Friday, May 26, 1995

Offaly Street

In May 1945 the Allied Troops having gained the upper hand against the German Army were advancing on Berlin. They met little resistance as the calvacade of men and war machinery swept speedily over the tortured soil of Germany. Back in neutral Ireland the Irish people went about their business as usual. In the coalmining town of Castlecomer a young Garda Sergeant and his family were preparing to move house yet again. He had done this four times since getting married but this was to be the last occasion that he would pack furniture and belongings into a hired lorry to journey to a new town.

The Garda Sergeant was my father who in May 1945 brought my mother and her five young sons to Athy. The transfer was at his request so that he could get his sons into a Secondary School where none was to be had in Castlecomer. The short journey to Athy ended at No. 6 Offaly Street in a two up two down terraced house rented from Myles Whelan.

Offaly Street has shown little structural changes in the intervening fifty years. What has changed are the families who live in what was then a very close knit community. Paddy Garrett is still in No. 1 while in No. 2 was the Smith family with Joe Murphy next door. Joe who worked on the railways was a wonderful character, passionately involved in both the G.A.A. and Fianna Fail. Mrs. Murphy, and in those days every female of indeterminate age was called Mrs., had with her a niece Loy Hayden who is now herself married and living in my old home, No. 6 Offaly Street.

John Murphy and his family were on the far side of Janeville Lane next to Tom White and his family. I can vaguely recall Tom's involvement in the musical shows of the late 1940's and particularly an outdoor carnival type parade which started in the pub yard opposite our house and ended up in Emily Square. Andrew and Basil White were two of my Offaly Street mates when I was growing up and sadly both are dead as is their younger brother Leo. When the Whites moved to Athgarvan in 1954 or thereabouts the Taaffes who lived next door in what was a smaller house transferred into No. 5 Offaly Street.

In No. 7 lived Tom Moore and his family. Tom, a gentleman in every sense of the word, was surely the longest serving G.A.A. Club Secretary in the history of the association. His allegiance was to Rheban and with his encouragement even I ended up playing football for Rheban G.F.C. for a short while. Willie Moore and the late "Micky" Moore were also members of the younger generation of the Offaly Street fellows whose exploits during the 1950's are still fondly remembered.

Tom McHugh and his wife lived in No. 8 and many an hour was passed watching the men at work in Tom's foundry in Janeville Lane. Tom was an early riser and was always sure to be found at Dallons corner as I passed by on my way to serve 7.00 o'clock morning Mass.

Mick Bradley and his mother were next door and then the Breen family next to Bob Webster, later Manager of the local cinema, and finally on the same side the Sunderland family. Beyond the lane was Aldridges orchard where the apple trees more than once proved a temptation impossible to suppress. The difficulty in getting over the high wall posed a problem but in the end proved no match for young nimble hands and agile feet. In the area now known as Beechgrove were what we called "the buildings" consisting of the partially built walls of a cinema planned to replace the Picture Palace in Offaly Street. It was never completed and proved a ready made playground for the youngsters in Offaly Street. At the very end of "the buildings" next to the wall surrounding the Rector's house lived Ms. Hegarty in a beautiful picturesque cottage. When she died the cottage quickly fell into disrepair and when the roof collapsed all the local youngsters including myself diverted our energies into knocking down the mud walls of what must have been a very early 18th century house.

Crossing Offaly Street and retracing our steps on the East side of the street, the first house we meet is that of Mrs. Evans and her son John who lived directly opposite Sunderlands and next to Keatleys and the local cinema. Mattie Brennan, that delightful neighbour, was next door to Garda Touhy and his family. Mick Touhy was a great gunman and fisherman and his house is one of only five houses in Offaly Street still occupied by the same families who lived there 50 years ago.

Mr. & Mrs. Alex Neill lived beside Paddy Murphy, a hackney driver and his family. The house, small and all as it was in those days, is now even smaller having been part demolished to provide a larger side entrance for the adjoining pub. Tom Dowling and his family lived over the pub when we came to Athy but they left some years later for Naas. His successor in the pub was the legendary John W. Kehoe who gave many years of dedicated service to improving the facilities in Geraldine Park, Athy.

Kitty Webster's sweet shop across Butlers Row from the pub was the most important building in Offaly Street insofar as every youngster in the street was concerned. We all graduated from penny toffees to cigarette smoking at an early age as a result of Kittys willingness to split a packet of cigarettes to sell one or two of the noxious weeds. Her mother and sister Pattie were there also but to all of us it was known only as Kitty Websters. Garda Jim Kelly and his family lived next door and Teddy Kelly and his late brother Leopold were another family duo who comprised the Offaly Street "gang" of my young days. The last house on the street was occupied by the Dargan family including Jim and his sister Kathleen. Jim's father had a forge in Mount Hawkins, one of many such forges to be found in Athy at one time.

The street which housed three members of the local Gardai gave two priests to the Church in my time. Fr. Tommy Touhy, son of Garda Mick Touhy and the late Fr. Leopold Kelly, son of Garda Jim Kelly. The only houses still with the same families as 50 years ago include the Touhys, Kellys, Breens, Taaffes and Paddy Garratt.

Looking back over the residents then and later I am astonished at the number of young people with whom I grew up who have since died. Danny and Mylie Cash, Eva Murphy, Seamus Taaffe, Andrew, Basil and Leo White, Michael Moore and Leopold Kelly all shared common experiences as young fellows in Offaly Street and all went to early graves.

The once quiet street is now home to a new generation of people and the ghosts of the past look back on a scene which is at once familiar yet strange. The streetscape remains largely unaltered. Where once we played ball in the almost traffic-free street, trucks and cars now trundle and speed on their journeys. Parents have died, their sons and daughters have moved on and the community renews itself as it has done ever since the street was first planned to extend out the Carlow Road beyond Prestons Gate.

When the first part of this article appeared last Wednesday I could then note that Paddy Garratt and my mother were the last of the older generation still in Offaly Street although I am sure that Paddy would have readily deferred in terms of age to the 89 year old woman who came to the street fifty years ago. Paddy who has lived in Offaly Street since 1928 is now the last of the old time residents as sadly my mother died last week. Offaly Street is now a street of childhood memories for many of us as a new generation takes our place

No comments: