“If you can get your stockings on in the morning, then you know you’re alright.” Words of empirical wisdom from a woman who has lived for 96 years and who celebrated her birthday last week with a night out with her extended family. Alice Myles was born in 1906, the second child of Daniel Lacey, a carpenter from Ballintubbert, and Ellen Donohue, a seamstress from Tankardstown. Dan worked for Hosies of Coursetown, while Ellen served her time as a seamstress with Murphy’s Commercial House in Emily Square. Alice and her younger sister Helen Conway who is living in Inch just outside Athy have a combined age of 189 years. Longevity is clearly a family trait, as evidenced by the fact that their other sister Mary was 96 years of age when she passed away three years ago.
I met Alice Myles last week in the comfortable house which has been her home for the past 17 years. She moved there from “Woodlands” which was one half of the old Fever Hospital on the Stradbally road and where she had lived with her late husband and family for many years. Alice who was born at Farmerstown attended the Sisters of Mercy School in Athy until she was 16 years of age. Her school days coincided with the War of Independence and that dark period in our history when the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries terrorised so many local Irish communities. She remembers the days of fear following the killing of William Connors and Jim Lacey at Barrowhouse on 16th May, 1921.
On leaving school she took up employment as a child minder with Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Minch at Cardenton. There she was to remain for five years, caring for the Minch’s only child Claire, recalling one occasion when she brought Claire to the birthday party held for Joe O’Neill, then the very young son of the local doctor, Jeremiah O’Neill. The Minch’s had two other indoor staff, Molly Keogh of Rheban who was the family cook and Margaret Moloney of Coursetown who was the parlor maid. Alice remembers attending dances in the mid 1920’s with her friend and work colleague Molly Keogh at Churchtown National School, and also an occasional cross roads dance at Kilcrow. This was a time long before laws were passed to regulate and control public dancing in Ireland.
A period of four years was spent by Alice as a child’s nanny for the Browne’s of Dun Laoghaire before she returned to marry her childhood sweetheart William Myles who was chauffeur and general worker with Matt Minch of Rockfield House. Alice and Bill lived in a tied house [now demolished] at Rockfield, one of several small cottages provided by the Minch’s for their workmen. It was here that the Myles family lived until about 1952 when they moved to “Woodlands” on the Stradbally road. Times were hard during the 1930’s and the 1940’s but especially so during Bill Myles’ prolonged illnesses in the early 1940’s. There was little money to pay the food bills and what was available was invariably passed across the counter of Miss Murphy’s small grocery shop in William Street. It was around that period that Bill Myles was admitted to Kildare District Hospital where he remained for many weeks in a serious condition. Alice recalls cycling from Athy to Kildare several times to visit her husband, a journey which caused her little thought as the bicycle was the only reliable mode of transport in those war years. Bill Myles who spent his entire working life with the Minch’s of Rockfield House died in 1975, aged 73 years.
Alice and Bill Myles had eight children, the eldest Betty who recently retired from a stockbroking firm in New York where she has lived since 1965. Paschal lives in London, as does his brother Oliver who is married to Maura Keeffe of Convent View. The other sons of the family are Paul, who is also living in England, Cyril who lives in Tankardstown and Noel, the youngest of the family who lives in Athy and works in Minch Nortons. Also in Athy are Martha who married Jack Kenny of Dunbrin and Helen who married Joe Phillips of Tankardstown. Helen will be remembered as the assistant in Mrs. Hughes’ shop in Leinster Street where she worked for over forty years until the business closed two years ago.
Alice Myles’ memories of her years in Dublin include Croke Park on All Ireland day, 31st September 1928 when she watched Kildare beat Cavan by one point to become the first holders of the Sam Maguire Cup. [While on the subject of the 1928 final can anyone tell me whether Paddy Fitzpatrick who at one time captained the Rheban football team played for Kildare in that final?]. The first scheduled airplane flight out of Dublin was also recalled by Alice who had a view of the plane as she stood on O’Connell Bridge. With a little bit of prompting from her grand-daughter, Alice also included amongst her Dublin memories the occasion where she went out with Paddy Moloney, whose son and namesake has fronted the musical group The Chieftans since its formation.
Alice’s recall of the 1928 All Ireland final is indicative of her abiding interest in Gaelic football, an interest which was crowned by the selection of her youngest son Noel and that of her nephew Ned Conway for the Kildare County senior team. Ned, son of her younger sister Helen, played for Kildare in 1954, while Noel whom she proudly acknowledges was a very good player, appeared in a Lily White jersey between 1973 and 1976. Indeed Noel was a member of the Kildare senior team which lost heavily to Dublin in the 1975 Leinster final, thereby disappointingly failing to add to the under-21 Leinster final medal which he had won with the county team in 1967.
The Myles family moved to “Woodlands” which was one part of the old Fever Hospital in or about 1952. Their neighbours in the other half of the building which was built in 1841 out of funds collected locally in Athy town were the Moylad sisters, Bridget, Sarah and Annie who had originated from the Kildangan area. Mention of the old Fever Hospital prompted Alice to recall the death of her uncle Johnny Donoghue while a patient in the Fever Hospital at the turn of the last century. Another uncle, Paddy Donohue, a private in the Royal Irish Regiment and a native of Coolroe, died of wounds in France on 31st May 1915. He was one of the many Athy men who perished during the 1914/1918 War. His brother, Tom Donohue, died as a young boy some years previously when he fell into the River Barrow at Levitstown.
Alice who is an extraordinary youthful 96 years of age travelled extensively once her family was reared. She has been to the United States on no less than 12 occasions, her last trip undertaken when she was 88 years of age. England, Lourdes, the Holy Land and even The Bahamas have all been visited by Alice, who with some reluctance now acknowledges that she will probably not go on any more overseas trips.
It was a real pleasure to talk and listen to Alice Myles who has seen her native town of Athy rise from the poverty and misery of the early decades of the last century. Her memories of times passed are tinged with some sad memories, but are also overlaid with a great deal of happiness shared with her children and grand-children who form a large but close-knit family group of which she is justifiably proud.