Last Saturday many of us passed and repassed on the road leading to St. Michael’s cemetery, trying as best we could to pay our respects to two local men who were buried that same morning within an hour of each other. One was a young man who was not to have the opportunity of living beyond his prime, while his townsman had lived a full and rewarding life. Both Cathal Moore and Jack Deegan were natives of Athy and members of families which have made major contributions over the years to the social and commercial life of our town.
Jack Deegan was laid to rest in Old St. Michael’s cemetery, only a few yards from the last resting place of Charles Moore Senior of Bray, Grandfather of Cathal Moore who was interred in St. Michael’s new cemetery. The coincidence was not lost on those of us who remember the Deegan and Moore families of the past and the part they played in the life of our town. Jack Deegan and his brothers Joe and Michael lived in Duke Street in a premises which their father, a former policeman, purchased in the early decades of the last century. Jack’s brother Joe was a member of Athy Urban District Council and for many years carried on business as a milk supplier, while another brother, Monsignor Patrick Deegan, was a Parish Priest in County Donegal.
The Moore brothers, Eddie and Michael, uncles of Cathal Moore, carried on business for many years at the corner of Offaly Street and Emily Square. The neighbourhood grocery shop was also a pet shop and one of the few places where Athy Honey could be bought locally. Their brother Charlie, father to Cathal, was a chemist who carried on business for many years in Duke Street, just two doors away from the premises now occupied by his son Ger.
Cathal was a young man not long married who in recent years started and developed a carpentry business. He had overcome some personal difficulties before achieving business success and his quite demeanour readily acknowledged the inherent goodness in everyone with whom he had dealings. He was engaged in building a new house for his wife and family in Arles and was returning from the building site when an unfortunate traffic accident put an end to his life. The cruelty of that accident which cut short a young life was magnified by the knowledge that another moment or two would have been sufficient to save him and his family from the tragedy which unfolded that day.
While the townspeople mourned the passing of a young man with a promise largely unfulfilled, the death of Jack Deegan was announced. Jack was a man who had spent his life in South Kildare and who had an abiding love of the town of Athy and its people. He was a rich fund of knowledge of the past and those who had peopled his home town over the years. With his wife Peg he moved back to Athy some years ago from their former home in Fontstown and took up residence in Emily Square. Their three story house was at the beginning of the 19th century the location of the Parish School operated by the local Church of England Rector. Directly opposite where Jack and Peg lived was, what was then known as Moore’s Corner, the site of Moore’s grocery shop and the family home of Michael Moore and his sisters Claire and Molly. This close proximity emphasised the strangeness of the coincidence which saw members of the two families buried on the same day, with Jack Deegan’s internment just a few yards away from the doyen of the Moore family, Charles Moore Senior.
A few weeks ago and while I was away from Athy, Josephine Gibbons, a next door neighbour of Jack Deegan in Emily Square passed away. Jo as she was known locally featured in a previous Eye on the Past. She was a wonderful person who delighted in sharing her memories of times past. However, I was never to unlock the secrets of her husband Frank, a man who played a significant part in Republican affairs long after the War of Independence had passed into folk memory. While not originally from Athy (she was in fact a railway master’s daughter from Harristown) Jo Gibbons, like Cathal Moore and Jack Deegan, was an intrinsic part of the fabric of the town of Athy, a town which, despite all its failing, was for them, as it is for us, our own place.
For all its history and all its unique physical attributes Athy remains an enigma to many, even to those of us who have spent many years under the aura of mystery and intrigue which is the hallmark of Irish provincial life. The loss posed by the passing of one as young as Cathal Moore can but be imagined, while the legacy of the old timer such as Jo Gibbons and the relatively younger Jack Deegan reaffirms our knowledge of the past which they once inhabited.
Later this week we will have an opportunity to remember the dead of another generation when the annual Remembrance Sunday ceremony takes place in St. Michael’s Cemetery. Ten years ago or thereabouts Athy based writer John MacKenna organised the first commemoration service for the men of this area who died during World War I. I remember that occasion as one where those involved felt somewhat isolated, faced as they were with indifference bordering on disrespect for the forgotten menfolk of an earlier generation. Since then the annual ceremony in St. Michael’s has helped to revive the memory of those local men who died in past wars, especially the 1914/18 War. Attitudes have changed in the intervening 10 years and nowhere is this more apparent than in the generous way we remember our War dead, irrespective of the uniforms worn when they fell in battle.
On Sunday next, 12th November at 3.00 p.m. you are invited to come to St. Michael’s Cemetery to remember the men from our town whose lives, like Cathal Moores, were cut off before their prime. They died violent deaths on foreign soil, far from their families and friends, and many of them were buried in unmarked graves. Only six of the 200 or so local men killed in World War I are buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery and their graves will provide the focal point for the ceremony during which the local men who died during World War I and other Wars will be remembered. Next Sunday therefore affords all of us an ideal opportunity to honour and remember those young men who so many years ago left Athy and were never again to see their families and friends.