Friday, January 14, 1994

McHugh's Chemists

Des McHugh will be celebrating 100 years of family involvement in the pharmaceutical business in Athy on the 18th of January. His father, John McHugh, who was born at the Dry Dock in 1870 qualified as a chemist in October 1893. Within three months he founded his own business in the premises now occupied by Josie's Hair Salon in Duke Street. Later moving his business a few yards up the street to Staffords premises he subsequently purchased numbers 39 and 40 Duke Street from the Hurley family. There he continued to practice until his death in 1929.

The pharmacy was run for a number of years by his son, Thomas McHugh, a medical doctor, who later emigrated to South Africa. A manager was then employed to keep the business open until Des, the youngest son, qualified as a pharmacist in 1939 when he returned to Athy.

After almost 55 years in the profession Des has seen many changes all of which he regards as for the better. The long hours spent with the pestle and mortar and the pill tile making up compounds and pills are but a memory. Nowadays Des would admit to using the pestle and mortar once a week on average in these days of proprietary medicines. The making up of ointments was another time consuming role for the pharmacist in days gone by requiring dextrous use of the ointment slab and spatula to produce potions and remedies which were eagerly sought after.

The McHughs have a long association with Athy. Des' grandfather Timothy McHugh was a local grain buyer whose stores in Nelson Street were later acquired by Minch Nortons as part of the malting company's building complex. Timothy McHugh was one of the group of grain buyers for whom the Duke of Leinster had a corn exchange built near the harbour on Barrow Quay in 1862. Designed and constructed to facilitate the busy corn market for which Athy was famous it soon fell into disuse because of complaints relating to the bad lighting and ventilation in the building. Later converted it is used today as the local Courthouse.

Des McHugh has played a very active role in community life in Athy over the years. A founder member of Athy Lions Club established twenty three years ago he still regularly attends the monthly meeting of that Club and participates in all it's fundraising activities for local charities.

A life long interest in golf is still maintained today and at 77 years of age he is a regular player in competitions at Athy Golf Club where he plays off a respectable 17 handicap. Captain of the Club in 1942/1943 and 1954 he was elected President in 1957 and in 1958 and is now a life member of the Geraldine based Club.

His sporting achievements are not confined to the golf course where he won the Captain's Prize in 1936 and again in 1972. A keen rugby player in his young days he first played for Athy Rugby Club in 1932 and holds the unique distinction of being the captain of Athy’s first Town's Cup winning team in 1938. He was a member of the senior team which won the Town's Cup again in 1940. His interest in rugby is maintained as he is a life member of the Athy Rugby Club and a life member of the Leinster Branch of the Rugby Referee's Association.

One hundred years in practice in the same provincial town is a remarkable achievement for any family and good wishes are extended to Des and his wife Eileen who will celebrate a proud family tradition on 18 January.

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