The celebration of a generation of public service as a Town Councillor brought together Athy Councillors past and present on the 15th of December last. The recipient of many congratulations and good wishes on the night was Frank English who first stood for election to Athy Urban District Council in 1967. His colleagues on the Council that year included M.G. Nolan, doyen of the Fianna Fail party in South Kildare and Paddy Dooley, then a member of the Dail and the only Athy townsman to gain a seat in the Dail since the days of Sidney Minch. Others re-elected in 1967 were Tom Carbery of St. Martin's Terrace and Joe Deegan. While all of these men were being re-elected towards the end of their active involvement in local politics Frank was being elected to the Council for the first time. Also elected with him on that occasion were Jim McEvoy, Enda Kinsella, Mick Rowan and Jack MacKenna.
First elected at 26 years of age Frank has stood for re-election on three occasions since then. The length of his service as a Town Councillor is not unique as longevity of service at this level of Local Government has in the past been the norm rather than the exception. However, in todays volatile political environment 27 years of service as a Town Councillor is sufficiently unusual to merit public recognition. Not least for the level of commitment and public spirit shown in putting his name before the Electorate on so many occasions. Many of us are reluctant to get involved - and in that respect the unwillingness extends to almost all facets of life. Non-participation by the many places an uneven burden on those who are prepared to share the responsibility of community life. Community leaders like Frank English are fair game for the "hurlers on the ditch" who are either unwilling or fearful of putting themselves before the community at election time. Whether in the local club or organisation we have all too often come across the same experience where the willing few share the burden for the many who wish to participate on their own terms without making any contribution at committee level. So it was fitting that we gathered in the Leinster Arms Hotel to pay tribute to somebody who has not been afraid to put his time and his talents at the disposal of the local community.
In his younger days Frank was known as Harry, a name which disappeared as adulthood loomed. Strange when you look back over the years how in the middle of new relationships youthful friendships endure. Harry, as he then was, was never part of the Offaly Street gang but yet it was with Frank as he then became that I shared many experiences over the years. Together as young lads we ventured onto the Continent as intrepid travellers thumbing our way around France and later venturing into East Berlin a few short years after the erection of the Berlin Wall. Trips to Belgium, Holland, England and America followed and experiences were shared which added enormously to our knowledge, if not to our interpersonal skills while no doubt confirming the Continental's perception of young Irishmen as "Mad Dogs of the Midnight Sun".
His penchant for overseas travelling has abated in recent years to be replaced by an enormous likening for a late night pint in the cosy confines of Frank O'Briens. Maybe old age affects you that way. I will have to wait another year before finding out for myself.
Frank, as his mother Peg would say, is "a great lad". Indeed he is and his 27 years on the Town Council amply demonstrates that the townspeople of Athy share that view.