Last week Minch Norton celebrated 150 years in Athy. Theirs is truly a wonderful record of achievement and one which was fittingly recognised when the Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy paid a visit to the factory on Friday. In the present modern production facility there is little to remind us of the past years when malting work was carried out under difficult circumstances. The now unused chimney stacks on the older Minch Norton buildings are a silent reminder of those early days when men laboured with wooden shovels in the malt houses. Do you remember the malt house in Stanhope Street occupying the site opposite Noonan’s public house? Not many, if indeed anyone, can go back so far as to recall the malt house in Offaly Street where the cinema was later located or the Malthouse in Rathstewart where Batchelors factory is situated. Now however all of Minch Nortons malting activities are centered in their Kilkenny Road complex and it was there last week that the 150 years celebrations took place.
Another celebration during the week was occasioned by the 50th anniversary of the ordination of Fr. Peter Hickey which took place on 20th December. A member of a local Kilberry family and now a member of the Dominican Community it was appropriate that Athy Urban District Council should honour Fr. Hickey on his Golden Jubilee. Son of Peter and Elizabeth Hickey of Kilberry, he was born in October 1921, the second youngest in the family of seven boys and six girls. He attended Kilberry National School and for a short while Barrowhouse National School while his sister Sheila was teaching there. She was later to join the Sisters of Mercy in Athy where as Sr. Michael she was principal of the Primary School for many years.
At nineteen years of age Peter Hickey entered the Dominican novitiate in St. Mary’s, Cork. As a native of Athy Peter was undoubtedly following in the footsteps of many Athy men who joined the Order of Preachers since the Order first established a monastery in Athy in 1253. After seven years of study Peter Hickey was ordained to the priesthood on 20th December, 1947 by John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of All Ireland. By then his brother Willie and sister Jenny had died, while brothers Ted and Paddy were in America and New Zealand respectively.
After three years in the Retreat House in Tallaght, Co. Dublin he was assigned to the Missions in Trinidad in 1950. A country about one fourteenth the size of Ireland, the islands Trinidad and Tobago form an archipelago located near the Orinoco River Delta of the Venezuelan Coast. With a population of about one million people oil production is the principal form of production. With a slight majority of people of African origin and a large minority descended from Asian Indians, European and Chinese groups make up a small minority of the population. Mainly Christian with a Catholic majority Trinidad has a substantial minority of Hindus and Muslims.
It was to there that Fr. Hickey sailed from Cobh via New York in October 1950 to take up his first post as Chaplain to the Colonial Hospital and also to the prison in the Trinidad Capital of Port-of-Spain. As the hospital name would indicate Trinidad was in 1950 still a British colony but Fr. Hickey’s arrival coincided with the granting of internal autonomy and the holding of elections. In 1962 after a brief period as members of the West Indian Federation, Trinidad and Tobago gained independence from Britain. Fourteen years later a Republic was declared.
Fr. Hickey travelled to America in 1952 for a holiday during which he performed marriage ceremonies in Pittsburgh for his two brothers Tom and Ted. Returning to Trinidad he was appointed to the Parish of Rio Claro, an inland town on the island. After ten years in Trinidad Fr. Peter returned to Ireland on holidays and remained two years as Bursar in Newbridge College. In 1962 he returned to the Missions in Trinidad where he remained for another five years before he returned to St. Saviours Monastery in Waterford. He served there as Bursar and sub-Prior for a number of years before transferring to St. Dominic’s in Athy twelve years ago.
I have often felt that the Dominican Order’s links with Athy stretching back all of 744 years are one of our town’s most important historical elements. Throughout virtually the entire life of Athy from early village to mediaeval town to the 20th century town the Order of Preachers have had a presence here. This most valued connection has seen the Dominican Monastery firstly on the East bank of the River Barrow, later still in the area of the present Kirwan’s Lane when it was called Convent Lane before the Monastery re-located in the 18th century to Riversdale House. Fr. Peter Hickey has spent the last twelve years of his priesthood amongst the people of his home town of Athy. A nephew of the formidable Monsignor Hickey, late President of Clonliffe College, the Kilberry born priest has earned the respect and esteem of all with whom he has come in contact.
The local Urban District Council in recognising his Golden Jubilee as a priest has also acknowledged the importance of the Dominican Order to present day Athy and the Order’s significance in the history of our town. In the same week that the Dominican priest Fr. Hickey was honoured, a local firm celebrated it’s contribution to the local economy over the past 150 years. To both go our congratulations and good wishes. The Minch Norton Maltings and the Dominicans have become synonymous with Athy and long may they both flourish.