Last week I attended the launch of the Kildare Tourism Task Force Report which was headlined as A Framework For Action. The Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy T.D. did the honours by way of a video link which brought together Maynooth in the north of the county and Athy, its most southerly county town. The Chairman for the afternoon was the newly appointed Town Manager for Athy, Willie Carroll. He did his task with aplomb and commendable style as he had done for several years while Director of Community and Enterprise Services with Kildare County Council. We talked before and after the formal part of the afternoons activities, discussing our community’s need to regenerate and reactivate itself in the pursuit of what may euphemistically be called the community good.
Coming as he did with background experience of community development it wasn’t difficult to realise that Willie Carroll as the newly appointed Town Manager saw his new posting as one offering an exceptional opportunity to influence the future of Athy and its hinterland. I had met him on several occasions in the past but last week was the first time we had talked since his appointment as Town Manager for Athy. I was deeply impressed by his openness, his commitment and the ease with which he brought together the different strands of his experiences as he identified the issues which needed to be tackled to guarantee Athy’s future prosperity.
You will then understand my dismay when on reaching my office this morning I received a phone call to tell me that Willie Carroll, at 47 years of age died suddenly during the night. I was dumbfounded by the news and immensely saddened to think that such a promising career was cut short so abruptly. Willie Carroll’s passing is a huge set-back for Athy and our sympathies go to his wife and family.
The past week has been a week of funerals. Christy Myles, at 80 years of age, passed away and his passing brought to mind his relation Paddy Myles, now long dead but who in his young days played football before graduating to refereeing. He wasn’t the best referee around, but did his best, so I always felt, until one Sunday afternoon when he refereed a match between Athy and its near neighbour Castlemitchell. In the ’50’s and ‘60’s when these two teams met they always did so with great hostility and their competitive encounters gave a new meaning to the term “grudge match”. Anyway, Paddy Myles was refereeing an Athy/Castlemitchell game one Sunday afternoon in Geraldine Park and yours truly was playing centerfield for Athy. For once I was doing a reasonably good job, and when half time came my opposite number was taken off and replaced by another whose footballing skills were less prominent than his talent at throwing the odd off the ball punch. I was duly treated to an avalanche [well maybe I exaggerate] of elbows, straight lefts and thumps, sufficient to draw the anger of the saintliest pacifist. Of course they were always aimed to land when Paddy Myles’ back was turned. The smouldering fuse eventually gave way but instead of retaliating I marched up to Paddy the referee, and verbally lambasted him for his failure to see what was happening and then proceeded to walk off the pitch. Whether intentionally or otherwise I cannot say, my exit coincided with the last few minutes of the game and as victory was already secured my departure had no effect on the final outcome. Such were the memories I recalled of Paddy Myles when I learned of the death of his relation Christy Myles last week.
Walter Hurley also passed away last week after a long life lived at Rathstewart where his family had resided since 1920. The Hurley name has been synonymous with Athy ever since the early years of the last century when Walter’s father Hugh Hurley served as an engineer with the Urban District Council.
Rathstewart last week also witnessed the death of Ann Kelly whose son Edmund was one of the many with whom I attended school so many years ago. I met Edmund at his mother’s funeral and despite the years which have galloped past since we last met he was instantly recognisable. Isn’t it strange how some people never seem to change from decade to decade while others go through mutations every few years. I remember Edmund Kelly so well because he was the envy of everyone in my class when on 13th April 1958 he left school for the last time to take up a job as a trainee telegraph boy with the Post Office in Naas. I can still recall the jab of jealously I felt then, knowing that Edmund was released from the tedium of school into the adult world where he would have his own money with no restrictions on what he did or when he chose to do it. Life seemed so simple then! Edmund emigrated to London in 1966 and joined the Metropolitan Police Force from which he is now retired. He will be back in Athy next September for the class reunion of those who shared their young lives as pupils of the Christian Brothers school in St. John’s Lane.
In September 1995 I had a most welcome visitor from Luton in England. He was Jim Moran, commonly called “the Piper” Moran, whom I now know was on his last visit to his home town of Athy. On that occasion he brought me a photograph of a pipe band, a copy of which I already possessed, but what I did not have then was the names of those captured in the old photograph. The pipe band was St. Brigid’s whose image was captured forever as the band members stood with pride in the field at the rear of the Malt House in Rathstewart in 1919 after winning a Feis competition in Portlaoise. Jim Moran was the youngest member of that pipe band which was active up to 1924 or thereabouts. Willie Hutchinson and Jim Moran were in September 1995 the last survivors of St. Brigid’s Pipe Band and last week Jim passed away, a few years after William Hutchinson had died.
Jim “Piper” Moran who would have been 95 years old on 2nd June next was married with three sons when he travelled to England in 1959 for what was intended as a short holiday. While there he was encouraged to do a few days work in the local factory and found to his amazement that he earned more in those days than he had ever done in Athy. He decided to stay in England and his wife and family soon joined him in the town of Luton where he was to live for the next 43 years. While he was fit and able to do so Jim made a trip home every year to Kilberry and Athy and I know he loved to renew old acquaintances and relive memories of times past. His remains were brought home for burial in Kilberry Cemetery, thus completing the circle of emigration and repatriation with which so many Irish families of the 1940’s and 1950’s were so familiar.
My thanks to the readers who took the trouble to write to me during the week with their memories of the Verschoyle’s of Ardreigh and Kilberry. Apparently no-one knew the first name of the man who lived at Ardreigh House for over 20 years. He was known simply as “Mr. Verschoyle”. I wonder what happened his furniture and effects when he died in 1956. Were they auctioned, and if so can anyone identify any items or artifacts belonged to Verschoyle which are still in the Athy area?