Early last year Frank Whelan’s life long involvement as a member of the Fianna Fail Party was the occasion of a presentation to him in the Castle Inn. It was a time for reminiscing and I put together some rough notes which I hoped would form the basis of a future Eye on the Past. As luck would have it the hastily compiled notes disappeared amongst the mass of paper which over time engulfed my desk. I tackled the mess during the Christmas holidays and retrieved these notes and many more which I carefully put aside with a view to putting pen to paper at an early date.
Unfortunately time, which has no respect for the tardy, caused me to regret my inefficiency when I was told on New Years day of the passing of Frank Whelan. Indeed the period since Christmas has been a sad one with so many deaths amongst the older generation in Athy. Elsewhere I have referred to the passing of John Allen, while in todays Eye on the Past I take the opportunity of paying my respects to near neighbours Frank Whelan and Pat Eston.
Although known as “Frank”, he was christened John Francis Whelan. As a young man, born in Ballylinan, he worked as a blacksmith with his father, also named Frank, who had a forge in the village. Indeed the Whelan family had a long involvement with blacksmitting. Frank’s grandfather Edward, a one time Chairman of the Land League in Ballyadams, had a forge in Loughlass. His four sons took up the craft, and each of them worked their own forges. Paddy Whelan had a forge at Timahoe and his brother Jim, who was later to work with Tom Brogan in Green Alley, had his forge at the Heath. Another brother Willie worked with his father Edward Whelan in Timahoe while Frank’s father eventually took over his Uncle’s forge in Ballylinan. Frank (Senior) married Kathleen Whelan, a teacher in Athy who was a member of the Cumann na mBan branch established in Athy in July 1914.
After his early training in the Ballylinan forge Frank (Jnr.) joined the Irish Army in 1940 and spent the next 5 or 6 years with the 1st Field Engineers, putting up army huts around the country. Frank’s father died in 1946 and around that time he went to work in Tom Brogan’s Forge in Green Alley joining his Uncle Jim. He recalled one of his early jobs with Brogan as the casting of horizontal bars for the Barrow Bridge. In 1948 he took up employment with C.I.E. as a road freight driver where he was to remain until he retired. Amongst his colleagues on the railway were Joe Murphy of Offaly Street, Jack McKenna of Castledermot, Dennis Gunner Whelan, “Pokie” Flynn, Brothers Ned and Mick Loughman, Andy Conville and Paddy Flanagan. Mick Loughman would later establish a garage business on the Kilkenny Road.
Between 1948 and 1952 Frank worked on the Post Office mail run collecting mail in Kildare for delivery to Athy, Carlow, Bagnalstown, Kilkenny, Bennettsbridge and Thomastown. On the return journey outgoing mail was collected and brought to Portarlington to be put on the evening train.
Later on Frank was involved in local deliveries around Athy and particularly remembers the early 1950’s when waste paper was a much sought after commodity. The local children were organised at school to collect waste paper and the material was then delivered by horse and dray to the Railway Station for onward journey to the paper mills in Waterford. The horse and dray remained a familiar sight around the town until the early 1960’s when they were replaced by a tractor and trailer.
Frank married Rose Timpson of Bennetsbridge in 1956 and they had three children, Frank, Mary and Betty. Rose sadly died in 1996, some 9 years after Frank had retired from C.I.E.
At last year’s presentation to Frank, reference was made to his having joined Fianna Fail at an early age. He was a staunch supporter of De Valera and played an active part in every National and Local Election held over the last fifty years. At different times he was Secretary and Chairman of the local Cumann and was it’s Honorary President at the time of his death.
At all times he played a significant and thoughtful part in the political process. His experience was often relied upon and many a youthful political candidate had occasion to welcome his astute and often invigorating response to whatever situation arose.
It was however not only in the local political sphere that Frank Whelan made a valuable contribution. He was involved with Barrowhouse Gaelic Football Club since it’s early years and for twenty years was the Club’s Honorary Secretary. Following that he was elected Chairman of the Club and later still Club President. During his working life he was a staunch Trade Unionist and was elected Chairman of the National Association of Transport Employees which has since amalgamated with S.I.P.T.U.
Frank’s near neighbour in Pairc Bhride was Pat Eston who also died last week. I first came across reference to Pat when I was researching shows put on in the Town Hall 50 and 60 years ago. The Black and White Minstrel Shows of the late 1930’s and early ‘40’s showcased the talents of locals such as Pat Eston and “Thrush” Kelly. Pat was a gifted tenor while “Thrush” who is regularly mentioned with Pat when people speak of the old Minstrels, was a whistler. Pat always responded kindly to my requests for an interview, invariably asking it to be left for another day. To my regret his story was never recorded and perhaps we can never have the opportunity to appreciate the Town Hall Shows and those local men and women who trod the boards so many years ago.
May these two good men rest in peace.