reidy (1921-2008) who all died unmarried.