Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Photograph of St. Joseph's School boys school circa 1949

They gazed at the photographer with a sense of wonderment, while their class teacher, a Sister of Mercy, in all probability stood behind the man with the camera.  The photograph was of my class in St. Joseph’s School.


I first attended St. Joseph’s School on the day of my fourth birthday, which coincidentally was also the day chosen by Mrs. English of St. John’s Lane to send her oldest child, Frank, to the same school.  It was only in recent years when I had access to the St. Joseph’s School roll that I became aware that my dear friend ‘Harry’ English and myself joined St. Joseph’s School on 12th May 1946.


Looking at the photograph I cannot identify all of the 36 young boys pictured on the driveway to the Sister of Mercy Convent.  It brings back memories of a time when the Sisters of Mercy were entrusted with the first three years of young local boys education before they graduated to the local Christian Brothers School in St. John’s Lane.  Under the care and guidance of St. Bernard, Sr. Brendan and Sr. Alberta we learned the three Rs and prepared for the celebration of the first big event in our young lives – First Communion in the nearby Parish Church.  I have treasured memories of my years in St. Joseph’s School and this photograph recalls for me school friends, some of whom have since passed away, while others like myself, have passed the biblical three score and ten.


I would be delighted to have your help in identifying the young boys in the photograph, even if it is only one boy you can name let me know so that one element of the story of St. Joseph’s Boys School can be fully revealed.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Sarah Allen

One of the great pleasures of visiting other countries is the occasional opportunity of meeting people from or in some way connected with Athy.  It is almost 30 years since I was first invited to the annual dinner of the Kildare Men’s Association in Manchester.  There I met many born in the shortgrass county who for a variety of reasons left Ireland to make a life in the industrial cities of Britain.  One such person was Sarah Allen, formerly Sarah Bolger, born in what she described to me as ‘an old house’ off Meeting Lane, Athy in 1932.  Her father was Stephen Bolger who worked as a canal boatman towards the latter part of his working life and who was married to Nora Lawler of Ardreigh.  Nora’s father, John Lawler, was one of the many local men who fought and died in the First World War.  He was a reservist in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers having served in South Africa during the Boer War.  He is one of six World War I soldiers who died during that war and are buried in St. Michael’s cemetery, Athy.


Sarah Allen, who has lived in Manchester for many years, has fond memories of youthful days spent in Athy.  She recalls picking mushrooms with her mother in Hendy’s field at Ardreigh and being carried in her mother’s arms to see her father while he was working on the sewerage scheme under construction for the houses at Rathstewart.  Sadly her mother died when Sarah was five years old, after which she went to live with her grandmother Lizzie Lawler in Ardreigh. 


Sarah, whom I met earlier in the summer when she returned to Athy for her step brother’s birthday celebration, spoke to me of Athy’s past and her abiding memories of bygone years.  Her memories and those of older generations of Athy folk, whether or not now living in Athy, are the stuff of local history.  Their recounted lives and the attendant folk stories allow us to view from a distance the life and lore of past generations which hugely differ from that of the present.


Sarah spent one season working in the local pea factory in Rathstewart before leaving at 15 years of age for London.  She was met by her aunt at Euston Station and after a short while got work as a chamber maid in the Royal Hotel, Russel Square.  There she remained for two years, earning 22 shilling per week all found.  Even then Sarah’s sense of responsibility and duty saw her sending home £1 per week to her father who was then out of work.  It was a pattern repeated by so many Irish men and women working and living in England during that post war period.  Lack of employment opportunities in Ireland separated families, while the Irish emigrants of London, Manchester and other industrial centres of Great Britain forged an uneasy and sometimes unwelcoming relationship with the war-torn communities on the British mainland. 


Sarah endowed with a social conscience and marked with an admirable sense of responsibility paid a prominent role amongst the Irish community in Manchester for many years.  The Kildare Men’s Association and the Irish Centre in Manchester were but two of the many organisations with which Sarah was associated with over the years.  Now at 85 years of age Sarah has retired from voluntary community work and has time to think back on her life which started in Garden Lane, off Meeting Lane, Athy, extended over some years in Ardreigh before her life experiences were strengthened in the cosmopolitan cities of London and Manchester.


Sarah has proved herself as one of Athy’s finest, bringing as she did to her voluntary work in Manchester the cheerfulness, kindness and wisdom of a girl who first saw the light of day in the town of Athy in the south of Co. Kildare.


Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the death of trade unionist and social activist Christy Supple and his anniversary mass in St. Michael’s Parish Church was attended by his sons Joe and Tommy.  I have written previously of Christy and his involvement in the agricultural labourers strike of the early 1920s.  Christy encouraged by William O’Brien of the Dublin based Transport Union, set out early in 1918 to unionise the workers of south Kildare.  The agricultural workers strike of 1922/’23 was an acrimonious affair and attacks on property resulted in Free State troops having to be billeted in the Town Hall, Athy for 8 months from March 1923.  Christy was himself arrested in January of that year and held in Carlow prison for several months.  In 1925 he was elected as a member of Athy Urban District Council, but like so many other men and women had to emigrate to England in later years where he died in November 1967, aged 69 years.


Christy Supple’s story is one of courage and commitment to the workers cause but his role in the defence of the agricultural labourers strike of south Kildare is a story which has yet to be written and remembered in his native town.

Moira Finnegan

Athy was the place to be on Monday of last week.  The Taoiseach was in town to open Martin Heydon’s constituency office in Leinster Street and later met some local people in the Clanard Court Hotel.  On the same day President Michael D. Higgins was on a private visit to Athy, while the assistant Garda Commissioner Fintan Fanning was carrying out his annual inspection at the local Garda Station.


The Taoiseach’s visit was undoubtedly a boost for the local Fine Gael party members and it must be acknowledged was also a very welcome visit to Athy by the country’s most important political figure.  In addressing those assembled in the local hotel the Taoiseach acknowledged the urgent need for progressing the outer relief road for which planning permission issued recently.  In recounting his own personal experiences of driving through Athy in the past the Taoiseach reassured his listeners, if such reassurance was needed, that the forty year old saga of Athy’s relief road will soon be at an end.  The cost of building the road will not, according to the Taoiseach, be an issue and everything now depends on how quickly Kildare County Council and the National Road Authority push ahead with the project. 


During the course of his address the Taoiseach paid a special tribute to Moira Finnegan, a staunch Fine Gael member for many years, whom I am told held at one time or another every officer position in the local branch of the party.  Due to her sterling work and those of her colleagues, the party flag was kept afloat in this part of the Kildare constituency during many years of Fianna Fail dominance in government.


Moira, who is a native of Mullinalaghta, Co. Longford came to Athy in 1972 to teach in the local Vocational school.  Tom O’Donnell was the headmaster in those days and he must have been particularly impressed by the young girl who, as a former CIE official working in Galway, transferred to Dublin so that she could graduate with a university degree.  Moira, like myself, attended university at night-time, both of us graduating from UCD, Moira with a B.A., yours truly with a Commerce Degree.  Daytime university attendance for our generation was very much limited to the well off and the professional classes so Moira’s attendance at evening classes after a days work was a clear indication of the drive and initiative which was regularly featured in her later role as a branch officer of the Fine Gael party.  Moira, who retired from her teacher’s position in Athy Community College ten years ago after 35 years as an Irish, English and Economics teacher, has now retired to live in her native County Longford. 


I was intrigued to find that her native place, Mullinalaghta is in the Lough Gowna Valley just up the road from my late father’s homeplace of Legga.  Both Mullinalaghta and Legga are not too far from Ballinalee and Granard, two places forever identified with the Irish War of Independence.  Not only with that War but also the subsequent Civil War and it is no coincidence that two of the men who figured largely on the Treaty side of that conflict are forever associated with County Longford.  Michael Collins’ fiancée Kitty Kirwan was a native of Granard, while the blacksmith of Ballinalee Seán Mac Eoin was, as the name indicates, a native of the Longford village of Ballinalee.  Both men, as advocates of the Treaty of 1922, were part of the movement which in time gave us Cumann na nGaedheal and the Fine Gael party.  The current Taoiseach’s kind remarks concerning Moira’s long involvement with the Fine Gael party were received with applause and her many friends in Athy wish her well on her retirement back in her native County Longford.


On the day before Athy played host to so many august visitors the members of St. Michael’s branch of O.N.E. played a significant part in the Remembrance Sunday ceremony held in St. Michael’s cemetery.  There, a colour party consisting of O.N.E. members, paraded prior to a wreath laying ceremony at the memorial to Athy men who died in war.  The prayer service which took place before, during and at the end of the annual Remembrance Sunday ceremony, was conducted by Rev. Olive Donohoe, the local Church of Ireland rector.  Thanks must go to the O.N.E. members, Rev. Olive and all those in attendance for keeping alive the town of Athy’s remembrance of the young men from this area who died during the 1914/’18 war.  It is particularly important that Athy folk do not forget that ‘lost generation’ because it was the town’s leaders and church leaders of the day who actively encouraged the largely unemployed young men of Athy and district to enlist during the course of that war.

Sunday also witnessed the Lions Cycle Rally with cyclists young and old setting off at 10 a.m. from Geraldine Park.  They followed a 24km route through Ballyroe, stopping at Kilkea Castle for refreshments before continuing the journey back to Athy’s GAA Club.  Well done to everyone involved.         

Ernest Shackleton meets G.B. Shaw and Harry Lauder

Part of the joy in researching and writing local history is making connections between people and places.  The re-imagining and re-assessment of historical figures is an important part of this process.  The Royal Irish Academy has been prominent in publishing new studies of major historical figures such as Eamon de Valera and its most recent publication, authored by Fintan O’Toole, ‘Judging Shaw’.  This an interesting book which the author regards as a re-introduction to George Bernard Shaw.  He states that Shaw, as a contemporary figure, has much more in common with musicians such as Bob Dylan and David Bowie than with the great Victorians, William Gladstone or Anthony Trollope.  He observes that Bob Dylan in 2016 became the first artist since Bernard Shaw to achieve the unique distinction of receiving both an Oscar and a Nobel prize.  Neither Athy nor Kildare can make any claims to associations with Shaw.  Carlow town has that honour with the generous bequests made by the Shaw family over the last century, the shining light of which is that great cultural treasure, the Visual Centre for Contemporary Arts Centre and the George Bernard Shaw Theatre built in the grounds of St. Patrick’s College in Carlow.


I was however intrigued to come across a reference to a meeting between George Bernard Shaw and the Kilkea-born explorer, Ernest Shackleton.  After Shackleton’s death in 1922 his brother-in-law, Charles Sarolea published in the Journal, ‘The Contemporary Review’ an article titled ‘Sir Ernest Shackleton a Study in personality’.  Sarolea was a Professor of French in Edinburgh University and was also married to Julia Dorman, Shackleton’s sister-in-law.  Sarolea describes a lunch date shared with Bernard Shaw and Shackleton where he observed two men who had much in common.  Both had a quick and ready wit and though in their temperament and outlook in life they were different both were Irishmen who had established their reputations after leaving these shores.  The lunch was marked by a continuous flow of stories and quips between the men which Sarolea described as a ‘continuous firework of story and anecdotes.’


Another great figure of that time was Sir Harry Lauder, the famous music hall singer and comedian.  His was a name and a voice that would resonate with my late father’s generation and he enjoyed an extraordinary long career from the end of the Victorian age right into the 1930's. 


It is not clear when Harry Lauder first ran into Ernest Shackleton, but certainly by 1909 when Shackleton had returned from the Antarctic they appeared to be moving in the same social circles.  At a dinner hosted by a wealthy friend of Shackleton's, Lauder performed a series of songs.  It was a lavish affair whereby the table was transformed into a picture of the Antarctic, with artificial snow and real ice, where a large model of Shackleton’s ship ‘Nimrod’ was placed at the edge of an ice barrier thickly populated by penguins with menu cards specially created by the artist, George Marston.


Lauder would go on to celebrate this friendship by releasing a song called ‘The Bounding Bounder’ or 'On the Bounding Sea' in late 1910 which was a comic tale of a joint expedition to the Antarctic involving Harry Lauder and Ernest Shackleton as regaled by Lauder.  The recording was released on an Edison wax cylinder and such was the success that it was later released on a 78 record and was still available for sale as late as 1921.  It appears that Lauder and Shackleton’s paths frequently crossed and an article in the Cork Examiner of 17th December 1912 reported that both men were embarking upon the Lusitania sailing from Cobh to the United States.  Shackleton was heading to America on private business with the intention of delivering lectures about his Nimrod expedition, while Lauder had just completed a series of engagements in London and was to begin a tour of the United States for nine weeks, of mostly major cities such as New York and Chicago.


When the Great War broke out in 1914 it would find Shackleton in the Antarctic again on the ship ‘Endurance’, while Lauder was touring Australia.  The war brought great sadness on Lauder’s family, with the loss of his only child, his son John, killed in action while serving with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on the Somme in 1916.  Lauder spent much of the war years in organising concerts and fundraising appeals, particularly for the charity he established, the Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund for injured Scottish soldiers and sailors for which he received a knighthood in 1919.  The death of his son also inspired the writing of the song called ‘The End of the Road’. 


Shackleton would find an early death on his expedition to the Antarctic in January ’22, while Lauder would live until February 1950 only fully retiring after World War II during which he made a number of broadcasts with the BBC.

Parish Priests of St. Michael's Parish

The light reflected in the window of the parochial house in Stanhope Place which I noticed earlier in the week had all the significance of a beacon of revival.  Sadly the parochial house, once one of the focal points for the parish of St. Michael’s, had been unoccupied in recent years while the Parish Priest who also had responsibility for Narraghmore and Moone parishes, resided in the rural tranquillity of Crookstown.  Our new Parish Priest has now occupied the early 19th century stone fronted parochial house and by this very act has reaffirmed the importance of the Parish Priest living amongst the people he serves.  This is not to say that the parishioners of Narraghmore and Moone. deserve any less consideration but in terms of population numbers the parish of St. Michael’s must be seen as the first amongst equals in this part of the diocese. 


The parish of St. Michael’s was established I am told in 1670 and the only extant records relating to the priests in the parish record Fr. John Fitzsimons who was ordained a priest in 1673 at 23 years of age.  He had the distinction of being ordained by the then Archbishop of Dublin Oliver Plunkett and was appointed Parish Priest of St. Michael’s 24 years later.  It is interesting to note that his designation as Parish Priest referred to St. Michael’s, St. John’s, Churchtown, Kilberry and Nicholastown.  He was shown in government records as residing in Athy in 1704.


The next recorded Parish Priest was Fr. Daniel Fitzpatrick who was in charge of the parish in 1744 while living over the border in Queens County [now County Laois].  Fr. James Neill or  Nele, was Parish Priest of St. Michael’s from 1771 until his death on 28th October 1789.  Fr. Maurice Keegan was a curate in Athy for 7 years from 1780 and transferred to nearby Castledermot as Parish Priest where he remained until 1789.  He returned that year to St. Michael’s as the Parish Priest and served in that capacity until 26th October 1825.  It was during his stewardship of the parish that the Parish Church, then located in Chapel Lane, was torched and burned to the ground.  It happened on the night of 7th March, 1800 and was one of a number of Catholic churches in this area and throughout Ireland which were similarly burned out following the 1798 Rebellion.  Fr. Fitzpatrick lodged a claim for compensation with the Dublin Castle authorities and those proceeds and presumably further local funding financed the building of St. Michael’s Church, familiar to older residents of the parish which was demolished in 1960.


Following Fr. Fitzpatrick’s death in 1825 I have counted 18 Parish Priests who succeeded him, including the recently appointed Fr. Liam Rigney.  Amongst them was Fr. Andrew Quinn who was Parish Priest from 1853-1879.  A native of Eadestown, Naas, his brothers were Bishop James Quinn of Brisbane and Bishop Matthew Quinn of Bathurst.  Two other Parish Priests who in my young days were remembered in Athy were Canon James Germaine who presided over the parish for 13 years up to 1905.  Canon Mackey was another well remembered holder of the office from 1909-1928.  Both died in office and both are buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery.


Canon Patrick McDonnell, after whom McDonnell Drive was named, was Parish Priest from 1928-1956.  He was the old-style leader of his parish who to a youngster like me attending confessions in the early 1950s was a cross, contrary individual who was unable to deal kindly with the awkward silences of a dumb struck youngster.  My tale of woe has been told in a previous Eye, however now that I am approaching Canon McDonnell’s age I can understand and forgive him.


Amongst the Parish Priests of the past we have had a number of priests with interesting backgrounds.  Canon Owen Sweeney, who was a dynamic Parish Priest for 5 years from 1980, was the former president of Clonliffe College.  Fr. Gerard Tanham, Parish Priest from 2010, was director of the Dublin Institute of Adult Education for 10 years from 1981.  Both left their mark on the parish of St. Michael’s and are remembered with great fondness. 


In any lookback at the Parish Priests of our parish it would be remiss of me not to mention Fr. Philip Dennehy who first came to Athy as a curate in 1963.  He served for 10 years before returning as a Parish Priest in 1985, retiring 21 years later.  Now aged 86 years he remains in the parish as Parish Priest Emeritus, a much-loved pastor who has devoted the majority of his ordained life to the parishioners of the Parish of St. Michael’s.


The parish has gone through difficult times since the departure of Monsignor John Wilson in 2009 and the widening of the pastoral responsibility of the Parish Priest for the outlying parishes has increased the difficulties facing the present incumbent.  His decision to occupy the Parochial House in Stanhope Place goes a long way to reassuring his parishioners that the regeneration of St. Michael’s parish as a relevant and important part of community life in the area can be expected. 

Tim Harward / Eddie Wall

The English and the Irish nations have had an uneasy relationship for centuries but mercifully the appalling ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’ boarding house notices of a few decades past are no more.  However, the partnership which could and should mark the relationship between neighbouring islands is held back by politicians and historical baggage foisted on us as a result of the Boundary Commission of 1924. 


My thoughts on the otherwise amicable relationship between the people of Great Britain and ourselves were prompted by my visit last week for a funeral in West Sussex.  I have been a frequent visitor across the Irish Sea and I have always been impressed by the pleasant and courteous manner in which the English and Welsh people meet and greet the Irish.  Everywhere one goes on the British mainland there is evidence of Irish connections.  I was attending a funeral service in St. Andrew’s Church, Bishopstone, a small church dating from Saxon times with 12th century Norman additions.  The Church of England service was an engaging reminder of the ever-slight differences in the services in our own St. Michael’s Church.  The Minister in charge was a Sligo man, now retired from his own parish and acting as priest in charge of the church where miniature sized Stations of the Cross and candlesticks spoke of a High Church following, or as the Rev. Minister later put it to me ‘High Churchish’.


I was there to honour the memory of my daughter’s father-in-law who passed away recently.  Tim Harward, born in Madras, India where his father was an army Colonel was educated in England and attended Trinity College Dublin in the 1950s.  His was an interesting life which saw him work for a time as a theatre critic for the Times, and after service with the 2nd Gurka Rifles in Malaya he worked for several years as an archaeologist in Nepal.  I was particularly interested to find that his first book was published in 1964 by Liam Miller’s Dolmen Press and his most recent book on pillar stones in west Nepal was published in Central Malaya 48 years later. 


Tim Harward’s connection with Ireland reflected in reverse the links which many Irish men and women have with Great Britain.  There are very few Irish families who do not have a family member working or living in retirement on the British mainland.  Once such was my friend Eddie Wall who was born in Ardreigh and like me went to school in the local Christian Brothers.  Shortly after the funeral service in Bishopstone I received a text from Eddie’s daughter, Helen Hives, telling me that her father had died some days previously.  Eddie left school at an early age to work in Andersons and Conroys pubs.  He subsequently emigrated to England where he married Evelyn Barrett from Belmullet, county Mayo and it was in Luton that they reared their family. 


Eddie had a great love for his native place which he never lost, despite the many years he spent in England.  He was delighted to attend the 40th school reunion organised in September 2002 where he renewed acquaintances with men whose faces and ages had changed enormously since last seen as young boys in the Christian Brothers.  Eddie kept in touch with me for a number of years after that and I was very saddened to hear of his passing.


The connections between Eddie’s country of birth and the land where his remains will now lie are so many and so varied it is impossible to untangle the two.  Even on my short trip last week I met and talked to several strangers, all elderly, many still conversing with the soft lilt of an Irish brogue which they brought with them so many years ago from Ireland.  You cannot travel anywhere in England or Wales without meeting an Irish exile who has made his or her home there.  The Irish exile has proved to be a trustworthy, hardworking and genial person, becoming in time an integral part of the local community overseas.


Tim Harward and Eddie Wall came from entirely different backgrounds but somehow their lives enshrined, for me at least, an understanding of those transferable qualities which allow the English and the Irish to live in harmony.  How I wish those qualities could be utilised to solve the difficulties which still mark relationships on the island of Ireland and which have their origin in the shambolic political settlement of almost 100 years ago.


[I wrote the above lines on Thursday morning and later that afternoon I received a telephone call to say that Tim Harward’s wife Paula, who had spoken so eloquently at his funeral service a few days previously, had tragically died following a road traffic accident earlier in the day.]


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Bishop James Quinn (brother of Athy's Parish Priest Dr. Andrew Quinn)

St. Patrick’s Day is the one time in the year when the Irish diaspora gets to celebrate our national festival.  Its origins lie in a feast day celebrated by the Catholic church since the early 17th century, but nowadays it has become the focus of cultural events internationally.


This led me to reflect on the contributions made by those men and women who have left our shores over the last century and a half for economic and other reasons.  One such individual was James Quinn. There is some confusion over Quinn’s birthplace.  A lot of early publications cite his birth place in 1819 as Athy, while more recent research indicates that he may have born in Rathmore, near Naas. Notwithstanding same it is clear that he had strong and ongoing links with Athy during his life.  I touched on Quinn’s life briefly in an Eye on the Past many years ago when writing about the Parish Priests who had served in the Catholic Church here in Athy. 


Quinn was an interesting, if not divisive, character who trained for the priesthood in the Irish College in Rome, graduating in 1845.  After his ordination he returned to Ireland and he began a lifelong association with the Sisters of Mercy. He was based in Blackrock and also acted as a chaplain to the Sisters of Mercy in Baggot Street, Dublin.  He particularly assisted in sourcing volunteers amongst the Sisters of Mercy to travel to the Crimea to nurse British soldiers wounded in the war there.  Quinn himself wrote of a journey to Kinsale in the company of two Sisters of Mercy to a convent seeking volunteers for this expedition to the Crimea.  Arriving early in the morning in Kinsale he went to the Convent’s chapel to perform his morning’s devotions, admitting somewhat ruefully that he fell asleep while kneeling in the chapel, only to be awoken by a Sister of Mercy perplexed at the presence of a man in her chapel at such an early hour.  Quinn had previously travelled to Amiens in France with the Sisters of Mercy in 1852 to make a tour of the hospital system.  This mission was of fundamental importance in the establishment of the Mater Hospital in Dublin.


By the time the Mater Hospital was founded in 1861 Quinn was already on his way to Australia after his appointment as the first Bishop of Brisbane.  His was a dynamic, if not  domineering presence in this young diocese which he found in a weakened and financially parlous state.  His dynamism did not endear himself to a lot of his parishioners, nor to some of the local clergy and he found himself in a number of quarrels which appeared to bedevil his episcopacy in the decades thereafter.  Utilising his good relations with the Sisters of Mercy he encouraged the establishment of a novitiate in Brisbane for the training of sisters for the order.  With the assistance of his brother, Dr. Andrew Quinn, who was a Parish Priest in Athy, many young women left Athy for the novitiate in Brisbane.  Several of the young women sent back accounts of their voyage to Australia.  One wrote, ‘we could not sleep for the incessant uproar of sailors, ducks, sheep, etc. which were perhaps sea sick or else giving way to great rejoicing at the prospect of a pleasure trip to Australia.’  The exigencies of the voyage did not prevent these young women from performing their religious obligations.  One described a Saturday afternoon on the deck of the ship as follows:-  ‘Confessions on deck, the captain helped to make the confessional, poles covered with the sail.  On Sunday 30 communicants.  All assembled for rosary at 10.  We are getting at home in our strange abode.  It seems as if almighty God has taken the power of fretting from me.’  Another nun wrote of her initial impression of the native aboriginal people of Australia, as follows:-  ‘I never saw such fearful looking creatures as the natives, especially the women.  Some are bare headed, others so completely covered with feathers that one would think feathers, not hair, grew on them.  They are painted in all colours.’  And on arrival:-  ‘On Saturday we reached Brisbane.  The Bishop and Fr. Connolly came for us and drove us to the convent where we got a very warm reception.  The prayers of the Sisters saved us.  For 3 whole weeks it was gale after gale.  All is over now and we are quite well and happy.’


Quinn’s own brother Matthew, who had also studied in Rome, had gone to India as a missionary in 1847 but because of health issues returned in 1853.  After assisting in raising an army of Irish volunteers to defend the papal states in the 1860s he went out to Australia in 1865 and was appointed the first Bishop of Bathurst. In all, four Quinn brothers joined the priesthood.


James Quinn died on 16th August 1881 and his funeral was attended by representatives of many faiths, including the Anglican Church and also Rabbi Phillips.  He is commemorated in a number of places in Queensland and principally by a life size statue by Signor Simonetti in St. Stephen’s Cathedral which was installed in 1892.                             

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Danny Kane and Mary Fleming

Danny Kane and Mary Fleming came from a similar rural background in South Kildare.  Danny was from Oldgrange, while Mary was from the nearby townland of Fontstown.  In age they were a generation apart but both passed away within weeks of each other.  Mary was an extremely devout person whose commitment to her church never waivered, while Danny’s work ethic was an essential part of his approach to life. 

Mary left Ireland as a young girl in 1937 at the height of the economic war.  She would spend the next 67 years of her life in England where she qualified as a nurse and midwife.  Even in retirement she continued working as a health visitor in Northampton, near to the home place of the great English poet John Clare.  She was however never lost to Ireland or to the extended Fleming family and she returned to Athy 12 years ago.  Here in Athy she renewed her commitment to the local parish in the same way as she had committed herself as a volunteer in her UK parish over many years.

Danny Kane, who was one of the most agreeable persons one could meet, left school like so many of his peers at an early age.  His lack of formal education did not in any way impinge on his ability to relate to people and he enjoyed an excellent relationship with everyone as he passed through life.  While working on local farms at an early age he developed an extraordinary work ethic which he maintained all his life.

In or about 1971 Danny purchased a small grocery shop at 32 Woodstock Street.  I am told that the enterprising young man from Oldgrange found that the mortgage repayments exceeded his income and so with friends Syl Bell and Eddie Ryan he purchased a chip van.  Travelling to various functions in the area selling chips proved profitable and prompted Danny to open a chipper in part of the existing grocery shop in Woodstock Street.  In time Danny gave over the entire premises to the fish and chip business and it flourished while Danny was the proprietor before selling it on in 1998. 

Legion are the stories I have heard of Danny’s thoughtfulness and generosity during his time as the shop proprietor in Woodstock Street.  It was the same spirit and thoughtfulness which saw him working later in his life as a volunteer driver for the Cancer Society.  After retiring from the business he had built up over 26 years Danny worked for a time as a driver for his brother-in-law Fergal Blanchfield.  This was followed by a spell as a driver with local hardware firm Griffin Hawe Ltd. and later as a taxi driver for Vals Cabs and Ernest O’Rourke-Glynn.

Sadly in more recent years Danny was troubled by a heart complaint brought on unquestionably by a life of hard work and long hours.  He was scheduled to have heart surgery for some time past but health cutbacks caused the operation to be postponed several times.  When at last the call came it was via a text message while Danny was attending 12 mass at St. Michael’s Parish Church.  He was admitted to St. James’s Hospital the following morning but tragically following a 14 hour operation died shortly after being transferred to the intensive care unit.

Danny is survived by his wife Fidelma who on their marriage in 1972 brought together two families, Kanes and Blanchfields, who are long associated with this part of the county of Kildare.  Fidelma and their 8 adult children have lost a wonderful caring husband and father and a man for whom the local community came out in their hundreds to honour on the occasion of his funeral. 

The contrasting lifestyles of both Danny Kane and Mary Fleming, both from rural backgrounds, were founded on commitment, one to the church, the other to the family.  Mary, who remained single throughout her whole life, found contentment and purpose in the Catholic Church and in her later years on returning to Ireland found great happiness with the extended family members, young and old, with whom she spent her final days.  Danny found great happiness in his family life and the life stories of Danny and Mary while different in so many ways show that their passages through life were marked by dedicated commitment to life’s true values.  Our sympathies go to the families and friends of Mary Fleming and Danny Kane. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Ireland's commemoration of World War 1 since the 1920s(2)

In Athy where 223 men from the town and the surrounding district died during the 1914/18 war, I joined a few friends on Remembrance Sunday 1986 to publicly commemorate for the first time in over 50 years the local men who had died in that war.  The ceremony was held in St. Michael’s cemetery where six World War I soldiers who died at home were buried and I am proud to say that the Remembrance Sunday commemorations have been held every year since then, with ever growing numbers attending. 


It is often claimed that commemorations in the North of Ireland were organised for many years on religious or political grounds.  For many Catholic families who had lost sons or fathers in the war, collective commemoration in public was not deemed appropriate, particularly in nationalist areas of Belfast.  For many Catholics in the North the 1914/18 commemoration were viewed as loyalist events and the war itself as a futile conflict to be ignored.  Participation in the annual commemoration events was seen as a badge of loyalty.  The divergence of opinion was noticeable from the first Armistice Day commemoration held on the 1st of November 1919 when in Belfast businesses stopped for two minutes silence at 11.00 a.m.  At the same time there was no mass observation in Derry city.  In Dublin a demonstration was held on that first anniversary, but it was accompanied by rowdy scenes, with clashes between Unionist and Nationalist supporters.  The newspapers reported ‘hardly had the Trinity students concluded the singing of “God Save the King” when a crowd of young men, mostly students from the National University, appeared in College Green shouting and singing “the Soldiers Song”.  A scene of wild disorder followed. 


In 1966 the Taoiseach Sean Lemass, a one time critic of remembrance ceremonies in Ireland acknowledged that Irish men who had enlisted in the British Army during World War I ‘were motivated by the highest purpose and died in their tens of thousands in Flanders and Gallipoli believing they were giving their lives in the cause of human liberty everywhere, not excluding Ireland.’


One of the first cross community approaches in Northern Ireland in re-telling the 1914/18 war story in a bipartisan way was the 1993 publication by the West Belfast Youth and Community Development Project which told of the Somme story as one involving both the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Division.  It was after all the Battle of the Somme which brought Republican and Loyalists together as one and where both traditions suffered huge losses fighting in a common cause.  Despite this the Somme had always been seen by Loyalists as a 36th Ulster Division conflict which was highlighted on many orange lodge banners as central to loyalism.  The 1993 project recognised Republican involvement and losses on the Somme for what was the first time in the North’s modern history.


The IRA ceasefire in 1994 prompted the SDLP in Belfast to attend as a body for the first time Remembrance Sunday commemorations in that city.  That same year the SDLP took part in commemoration ceremonies in Armagh, Omagh and Enniskillen.  The SDLP Mayor of Derry, John Kerr, was the first Mayor to lay a wreath during the 1995 ceremonies in Derry and two years later Belfast’s first nationalist Mayor, Alban Maginness participated in the city’s remembrance ceremonies.  He was accompanied by the Lord Mayor of Dublin when laying a poppy wreath during the Somme commemorations on the 1st of July. 


The first cross border approach to joint commemoration resulted in the opening of the Irish Peace Park at Messines in 1998 by the English, Irish and Belgium Heads of State.  This was an initiative by Glen Barr and Paddy Harte, a Fine Gael T.D.  The park with the round tower commemorates Loyalist and Republican involvement at Messines in June 1917 when they fought side by side as part of the 10th, 16th and 36th Divisions.


Perhaps one of the most far reaching participations in Remembrance Sunday events in recent years was that of Belfast’s first Sinn Fein Mayor Alex Maskey in 2002.  His participation and that of all the other participants previous mentioned was a long overdue recognition that people from both traditions shared the losses and sacrifices which marked the 1914/18 war.


The renewal of interest in commemorating the dead of World War 1 has seen the establishment of a Western Front Association in 1980 and the setting up of branches of the Dublin Fusiliers Association in Dublin and Belfast.  The Somme Association set up in 1990 provides a platform for the communities in Northern Ireland to share a common heritage – a heritage of loss and sacrifice endured by the men from Northern Ireland of the 16th and 36th Divisions.


Nevertheless, First World War commemorations will remain for many a controversial subject for some time to come given its roots and the complexities of what is a contested past.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Ireland's commemoration of World War 1 since the 1920s(1)

Men and women from both parts of the island of Ireland played prominent parts in World War I.  Their response to the call for volunteers was a cross community response.  However, when it came to commemorate and remember the awful events of those troubled years the community’s response in the South and in the North of this island were radically different.


Here in the South World War I commemorations during the 1920s and early 1930s were largely confined to participants who had returned from the war.  Armistices Day parades were somewhat muted affairs in the South and in Athy these parades were not actively supported by the local population.  However, it was accepted that the men who had gone overseas should be allowed to commemorate their colleagues who fell in battle.  It was an ambivalent attitude by the local population whose church and civic leaders during the war years had actively encouraged local men to enlist.  Many did enlist – Athy earning for itself the oft repeated claim of having given proportionately more men to the war than any other town in Ireland.  ‘Do as Athy has done’, urged the recruitment officers as they sought to swell the ranks during the final years of the war.


Despite this, World War I commemoration in Athy and generally throughout Southern Ireland was always problematic.  19th July 1919 was designated ‘Peace Day’ in Britain and plans were made to mark the day in Dublin.  A large parade was organised to start from Dublin Castle and included a large number of demobilised soldiers and sailors organised by regiment and led by their former officers.  The Dublin newspapers reported however that upwards of 3,000 Irish Nationalist Veterans boycotted the event and also reported that ‘some cheers were raised as demobilised soldiers passed, but the regular troops were received by the most part in silence.’  Later that evening scuffles broke out in the city between Sinn Fein supporters and some of the participating soldiers, a clear indication that war commemoration in the capital city challenged cultural and political allegiances.


The subsequent Armistice commemorations in Dublin also led to disorder as it did in the following years.  On 11th November 1923 and 1924 a temporary cenotaph was erected in College Green outside Trinity College and a large crowd attended to mark the anniversary.  Fighting between Nationalists and ex-service men prompted the Garda Commissioner to refuse permission for College Green to be used again.  In 1925 the commemoration moved to St. Stephen’s Green and a year later to the Phoenix Park where it was held for the next decade.  Following the election of a Fianna Fáil government in 1932 and the start of the economic war it became less easy to continue the Remembrance Sunday commemorations and the annual ceremonies ceased in and around the mid-1930s. 


In July 1919 it was agreed to erect in Dublin a Great War Memorial home to be used by ex-servicemen.  This did not meet with official approval and the plan was dropped but in the meantime it was agreed to have some form of a war memorial erected.  Funds were contributed by the public and approximately £42,000 was collected.  £5,000 of those funds was used to publish ‘Ireland’s Memorial Records’ of which 100 copies of the eight volume set were printed and distributed to all the principal libraries in Ireland.  A further £1,500 was spent on replacing wooden crosses with stone crosses on battlefields where the Irish Divisions had fought. 


In 1924 a committee was formed to consider proposals for a permanent memorial in Dublin to Irish men and women killed in the First World War.  The committee suggested Merrion Square and later St. Stephen’s Green as suitable memorial sites.  Public opposition to these proposals prompted the Irish government lead by W.T. Cosgrove to set up its own war memorial committee. 


Eventually the war memorial committee completed its work and a site at Islandbridge across the River Liffey opposite the Phoenix Park obelisk about 3 kilometres from O’Connell Street on grounds not too far distant from Kilmainham Jail was chosen.  Work on the Islandbridge Memorial started in 1932 but it was not until 1938 that it was completed.  The Islandbridge memorial park designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens is one of four gardens in Ireland designed by this world famous architect and is not only a place of remembrance but also of great architectural interest and beauty.  An official opening planned for July 1939 was postponed indefinitely due to the threat of war. 



From 1940 to 1970 the British Legion held annual Armistice Day ceremonies at Islandbridge.  Because of the troubles in the North the Park memorial was closed between 1971 and 1988.  It only reopened in 1988 in response to criticism of the Irish government’s attitude to World War I remembrance in the face of the Enniskillen bombings of the previous year. 


Another six years were to pass before the Islandbridge memorial park was formally opened in 1994 and for the first time an Irish government minister attended with the then Minister for Finance, Bertie Aherne, representing the Irish government.

……………….TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK…………..                

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Athy's libraries of the past

In the days immediately following the Great Famine Athy had a reading room where a lending library was available with books to borrow, in addition to the Irish and English daily newspapers.  That first library was operated by the Athy Literary and Scientific Institute which was founded in September 1848, its facilities being available for ‘the young men of Athy engaged in mercantile pursuits during the day.’  The Institute’s stated objective was ‘the study and advancement of science and literature.’  The Institute’s library was established following a committee meeting on 2nd December 1848 and while books could be borrowed by members, dictionaries, atlases and periodicals were not to be lent.  The library received gifts of books from many locals including shop owner Alexander Duncan who stated that he was doing so ‘as an earnest of the interest he felt in the society.’


A year later on 3rd October 1849 the institute became known as ‘The Athy Mechanics Institute’.  The Grand Jury room in the Town Hall which had been used for meetings and lectures and housed the institute’s library, proved inadequate.  On 1st August 1850 the members of the Mechanics Institute agreed to rent three rooms in Edward Duggan’s house.  The location of Duggan’s house is not known but a letter to the local press in November 1863 referred to ‘a large swamp around the rooms of the lamented exchange bounded on the west by the Barrow, on the east by the dock and the Literary Mechanics reading room and on the south by that part of Emily Square known as “rotten row” and on the north by public houses and the bridewell’.


The select committee of the House of Commons on public libraries heard evidence in 1849 and in relation to Ireland Mr. G. Hamilton M.P. claimed: ‘The Irish people do not read because they have no access to books, not because they cannot read.’  The Mechanics Institute Library, restricted as it was to members who paid ten shillings per year membership fee, was a private members library and so could not be regarded as Athy’s first public library.


The first public library in the town of Athy opened in the Town Hall on 1st December 1927.  It was operated by Kildare County Council as the local Urban District Council had earlier relinquished its powers under the Public Libraries Act.  A local library committee was set up and was intended to comprise the local Parish Priest Canon Mackey and his three curates, Fr. Ryan, Fr. Browne and Fr. Kinnane who were to be joined by Rev. Dunlop, the local Church of Ireland Rector and Rev. Meek of the Presbyterian Church.  The six clerics were to have had as fellow committee members five local Urban District Councillors and the Town Clerk James Lawler who would act as the library secretary.  However, Canon Mackey, who had earlier crossed swords with the local Council, refused to come on the Committee for what he declared were ‘reasons obvious to the Council’.  He was joined in his boycott of the library committee by his senior Curate, Fr. Kinnane.  The Committee in time brought on board more lay members and the first librarian appointed was Mr. B. Brambley of Emily Square. 


Choosing ‘suitable titles for Athy folk’ as reported in the local newspapers, was a task assigned to the library sub-committee comprising Fr. M. Browne, T.C. O’Gorman, Manager of the local Hibernian Bank and P.J. Murphy, draper from Emily Square.  The library opened on 1st December 1927 and initially stayed open one evening a week from 7 to 9 p.m.  This was soon extended to two evenings a week.  From these early beginnings the library service in Athy developed, moving from the Town Hall to the Courthouse and back again to the Town Hall, all the time staying within the confines of Emily Square.  On Thursday March 1st our new library will be officially opened in the former Dominican Church on the opposite side of the River Barrow to Emily Square. 


I remember the library of the 1950s.  It opened in the evening times only to give access to the books which were shelved in a small room in the Town Hall which up to recently was used as a reference room.  Accessed by the doorway and stairs opposite the house of Mrs. Josephine Gibbons, the scarcity of motor traffic presented no great dangers for library users.  Nowadays that same entrance leading onto Emily Row is deemed too dangerous to use and is permanently closed.


The new community library which opens on Thursday March 1st will be a formidable addition to the cultural landscape of Athy.  The Heritage Centre, the Arts Centre and the community library form a cultural triumvirate ready to celebrate our place, our people, our past and by doing so enrich our lives and make Athy a better place in which to live.