Thursday, September 18, 1997

Fire Brigade

One of the many happy memories I have of the late 1950’s in Athy is that of the Fireman’s competitions which were held in the back square. In those simple pre television days the sight of Tom Langton with Christy “Bluebeard” Dunne and their colleagues running to connect water hoses to the Fire Brigade pump and then knocking down a target with a jet of water was always assured to generate a cheering response from the bystanders. These were the men who manned Athy’s Fire Brigade and they pushed back the advancing years every time they bent themselves to be faster at their tasks than their neighbouring fire brigade personnel.

Their names came flooding back to me as I talked last week to “Neddie” Delahunt who joined the Fire Brigade in 1957. As a youngster of 32 years “Neddie” was the junior in an eight man team which was headed up by Bob Webster of Offaly Street. Bob was the station officer and he lived in Offaly Street almost opposite the cinema where at one time he had been manager. Bob was a brother of Fireman Jack Webster who lived in Butler’s Row. Both had been painters and decorators in their time and indeed Jack continued as such long after his brother Bob took on the management of the local cinema.

The station sub officer was Matt McHugh of McDonnell Drive who had operated the foundry in Meeting Lane with his brother Mick of St. Michael’s Terrace. Mick was also a fireman and the McHughs were the second set of brothers in the local Fire Brigade.

The men who stick out in my memory more than anyone else were the earlier mentioned Tom Langton and Christy “Bluebeard” Dunne. Tom’s laughing face with the fireman’s helmet jauntily pushed back on his head is fixed in my memory. He was a most popular man who lived then in one of the small houses, now gone, near Jacob’s present shop in Leinster Street. In his day job Tom was a postman and both Tom and his wife Marie are remembered as wonderful ballroom dancers.

I knew “Bluebeard” better than I did any of the other fireman as like myself he was a member of the CYMS. While I played snooker under the watchful eye of Mattie Brennan in the hall in St. John’s “Bluebeard” was inside in the card room playing cards with the likes of Ned Cranny and Tom Moore. Several years were to pass before I was able to join them at the card table and a sharper shrewder card player I cannot recall. He had an uncanny instinct for “seeing” the bluff in a game of poker and a never unfailing knack of increasing the ante on anyone who waivered. He was a great friend of the CYMS and enlivened the place with his quick wit which was sharpened in the smoke filled room in St. John’s Lane. Christy worked in the Asbestos factory and was to pass away long before his time as did his colleagues Jack Webster, Tom Langton and Mick McHugh.

When Jack Webster died his son Tom replaced him in the Fire Brigade. Tom was a good friend of mine during our young days in Offaly Street and is now station officer in Athlone where he has lived for many years. By a happy coincidence Jack’s widow Cecilia Webster who lived for so long in Butler’s Row at a time when it was a terrace of small houses has recently returned there to live in one of the beautiful houses built for the local Council.

Christy Dunne Junior joined his father as a member of Athy Fire Brigade and when Christy “Bluebeard” died his place was taken by his second son Tim. He is now the full time station officer based in Athy. Another man who later joined the local Fire Brigade was the late Jack Webster’s son Robbie.

“Neddie” Delahunt recalls the days when the local firefighting equipment consisted of a trailer pump which was hauled to each fire by either Mick Finn’s or Mick Rowan’s lorry. It was not until 1959 or thereabouts that Kildare County Council purchased the first purpose built fire tender for Athy and it was around the same time that the ground floor of the Town Hall was used as the Fire Station. Prior to that the trailer pump was kept in the Council yard at Meeting Lane.

The ready availability of Finn’s or Rowan’s lorry could not always be guaranteed and Neddie recalls one occasion which the volunteer firemen were never to forget. Responding quickly to the fire siren they togged out and stood ready with the trailer pump awaiting the arrival of one of the lorries. As they waited on the Square the saw the Curragh fire tender race through the town on the way to the fire in Ballylinan. Another one and a half hours were to pass as they waited in vain for their transport to arrive. The Athy firemen were marooned that day and stood crestfallen and somewhat bemused as their Curragh colleagues later passed through Athy on their way home from the fire. It was soon afterwards that Athy got its first fire tender.

The local fire brigade has a very proud record of service to the local community. Whether called upon to attend at fires, road traffic accidents or to render assistance in any situation the fire brigade personnel always perform their duties with enormous dedication and skill.

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