A Gaelic speaker from Ring in Co. Waterford, Paddy Walsh, despite 46 years spent in the settlers town on the " Marches of Kildare", still retains an affection for and a wonderful command of his native language. Paddy first came to Athy in August 1950 as Foreman with P.J. Walsh & Company, Tramore, who had been contracted by the local Town Council to clean the water pipes leading from the reservoir in Modubeigh, Co. Laois. His digs were in Minches Terrace with Nora Carbery and her husband, carpenter and Town Councillor Tom Carbery. Unlike other digs where you had your tea, washed and went out, Carberys treated their paying guests as members of the family. Discourse and discussion developed in front of the sitting room fire on winter evenings ably led by Tom Carbery, the man who brought many an Urban Council meeting to life with his direct methods and straight talking.
For the six months of the water main cleaning contract, P.J. Walsh & Company had two of its permanent staff in Athy, Paddy Walsh and Larry Murphy from Doneraile in Co. Cork. Local men employed included Chevit Doyle of St. Joseph's Terrace, "Twin" Power, Frankie Keane and Tom Hughes of Dooley's Terrace, "Red" Mick Keane of Barrack Street and Jack Chanders of St. Joseph's Terrace.
The cleaning of the towns water mains which had been installed in 1907 was a very difficult job which started after 6.00 p.m. each evening when the supply was cut off. The original cast iron pipes which 43 years previously had been brought by train from Dublin and then drawn by Johnny Rigney's horse and dray were meticulously cleaned every 300 yards or so by scrapers pulled through each opened pipe section. The road surface was opened with a jack hammer and a trench eight yards long by three foot deep and eighteen inches wide was dug by hand at the piece rate of three shillings a yard to gain access to the water main. The pipe was then cut and a hemp rope floated down the pipe to the next cutting 300 yards away. To the end of the hemp rope was attached a steel rope with a scraper which was pulled along the pipe to clean it.
It was a New Year's blind date with Nancy O'Rourke, daughter of local harness maker Paddy O'Rourke of Stanhope Street which was to lead to their marriage on the 11th of February 1953. Paddy left Athy when the Modubeigh contract finished but returned finally to live permanently in Athy in 1955. A period with Bord na Mona was soon followed by a 21 year stint in the Wallboard factory where he worked with Mick Doody in the boiler room.
He remembers with particular affection the camaraderie of the early days in the Wallboard factory with the likes of Charlie Holohan, William "Belgium" Cranny, Tom Murphy of Maganey and Jim Keeffe of Ardreigh. The Wallboard Company had been incorporated in 1939 but due to the intervention of the Second World War the necessary machinery could not be imported and the factory did not open until April 1949. The night before the factory went into production 1,700 tonnes of baled straw stored within yards of the factory buildings were destroyed by a fire which was subsequently the subject of a malicious damage claim.
When "The Wallboard", as it was generally known in Athy, closed down in 1977 Paddy joined Peerless Rugs from where he was to later become a member of the outdoor staff of Athy Urban District Council. He finally retired in 1990 and is now as busy as ever with his involvement in a number of local voluntary organisations.
Paddy's involvement in the promotion of the Irish language is inspired by his deep affection for the language he learned as a young boy in the Ring Gaeltact of Co. Waterford. It is no surprise then to find that he was one of the principle promoters of the Gaelic League in Athy during the 1950's and 1960's when the efforts of Maisie Candy, Dorothy Mullan, Peadar O'Murchu, Mick Kelleher, Kevin Meaney and others obtained sixth place for Athy in the Glor na nGael Competition in the under 10,000 population category. Paddy received a cheque from President Hilary on behalf of the Athy Committee, an event which is recorded in the photograph which has pride of place on his sitting room wall.
Paddy also founded the Padraig Pearse Commemmoration Committee in Athy along with Paddy Dooley who was a former pupil of St. Enda's School in Dublin. It was one of the last Na Pearsaig Clubs in the country and I was reminded by Paddy that I had presented to the Committee some years ago a Cup in memory of the late Sean MacFheorois for a competition between the local schools.
Paddy is also involved with many good causes in or around Athy including the Care of the Elderly Committee of which he has been Vice-Chairman for a number of years. He revived the Athy Dog Show in or about 1971 and it still continues each year as a very successful feature. About 10 years ago with Eileen Goulding he founded a local branch of the Guide Dogs Association and arranges their Annual Walk and Flagday each year to provide much needed financial support for the association.
To Paddy I leave the final word in an Irish poem he composed quite recently which amply demonstrates his affection for his adopted town of Athy.
"Nac aoibhinn mo Shaol deire an lae,
Is an ghrian ag dul faoi um thrathnona
Nil scamall so speir no scail ar mo chroi
Is me suite cois na Bearra ag iascaireacht.
Ta aoibhneas ann seachas ait ar domhan
An Moinin is an bearra ag meascadh le cheile
Is na cnoca glasa go geal is go neata
Cuilleoga Mheithimh i mbarr an uisce
Is breaic ag eiri chun feasta,
Is molaim Tu a Dhia mar thug Tu duinn Ath I
An Bhearra, Tobararra is an Moinin."