Thursday, February 6, 2003


As promised I have another photograph of a 1940’s musical gracing this weeks Eye on the Past.  It is a photograph of the cast of “White Bread and Apple Sauce” put on in the Town Hall in 1945.  The producer was Stanley Ilsley who is pictured in the front row 3rd from the left.  Ilsley was one half of the famous theatrical partnership of Ilsley and McCabe which for decades played a prominent role in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin.  Again this week I am looking for readers help in naming those pictured on the Town Hall stage of 57 years ago.  There are several faces in the photograph which I can recognise and it is amazing how some of them show so little changes over the years.  One can’t say the same about Irish society during the last half of the century.  I was reminded of this last week as I listened to a discussion on the radio about women having to give up their jobs on marrying.  We always think of teachers and civil servants in that context but I was reminded of an interview I had a few years ago with an Athy woman living in England who emigrated over 40 years ago.  She got married in Athy in 1950 and at the time worked in the pea factory in Rathstewart.  She told me that she was required to give up her job the day before she got married.  Whether this was at the behest of the unions or of the employers I cannot say but it does seem in hindsight an extraordinary harsh rule.  But of course working society in 1950 was so different than today.  Can you imagine a factory worker nowadays asking his boss as a favour for a half day or a full day off work so that he or she could get married.  That is what a prospective groom had to do 50 years ago.  My informant recounted for me how her boyfriend who worked in the Asbestos factory got one day off for his wedding on the strict injunction “to be back here on Thursday morning”.  For you see Wednesday was the day set aside in St. Michael’s Parish Church for working men and women to marry.  The weddings took place early in the morning, some as early as 7.30am.  There was no such thing as an afternoon Church ceremony and the simple ceremony was followed, if you were lucky, by a reception in the bride’s home.  With the World War not long over and rationings still something to be contended with, lucky was the family which had boiled ham for family and friends invited to the wedding reception. 

Miss Mape’s shop in Duke Street was always a popular venue for the local girls when they wanted to get a new coat or hat for a wedding.  Her dress shop’s popularity owed much to Ms. Mape’s willingness to “keep a book” and mark off the payments made each week long before the wedding came off.  Who remembers “Footie” O’Gorman, supplier of hams for local weddings and funerals.  His shop was in Duke Street where Kane’s are now located and while I don’t recall him his name is forever associated in my mind with the advice he gave to a young man about to be married, “make sure you get off at Naas” [work it out for yourself!].

Writing of the old days [and not so old days] in Athy I am reminded that Mary Browne, the famous fish seller who graced Emily Square every Friday for many years died in 1996, aged 98 years.  No doubt many of you will remember Mary.  Does anyone have a photograph of Mary and her famous fish stall which I could copy?

Walking up Church Road last week I saw that the unusual bungalow built by Dr. John Kilbride when he married in 1926 has been demolished and replaced by a block of apartments.  Dr. John was son of Dr. James Kilbride who lived in Athy Lodge where Dr. Joe and Mrs. O’Neill now live.  The bungalow was built by Jim Lawler’s grandfather, Edward Lawler, and was unusual as it was built of asbestos sheets imported from England.  The bungalow which Dr. John and his wife lived until they moved into Athy Lodge was called “Athmore” comprised of the first letters of Athy and the last letters of Tramore.  Dr. John was a native of Athy, while his wife was from Tramore and it was to Tramore that both returned when Dr. John Kilbride retired. 

The unexpected passing of Thomas “Tanner” Bracken last week severed another link with Athy’s past.  “Tanner” was a member of an old Athy family and for nearly 50 years he worked in the Asbestos factory with his late brother Willie.  Both were members of the C.Y.M.S. in the days when it had its premises in Stanhope Street and later still in St. John’s Hall.  “Tanner” and his brother Willie were part of the fabric of my memories of youth and his death deprives us of an Athy man, gentle in his ways who in his own quite way left his mark on the local community.

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