Another year about to end. How quickly it passes but then someone like myself attuned to the demands and discipline of a weekly article knows only too well the speed of passing time.
At the beginning of the year I wrote of Dr. Don Rodrigue de Vere, a colourful character who adorned life in Athy during the Second World War. I was reminded of it only a few weeks when a County Laois farmer favourably commented on the piece and attempted to complete the Ballad of de Vere for me. In February the Sorrento Dance Band was featured and resulted in a very welcome letter from its leader Paddens Murphy who now spends his time between London and Spain. Paddens was fulsome in his praise of the local musicians who have given Athy such a wonderful musical heritage down the years. The story of Jack MacKenna, father of writer John MacKenna was told later that month highlighting some little known facts surrounding the War of Independence in South Kildare.
Athy Workhouse and the Great Famine were dealt with in several articles during this year's 150th Anniversary of the Irish holocaust. Approximately 2,500 died in Athy during the four years of the Famine and we still wait for the Eastern Health Board and the Local Authorities to mark in some suitable way the last resting place of those who died in the local Workhouse. Maybe it will happen in 1996.
In March I marked the passing of Jack Kelly, traditional fiddle player with an article which drew on his reminiscences of Churchtown Pipe Band. This was to lead to another later article on that Band and the Kilberry Pipe Band when I was contacted by two local men living in England - Jim Connor and Jim Moran.
May Lalor shared an evening with me in April when she told me of life in Athy in the 1930's and 1940's. Her late husband Michael Lalor had purchased Christy Reid's pub and grocery premises which was next to Cootes Gents Outfitters. Incidentally in answering a recent query I placed Cootes premises in Anthony Auctioneers. Several readers have contacted me to say that Cootes were located in the present Heffernans premises. From the evidence of the Lawrence photograph it would seem that Cootes were in the 1890’s located where Anthony Auctioneers are now, and transferred in 1905 to the other premises.
In May I wrote a two part article on Offaly Street residents of 50 years ago when my parents moved from Castlecomer to Athy to avail of secondary schooling for their sons. Sadly my mother who had lived in the street for 50 of her 89 years in this world passed away before the second part appeared. As I wrote then "Offaly Street is now a street of childhood memories for many of us as a new generation takes our place."
Memories of a different kind were evoked when I received a bundle of old letters from David Hannon whose father, the late Archdeacon Gordon Hannon, was formally of Ardreigh House, Athy. The letters were written to Gordon Hannon by his brothers Leslie Hannon and Ian Hannon while they were both serving in France during World War I. Lesley was killed in action in Festubert on the 16th of May 1915 while Ian suffered the same fate on the 18th of August 1916. I wrote in June of the two young Athy men whose letters delivered to Ardreigh House during the first two years of the Great War were to arrive there again this time bound together with ribbon and in a box evidently of old age. Reading them evoked a poignant reminder of the futility of war and the wanton waste of human life which results. This was a theme I returned to in November when the men of Athy who fought in World War I were again remembered.
Henry Grattan Donnelly, Solicitor, featured in an article in June and how sad it is to relate that his son Barry has since passed away. The appearance of the Wexford Sinfonia in the Dominican Church on the 11th of June and the Literary Evening organised by the Athy Literary Group in Ballintubbert six days later prompted me to praise the efforts of all concerned while affording me an opportunity yet again to highlight the work of Rev. Thomas Kelly, Evangelist and hymn writer extraordinary. There were many such good cultural experiences throughout the year but the recent performance of Charlie Hughes in Greasepaint Youth Theatre's production of Smike was of particular merit. I look forward to the next performance on stage of Charlie who is clearly a talent born to tread the boards.
Fr. Paddy Finn wrote to me in July as a result of which I was able to pen a piece on his predecessor as Parish Priest of Dunlavin Canon John Hyland who with Paddy shared an Athy background. The times of the legendary John Farrell afforded me an opportunity to delve into times past in Athy and Ballylinan as far back as the 1920's. The summer holiday period brought an unusual high number of visitors to Athy including Mike Hickey from Blackpool whose grandparents John and Catherine Hickey lived in Higginsons Lane 80 years ago and who featured in the Eye on the Past. Another visitor was Jim Moran, now 88 years old and living in Luton who presented me with a photograph of Kilberry Pipe Band and more importantly gave me an amazing amount of information about the Band he had joined in 1917. My regret is that when I was flying into Luton every weekend during September and October I did not get an opportunity to call on this extraordinary Athy man whose memories of his native town are as immediate and as fresh as if he was recounting events of last week. Maybe another time Jim.
The passing of Joe Bermingham while I was on holidays prompted me to regret the loss of a priceless repository of local knowledge given that Joe was uniquely placed to correctly record and interpret the happenings of many decades past. As I wrote then "Castlemitchell owes him an enormous debt of gratitude".
The power and universality of Church music prompted an article on the links and similarities between Athy and a number of Bedfordshire towns with which I became very familiar during the latter part of the year. Not for the first time Rev. Thomas Kelly featured yet again. It is hard to disregard the man who died 140 years ago but whose hymns are still included in Church Hymnals throughout the English speaking world.
A visit to Maynooth College unearthed two important artefacts from Athy with which I was not previously acquainted. A 1634 Holy Week Book found in Athy and a silver cup presented to a former Sovereign of Athy in 1795 are important relics of our past and hopefully may in time return to our long awaited Heritage Centre.
The final month of the year saw articles on two nurses each of whom has worked to improve the lives of people in our town. Sr. Consilio is of course now a national figure for her contribution to helping people suffering from alcoholism. At the other end of the scale and very much a local heroine in her own quiet way is Nurse Brennan, the last Jubilee Nurse in Athy.
As always it is a pleasure helping to bring the past into focus each week not least for the wonderful response it provokes in the readers. To all who have written to me during the year or who have telephoned about the articles I say a big thank-you. I am always delighted to hear your comments and of course the stories which go to make up the tapestry of our local history. Happy New Year to you all.