Eric Cross



Eric Cross was born in Cheshire, England in 1908 to an Irish mother and an English father. He had one sister. He subsequently obtained a degree in chemistry from Manchester university and worked with ICI, during which time he was closeloy involved in the development of the Oxo cube among other things.


In 1939 he came to Cork in Ireland and became part of a group which included which included Seamus Murphy, the stone mason and sculptor, Nancy McCarthy, aqnother chemist from Douglas, Captain Seán Feehan, the founder of the Mercier Press and Father Tim Traynor a priest of some notoriety. Later Eric Cross purchased a horse drawn caravan and moved it to Gougane Barra in West Cork. Gougane was frequented by the group, who were drawn to it by the famous couple known as the Tailor and Ansty.


This tailor, Tim Buckley, had been afflicted by polio in his youth and consequently had a crippled leg. While at work with his needle he entertained his many visitors with folk tales and philosophy in a manner of a rural Dr. Johnson. His wife ,Ansty, acted as his foil and between them there were no subjects proof against their analysis and wit.


Eric eventually recorded their doings and sayings in his immortal book, ‘The Tailor and Ansty’, which was banned after it’s publication. In time it was to become a best seller and is now regarded as a classic. It has also been dramatised and performed throughout the country and in The Abbey Theatre.


The banning of the book gave rise to a lot of publicity causing the Tailor himself to be demonised and things did not go well for Eric either. This set back was compounded by an altercation involving Cpt. Feehan and a company which had been formed to produce a type of turf briquette, invented by Eric, who continued to utilise his scientific background. The war years were causing shortages, which he was taking advantage of, producing among other things knitting needles made from bicycle spokes.


But his love affair with Cork was coming to an end and when he saw an advertisment in "The New Statesman" for someone to teach a family of children near Westport in Co. Mayo in return for board and lodging, he applied. There were in fact several applications but Eric'’ was chosen as he seemed to offer the most long-term prospect.


The actual term turned out to be over thirty years for he remained with, and became part of, the Kelly family until his death.


He educated the two eldest girls completely; after his arrival they never went to school. The three boys did subsequently move on after being thoroughly grounded by him and afterwards they always excelled in mathematics, that being his speciality.


His activities were by no means confined to teaching, though; he regularly broadcast on ‘Sunday Miscellany’ on RTE Radio. Hecontributed to various literary publications and wrote a book of short stories called ‘Silence is Golden’. He also produced ‘The Map of Time’, an extremely complicated undertaking, consisting of several large sheets covering sequential periods of history, on which one could see at a glance how each historical event related to others of the same date.


Many surprising and diverse talents could be ascribed to him; he could carve in wood, the beautiful lines of his creations being based on the Greek concept of the Golden Mean; he could model in plaster and make the requisite moulds for reproduction and he invented all sorts of ingenious puzzles.


These multifarious activities were brought to bear in the various enterprises undertaken by the Kelly family. At one period they were weavers and Eric was constantly dreaming up new and more efficient methods of manufacturing the ‘crios’ material, which was the end product. He modelled and mass produced leprechaun heads for a hand craft project and was extremely useful during a period of wheeling and dealing in antiques. On one occasion a ‘Murillo’ was found abandoned under a bed with a spike up through it. Eric repaired it flawlessly and it was sold as a work of one of the Master’s pupils. He could patch up all kinds of china and pottery items to look like new, and metal repairs were not beyond him either.


Gardening was another of his interests. He took over a portion of the grounds at Cloona Lodge and attended to it himself. Mowing the grass and meticulously building walls. He walked everywhere, as he had never learned to drive, and he adopted the family Labrador, Missy, as his own, walking her for long distances.


But talking was his main entertainment and he could spend hours at it. This proclivity fitted in well with another of the Kelly undertakings – that of establishing a health farm. It was not that he had the slightest interest, or belief, in any of the relevant disciplines, but an ever-changing audience fell into his lap as manna from Heaven.


The enjoyment was mutual, until one day he failed to emerge from his room by four in the afternoon. Not that that was at all unusual, but for some reason the man of the house investigated.


Eric had died in his sleep.

The year was 1980 and he was 72 years old.


His remains lie in Knappagh churchyard, Co. Mayo, in the erstwhile domain of his good friend, Canon Percy Lewis.