On Friday next at 8.00pm the official launch of a community newsletter for Athy will take place in the Leinster Arms Hotel. It will no doubt be a useful publication for a community which has been growing in recent years, largely due to an influx of people who have had no previous links with the town. Their presence gives a welcome boost to the local economy and the newsletter will help to keep them and everyone else in Athy up to date with what is happening in this area.
Over the years Athy has seen many new publications which originated in the south Kildare town. “The Athy Literary Magazine” was published by Thomas French from his printing offices in Market Square, now Emily Square, between 1837 and 1838. Each issue of the magazine consisted of eight pages and was published weekly with an unvarying mixture of articles of local interest, together with extracts from published literary works. Another eleven years was to pass before Athy experienced its next literary bonanza with the publishing and printing of two local newspapers. “The Irish Eastern Counties Herald” appeared on the streets of Athy for the first time on 13th February 1849. Within days it was followed by “The Kildare and Wicklow Chronicle”, another weekly newspaper which like its competitor was also printed in Athy. Unfortunately neither paper survived beyond March 1849. Within three years the first and only issue of “The Press”, a monthly magazine devoted to literature and the arts was published by Samuel Talbot of Athy. Intended as a monthly magazine it did not appear the following month.
The last in a long line of local publications was “Athy Newsletter”, the first issue of which was launched on an unsuspecting public on 2nd April 1988. Its Editor was Noreen Kelleher of Chanterlands. Noreen had been involved in community activities for many years previously and the newsletter which she was to edit and produce over the following nine years was a task undertaken as part of her involvement with the local Community Council. Comprising on average 28 pages per issue the newsletter was a kaleidoscope of news and information but without any comment pieces other than the weekly Editorial.
In that first issue the Editor found space to give an account of the activities of several clubs and associations, some of which are no longer functioning. Included in that category were Athy Junior Chamber, Athy Pitch and Putt Club and the Athy RFC Squash Club. The one page of advertisements for local shops included two that are now closed, Martin’s Newsagents of Duke Street and The Shamrock Stores of Geraldine Road. Other shops have changed hands including T. & B. Jacob’s of Leinster Street and T. & D. Cannings. All of the schools provided material for the monthly newsletter and in that first issue of April 1988 the Scoil Eoin report noted :-
“On March 19th many old friends of the late Liam Ryan gathered in Scoil Eoin to honour a man who taught for 47 years in the school. Mr. Ryan’s widow Noreen and her four sons attended. When Liam Ryan retired his past pupils raised a fund to commemorate in a fitting way his long years of dedicated service. This took the form of a small library of books and other educational material.”
I see in the third issue which came out on 3rd July 1988 a new feature called “Window on the Past”. Was that I wonder where “Eye on the Past” originated? The Parish Priest, Fr. Philip Dennehy, in a letter printed in the newsletter for August took the opportunity of thanking Tegral for providing free of charge slates to re-roof not only St. Michael’s Catholic Church but also the Church of Ireland Parish Church of St. Michael’s. At the same time the Editor wrote in her Editorial of the high level of participation in the publican’s fancy dress ‘Egg and Spoon Race’ which was run as part of the water funanza that summer.
Letters soon started to appear in the Athy Newsletter and in October 1988 one correspondent was vigorously defending the right to have slot machine arcades in Athy. Another letter writer questioned as to “why can’t we have a decent walk along the Barrow River from the town to Ardreigh” for a start. The following month the Editor in her editorial saluted the towns minor hurlers who not only won the County Championship but also the Minor Hurling League. Their success she wrote “is one we should strike to emulate no matter in what sporting, commercial or cultural field we seek success”. The Harvest Ball for December 1988 got a mention, while the newly formed Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the town traders gave notice of a Christmas Bonanza with a £1,500.00 shopping giveaway.
My eye was caught by a piece in the April 1989 Newsletter which carried a report of the speech made by Jim Ryan, the outgoing chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce. “It is the aim of the Chamber of Commerce to improve the town’s image and to make a significant impact on the commercial and social life of Athy”. The Editor in her following months Editorial could not have envisaged, no more than could the outgoing chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, how little changes have occurred in the following 13 years. Then she wrote, “it is sad but true that the Garda of today does not commend the same respect as did his colleague a generation ago ….. it is claimed that there is an unspoken yet perceptible bias against those who are without influence, without property or without jobs”. Harsh words which however might find an echo in the proceedings presently ongoing in Donegal.
The Athy newsletter continued on for 96 issues, ending in July 1997, with an editorial which carried a sharp rebuke for the local men folk. “Despite the fact that not a single woman sits on the nine member local Council it is women who are spearheading the drive to protect the built heritage and the environment of Athy. It is the women of Athy who have been circulating a petition around Athy to stop the ghastly Inner Relief Road and it is women who have formed a committee for the same purpose …… the Inner Relief Road controversy has brought to the fore those local people whose views for so long were ignored. It is no wonder then that the voice of the people is now been heard through the women folk who for so long played a secondary role in community life.”
The Athy Newsletter produced every month from April 1998 to July 1997 through the dedicated work and energy of Noreen Kelleher was a very important link with the local community. It fulfilled an extremely important function for the people of Athy, disseminating information and news which might not otherwise be found in the pages of local newspapers. It is fascinating to read the back numbers of what was one woman’s unique contribution to our local community. Here’s wishing well to its successor which I understand will appear for the first time this weekend.
On Saturday 7th December the Town Hall will be the venue for a day long seminar by Kildare County Library and Geography Publication to publicise the following publication of a book on County Kildare. The lectures commence at 10.00 a.m. and from then until 4.00 p.m., a total of nine lectures will talk on a variety of topics of County Kildare interest. Admission is free, but because seating is limited to 80 places anyone wishing to attend should contact Mario Corrigan at 045/432690 to book a place.