Thursday, July 6, 2000

Knights of Malta and the Evans Family

I was reminded of a forgotten Leinster Medal when I met the former Brigid Evans of Offaly Street during the week. Brigid married Anthony Dunne of St. Joseph’s Terrace in 1955 and it was around that same time that a Cadet unit was formed within the local Knights of Malta Corps and Anthony was appointed as Cadet Master.

I joined the Cadets soon afterwards and remember Saturday mornings spent on parade in the school yard in St. John’s Lane where we marched up and down under the watchful eye of Cadet Master Dunne. Anthony was a barber who worked in a back room saloon attached to O’Rourke-Glynns at the corner of Woodstock Street having spent some years in Cunningham’s Barber Shop of Dublin Street, Carlow. In addition to parade drill we learned as best we could about greenstick fractures, clavicles and scapulas before being examined by Dr. Joe O’Neill who certified us for membership of the Knights of Malta. Supplied with a bag of medical aids which generally consisted of a few bandages and some smelling salts and with the ever present water bottle we were suitably uniformed and ready for any disaster. Lucky for us and for all our potential clientele our endeavours were largely confined to Sunday games at Geraldine Park where we sat near the sidelines ready for the inevitable call for assistance. When it came we ran onto the pitch heading in the direction of the hapless victim but carefully timing our advance in the fervent hope that he would rise before our limited medical knowledge was exposed before the gaze of every onlooker.

If assistance was required it was generally confined to giving a drink from the ubiquitous water bottle or helping up the player and bending him over a few times in the hopeful expectation that he was only winded. As a Cadet I could always look to the senior volunteer to take charge of any situation and so the infield trips were not as worrying as one might expect for an inexperienced teenager.

First aid competitions between the Knights of Malta Corps throughout Ireland were held each year and Athy’s Cadet team won the provincial final in Navan in 1958 with a team comprised of Pat Flinter, Anthony Pender, Pat Timpson, Frank English and yours truly. We subsequently represented Leinster in the All Ireland Finals in Limerick but failed to repeat our earlier success.

Anthony Dunne who was our Cadet Master at the time later opened up his own Barbers Shop in what is now Ann’s Flower Shop opposite the Castle Inn. Tragically he died suddenly in 1968 aged 46 years leaving a widow and two young children Martina and Tony.

Talking to his wife Brigid who subsequently remarried I was brought back not only to my Knights of Malta days but even earlier still to Offaly Street where I once lived and where I knew so many wonderful people. Brigid’s parents were Joseph and Mary Evans who lived in the small house at what is now the corner of Beechgrove. Joe whose own father was from Wales died in 1957, the year of the Asian Flu, while Mary died six years later. Their family of four girls and a son John were all brought up in Offaly Street from where Kathy, the eldest, left to take up a job in the famous Jammets Restaurant in Dublin. She later married Tom O’Donnell, a Mayo born Garda and they had seven children. Her sister Nan went to England in the 1940’s and eventually settled in Wolverhampton after marrying Pat Kiely, a Cork man. Eileen who was a neighbour of ours in Offaly Street married Tom Pender of Cardenton and they had two children Noel and Mary. Tom who once worked in the Asbestos factory and later still in the IVI was better known locally as “Tawney” Prendergast.

Brigid’s only brother John lived in the family home in Offaly Street after his parents passed away. John who spent his working life in the IVI apart from a short period with Bord na Mona never married and died six years ago aged 64 years.

Brigid Evans left full time education in 1943 after spending two years in the local Technical School. Like many other women of the time she got a job in the local Batchelor’s Pea Factory where she had as work mates Mary Ward, Ena Mullery, Biddy Bennett of Janeville Lane, the late Mary O’Rourke and her future husband’s sisters Esther, Dinah and Sheila Dunne. She worked there for three years under chargehand Peg Timpson before leaving to join her sister Nan in London. Brigid recalled that early trip to Holyhead sitting on the slatted outside seats of the mail boat before boarding the boat train for the long onward trip to Euston Station. She returned to Ireland after a few months and got back her job in Batchelor’s where she continued working until struck down by Tuberculosis in 1952.

Admitted to Peamount Sanatorium in December 1952 Brigid remained there until discharged in February 1954, completely cured of that most deadly disease by medication and rest alone. Brigid admits to having a great time in Peamount where she made many friends and recalled many happy days. When she married Anthony Dunne in July 1955 her bridesmaid was Vera O’Connor of Navan who had spent time with her in Peamount. Special guests on that day were two of her other good friends from her time in hospital, Anna Mitchell of Athboy and Marie Losty of Kilmessan. Her joyful memories of Peamount dispel the oft held belief that it was an institution full of gloom and misery. “They were fun days” she said, recalling times spent at the hospital cinema and visits by celebrities such as Pete Murray of Radio Luxembourg fame.

The connections made by marriage between the local families of Evans, Dunne and Prendergast bring into focus the widespread dispersal of people over the decades. The Evans family of Offaly Street now have family connections with Dublin, Wolverhampton and Athy while the Prendergast family members are to be found in Dublin, Kildangan and Athy, with the Dunnes, formerly of St. Joseph’s Terrace in London, Bristol, Tralee, Coill Dubh and Graiguecullen.

The economic rigours of the 1940’s and the 1950’s presented few options for young people and the journey to England was all too often the only alternative to unemployment in ones own town. Brigid Evans was one of the very few lucky individuals who got a job and later the chance to marry and settle down in the town where she was born and reared. That in the Ireland of fifty years ago was a rare privilege to be cherished.

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