The oldest society in Athy has closed its door, possibly for the last time. The Catholic Young Men’s Society is no more and the billiard and snooker table so beloved of young and not so young alike have been disassembled and put in storage.
My earliest memory of the CYMS is of the building which occupied a corner site next to the Parish Church in Stanhope Street. Originally built as a Parish School in the early part of the 19th century it was part of the Sisters of Mercy Convent School from 1851. The building was later adopted and used by the CYMS from 1892. With the introduction of technical instruction in 1900 part of the building was requisitioned for use as a Technical school and continued to be so used until the opening of St. Brigid’s School on the Carlow Road in 1940. Thereafter the “L” shaped three room building remained the centre of CYMS activity for another thirty years.
I can just about remember Patrick Webb of St. Patrick’s Avenue who was the Caretaker of the CYMS in the 1950’s. He had been appointed to that position in 1954 after a number of other local men had held the job for short periods. E. Keogh was Caretaker for four months after replacing Christopher Ward who held the job for an even shorter period. Before them Patrick Hayden was Caretaker for one year while Jack Doyle had taken on the role in May 1949 and remained for almost three and a half years. George Sharpe was Caretaker from December 1945 until he died in May 1949 and he had replaced Richard Connor who filled the position during the Second World War. Thomas Maher was for many years previously the CYMS Caretaker and during his term he served under at least three Honorary Secretaries including Anthony Reeves of Reevesmount, Fintan Brennan of Rathstewart and Jimmy O’Higgins of Woodstock Street. Jimmy was Honorary Secretary of the CYMS between 1935 and 1948 when the position was taken up by M. McEvoy who resigned five years later to be replaced by J. McEvoy.
The Minutes of the CYMS meetings held during the 1920’s and 1930’s invariably noted Canon McDonnell, P.P. as being in the Chair which he almost always vacated before the meeting ended resulting in the usual note by the Honorary Secretary, “at this stage Canon McDonnell left the meeting”. Usually at the AGM of the Society the Canon would speak of the evils of communism which was perennially condemned by the Bishops in their pastorals. The evils of anti-Christian periodicals was another source of concern for the Canon whose admonitions to the AGM’s were faithfully recorded. However, billiards and snooker, together with card playing and the throwing of rings were more favoured activities of Society Members in the pre War years. The Society’s Honorary Secretary on occasions had practical matters to report as when, for instance, in March 1932 he secured the Committee’s agreement that if “the Gallery” insisted on interfering during a game of cards the card players would have the right to have the offenders removed from the Club premises.
The high stakes at card games were always a source of concern for the spiritual director of the CYMS and invariably the concerns of the Catholic Curates who occupied that role were transmitted to the Lay Committee. This inevitably lead to numerous Committee decisions banning the playing of cards for high stakes. What constituted high stakes was not clarified until the 1942 Committee limited poker games to an opening stake of six pence, with the highest bet of ten shillings raising by a maximum of 2/6. A reference in the 1947 Minute Book to playing “on the bow” may be understood by some of my readers but I must confess to never having previously heard of the activity which was actively discouraged by the Committee. Inevitably the poker players came into conflict with the Committee as when the March 1950 Committee discussed a complaint by Fr. Carey C.C. regarding a “late” and “very high” poker game which went on until 1.30a.m. on Tuesday, 3rd January. The Committee which consisted of Tom Moore, J. Prendergast. J. McEvoy, Tosh Doyle, Michael McCabe and T. Purcell decided that if there was any reoccurrence the game of poker would “be stopped completely in the Club.”
The CYMS which had started in the town in 1862 or thereabouts affiliated to the Diocesan Council of the CYMS in January 1953. The local branch was now renamed “Our Lady of Fatima” and arrangements were made for a statue to be erected on the premises and for the Rosary to be said each night at 8.30p.m. For how long this lasted I cannot say but certainly I can’t remember any religious aspect to membership of the CYMS in the late 1950’s. That same year it was agreed to celebrate An Tostal, starting with the members marching to 10.15 a.m. Mass on Sunday, 12th April. On the following Tuesday a lecture was arranged with Fr. Kehoe C.C., Fintan Brennan and Liam Ryan as speakers. The Irish and Papal flags were flown during the An Tostal celebrations and it was agreed that the CYMS premises were to be decorated and cleaned for the same purpose.
In July 1952 the CYMS Committee consisting of J. McEvoy, J. Daly, Tom Moore, M. McCabe, Paul Matthews, J. Cardiff, John McEvoy, J. Jackson and Willie Bracken decided to hold what the Minutes described as “the first ever dance held ever by the Branch”. In point of fact a previous CYMS Dance had been held in 1936. Nevertheless the 1954 occasion was somewhat special as Athy CYMS had invited Howth CYMS to Athy where a football match was arranged to be followed by a Ceili and old time Dance in the Town Hall. Strangely the football game was played in Kilberry rather than Geraldine Park. Was this perhaps the time when the Geraldine pitch was undergoing development or did it merely reflect the fact that Tom Moore, Secretary of the Rheban Football Club was in charge of the sporting arrangements.
Looking back over the years of my membership of the CYMS I can recall some of the great characters who were once part and parcel of the Club. “Blue Beard” Dunne, “Sooty” Hayden, Ned Cranny, Willie Bracken and Tom Moore were just some of those men who were so involved in the running of the oldest Club in town. Sadly the CYMS left its premises at Stanhope Street after an occupancy of almost 70 years in 1960 to facilitate the building of St. Michael’s Church. Moving to the former Social Club in St. John’s Lane the Society seemed to lose something in the move and never quite garnered the enthusiasm and life it had enjoyed in it’s former premises. In 1984 the Society was on the move again, this time by agreement with the Parish Priest and the support of the Sisters of Mercy to Mount St. Mary’s in Stanhope Place. This signalled the death knell of the CYMS and with falling membership the uneven struggle was lost when the Club premises was closed for the last time.
Efforts are being made to bring together the Minute Books of the CYMS for some of these records are missing. If anyone knows where any material, record book or documents relating to the local branch of the CYMS are located I would welcome hearing from them.