Thursday, February 22, 2001

Gertie Gray

If you are a regular reader of this column you will know that Offaly Street and the families who lived there hold a special place in my memories which stretch back into the hazy 1940’s and the better remembered decade which followed. I still recall the families that lived in our street but with each passing year the jigsaw of memory loses yet another piece.

Last week another link with Offaly Street was lost with the passing of Gertie Gray of Pairc Bhride. Gertie was the daughter of Tom and May McHugh who lived at No. 8 Offaly Street. I understand that Tom and his brother Matt were originally from Co. Donegal and came to Athy via Abbeyleix where they worked in a local foundry. The McHugh brothers established two foundries in Athy, Matt opening his in Meeting Lane while Tom set up his business in Janeville Lane at the back of Offaly Street.

Tom and his family lived for a few years in Butlers Row before moving into No. 8 Offaly Street sometime in the late 1930’s where their landlord was Myles Whelan of Fortbarrington. The hardships and health hazards of those days were reflected in the high mortality rate which Irish towns including Athy experienced before and after the Second World War. There were few families in Offaly Street which did not experience the loss of a young child or even an adult son or daughter during that period and Tom and May McHugh suffered two bereavements in a short space of time. Their daughter Annie died aged 26 years in September 1938 and in May 1940 their eldest son John who was married to Molly O’Rourke died at 30 years of age. They were survived by six siblings, including Gertie who died last week. The eldest daughter May was later to marry Tommy Whelan of Levitstown and they lived in St. Patrick’s Avenue up to 1960 when the entire Whelan family emigrated to England. At Gertie’s funeral last week I met her nephew Oliver Whelan who now operates a successful foundry business in Luton, as did his Grand-father Tom in Janeville Lane so many years ago.

Another daughter Barbara McHugh married Bill Tobin and they lived in Ballylinan where tragically Barbara died in childbirth. Bill who had previously returned from America before marrying Barbara or “Babs” as she was known later returned to New York where I believe he has since died. Following the death of his brother John, Tommy McHugh was the oldest surviving son of the McHugh family and it was Tommy in whom his father Tom invested his hopes for the future. Tommy was a skilled foundry man whose first job was with his father Tom in the Janeville Lane foundry. There he worked with local men such as Mannix Thompson and Des Donaldson, both of whom would later join the I.V.I. Foundry in Leinster Street. Coincidentally Des’s sister Maureen who married John J. Cardiff was buried this week, and many of you will remember his brother Sidney Donaldson who was tragically killed many years ago while attending a car race in the Curragh. Tommy McHugh later took up a position with the newly-opened IVI factory where he was Paddy Timpson’s pre-decessor and where like Paddy he was an extremely important part of the local foundry team. Tommy subsequently left Athy and opened a foundry in Pollerton Road, Carlow from where his mother May originally came and in the latter years of his life he was the manager of the Unidare Foundry in Finglas, Dublin.

The only surviving member today of Tom and May McHugh’s family is their son Matt whom I had the privilege of meeting when he attended his sister Gertie’s funeral. Matt who left Athy in 1942 travelled from Harrow in London where he is now living in retirement. He is still remembered after all those years and both Denis Smyth and Jimmy Kelly who lived in Offaly Street recalled Matt by his nickname of 60 years ago. In a town where everyone has a nickname Matt was known as “Scatcha”, a name without any provenance or apparent meaning, but a name which confirmed that Matt belonged to a close-knit community where affection was evidenced in the language of the ordinary people. He was just sixteen years of age when he left wartime Athy to join the RAF in Belfast and he was 17 years old when he married Cecilia Maher of Clonmel. He spent 7 years in the RAF, serving in India and elsewhere, and he last worked as a chauffeur for the Wimpy Group in England. When he left Athy 59 years ago Matt left behind in the family home in Offaly Street two younger sisters, Gertie and Una. Una later emigrated to England where she married and lived in Sheffield until she died.

Gertie was the only member of Tom and May McHugh’s family to live out her life in Athy where she played an active part in the Parish Choir, the local ICA Guild and the Musical Society. She is survived by her husband Eamonn and family to whom our sympathy is extended.

The McHugh Foundries of Janeville Lane and Meeting Lane flourished at a time when foundry work was an important industry in Athy. The IVI Foundry established by Captain Hosie was the largest foundry in its day, but much needed employment was to be found also at Bergins Foundry and also that operated by Duthie Larges. The local St. Michael’s Cemetery has many examples of the skillful work of the Athy Foundries of the past and amongst them can be found the metal crosses which came from the Janeville Lane Foundry of Tom McHugh.

Time has moved on. Tom McHugh’s foundry is no more and its site will soon form part of a car park for the hotel planned on the site of the 13th century Dominican Friary.

2 comments:

Brian Whelan said...

Great story telling I do remember a lot I passed on to my chrildren

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