Thursday, July 26, 2001

Michael 'Icecream' Kavanagh

Strange are the coincidences which brought me face to face with the image of Charlie Doyle, a local worker on the railway, now long dead and which days later saw me enquiring about Mickey “Icecream” Kavanagh. Charlie’s image was captured in a photograph which graced the London home of Pat Aldridge and his wife Josie with whom I grew up in Offaly Street many years ago. Josie Murphy as she then was, lived directly opposite No. 5 Offaly Street in what was even then a small house next to Kehoe’s pub. The one time Murphy home was a few years ago made even smaller to allow the entrance to the pub yard to be widened. But I digress.

Charlie Doyle was married to Lizzie Morrin and they had two children, Paddy and Polly, the latter being the mother of the talented Murphy family who lived in Offaly Street up to the 1960’s. Charlie died following an accident on the railway and Lizzie remarried Danny Kavanagh and reared seven more children, all of whom are now dead. Danny Kavanagh was a brother of James Kavanagh, batman to Lieutenant John Vincent Holland during World War I and the man whom some locals claim won the Victoria Cross which however was awarded to Holland in 1916.

Three days after meeting Pat and Josie Aldridge in London and becoming acquainted for the first time with the story of their Kavanagh connections I had a caller to my office. Frank Kavanagh, whose father Michael had died earlier that day in Kilkenny at 87 years of age, was urgently seeking information on his father’s Athy background. For Michael Kavanagh was a native of Meeting Lane and lived and worked in Athy until he left for Kilkenny at 27 years of age as a member of the 39th Infantry Battalion in 1941. He married two years later and served as a member of the Fire Brigade staff in Kilkenny city for 37 years.

Frank who is employed in Kilkenny Castle knew something of his father’s background but was anxious to find out before the funeral service as much as possible about his father’s connections with Athy. A few phone calls and visits to St. Joseph’s Terrace and to St. Michael’s old cemetery unearthed details of Michael Kavanagh’s parents. They were Michael and Margaret Kavanagh of Meeting Lane who died in 1946 and 1928 respectively. Michael Senior worked in the Barrow Yard for the Board of Works. Buried with his parents was their son William, known locally as a talented artist and gifted cartoonist who died of TB in February 1943, aged 23 years.

But what of their eldest son named after his father Michael. Even though he left Athy 60 years ago he was still remembered by a number of the locals as “Micky Icecream”. For you see the young Michael Kavanagh worked as an icecream salesman for Tom Flood of Leinster Street whose icecream was a particular favourite with Athy children in the 1930’s. Mickey Kavanagh was employed to sell the icecream from an icebox mounted on a large tricycle. Always turned out in a white coat and cap his call of “icecream, icecream, anyone for icecream?” as he cycled around the town made him a popular figure. Thus was Michael Kavanagh remembered in Athy but he also had another name “Switzer” Kavanagh which one of my local informants could recall. This was a nickname he had before he went to live in Kilkenny and its the name by which he was commonly known in the Marble City.

Michael Kavanagh had a brother Jimmy who also left Athy to live in Kilkenny and there is mention of another brother Myles, about whom I have been unable to get any information. Certainly the name Myles was a well known name amongst the Kavanagh families in Athy over the years and many will remember “Queenie” Kavanagh’s son of that name who died some years ago. He was brother of Paddy, Peter, Eamon and Rose Kavanagh and they were cousins to Michael “Switzer” Kavanagh and like him once lived in Meeting Lane before moving to St. Joseph’s Terrace.

Frank Kavanagh was delighted to unearth some background details on his father’s family and I was left wondering at the strange coincidence which brought two strands of the Kavanagh family story together drawn from places as far apart as London and Kilkenny. For you see Michael “Switzer” Kavanagh was a cousin of the Danny Kavanagh who married Lizzie Doyle, widow of the man whose photograph I saw in London just days previously.

It is only when you visit Athy people living away from their own home that you realise the depth of affections which is held in people’s heart for their own place. Athy has not only been the easiest place in which to live and work over the years but no matter what difficulties were met those early experiences in our home town provide the touchstone against which all other experiences are measured and assessed. It is a place where once familiar since forgotten faces can help to recall mislaid memories of places and people. Such was my feeling when I saw photographs of Charlie Doyle and his daughter Polly who with her husband Paddy Murphy reared a family of eight in No. 24 Offaly Street all those years ago.

While I was away last week Catherine Bergin passed away, just a few weeks after her sister Brigid Bolger died. They were inseparable in life and so it proved also in death. I remember Brigid and Catherine when they lived in Leinster Street and while Brigid was working with I.V.I. Foundry Limited. The I.V.I. was a place of substantial employment for decades from the late 1920’s before it succumbed to market forces and competition in the 1980’s. Men reared families on the hard earned wage packets which were handed out at the I.V.I. each Friday afternoon. Working in the Foundry wasn’t easy but in the 1930’s and up to and including the 1950’s there were few other job opportunities in Athy. It’s no wonder that so many Athy men and women had to emigrate as did so many members of the different Kavanagh families who lived during the 1920’s and the 1930’s in Meeting Lane.

Josie Murphy and her near neighbour Mary Tuohy whom I had also hoped to meet last week are some of the emigrants of the 1960’s who have made their homes and reared their families on the far side of the Irish Sea. Some like Michael “Switzer” Kavanagh were fortunate to find employment in their own country, even if that employment was not to be had in their native town. The common thread linking the emigrant and the migrant of yesteryear is the place where they first saw the light of day and the place from where they set out on the journey of life, bringing with them the memories and mementos of a time that could never again be re-lived. For all its apparent obstinacy and persistent failure to keep pace with the advances of the Celtic Tiger those of us who live here and those who once lived here can still be proud of our home town.

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