Voluntary work within the community is one of the most valuable contributions one can make to society. Many of us make that contribution on an irregular basis, but to find someone with a lifelong commitment to volunteerism is understandably unique. One such person is St. Patrick’s Avenue resident Aidan Prendergast who 38 years ago founded Athy Boy Scouts and who recently received the Order of Cu Chulainn for profound and long service to scouting. It is, so far as I am aware, the first time this particular award has been made to an officer of the local scouting group.
In 1977 Aidan, then working with the local building firm of D&J Carbery of St. John’s Lane, was approached by the local curate, Fr. Prenderville. He was asked to help with the setting up of a Catholic Boy Scout troop in Athy at a time when a separate Bading Powell Scout group were operating out of the Church of Ireland Hall at Church Road. I am happy to relate that both scouting groups amalgamated in 1995 to form a Scouting Ireland troop.
The initial meetings of the 1977 scouting movement were held in the Leinster Arms Hotel where Aidan was joined by Breda O’Neill of St. Joseph’s Terrace, Mairead Walsh of Stanhope Street, Jackie Johnson of Dooley’s Terrace, Christine Condron of Ratharrig and Trish Robinson of Dooley’s Terrace. I hope that in recording these early pioneers of scouting in Athy I have not overlooked someone – but if so let me know as it is important in recording local history of this nature to ensure that the record is as accurate as possible.
The Leinster Arms Hotel meetings resulted in the setting up of a scout troop catering for boys of 12 years of age. Weekly scouting sessions were held in the vacant Christian Brother’s School in St. John’s Lane and as the movement grew a group of cub scouts was also established. The old school premises had in time to be abandoned and alternative premises were made available courtesy of the Athy Development Association. This association founded by Bill Fenelon, Trevor Shaw, Johnny Watchorn and others did wonderful work in its time to encourage industry to locate in Athy. It was responsible for the purchase of lands later developed as the Woodstock Industrial Estate and also assisted the local boy scouts in transferring its activities to the old Minch Norton stores at the Canal Harbour. There the scouts remained for 10 or 11 years.
The ongoing growth of the scouting movement prompted the setting up of a parents committee with the stated purpose of raising funds to acquire a permanent home for the scouts. Fundraising over a number of years proved sufficiently successful for an approach to be made to the then Parish Priest, Fr. Philip Dennehy, for a new scout headquarters. Part of the old British Legion Hall site at St. John’s Lane, which in later years housed the Social Club and subsequently the C.Y.M.S., was acquired for a new scouts den. Development work by Jim Lawler, Building Contractor, started in 1990 and shortly afterwards the 5th Kildare Athy Scouts moved into their new premises.
In 1995 the two separate scouting movements in Athy came together and today operate as one troop based in the St. John’s Premises under the name ‘Scouting Ireland’. Nowadays the movement caters for approximately 100 boys and girls under a variety of categories with interesting titles as Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, Venture Scouts and Rover Scouts. Scout meetings are held 6 days a week with Beavers catering for 6-9 year olds coming together on Thursdays. Cubs with members aged 9-12 years meet on Wednesdays, while scouts, catering for 12-15 year olds come together on Friday. The older groups, Venture Scouts, catering for up to 18 year olds and Rover Scouts for over 18 year olds, meet on Saturdays and Mondays.
Some weeks ago the founder and former group leader Aidan Prendergast was presented with one of Irish scouting highest awards in recognition of his ‘dedicated and steadfast commitment to scouting which impacted on the lives of many young people.’ Aidan, while still involved in scouting, is no longer the local group leader, a position occupied in the past by Cecilia Crowley and presently by Fergus Lennon.
Others involved today in Scouting Ireland in Athy include John Delaney, Jackie Eustace, Mary Fricker, Niall Davis, Dave Ward, Ray Whelan, Breda O’Connor, Johnny O’Connor, Stephen Horan and Sandra Lennon. Again I am conscious in giving a list such as this that there is always the possibility of omitting someone whose contribution deserves equal mention. Let me know if any such person has been omitted.
The scouting movement has gone from strength to strength encouraging young boys and girls to become involved in a wonderful range of outdoor activities including camping, mountaineering, hiking and kayaking. All of these under the guidance and leadership of a group of adults whose commitment to their community is perhaps best shown by the work of the founder of the 5th Kildare Athy Scouts Aidan Prendergast over the last 38 years.