Carlow welcomes home double winter Olympian Tess Arbez

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On Wednesday July 27th, 2022, Cllr Brian O’Donoghue, Cathaoirleach of Carlow County Council, led the welcome home to County Carlow for our two-time Winter Olympian, Ms Tess Arbez.

Ireland's double Winter Olympian, Tess Arbez is greeted Cllr Brian O’Donoghue, Cathaoirleach of Carlow County Council. Tess is accompanied by Bing Dwen Dwen, the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic mascot.

Tess’s grandfather, father of her mother Marguerite, is Francis Neerman, born in Carlow Town in 1944, and he is the son of Auguste and Alida Neerman from Ghent in Belgium. Auguste worked for the Belgium company Lippens who built the Carlow Sugar Factory in 1926. Auguste was one of the senior staff who came from Belgium in 1925 to set up the Carlow Sugar Factory. From 1939 to 1949 he was the Factory Manager, one of the most prestigious jobs in the country at that time. 

Tess, who lives in France, has completed for Ireland at both the 2018 Winter Olympics held in PyeongChang, South Korea, and the 2022 Winter Olympics held in Beijing, China, in February 2022. She created history by becoming the first Irish female competitor in a speed skiing event, the Super-G, in 2022.

Tess Arbez and her parents Jean-Max and Marguerite Arbez, together with Nancy Chillingworth, Olympic Federation of Ireland Chef de Mission for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, are greeted at Carlow Town Hall by Cllr Brian O’Donoghue, Cathaoirleach of Carlow County Council accompanied by Dermot Mulligan, Curator, Carlow County Museum
MC of the civic reception, Dermot Mulligan, opening proceedings
Cllr O’Donoghue speaking at the reception
Tess' mother Marguerite Neerman-Arbez, with her husband Jean-Max, spoke movingly about her family's connections to Carlow

Tess said that “it is amazing to be here, really nice to reconnect with my Irish roots from Carlow, such an honour, and I didn’t know that my family had such a big impact on Carlow’.

While not in attendance, Tess’s grandmother, Nicole Neerman, widow of Francis, through the Cathaoirleach, sent a message to be read out at the event in the Town Hall. She stated “I want you to be assured of my presence in mind and heart during the marvellous celebrations organised today in honour of my granddaughter Tess. I regret not being able to attend today but I need to tell her and her mother Marguerite how much I am proud of them”.

The visit was coordinated by Carlow County Museum who arranged a tour of the Museum, a site visit to the factory site and to the location of Belville, the house the Neerman family lied in. The Arbez also visited the Carlow Sports Partnership basketball summer camp in Tyndall College and presented the participants with Irish Olympic pins. The Most Reverend Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, welcomed them to the Cathedral of the Assumption where on April 1st, 1944 Francis Neerman was baptised.

Carlow County Museum had asked Tess if she would like to present something from her Olympic journey to the Museum. Tess proudly presented her ski suit and ski equipment from the 2018 PyeongChang Games in South Korea. Over the coming months these will be displayed in the Museum. Tess said, “it is really great to put these in the Museum for the Sugar Factory display, so we can see all the connections between the Sugar Factory and Alpine skiing”. 

Tess and her parents, Jean-Max and Marguerite, were presented with a framed copy of the 1925 Sugar Factory poster that is displayed in the Museum along with a Carlow Tourism hamper of Carlow produce.

Tess Arbez speaking with pride and gratitude at her welcome home event
Various presentations were made at the event to the Arbez family and to Nancy Chillingworth
The Arbez family chat with Eithne Kehoe and her daughter Caroline. Eithne is the sister-in-law of the late Paul Neerman, Tess's grand-uncle.
Tess and her mother Marguerite, pose with Tess's ski suit and skies from the 2018 Winter Olympics held in PyeongChang which she donated to Carlow County Museum. They are pictured with them outside the Town Hall in Haymarket along with Cllr Brian O’Donoghue, Cathaoirleach, and Museum staff, Dermot Mulligan and John McDarby.
The party visited Carlow Cathedral where they were greeted by the Most Reverend Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. He presented the family with a St Brigid's Cross. She is the Patroness of Ireland and of the Diocese.
Tess and her mother Marguerite, with Bishop Nulty, beside the font where Marguerite's father Francis was christened in 1944
In Carlow County Museum members of the Carlow Little Theatre Society were delighted to present a reproduction of the programme of their first ever play 'The Whip Hand' to Tess Arbez and her parents Jean-Max and Marguerite. Tess's grand aunt, Nancy Neerman, acted in this play.
Padraig Dooley, (third from left), Chairperson of the Board of Carlow County Museum, presents the Arbez family with a Carlow flag.
The Arbez Family with the staff of Carlow County Museum at the Sugar Factory display along with Cllr Brian O'Donoghue, Cathaoirleach, Padraig Dooley, Chairperson, and Nancy Chillingworth, Olympic Federation of Ireland
In the afternoon, the group visited a Carlow Sports Partnership basketball camp in Tyndall College, where Tess made presentations of Olympic Pins to all of the participants.

The party then moved onto the Carlow Sugar Factory site, where they were shown the footprint of the plot, given a history of the factory and an overview of all stages of the sugar refinement process. 

Marguerite and Tess at the site of Belville where Tess's grandfather Francis grew up. Marguerite is hoping that the crab apple seeds will grow in their garden.
Next stop was a private visit courtesy of the Nolan family, who live in Strawhall Villas, one of six properties which housed generations of families connected to the Sugar Factory.
The final part of the visit involved a look at Strawhall House, the Sugar Factory HQ for decades. Tess's grandfather, Auguste Neerman, would have worked here in the 1920's and again from between 1939 and 1949 when he was the Manager. His office was on the left inside the front door.

Sue Nunn, KCLR96FM attended the event and broadcast the following on her weekday show, The Way It Is: 

The visit was coordinated by Carlow County Museum on behalf of our parent body Carlow County Council and we would like to thank for their cooperation in making the visit so memorable for the Arbez family: Paul Lyons, John O’Donovan and Sean Byrne, Carlow Sugar Factory; Nancy Chillingworth, Olympic Federation of Ireland; Deborah Foley and Teresa O’Meara, Carlow Sports Partnership; Bishop Denis Nulty and the Cathedral Parish; Paul McManus and the Carlow Little Theatre Society; David and Ann Nolan, Strawhall Villas; Eileen O’Rourke and the staff of Carlow Tourism and the staff of the Town Hall.  

Speaking with pride, Cllr. O’Donoghue concluded his speech by saying “Tess, congratulations on your achievements, proudly representing yourself, your family, your family’s Carlow heritage, and I know the next time you compete, possibly high up in the Alps, standing at the starting gate that not only is the Green, White and Orange of Ireland in your heart, but the Red, Green and Yellow of County Carlow is in there too.”

We wish Tess all the best and look forward to seeing her back on the slopes soon. From us all here in County Carlow, comhgháirdeas, go raibh maith agat, merci beaucoup, bon chance Tess.

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