Tom Williams was born on March 12th, 1941 in Taghmon, a rural village approximately 14 kilometres west of Wexford town. His parents, Tommy and Mary Ellen (Annie), ran a bakery and grocery shop on the main street. He was the second born after older brother, Dominic, and was followed later by Ann, Kevin and Brian.
Tom was educated at Taghmon National School, and later at Good Counsel College in New Ross. Shortly after leaving school, in 1960, he joined the Provincial Bank of Ireland. He worked with the bank for 10 years in Waterford and later Dublin, where he became assistant manager of the Templeogue branch in 1967.
While working in Dublin, Tom met Marie Hunt, whom he married in October, 1967, in Westland Row. Although Marie was born in England, there was a strong Wexford connection; her father, John Hunt, grew up in Duncormick, a short distance away from Scar, the homeplace of Tom’s own mother.
During the 1970 bank strike, Tom and his young family moved back to Taghmon on a temporary basis where he supported his father and Dominic in the family business by managing the bakery. Over the course of the five months that the strike lasted he grew to like the job and agreed to resign from the bank and take over the running of the bakery on a permanent basis.
During the following decade, Williams Bakery grew rapidly to become the largest and most successful operation in the south-east of the country, culminating in the opening of a new 17,000 square-foot factory in the village in February, 1981. The bakery expanded again in the 1980s and by the time Tom retired in 1990 – not long after Williams Bakery agreed to become a major stakeholder in the newly-formed ‘Irish Pride’ – the factory stood at 45,000 sq. ft., employed 150 staff and delivered sliced pans, crusty loaves, rolls, soda bread, bracks and buns to more than 30 cities, towns and villages across 11 counties.
Apart from his stewardship of the bakery, Tom helped form Wexford Community Development Association (now Innovation Wexford) in the mid-1980s. Over a 25-year period, he worked towards its development from a small community-based group into one of Ireland’s largest and most successful not-for-profit social enterprise organisations. He lead the organisation from the front in his role as chairman from 1998 until his death in 2012, a period during which Innovation Wexford supported the creation of over 800 jobs for Wexford, and helped establish more than 100 companies.
From the very start, music played an important role in his life. As a young boy in the 1940s and ‘50s, he spent his summer holidays with his Granny Marian Roche in Scar, Duncormick, where, in the evening-time, he had the good fortune to occupy a front row seat at what were some of the last true traditional sessions in the area. His Uncle Walter (Watt) Roche, and particularly his Aunt Mary-Kate (Babs) Roche were both fine singers, and he counted the latter as one of the best Irish female ballad singers he ever heard.
There were musical influences at home in Taghmon too. His parents loved music and song, and his mother regularly read poems and recitations to him as a young boy. His Aunt Helena Williams had a beautiful singing voice and later married Ri na Piobairi (The King of the Pipers), Leo Rowsome. Leo was for many years the foremost exponent of uilleann piping in Ireland and became internationally known for his records, concerts and his radio and TV appearances.
Those early influences infused within him a passion for music, singing and storytelling that was to remain for the rest of his life. He taught himself guitar and gigged around Dublin with his sister, Ann, in the 1960s – they performed together on national television in November, 1965 on RTE’s flagship programme, The Late Late Show – and later with his wife, Marie. Around this time he began to write songs and poems, and continued to do so for the following 40 years.
After moving back home to Wexford, he helped to mark and celebrate Wexford heritage through music and song. He played the part of PJ McCall in a memorable festival to celebrate the bard’s life and work in 1981. He also wrote and contributed two of his best-known works – Cúchulainn’s Son and A Civil War Lament – for a 1984 Wexford pageant to mark 100 years of the Gaelic Athletic Association.
Following his retirement from the bakery in 1990, Tom devoted much of his time to three of his other passions, history, genealogy and sport. He was a founder member of Taghmon Historical Society and contributed many articles to the society’s journals. He contributed similarly to the journal of Wexford Historical Society. In his genealogical work, he produced specially-commissioned books that detailed the lineage of several of Wexford’s best-known families, many with his friend and fellow genealogist, Hilary Murphy. As a life-long follower of the Wexford hurling team, he took particular pleasure in writing ‘With Heart and Hand – the Inside Story of Wexford’s Hurling Resurgence’, a 196-page book published by Blackwater Press that documented the county’s path to All-Ireland hurling championship glory in 1996. In 2006, he completed the hugely-popular bestseller, Cúchulainn’s Son, again published by Blackwater Press, that documented the life story of one of his own sporting heroes, and one of hurling’s most iconic figures, Nickey Rackard.
Tom and Marie enjoyed a very happy and contented 45 years of marriage. After battling illness for many years, Tom passed away in Wexford on August 18th, 2012. He was 71. He is survived by Marie; by his children, Joanne, Annette and David; and by his siblings Dominic, Kevin, Ann and Brian.