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Thomas Norman Topley, Belfast.

About two years ago my daughter, Edelle, was on her way back from work to her house in Belfast, when she passed an elderly gentleman who was trying to remove bags of groceries from the boot of his car and carry them into his house. It was a wet windy dark evening and she considered offering assistance to him but hesitated but then went ahead. He gladly accepted and then invited her in for a cup of tea and she met his brother. The first was called Norman Topley and his brother, Joyce. Norman was 94 years of age and Joyce was 95. They asked her where she was from and when she told them she came from Emyvale their eyes lit up and declared that they were from Glaslough. They told her that their father was Station Master in Glaslough from 1917 to 1939 and that Joyce took over until 1943, when the family moved to Belfast, from whence they originally came. Edelle phoned me with the story and she put me in contact with them, which led to my first of many visits to their home in Belfast.

Every visit was taken up with both men recalling people and places they knew around the entire North Monaghan area. They described what it was like to live and work there and related happenings including the smuggling, the civil war and the people who worked on and those who used the railway. They were educated at the Model School in Monaghan before beginning work on the Railway. The family lived in the Station House, now occupied by Dan Mullan. When the father retired Joyce applied for and got the job as Station Master in Glaslough. However in 1943 the family decided to move back to Belfast. Joyce and his brother, Norman, continued to work for Northern Ireland Railways, and earned promotion up the ladder until they reached the top executive positions prior to retirement.

Their love of trains and the railway meant that they never lost contact and indeed both were consulted on a regular basis when problems arose in the company. Their administrative skills and knowledge has always been valued greatly by current management. Norman earned a fantastic reputation for his mental ability and foresight and he was always willing to share his advice and expertise with those who sought it. He was also very Christian in outlook and treated everyone with great respect. Religion and politics did not divert his objective of making his company offer and provide the best railway service possible to every person who might want to use it. Joyce was similar in approach and he was also involved in Management Board of the Oakley Housing Trust, which provides affordable housing in areas of need. One of the recent additions for them was the Apartment Building erected on the site of the former McCaldin’s Bakery near Monaghan General Hospital. Joyce, by then an MBE, retired as Treasurer of that organisation just over two years ago and a newly built Terrace of Houses was named after him in Coleraine.

Last year Monaghan County Museum held an Exhibition on the Great Northern Railway, which passed through Glaslough and Monaghan. The Museum invited the Topley brothers to visit it, which they did with great excitement. They donated some personal mementos, connected to their time in Glaslough, to the Museum.. They thoroughly enjoyed their visit and were very thankful to Liam Bradley and the Museum  staff for the occasion.

Norman and Joyce were absolute gentlemen to call with and I enjoyed every moment spent in their company. I became conscious that great stories were going to be lost if they were not recorded and when I visited just before Christmas I recorded a short interview with Joyce (this can be heard as one of our Podcasts on this site). I intended to continue this work in the New Year. Norman was away in the car doing some Christmas Shopping and when he returned he informed me that he had got his Driving Licence renewed but he was not particularly happy. When asked to explain he stated that the licence was only for three years, which would mean that he would have to go through the same procedure again when he was 100 years of age. This he said with a great smile on is face. When he heard about the recording he asked if I was going to interview him and I promised to record him early in the New Year. Alas I will never now get that opportunity nor will he have need for his earthly driving licence but I would be very confident that he has already passed his heavenly licence.

Norman took ill at home in the early hours of Saturday, January 2nd. Their kind neighbour, George, was called and an ambulance summoned. Norman’s condition deteriorated rapidly until he passed away peacefully around noon on Sunday, Jan 3rd. It was a shock when George phoned me in the afternoon to tell me the sad news.

Norman’s funeral service and cremation took place at Roselawn Crematorium and Cemetery on Thursday at 2pm.  People who worked on the Railway, or are still employed there, attended. Family relations and friends were there and some others from Monaghan made up the big crowd in attendance. Members of the Coulter family, Portinaghy, and members of the Aughey families, Monaghan, attended as the Topleys maintained contact with these from their days in Glaslough. After a very meaningful and comforting service Norman’s remains were taken for cremation. People then retired to a local hotel for refreshments and an opportunity to chat. Apart from those already mentioned it was great to meet with others, who had Emyvale connections. Rev Robert Wright, now retired in Belfast, exclaimed the readings during the service and we had a lengthy conversation afterwards. His mother, referred to by Joyce in the interview, was Post Mistress in Emyvale. They lived where the present Post office is. Robert went off to Boarding College in 1937 and this meant that he began to lose contact with Emyvale from then. However he has kept in some contact with Pat Farmer and asked about Michael and Martin Kilroy among others. He had not heard of Lizzie Farmer’s death and asked me to convey his condolences to Pat and the family. He himself has had less than good health over the past year and we wish him well for the future. We also met a niece of Willie Sturgeon from Mullaghpike. Her father was Sam Sturgeon, who was a Bank official in Belfast. She had a great chat with Eileen Coulter.

It was sad parting from Joyce but he made me promise to call soon. This I will do, with the help of God, as he has so many stories still to tell and I know the enjoyment I will get from listening to him relate those stories. In the meantime we offer him our deepest sympathies on the death of his dear brother and hope that he can have the strength to continue with his interest in history and genealogy.


Picture taken in County Monaghan Museum during the Topley Brothers visit there. Norman is seated.