Thursday, March 26, 1998

Mrs. Josephine Gibbons

Towards the middle of the last century Edward O’Connor operated a small dairy from the premises now occupied by Gerry Lynch at Stanhope Street. His only son Richard was a cattle dealer and a lifelong member of the C.Y.M.S. when it was located at the corner of Stanhope Place. Edward’s daughter Mary Ann born in 1880 was married at eighteen years of age to a young railway clerk, then employed by the G.S. and W.R. in Athy. John Horgan was a Cork man whose love of hurling led him to start a hurling team in the South Kildare town of Athy at a time when cricket was then the most popular field sport in the area. The young couple’s first two children, Edward and Thomas, died in infancy and in 1902 the first of eight children to survive was born. Mary, known to family members as Molly, was later to marry Jim Tierney of Woodstock Street and they eventually set up home in Emily Row. The next child Jack born in 1905 was destined to join his father on the railway and he served as the Station Master in Cahir, Co. Tipperary before retiring to England where he died.

John Horgan was promoted from railway clerk at the Athy Station to Station Master in Pallasgreen, Co. Limerick and was later transferred to take charge of the Railway Station at Harristown, Co. Kildare in 1912. Six more children were born between 1906 and 1920, Hannah, Josephine, Lar, Richard, Catherine and William.

The Station Master’s house at Harristown was a big red brick house from where the Horgan children watched the trains passing each day on the Naas/Tullow railway line. The 8.30am passenger train to Dublin was followed by the 11.30am train to Tullow, with an afternoon train to Dublin and the last train at 7.30pm on the down line to Tullow. In between the scheduled passenger trains the goods train shunted up and down the tracks bringing freight for the local shopkeepers and cattle to the Dublin market. The large freight store at Harristown was generally full of goods awaiting collection by local shopkeepers and publicans.

Such were the memories of Josephine Horgan who attended the primary school in nearby Two-Mile-House and who later travelled each day by train to the convent secondary school in Naas. The idyllic times were shattered when Station Master John Horgan died suddenly when out hunting with his eldest son Jack in 1924. He was buried at Coughlanstown near Ballymore Eustace with his young son Richard who had died just two weeks previously. Within another two weeks a letter was received by the young widow now left with seven children requiring her to vacate the Station Master’s house within seven days. Fortunately she was able to return to her native town of Athy to live with her unmarried brother Richard who was still residing in the O’Connor family home in Stanhope Street.

So it was that Josephine Horgan who was born 90 years ago in Pallasgreen, Co. Limerick came to the town where she was to spend all of her adult years. Josephine took up work as a seamstress and in 1937 with her mother and her younger brother William moved into 19 Emily Square which they rented from Mrs. Minchin who was then living in England. Within two years Josephine was married to local man and widower Frank Gibbons who had returned to his native town of Athy from Dublin with his young son Fintan. Frank was a staunch republican whose parents Frank Lawlor Gibbons and Josephine Gibbons [nee Proctor] of St. Martin’s Terrace were at different times reporters for the Leinster Leader Newspaper. Frank’s brother Paddy, a staunch member of the Gaelic League, was the local librarian in the late 1930’s. He married Bella Blanchfield of Leinster Street before emigrating to England in 1941 where he since died.

Josephine Gibbons remembers times past in Athy with nostalgia, recalling the silent films in the Offaly Street Cinema where Jean Duthie of Killart played the piano. The Motor Club Annual Dances held in the Town Hall which she attended with her good friends Alice Hughes and May Kelly are mentioned with particular pleasure, especially the Club Dance once held in Lefroys of Cardenton. She remembers the building of the houses in St. Patrick’s Avenue nearly 70 years ago and recalls when there were only two houses on the Kildare Road - Shamrock Lodge occupied by the Misses Baggots and a thatched farmhouse on the right hand side beyond Botharnooka Cross occupied by Miss Harrington who taught in the Vocational School in Stanhope Place.

Josephine’s younger brother Bill on marrying Ann Lawler lived at No. 1 St. Patrick’s Avenue after the death of it’s first tenant Mrs. Corcoran, a sister of Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill. Bill, like Josie’s husband Frank, worked in the Asbestos factory and both men sadly passed away many years ago. Bill was a leading member of Athy Golf Club at the time of his death, while Frank Gibbons, long retired from the Republican Movement, died in 1960 leaving a very young family.

Josephine continued to work from No. 19 Emily Square as a seamstress and also rented out her two front rooms to local Doctors to help keep herself financially independent. Dr. Cowhey opened his surgery there in 1954 and he was followed by Dr. Gleeson and later by Dr. Brian Maguire who held his surgery there for almost twenty years. Her children Raymond, Valerie and Lorraine have all done well and both of her daughters are married and living in Canada. Josephine tells me that she has travelled to Canada on no less than 41 occasions, the last time in 1997 when she was 89 years of age. She was a good friend of my late mother and I can still recall her visits to 5 Offaly Street where the two mothers, one from County Limerick, the other from County Mayo talked late into the night. In those days I never knew her as anything other than “Mrs. Gibbons” and having talked to her of her life and of her family I came away with admiration for her extraordinary recall and strength of character.

Life has not always been easy for the Station Master’s daughter since that day nearly 75 years ago when her father unexpectedly died. Her own happy married life was brought to a sudden unexpected end just like her own mother’s, at a time when her children were still of school going age. That she has managed to retain her wonderful zest for life is a tribute to her courage and indomitable spirit.

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