By Eamonn Wynne of The Nationalist

Hands off our hospital services – that was the emphatic, defiant message that a huge crowd, estimated at 15,000, sent out to the HSE and the government on Saturday afternoon at the march and rally in Clonmel to protest against the threatened removal of acute services from South Tipperary General Hospital.

The call to throng the streets was well heeded, as the event brought the town to a standstill. They came in their thousands from all over South Tipperary and beyond, men, women and children, many families marching together in what consultant surgeon Peter Murchan described as an unprecedented show of support.

A broad spectrum of community and political organisations, sporting clubs, representatives of business, commerce and trade and many other groups, as well as people from all walks of life, were well represented in a massive display of people power that was expressed in a turnout that far exceeded expectations.

The march gathered on Western Road, in the shadow of the hospital known to generations as St. Joseph’s and now known as the South Tipp General, before proceeding via Cantwell Street to Irishtown and into O’Connell Street.

There the crowds heard impassioned speeches delivered from in front of the Main Guard by a variety of speakers that included sporting icons Aidan O’Brien and Eoin Kelly; Alice Leahy, founder of the homeless agency Trust; hospital consultants Dr. Paud O’Regan, Peter Murchan and Caitriona Crowe; and Barry O’Brien, chairman of the Tipperary County GAA Board.

Bands from Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel joined the parade and Banna Chluain Meala’s opening tune, “Beat It”, could have been a message from the march to the HSE.

Banners were proudly displayed and hospital staff and volunteers went through the crowds collecting signatures for the petition supporting the retention of the acute hospital services.

On Tuesday afternoon Cllr. Seamus Healy, chairman of the Save Our Hospital Action committee, reported that the petition now has more than 45,000 names.

The fight to save the acute services was brought to Dublin yesterday afternoon, Wednesday, when a deputation of representatives from the area, led by South Tipperary County Council, met with Health Minister Mary Harney.

In a statement issued on Saturday the HSE said that South Tipperary General Hospital (STGH) would continue to be the acute hospital for South Tipperary and its environs.

“There will be no downgrading of services at the hospital.