Thursday, October 19, 2000

Eye on the Past - Book Launch

This column has been coming to you for over eight years. I can still vividly recall the occasion when Barbara Sheridan, then the Nationalist reporter for the Athy area, phoned me with an invitation to write a weekly article on local history for the Athy page. My immediate reaction was to demur, not I may say out of my false sense of modesty but rather out of concern at my ability to keep to the strict requirements of a weekly deadline. So it was that I left Barbara’s request unanswered for a few weeks, prompting a letter from her followed up by another phone call. Eventually almost three months after the initial request was made I agreed to try my hand at producing a weekly column for your local newspaper.

Preparing Eye on the Past each week has proved to be an enriching and rewarding experience. After all I had spent several years before then researching the history of my home town in the expectation, that this would result in a published work on the town of Athy. That research never seemed to end, every new line of enquiry leading to previously unknown elements of the towns story. Inevitably that same research was to form the basis for many of the articles produced in the Eye on Athy page. However, the need to get away from the sometimes impersonal detail which clouds the horizon of our local history prompted an appraisal of new elements of the towns social history. This, of course, led to a line of enquiry which sought to clarify and record the story of the men and women who worked, played, lived and died in our home town. This change in the course of my historical research was due entirely to the demands of a weekly column which, to be of interest to the readers had to be topical, and familiar, even commonplace, to the extent of making connections for the local readership.

I have enjoyed enormously the opportunity this has given me of accessing the local people whose stories and experiences form the backdrop against which Eye on the Past has been written. My thanks and gratitude must go to those kind people who have responded so openly to requests for interviews leaving themselves open to question and answer sessions which I trust have been enjoyable to all. I know that I certainly have enjoyed the company of those generous people who in most cases have been elderly and consequently of most interest to someone like myself looking for an insight into the past.

Many people have written to me over the years, and with every letter comes information to fill in the patchwork of the towns story or in some cases a request for help in locating details of a lost family history. Every interview, every letter and sometimes even the shortest conversation carried on at the kerbside unfolds a nugget of information which adds to the store of local knowledge of people and times past. To everyone involved in whatever capacity, I am extremely thankful and grateful for the help and assistance proffered.

All this by way of letting you know that after 424 Eyes on the Past, I have at last succumbed to the temptation to see my weekly jottings produced in a more permanent form than this weekly newspaper. On Thursday, 23rd November, the local Town Hall will be the venue for the launch of my book entitled “Eye on Athy’s Past” consisting of 99 weekly articles printed in the Kildare Nationalist between 1992 and 1994. The book will, I hope, meet the demand for a permanent record of elements of our town’s story.

I would like to extend an invitation to any of my readers, who will be free on Thursday night to come along to the Town Hall at 8.00pm. Even if the book does not live up to expectations, you are likely to enjoy meeting Castledermot born, but Athy-based fiction writer John MacKenna whose literary successes to date are numerous. John has kindly agreed to launch the book and if nothing else, his launching address is sure to be both interesting and dare I say, enjoyable.

Writing of interesting speeches reminds me of wise words recently spoken by Kildare County Manager Niall Bradley. You and I will take heart from what he says when he spoke of how “the bypass route will improve living and safety conditions for local residents and will also complement the urban renewal and heritage initiatives being promoted in the town. It will provide a major boost for local business and will help to secure the towns future as a market town and a tourist destination”.

Niall has in the past been a strong advocate of the Inner Relief Road for Athy [sorry Editor, that dreadful subject again] but his recently delivered speech as reported in last week’s edition of this Newspaper shows that he clearly has had a change of heart. The Inner Relief Road must now surely give way to the Outer Relief Road for the town which has been the centre of my Articles for the past eight years. One has to congratulate the County Manager for what must have been a very difficult decision for him following on his earlier acceptance of the 26 year old Inner Relief Road plan for Athy. Well done Niall, I always knew that any intelligent re-examination of the discredited plan prepared in the hair shirt days of the 1970’s would lead to a rethink on the relative merits of an Inner as against an Outer Relief Road.

What’s that you say Niall? Your remarks as reported in the Newspaper are correct, but not so far as Athy is concerned. Your references were made in the context of Kildare town and do not apply to Athy. Okay, I’m sorry Niall, I didn’t realise that the short distance between the ancient seat of St. Brigid and the monastery town of Athy was such as to make the elegantly stated and sensible benefits of traffic diversion non-transferable.

Well you live and learn, and mercifully I have learnt more than most over the past eight years from listening to these great Athy men and women who have shared their experiences with me. I promise not to mention the Inner Relief Road next Thursday ….. honest!

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