I have often found over the years that the summer holidays are almost always a time of sudden unexpected deaths. So many times I have returned from a holiday to find that someone known to me has passed away unexpectedly, and almost always to find the funeral has taken place. This summer has been no different in that regard. Within the last few weeks three local people with whom I have had contact over the years have died and in each case while I was away from Athy.
Kevin Meany of St. Patrick's Avenue I had known since I was a young fellow eagerly perusing the shelves of the local library in search of the latest unread detective novel. In those days my voracious appetite for reading was easily satisfied and a weekly novel coupled with my daily diet of comics was the extent of my young aspirations for literary appreciation. The local library of the 1950's was a small affair compared to the information emporium it is today. It too was based in the Town Hall but in a small room which I must say to my young eyes seemed then more than adequate to meet the town's thirst for knowledge. After all it took me ages to decide what book to borrow from the packed shelves which were to be found at the top of the darkened stairs which led from the street directly opposite Mrs. Meehan's chemist shop. The staircase may not indeed have been dark at all but since the local Freemasons Lodge met in a room at the top of the same stairs you can appreciate how a young fellow fed on stories of the secret and "demonic" activities of the brotherhood might well feel that the stairs too was a dark and sinister place.
But not so the library room. On arrival you were greeted by Kevin Meany, the friendly and knowledgable man who delighted in talking and sharing his love and knowledge of books and bookmen. Maybe it was Kevin's interest in local history which was passed on to me. Certainly I can recall that it was Kevin who first brought to my attention the book, written in 1847 on the 1798 Rebellion by local man Patrick O'Kelly. Kevin's interest in Athy extended far beyond local history and it was he who restarted the Gaelic League in the late 1940's.
When I left Athy and "emigrated" to Naas to work for Kildare County Council I often met Kevin on his frequent visits to St. Mary's, the one time tubercular hospital but by then the headquarters of the Council. He was always an engaging conversationalist and my deep regret is that Kevin was one of many that I had not interviewed before he passed away.
Someone I had talked to was Sr. Xavier Cosgrave who died a few short weeks after I had written about her in Eye on the Past. As one of the "Galway nuns" she had been a frequent caller on my mother, who was also from the West of Ireland, and had expended much energy in attempting to teach my brother Tony how to play the piano. Neither I think benefited from the experience.
I remember the last time we met when St. Xavier, in good spirits, talked to me of her years in Athy. Indeed feeling that she may have unburdened herself of too much personal detail she spent a restless night before phoning me the following morning to urge caution. She need not have worried and was more than happy with the article when it appeared. Sr. Xavier died shortly after one of her former pupils, Kitty McLaughlin had herself passed away. Kitty had been a long time officer of Athy Urban District Council and former member of Athy Social Club and had helped me in many ways in preparing previous articles. She had been in the first ever class taken by St. Xavier in the Convent of Mercy in 1935 and had recalled for me her classmates of that time. Little did she know that she was to die shortly before her teacher, unexpectedly and much missed by her many friends in Athy.
Kevin, Kitty and Sr. Xavier all died in recent weeks when the summer heat was energising the land and reinvigorating spent limbs recovering from the cold and rain of last winter. Their passing saddened me.
May they rest in peace.