Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Photographs - Athy G.F.C. Senior Team Late 1950's / Kildare Seniors 1957

With rain and dampness providing an unwelcome backdrop to the Emily Square market on Tuesday last my thoughts turned to past sunny days when footballing matters held my interest.  I was prompted to do so after a meeting with Hugh Moran, a native of Athy who emigrated to England over 50 years ago.  Hugh called on me on his first visit back to Athy in over half a century and talked to me of his footballing days with Athy and the Army team on the Curragh.  He recalled many of his teammates on the Athy team and a week or so later I received a photograph of the Athy senior team on which Hugh featured in the late 1950s.  The exact date when the photograph was taken and indeed the occasion are not known to me.  However, I am fairly confident that many of you will be able to recall all of those details as well as naming the players, officials and supporters captured forever on film over 50 years ago.  I would be delighted to hear from you.

The other photograph featured this week is of the Kildare senior team togged out to play Louth in the Leinster semi-final at Croke Park in 1957.  It features Danny Flood and Paddy Wright, Athy’s only representatives on that team.  Paddy told me that it was his first time on the Kildare seniors but the records show otherwise.  The match against Louth who went on to win the All Ireland that year was played on the 16th of June and Peadar Smith, then living in St. Patrick’s Avenue and working in the Asbestos Factory, played for the ‘wee County’.  It was Paddy Wright’s second match with the Kildare seniors as four weeks earlier he had togged out against Offaly in a game played in Portlaoise.  He played a few more matches for his native County and on the team in his final game for County Kildare were fellow Athy men Danny Flood and Brendan Kehoe.  The Kildare senior team photographed in June 1957 was as follows, from left to right at back Tos McCarthy, Tom Connolly, Paddy O’Loughlin, J. Byrne, Des Marron, Micko Doyle, Danny Flood and Paddy Moore.  In the front row from left were Seamus Aldridge, Michael Bohane, Eddie Hogan, Paddy Wright, Paddy Gibbons, Seamus Harrison and Paddy Feeley (Captain).

Kevin O'Toole / Aiden McHugh and Athy's Gymnastic Club

Twice this week I joined with friends, acquaintances and neighbours to pay tribute to members of our local community on Tuesday evening.  I walked behind the funeral cortege of Kevin O’Toole, a young married man, on its journey to our local Parish church.  A lone piper walked before the hearse as it passed down Duke Street and into Stanhope Street.  The plaintive air of ‘The Dawning of the Day’ provided a sombre setting as the measured steps of local sympathisers approached St. Michael’s Church.  Kevin’s passing was not unexpected as illness marked his last days, but the announcement at Mass of his death on Sunday filled me with sadness. 

I knew Kevin from his involvement in the re-enactment group which he headed up and from the Medieval Festival he organised in the Town Square for the last two years.  As Fr. Dennehy said at the Church that evening Kevin was a very pleasant man who was universally liked.  He is survived by his wife and two young children, as well as his mother, sister and two brothers, to all of whom we extend our sympathy.

Earlier in the week I was one of an admiring group comprised of parents and young people who came to the local G.A.A. Centre to pay tribute to Aiden McHugh.  It’s not every person who receives a well deserved accolade or acknowledgement during his or her lifetime.  Indeed, for many such as the late Kevin O’Toole, the only time we show, as a community, our appreciation is when we join a funeral cortege.  But last Saturday evening things were very different.  A small group had got together and brought many more together on that Saturday night to pay a well deserved tribute to the man who for the last 35 years had organised and trained the members of Athy Gymnastics Club.  Aiden McHugh is a native of Athy, his father Mick and his mother Kathy having raised a family of six in their home at St. Michael’s Terrace.  He served in the Irish Army for many years where he developed an expertise in gymnastics which would eventually lead him back to his home town of Athy. 

It was in 1972 that Brother Sykes of the local Christian Brothers started the Gymnastic Club which for the first year or so used a large building in Meeting Lane as the gym centre.  Shortly thereafter the Club’s activities were transferred to the Christian Brothers School in St. John’s Lane where another Christian Brother, Br. Creevy, helped out.  Some of the early members of that Club included Gabriel Dooley, Anthony Healy, Derek Donovan, Kevin McDermott and Colm Wall whose training, owing to lack of equipment, was confined to floor and horse exercises.  This was soon to change when transfers amongst the Christian Brothers personnel prompted the Club to seek the services of an experienced gymnast.  An approach was made to Aiden McHugh and in 1974 he took over as trainer and organiser of the young club.

The enthusiasm and expertise of the new trainer soon brought rewards for the youthful gymnasts who practised every Saturday under Aiden’s watchful guidance.  The Club affiliated to the I.A.G.A. and its members started to compete in national competitions.  The first Community Games in which the Athy Gymnastics Club participated was in 1975 and two years later the Athy gymnasts recorded what was their first success at national level.  Athy Club members returned from the 1977 Community Games with four gold medals and one bronze, making almost a clean sweep of Ireland’s premier games for young gymnasts.  The gold medals were won in underage competitions at Under 10, Under 12, Under 14 and Under 16 levels, while Conor Wall won a bronze medal in the Under 8 category.  The gold medallists were Declan Porter, Michael Rowan, Niall Wall and Paul Porter. 

The members of the Scottish Gym Council who attended the 1977 Mosney Games were so impressed by the Athy Club members that an invitation was extended to the South Kildare Club to travel to Scotland.  The resulting trip was the first overseas visit by members of Athy’s gymnastic club which by the late 1970s had almost 30 members.  In a few short years the club had become one of the best gymnastics club in Ireland, but as an exclusively male club it required pairing with female gymnasts from Sligo to allow for participation in mixed pairing events. 

Early in the 1980s the club was opened to female members and before long the membership had increased to 100 or more and the premises at the Christian Brothers School proved no longer adequate.  A move to the former Dreamland Ballroom, a move facilitated by the local Lions Club, provided much improved facilities and allowed the club to host several All Ireland competitions.  However, a further move, this time to the GAA Hall at Geraldine Park, was necessary and it was there that the Club hosted the County Community Games for six years in succession.  Following the opening of the new secondary school in Rathstewart the old Christian Brothers School again became available and the Gym Club relocated back to St. John’s Lane, now using rooms much larger than those previously available. 

The female gymnasts soon showed abilities to match those of their male colleagues and Fiona McHugh, Rosemary O’Sullivan and Clara O’Neill were honoured to represent Ireland at an international event in Cobh, while Rosemary O’Sullivan and Susan Walshe were among the winners at an international competition in Germany.

The success of the Gymnastics Club was due to the extraordinary commitment and dedication of Aiden McHugh who over the past 35 years has guided the club and trained its young members.  Former club members who could not be present at the function on Saturday night sent messages of congratulations.  Mark Loughman, now in Boston, fondly remembered a club trip to London in 1983 and wrote of the happy memories he retained of his 10 years as a gymnast under Aiden’s supervision. Tributes were also paid to Aiden’s leadership by other former members who couldn’t attend.  Ian Macdougald, Niall Wall and Conor Wall gave glowing accounts of happy days spent in the gym, while Paul Griffin, now in a Californian University, referred to ‘Aiden’s inspiration and dedication’.  Several speakers in the G.A.A. Hall that night made reference to Aiden’s work with the club members as ‘enhancing so many young lives’.  Aiden’s involvement also extended to providing since 1992 gym classes for youngsters with special needs in conjunction with KARE.  The Gaisce Awards has seen the club’s most recent involvement with several young gymnasts taking part in the Presidents Awards Scheme.

While Aiden’s stepping down as club trainer was the occasion for the reception, reference was also made to his involvement in the Canoe Club which he started in Athy approximately 20 years ago.  There was an earlier Canoe Club, founded by Athy Lions Club under the guidance of Lions members Michael Wall, Des Perry and Jerry Carbery in or about 1976 which had faltered.  Aiden revived the Club some years later and his involvement in canoeing will continue into the future.  However, in the meantime Aiden is off to Australia for further adventure to add to parachuting, hot air ballooning and other exploits which form part of his ‘bucket list’.  Padraig Dooley from Nicholastown, perhaps the most successful gymnast to come out of the local club and an Irish international gymnast will take Aiden’s place as the club trainer. 

Athy has benefitted enormously from the involvement in their community of Kevin O’Toole and Aiden McHugh and a week which sees the passing of Kevin and the stepping down of Aiden after 35 years heading up Athy Gym Club is a sad week for our local community.

Ploughing Championship 1931

The Ploughing Championship for 2009 has come and gone and by all accounts it has been a resounding success.  Returning to the area in which the first inter county ploughing contest was held in February 1931, this year’s event brought almost 150,000 visitors, compared to the 3,000 who were reported to have been present at the one day event held at Coursetown, Athy on Monday, 16th February 1931.  On that occasion there were ten counties represented in the ploughing competitions, with 52 horse ploughing competitors and six tractor competitors.  The winning county was Wexford, with its team captain Edward Jones who used a Pierce plough winning the first prize and the gold medal for all round ploughing.  Jones also won the ESMA Perpetual Challenge Cup as the champion ploughman of Ireland.

The Nationalist newspaper in its report of the 1931 ploughing championships mentioned 14 year old James Ryan of Athy who came third in the local class using a Ransome plough and whose work the reporter noted was ‘one of the outstanding features of the competition.’

Local ploughing contests had been a feature of rural life in Ireland for many years prior to then and local Kildare newspapers often carried reports of ploughing competitions at Levitstown, Kilkea and Narraghmore.  However, it was J.J. Bergin of Maybrook, Athy with his friend Denis Allen of Wexford who first mooted the idea of an inter county ploughing contest following a ploughing match in the Athy area in February 1930.  That first inter county contest was held on the lands of Captain Hosie at Coursetown, Athy on 16th February 1931.  The organising committee for the event was chaired by D.C. Greene, with James Duthie as treasurer and J.J. Bergin as Honorary Secretary.  Contrary to the oft repeated claims that the first competition was confined to ploughmen from Counties Kildare and Wexford the competitors in fact represented counties Carlow, Kilkenny, Offaly, Leix, Kildare, Wexford, Wicklow, Dublin, Cork and Louth. 

Each county was represented by three ploughmen who provided their own ploughs, swings and marking poles, while pairs of plough horses were provided by local farmers where necessary.  These horses were brought to the plough field by their owners and the various competitors then drew lots to decide which horses they could use for the competition.  A very detailed set of rules were laid down by the Competition Committee including a ban on ‘coulters or any other gadgets’.  Each competitor was  allowed to avail of the help of the horse owners man at yoking his horses and the same man was allowed to accompany the competitor for the first round, ‘but must not handle the reins or plough’.

The David Frame Perpetual Challenge Cup and a cash price of £12 were offered for the overall county winners while the ESMA Perpetual Challenge Cup presented by Estate Management Supplies Association of Millicent Sallins and £5 went to the individual ploughman who was named champion of Ireland. 

The tractor class also attracted prizes, as did the contest confined to County Kildare ploughmen and there were a number of other prizes ranging from best work by an Irish made plough to best turn out of horses and harnesses.  However, the most unusual competition prize was that awarded to ‘the married competitor with the greatest number in family.’  That worthy individual was to receive a 10stone bag of flour presented by Mr. J. Gracie of Kilmeade. 

The programme for the 1931 event carried a number of advertisements for local firms.  Messrs Greene Brothers of Kilkea Lodge Maganey, auctioneers, valuers and livestock salesmen, advised potential clients that ‘all business entrusted to us will be attended to promptly and with care.’

Industrial Vehicles (Ireland) Ltd. advertised the sale of ‘universal trailers’ being part of their business as ‘main tractor dealers and trailer manufacturers’.  Jackson Brothers of 58 Leinster Street were agents for Star ploughs and stocked ploughs and harrow fittings, as well as having ‘a fully equipped workshop for all motor and cycle repairs’ in addition to a high class grocery.

The Leinster Arms Hotel, telephone no. Athy 21, was fully licenced with a free garage and advertised itself as a first class family and commercial hotel.  Minch Norton and Company Limited of Levitstown Mills, Maganey specialised in Decorticated cotton cake, Yefato yeast cake, standard pig meal and other animal feeds as well as importing American and English linseed cake, Rangoon ground nut meal and many other exotic sounding commodities. 

The Central Hotel in Leinster Street owned by J. Hutchinson proudly advertised that it had ‘electric lights throughout’ with hot and cold baths, home comforts and excellent cooking.  Thomas L. Flood, proprietor of the Railway Hotel, included in his advertisement the line ‘official caterer’.   There was no further explanation, but I assume that this reference related to the hotel’s position as official caterer to the ploughing contest.

Duthie Large & Co. of the Foundry, Athy were agents for all the major plough manufacturers as well as Fordson tractors and Ford cars and trucks.  E. Nolan of 1 Leinster Street was local agent for seed merchants Hogg and Robertson of Mary Street, Dublin.  An advertiser unfamiliar to me was Eugene J. Fagan of Duke Street who described himself as Irish Sales and Service Manager for Beardmore Commercial Vehicles which were suited for the carriage of livestock, agricultural produce and general merchantise.  He had offices in Athy as well as a service depot and stores.

The Nationalist newspaper reporting on the ploughing contest in Coursetown in 1931 mentioned that the weather was ‘extremely cold with rain and sleet, but this did not dampen the ardour of the spectators who took a keen interest in what has been well described as the battle of the ploughs’.

This year’s event, just a stones throws away in Cardenton, (indeed one of the car parks for the 2009 event was the site of the 1931 event) was marked with good weather and the many thousands who travelled from all parts of Ireland over the three days spent several enjoyable hours visiting the nine hundred or so exhibition stands and the ploughing events.

J.J. Bergin, an Athy man of tremendous initiative, was the driving force behind the early development of the National Ploughing Association and was one of the founders in 1952 of the World Ploughing Association.  The continuing success of the National Ploughing Association and its annual event owes much to another local person, Anna May McHugh who since 1973 has served as Managing Director of the National Ploughing Association.  The huge success of this year’s event is a fitting testament to Anna May’s organisational skills and the wonderful team which is the National Ploughing Association.

Athy's Parish Priests (2)

Fr. James Doyle, Parish Priest of Athy, is buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery where his gravestone records that he was 64 years old when he passed away on 10th November 1892.  He had served as a curate in Athy for 17 years and Parish Priest for 13 years.  I have been unable to locate the graves of six of his predecessors as Parish Priest of Athy, the seventh, Monsignor Andrew Quinn having died some time after he transferred to Dun Laoghaire.  The clerical career of his successor, Archdeacon Germaine, is recorded on the latter’s gravestone in St. Michael’s Cemetery as, ‘1 year a curate in Dunlavin, 23 years a curate in Castledermot, 15 years D.D. in Avoca’ before becoming Parish Priest of Athy where he served for 12 years and where he died on 18th April 1905 aged 78 years.

Canon Edward Mackey was the next Parish Priest to die in office and his gravestone simply records ‘Edward Canon Mackey, In days gone by, P.P. Athy 1909 – 1928’.  Incidentally he died on 31st March and not 21st March as mentioned in last week’s article.  The whereabouts of the last resting place of Fr. Fintan Carroll who succeeded Canon Mackey is not known to me.  Fr. Carroll who transferred from Castledermot to take over responsibility for the Parish of St. Michaels died unexpectedly in May, just a few weeks after coming to Athy.  His was the shortest period as Parish Priest of any of the office holders stretching back to 1670, while the distinction of having the longest service belongs to Fr. Daniel Fitzpatrick, who, if records are accurate, served as Parish Priest for 46 years. 

Fr. Patrick McDonnell replaced the late Fr. Carroll on 11th June 1928 and he remained as Parish Priest of St. Michaels until his death, aged 84 years on 1st March 1956.  It is as Archdeacon McDonnell that he is remembered today by the older residents.  During the early part of his ministry in Athy he had a disagreement with the members of Athy Urban District Council over a remark made at a meeting of the Council when the Parish Priest and one of his curates, Fr. Maurice Brown, were nominated to the Council’s Library Committee.  The remark was not reported in the local press but nevertheless word got back to the Parish Priest who refused to take up the Council’s nomination.  The curate Fr. Brown who would later write a number of highly regarded books while he was Parish Priest of Ballymore Eustace felt compelled to follow the lead of his Parish Priest and so for a while the town’s Library Committee operated without the services of the local clergy.  Relationships between the local Church and civic leaders were obviously fully restored by 1952 when on the proposal of M.G. Nolan, seconded by P.L. Doyle, the Council agreed that its new housing estate at Holland’s Field should be named McDonnell Drive ‘to mark the deep appreciation of the people of Athy of the invaluable services rendered to the Parish by our beloved Parish Priest.’  It was a significant honour in view of the fact that Archdeacon McDonnell had still another four years to live.  When he died on 11th March 1956 the Archdeacon was remembered as ‘gentle, unobtrusive, vain but not proud, easy of access and approach and very devoted to the confessional and Mass.’

My own memories of the old priest, for whom I often served Mass on one of the side altars, are coloured by my earliest contact with him.  As a 7 or 8 year old I was in a class brought by Sister Brendan to confessions at St. Michaels where one of the confessors that school morning and occupying a temporary confessional specially fitted up for him, was Archdeacon McDonnell.  At one stage during the confessions I forgot what I had to say, much to the annoyance of the elderly cleric who pushed his walking stick around the barrier between us and prodded me out of the confession box.  I never forgot or forgave and was always conscious of the disagreeable and grumpy cleric whenever I had to serve his Mass in later years.

Parish Priests in the 1950s and earlier seemed to have been fashioned from the same block, as his successor Fr. Vincent Steen who was Parish Priest for 11 years until 1967 was to my young eyes another stern authoritarian.  By the time he left for a Dublin parish on 26th January 1967 I had been out of Athy for six years and another 15 years would pass before I returned. 

In the meantime Fr. John Gunning replaced Fr. Steen and after four years it was the turn of Fr. William Rogan to take over as Parish Priest.  Fr. Gunning had transferred to St. Anthony’s Clontarf and references to his time in Athy describe him as a priest ‘who endeared himself to the people he served.’  Fr. Rogan remained in Athy for nine years before transferring to another parish and he was replaced as Parish Priest by Fr. Owen Sweeney who had been President of Clonliffe College.  His brief five years in charge of St. Michael’s Parish was marked by an energy and a commitment to religious and social development within the parish which made Fr. Sweeney one of the most popular men to have held the position of Parish Priest in recent years.

Fr. Philip Dennehy, happily still with us, arrived in Athy as our Parish Priest in June 1985 having previously served in the town as a curate for ten years from 1963.  He proved to be a dedicated and inspiring Parish Priest, who having retired from the position remains on in St. Michael’s to help out in the parish. 

Monsignor John Wilson came to us in 2006 and transferred last month to the Parish of Ballymore Eustace.  His replacement, Fr. Michael Murtagh, on his first Sunday introduced himself as a Mayo man, a priest for 33 years whose first Parish was on the island of Inis Meáin where he spent three years followed by a similar period in Letterfrack.  Two years were next spent in Mulranny, another Parish in the Tuam dioceses before he transferred to the concrete jungle of city parishes in our capital city.  One of these Parishes was Killester, not too far from the Dublin Parish where I lived for 12 years and stories of the Mayo football enthusiast and priest have circulated far beyond the boundaries of Killester. 

Fr. Michael played minor football for his native county and the depth of his support for what in recent times has been the GAA’s most persistently luckless All-Ireland finalists is understandable.  The green and red of Mayo have featured on a few occasions on the morning of All-Irelands at services in Killester Church, while Fr. Michael officiated.  I particularly liked the story (believe me its true) where the Mayo curate happily indulged by his Kerry-born Parish Priest bedecked a baby pram in the Mayo colours on the morning of an All-Ireland final and pushed it up the aisle, parking it to the side of the altar.  At an appropriate time during the sermon he called upon a parishioner to approach the pram and open a large card which held up to the congregation read ‘Expecting SAM’.  Unfortunately even the prayers and support of the Killester parishioners were not sufficient to secure a Mayo victory over Meath so that on the Sunday after Mayo was defeated the pram again made its appearance, still bedecked in the Mayo colours and pushed up the aisle yet again by Fr. Michael.  This time when the card was removed from the pram and held up it read, ‘miscarried’.

When I heard the story and some of the other escapades involving our new Parish Priest I laughed heartily.  Fr. Michael Murtagh is as far removed from the stern authoritarian Parish Priest of the past as is possible to imagine.  The clerical austerity of 50 years ago and more is hopefully about to give way to a happy and inclusive relationship between parishioners and their Parish Priest.  Long may it be so.