A Personal Reminiscence
One winter evening twelve years ago the telephone rang at my house near Mullingar. My wife Terry answered it: a Mr. Tim Arnold wished to speak to me. Then on Monday morning last week the ’phone rang again, and my friend Michael Robinson asked me: “Had I heard that a man had died overnight in a house fire in Rathcormac?” Michael’s thoughts had turned to Tim Arnold as the only person he knew in Rathcormac. Soon worst fears were realised when Brendan Burke rang from Cork with the crushing news that it was Tim who had died in the fire.
My personal knowledge of Tim encompassed that relatively short period of twelve years. Yet, as I shall try to describe, I felt I had known Tim for much longer. We shared interests, and spent considerable time in each other’s company.
In 1998 I had restarted Unitarian Services in Cork after a long lapse. And Tim told me, in that first ’phone-call, that members of his father’s family, called Hunter, had been members of Cork’s sister Congregation at Rosemary Street, Belfast. He was interested in what was happening at Prince’s Street. Could he possibly come to our Services? So began our happy association.
The Unitarian Church, Prince’s Street Services were then held every fortnight. I left Mullingar at 6.30 a.m., and a pattern quickly developed of my reaching Rathcormac for 10 a.m. and taking Tim into Cork, and then bringing him back to Rathcormac later. Those repeated journeys added up over time, and Tim gradually told me his life story. It was fascinating, but also saddening.
We traveled to other places too. One afternoon we went to Bandon, and visited the disused Unitarian Chapel of 1813. We marveled at its beamed upper room, with views of the Bandon River flowing outside. On another occasion we went to Clonmel – again in connection with church history and business; and then once (I sensed this was a special moment for Tim) we drove to remote country near Kilworth, and Tim showed me an impressive stone house, now abandoned, which had belonged to previous generations of Arnolds.
Another ‘special moment’ was the occasion, on returning to Rathcormac, when Tim asked me, as though sharing an unquantified secret, if I had half an hour to spare before continuing my journey. And he took me to the disused Church of Ireland church in Rathcormac, lovingly pointing out its impressive and distinguishing features, and saying how it deserved saving and restoration. Little did I imagine that day what strides Tim would make in that direction. Now that he has gone, let us hope that others will realise his vision. How wonderful it would be if the building, restored, could be known as “The Tim Arnold Heritage Centre”!
On another afternoon we drove to Castlelyons, to try to discover in the churchyard the tombstone of Samuel Perrott (a Cork Minister), buried there when he died in 1796. But the tangled undergrowth and haphazard extent of the burials made this a ‘mission impossible’, -though as always, in Tim’s company, it was an enjoyable outing.
But most of our time was spent in Cork libraries and archives. Tim was an indefatigable researcher, often rediscovering forgotten things. And one August bank-holiday weekend, in 2003, we spent three days on a single job at the Unitarian Church Prince’s Street. During refurbishment a part of the original pine floor was found to be rotten, and builders - unbelievably, in an 18th-century building - had replaced a fifteen-foot-square central section with MDF. I sourced suitable planks of French pine, and these we cut up and fitted using only hand-tools - nothing mechanical! Tim supervised the delicate task of staining.
As a young man Tim was an art teacher. But his employment was abruptly terminated when it was revealed that Tim had ceased, by choice, receiving the Catholic sacraments. The trauma thereby engendered led to time in an institution, and this left its mark for the rest of Tim's life. In due course Tim became an antiques dealer, with an expertise in 18th century pieces. On one of our drives he confided that he had never made as much as he should have from this venture, as he had habitually been too kind to his customers. That was Tim all over: But his standing in the trade was revealed to me in no uncertain terms about ten years ago. We were in central Cork, and I went into an antiques shop while Tim went on an errand elsewhere. I was still there when Tim reappeared in the doorway. “Are you a friend of Tim Arnold’s?” the owner asked me - for being Tim's friend meant something special and respected.
About the time I transferred to Blackpool Unitarian Church as Lay Preacher, in 2006, and stopped going so regularly to Prince's Street, Tim Arnold, for his own and different reasons, Also ceased attending.
But we kept in touch, and Tim then did me a typical kindness. I was restoring an antique grandfather clock, for which I needed a pendulum, which was made by Stokes Clocks of Cork. I could not travel from Mullingar to Cork to collect during the working week, and Tim suggested a compromise. He collected the pendulum and brought it to Cashel, where we had an enjoyable lunch together. Afterwards I walked with him to the Cork bus, and saw him on to it, before returning to my car with the precious pendulum. That was the last time I saw Tim, but the ticking clock in my study at home is now a constant reminder of him, and of his kindness that day.
One can only imagine the horror of his final moments. But now may his sensitive and inquiring soul rest in peace, amongst the treasures of a nobler kingdom.
Dr. Martin Pulbrook