The Class Reunion has come and gone. It has taken more than 40 years to bring together the lads who shared their young days as schoolboys in Athy. Many persons contacted me over the past week about the reunion which seems to have caught the public attention and ignited its imagination in a very positive way. The general public seems to have looked upon the weekend reunion as an event which highlighted something good about the town in sharp contrast to the seemingly never-ending bad press which grabs the headlines almost every week.
The Class Reunion was just that. It was the coming together of fellows who were companions and colleagues in a particular class which began in St. Joseph’s School in 1946 and finally ended with the Leaving Certificate Examination of 1960. In between those years some fellows left school while others joined the class, either as new arrivals in Athy or alternatively as pupils coming in from outlying rural areas.
As you can well imagine the opening event scheduled for the evening of Friday 20th September in the Leinster Arms Hotel was intended to allow everyone to renew old acquaintances. For men who may not have seen each other for more than 40 years name tags were an essential aid. But truth to tell, while faces and bodies may have become extended and distorted, yet somehow or other the faces from the past were easily superimposed on the aging creatures who trooped into the Leinster Arms. We knew each other, even if a surreptitious glance at a name tag was required on occasions to confirm and in some cases to put a name on a particular face.
That first meeting after the passage of so many years was a great occasion. Imagine my surprise and delight at meeting Paddy Bracken whose family left Athy in 1956. The Bracken’s lived at the corner house, now undergoing reconstruction, opposite the Courthouse and Paddy was not only a classmate, but also one of the Offaly Street youngsters who played together each day of the week. Paddy was immediately recognisable and had a wonderful fund of stories and memories of his days as a youngster in Athy. I was particularly amused by his recall of the famous hurling matches between the Offaly Street lads and the St. Patrick’s Avenue fellas and how those occasional encounters finally came to an end. Paddy contends that the St. Patrick’s Avenue lads deliberately set out to put one of the Offaly Street lads out of commission, courtesy of a skelp of a hurley. Both the perpetrator and the victim enjoyed Paddy’s telling of the story and marveled at his unshaken belief that the head injury inflicted on the awkward Offaly Street player was premeditated and deliberate. As the victim on the occasion in question, all I can say is that the perpetrator who was even more awkward than myself was highly unlikely to have been able to execute a plan of attack with such deadly precision.
Writing of the St. Patrick’s Avenue lads, they were ably represented by Jimmy Malone who travelled from California, and locally based Mick Rowan. The Offaly Street crew were there in the person of Teddy Kelly, Willie Moore and myself. I hadn’t seen or met Willie for many many years and he too had great memories and stories of times in Offaly Street and in the cauldron of learning we called the Christian Brothers School. While Willie travelled from Wexford, a lot of the lads living in and around Athy gave their support.
John Mealy and Jack Murphy who spent a substantial part of their working lives in Bradbury’s Bakeries were there swopping stories of their school days and both astonished me with the clarity of youthful memories culled from so many years back. Two of the great surprises of the reunion was tracing Christy Southwell and Eddie Wall, both of whom left Athy and their classmates long before the class began to break up as it did when our 14th birthday was reached. As it turned out Christy was located in the Curragh where he has lived ever since his time in the Army, while Eddie now lives in Luton, England. Another to travel from England for the occasion was Joe Gordan who was with us in primary school until his father left the Athy area. Joe’s father was a farm steward on Taylor’s farm on the Dublin Road and Joe who entered the Christian Brothers is now the Provincial of the English Province. Another to make the trip from England was Brendan Ward and he enlivened the weekends proceedings with his banter and lively personality.
I can still remember the morning Brother Brett walked into our classroom, leaned over my desk and shook the hand of Enda Dooley who was sitting behind me. “Congratulations on your father’s election to the Dail” he said to Enda. I think that was the first realisation I had that Enda’s father Paddy Dooley, Principal of Kilberry National School, was standing for the Dail, for in common with my classmates I had no interest in the affairs of State. Our lives centered in those far off days around football and the fairer sex. Enda travelled from County Longford for the reunion, as did George Robinson whom I have been privileged to meet on many occasions in the intervening years. Two men I hadn’t seen for years were Pat Timpson, formerly of St. Patrick’s Avenue and Kerry O’Sullivan, originally from Aughaboura. Kerry was another of our visitors from England, while Pat made the cross country trip from Sligo.
The longest journeys were made by Mick Robinson and Seamus Ryan who travelled from Australia and China respectively. Clearly they were delighted to meet old school pals such as Eddie Hearns, now living in Dublin, and the local lads including Eddie Ryan, Jack Carr, Peter Whelan and P.J. Hyland. Like myself they had not met Frankie Bradbury since we all left school. Frankie travelled from Kilkenny winning hands down the laurels for the fellow possessing the exilir of youth in greatest abundance. He looked more like a 25 year old than somebody who is entering his 7th decade.
Joe Brophy came from Dublin and entertained Paddy Lannigan and Brian Finn with stories of his days on the buses. Another visitor from England was John Prendergast whose father Charlie sadly died just a few weeks ago. Paddy Mulhall travelled from Kildare town, while P.J. Wall from Arles met up with Noel Scully, now one of Town Fathers and Michael O’Meara, now a publican in Dublin. John Roche, after spending his Army years in the bomb disposal unit, is well used to the pressures associated with his role in the local Credit Union, even if Frank English, another of our Town Fathers and Fintan Kinsella might claim, that after years in the Christian Brothers School we were all experienced in bomb disposal work.
The weekend reunion was a great experience for everyone involved, and no-one enjoyed it more than another of our weekend visitors, Brendan McKenna who swapped yarns with locals Jim Malone and Ted Wynne, Reggie Lalor and Jerry Carbery.
On Sunday afternoon a service of remembrance and commemoration was held in the local schoolyards where the names of 16 former classmates who had died were read aloud. Little did we know that another name would be added to those who had passed away before the reunion finished later that evening. Michael Cardiff was to attend the reunion but he was not able to do so as he was struck down by illness in some recent weeks. He died on Sunday afternoon, even as his former classmates gathered together for possibly the last time.
With his passing another thread in the tapestry of our youth had unravelled.