Just a few short weeks ago I had occasion to write of Brothers John Murphy and Joseph Quinn who were the last Christian Brothers to serve in the town prior to their departure from Athy in January 1995. When my article appeared I was on holidays and unaware that Brother Quinn was in a Dublin Hospital. He died last week and was buried in the Christian Brothers’ cemetery attached to St. Patrick’s, Baldoyle.
It is not very fashionable nowadays for those who depended on the Christian Brothers for their education to acknowledge the very great debt owed to the dedicated men who were at the forefront of education in Ireland over the last 170 years. For myself and my classmates from Athy and surrounding countryside the Christian Brothers School in Athy provided an education which I am satisfied was as good as anything obtainable in the many private colleges throughout Ireland. Clearly not everyone was happy in the surroundings of a Christian Brothers School as evidenced by the horrible news stories which have appeared in our National Newspapers over the past few years. On balance however the good perpetuated by those Christian Brothers who lived out their lives in a manner befitting their vocation far exceeded the evil doings of the few.
I was mindful of this when attending the funeral of Brother Quinn in Baldoyle, as no doubt was the large contingent of Athy people who came to pay their respects to a good man. Brother Quinn, although born in County Roscommon, had spent his formative years in County Kildare and there was no stauncher follower of Kildare football. He followed the Lilywhites with great fervour and well I recall some years ago his delight when Kildare reached for the first time in many years a Leinster Football final. Brother Quinn saw an opportunity to remember the event in song while earning some badly needed funds for his basketball clinics in Athy. Sadly the success of his venture was not matched by the footballers on the field of play. He was justifiably proud of Padraig Gravin, his grand-nephew who played with the Lilywhites and had hoped that the 1998 All Ireland Football Final would be a fitting culmination to a lifetime’s dedication to the fortunes of the shortgrass County. Alas his hopes and expectations were dashed by a second-half resurrection of almost Biblical proportions by the Galway men.
Athy was Brother Quinn’s eleventh posting following his profession as a Christian Brother in 1943. The first young boys he taught were in the Christian Brothers School in Tuam, Co. Galway and it was marvellous to meet a representative of a Tuam class taught by Brother Quinn over 50 years ago who travelled to Baldoyle for the funeral. As an avid follower of Gaelic Football Brother Quinn would have been delighted by his presence for the one time pupil was none other than the legendary footballer Sean Purcell. This was the man who with Frank Stockwell earned the sobriquet “the terrible twins” following the 1956 football Championship which Galway won, defeating Cork in the final. Regarded as one of the finest footballers ever to grace Croke Park Purcell recently won recognition as a member of the team of the century when he was chosen as a centre-half forward on that team.
Sean Purcell remembered Brother Quinn as a young Christian Brother when he came to Tuam in the mid-1940’s and recalled the huge legacy of goodwill left behind when he departed to take up a teaching post in Glasnevin, Co. Dublin. Sean Purcell never forgot the young Christian Brother whose funeral he travelled so far to attend. As I spoke with him I could not but wonder how Kildare would have fared against Galway if Danny Flood and his colleagues had followed up their success in the 1956 Leinster Final with a win over Cork in the semi-final. The genial Tuam footballing giant admitted with a self effacing smile that Kildare might have secured their long awaited All Ireland Final success that year if they had reached the final. I very much doubt it but as ever Sean Purcell was too gentlemanly to say otherwise.
Some weeks ago I mentioned in passing the future development of second level education in Athy. In particular I referred to the desirability of creating a campus in Rathstewart where the boys and girls secondary schools soon to be amalgamated could be joined by St. Brigid’s School. This I speculated would permit second level education in the town to benefit from economies of scale which are not at present attainable due to the current fragmentation of school facilities. Several people have spoken to me since my article appeared and there would seem to be support for the schools coming together with increased and better school facilities. It would be great if the matter might be looked at by those in authority before the Convent of Mercy and it’s extensive grounds are swallowed up for commercial development.
While I am on my soap box might I also mention something which exercised a lot of minds earlier this year. It is how we intend to celebrate the new year and the dawning of the new millennium. The parties and outings confidently planned earlier this year would not now seem such a good idea as the wage demands of those required to the work on the night are clarified. The occasion will of course be unique and we will be the first of thirty-five generations to usher in a new millennium. I am surprised at the apparent lack of preparation to celebrate the event other than by “booze-up’s” whether in pubs, clubs or elsewhere. Surely this is an occasion when the local people should come together as a community to celebrate in a more suitable way than the customary weekend drinking bouts. I have in mind the entire community coming together in the centre of our town on the last night of the year to celebrate an event which will not be witnessed for another one thousand years. The current millennium has witnessed the fragmentation of communities where religious differences created and sustained divisions. Wouldn’t it be a fitting end to the old millennium and an opportunity for renewal if the Town Council, the Chamber of Commerce and all the local Churches would facilitate the local people in coming together under the stars on New Years Eve night to celebrate in a suitable manner a unique night in the history of the world!