I received a small booklet through the post last week which was published as a record of the work of the Athy Committee for the Care of the Elderly during the past 30 years. The “Old Folks House” as we commonly call the Committee’s headquarters in Leinster Street, is the readily identifiable centre of the Committee’s work. Not always identified and acknowledged however, is the hard work and dedication of the many men and women, who since 1965, have contributed to the Committee’s success. Familiar names came to me as I perused the booklet’s pages. These were the names of men and women, once well known in Athy, but now only recalled in a litany of the dead. Tim McCarthy, Eamon McAuley, Tom Langton, Bill Horgan and Ted O’Rourke are just some of those names, which conjure up remembrances of times and events now past, never again to be experienced.
It is right that their names and those of their colleagues should be recorded, and that the record should show the part they played in creating and sustaining what was possibly Athy’s first voluntary social service for the elderly.
It was Dr. Brendan O’Donnell, then Medical Officer for county Kildare, who in 1965, suggested that a Care of the Elderly Committee be set up. This was at a time when the Old Age Pension was £2.7.6 per week, and the Home Assistance Officers under the late Tommy Harvey of Naas were busily engaged helping old people to keep body and soul together. I knew both Dr. O’Donnell and Tommy Harvey when I worked in the Health Section of Kildare County Council in the early 1960’s, and I recognised that their concern for the less well-off and the less capable in our society, extended far beyond the duties and responsibilities imposed by their respective offices.
At Dr. O’Donnell’s prompting, a public meeting was held in St. John’s Hall in October 1965 to establish a local Committee. St. John’s Hall, which once housed the former Social Club, was located in St. John’s Lane. It has long since been demolished, and on its site we now have the local Boy Scouts den. Dr. Brian Maguire, who arrived in Athy in July 1957 to take charge of the Dispensary District of Moone, was elected first Chairman of the Committee, a position he continued to occupy with distinction for the following 20 years. Vice-Chairman was Tom McEvoy, with Noreen Ryan as Secretary, and national school teacher Pierce Ferriter as Treasurer. The Honorary Social Worker appointed to the Committee was the indefatigable Megan Maguire, born in Manchester of Welsh parents, and wife of Dr. Brian Magurie. Megan’s involvement with the Care of the Elderly Committee continues to this day. She can justifiably be proud of her 30 years unstinting service as Honorary Social Worker.
In 1966, the Care of the Elderly Committee decided to provide a permanent centre for its activities, and Kevin Maher, Des McHugh, Tadhg Brennan, Dr. J.T. O’Neill and the late Capt. Sean O’Connor were instrumental in raising the funds required to purchase No. 82 Leinster Street from the Duke of Leinster’s Estate.
Close co-operation with the State’s social services and Athy Urban District Council gave the Committee scope for supplementing the support services available for the elderly. Home visits were, and remain, the highest priority need of the elderly, and the Committee, realising this, always ensured that its home visitation programme was effective and regular.
The welfare schemes and projects championed by the Care of the Elderly Committee changed and extended over the years as new needs were identified. Summer outings were organised from 1969 onwards, and in recent years, summer holidays in Butlins holiday camp, Mosney, have formed part of the Care of the Elderly programme. Laundry services, the provision of radios and televisions, and an early Meals on Wheels Scheme, were just some of the services provided for the elderly of the district. In addition, the houses of the elderly were repaired and painted, chimneys were swept and smoke alarms were fitted. The list goes on and on, as does the energy and resilience of the Committee members who have fulfilled such an important role in our community over the past 30 years.
The help, afforded to the Committee by local Clubs, has been acknowledged in the booklet. Innovative fund raising projects ensured that the Committee’s finances were never less than sufficient to meet its requirements. One of the most successful ventures in the early years of the Committee was the sponsored family walk, which, in its first year in 1968, raised £513. Subsequent sponsored walks realised £1,929.00 and £1,844.00 respectively. Since 1985, these walks have been replaced by church gate collections.
The volunteers who worked so hard over the years, did so without public recognition or reward. Those who contributed in no small way to the Committee’s success, include many who are no longer with us. Donal Mitchell, Delia Anderson, Eddie Diccox, Enid Donnelly, Barney Doyle, Tom Fleming, Paddy Hubbock, Jim Kelly, Mary Keogh, Jim Maher, Joan Tubridy and Kathleen Cullen are included among that number. This booklet remembers them all and records for posterity, the work of the many volunteers who sought to bring comfort to our neighbours in their declining years.