Visiting Athy during the week was Margueritte Germaine of Florida, USA, who had last seen the town of her birth in 1939. Born Margueritte Orford, she was the eldest of two daughters of Joseph Orford of Foxhill House and Mary Baldwin formerly of 10 Woodstock Street. Her father came from a large family and in his time had studied for the Bar, emigrated to Australia, and on his return to Ireland carried on a car sales business in Dublin where he held the agency for Willis Automobiles.
Joseph’s wife Mary Baldwin was a sister of Carmel Baldwin and Jack & Jim Baldwin who lived in No. 10 Woodstock Street with their mother Margaret Baldwin, formerly Murphy. Both Jack & Jim Baldwin served as officers in World War 1 and while Jack suffered from gas poisoning both brothers survived and returned to Athy. Jim, who prior to the war, served as a British Army Officer in India, later enlisted in the Irish Free State Army and lived in Dublin until his death.
His brother Jack was a man of mystery. He was the engineer on the Barrow Drainage Scheme which had offices in the ground of St. John’s House which are now given over to car parking in the centre of the present town. He was one of the founders of the first soccer club in Athy but appears to have disappeared without trace sometime after 1939. Local folklore gives the impression that Jack Baldwin was lost during World War I but we now know that he returned safely from that European conflict. No one knows what happened to Jack. Not even his niece Margueritte who lost contact with him after her family emigrated to England in 1939.
Margueritte was born in 1922 in No. 10 Woodstock Street at the time when her parents were living in Foxhill House. Her mother planned her confinement for Dublin but apparently time was not on her side so a hasty retreat was beaten to her mother’s house in Woodstock Street where the first grandchild was born.
The Orford family continued to live in Foxhill House until 1929 when the house with 200 acres of land was sold to Jeremiah Maloney of Abbeyfeale, Co. Limerick for the sum of £900. It was a strange coincidence that saw me bringing the former child of Foxhill House out to see the house and its present occupiers on the 31st March. For it was on the 1st April 1929, almost 70 years to the day, that the Maloney family of Abbeyfeale took possession of the house and farm from Margueritte’s parents. Before we called to Foxhill house, she remembered the two-storey house and the apple tree which she looked out on from her bedroom window over 70 years ago. Her childhood memories of Foxhill House were crystalised as she stood on the front lawn of the house pointing out the window of her one time bedroom and the ancient apple tree which still stands today. It was a lovely moment and one made all the more pleasant by the kindness of Letitia and Terry Maloney who showed the 77 year old woman throughout the house where as a young girl she played with her only sister Blathnaid. With her on this, her first visit to Ireland since she left in 1939, was her son Pat, his wife and her son’s mother in law.
Margueritte Germaine who married a U.S. officer during World War II and emigrated to Florida in 1945 recalled with uncanny accuracy the names of people and places familiar to her 70 years ago. Although she went to school as a boarder to the Sisters of Mercy in Arklow, she maintained friendships in Athy with members of the Doyle family of Woodstock Street, the Whelans of William Street and Fortbarrington House and the Hollands of Model Farm. She recalled playing tennis in the Tennis Club behind Geraldine Park and was able to point out its location to me as we passed on the way out to Foxhill. Having spent some time with her granny in No. 10 Woodstock Street, she readily and with apparent ease, recalled the names of her neighbours in that street. Special mention was made of Mrs Telford who lived next door to Granny Baldwin and whom she described as always wearing purple while having a consistent dislike for children of all ages! This was the same Mrs Telford, whose son Seargeant Alfred Telford was killed in World War I and who later gave her son’s army service knife to a young Leo Byrne. This World War I artefact is now to be found in the heritage centre.
In St. Michael’s Cemetery is the Orford grave stone commemorating Thomas Orford and his wife Margaret both of Foxhill who died in 1911 and 1906 respectively. They were the grandparents of Margueritte. With them is buried their daughter Eleanor who died in 1917 aged 28 years, their daughter Mary who died in 1937 and their son John who died in 1958. John, who was the owner of the Nags Head in Leinster Street was brother of Joseph Orford, father of Margueritte Germaine.
There is apparently no member of the Orford family living in Athy today although I believe that the Orford family of Kilcullen are descendants of the Foxhill House family of the same name. Coming to Athy after 70 years gave Margueritte Germaine, formerly Orford, a rare opportunity of revisiting her memories of a town which has changed significantly in the interim but in some important respects remains recognisable. Crom a Boo bridge and White’s Castle is the one constant which every onetime resident of Athy can recall. In Margueritte’s case, she remembered and recalled the location of the Tennis Club, Peter P Doyle’s House, her granny’s house and many other features of the town which have survived over the years.
It is seldom that I meet visitors to Athy who have carried for so long and with such clarity childhood memories of the town in which they once lived. Margueritte Orford had an uncanny recall of times past in Athy stretching back over 70 years remembering families who are no longer part of our community. I hope that her visit to Athy gave her as much pleasure as I derived from meeting her. If any of my readers can give me any further information on the Orford or Baldwin families I would like to hear from them.