Thursday, October 23, 2003

Thumbing Lifts

When I worked in the County Council Offices in Naas in the early 1960’s I stayed in digs there returning to Athy at the weekends.  Few people had cars in those days and there was no question of a clerical officer’s salary extending so far as to pay for a car.  I spent a lot of my time thumbing a lift on the road between Naas and Athy.  In those days, thumbing a lift was an accepted part of life for young people and even those who had long passed their middle age.  I got lifts from all kinds of people over the years I was passing back and forth to Naas.  All of them shared in the gratitude I felt for the kindness they displayed in stopping to give me a lift, even if sometimes the well of kindness was drained somewhat at the end of a journey shared with someone who sat throughout in silence.  What could a young fellow do, if the driver sat there without exchanging a word.  After all, you had already imposed yourself on them (as it seldom was a her) and to start a conversation where none was offered seemed an unwelcome intrusion.

The silent ones often seemed to drive the oldest and slowest cars on the road while the more flamboyant drivers were in cars which seemed to mirror their owners extravagant character.  I well remember Fr. Eamon Casey giving me a lift.  This was long before he became a Bishop but he was readily recognisable to me either from his appearance on TV or perhaps from some report or other in the newspapers.  He was gushingly friendly, if you know what I mean, and drove his car with a speed which as even a young man I felt somewhat apprehensive about.  This was in the pre seat belt days but the good man prepared me and presumably himself for what lay ahead by sprinkling some holy water in my direction after I had got into the car and before he resumed his journey.

John B. Keane was another with whom I shared a journey, this time as I was thumbing a lift from Dublin to Naas.  John B. was the front seat passenger in the car and apparently both he and his companion were returning home after a meeting the night before about compulsory Irish in Irish Schools.  John B. was in a talkative mood as he passed back to me in the back seat a religious card for some Novena or other which stated that if the prayers were said in Irish, some additional indulgences could be obtained.  That and the earning of additional marks for failing the Leaving Certificate or Inter Certificate Examinations in Irish were to John B. incidental (and it must be said to me also) examples of the rank stupidity of an Irish policy which served no useful purpose.

Frank Keely who lived in Duke Street and travelled each day to his work with Bord na Mona in Newbridge was always very obliging in giving me a lift on Monday mornings as I made the journey back to Naas.  The walk out to the Dublin Road early on a Monday morning after spending the earlier hours in Dreamland did not always find me at my best.  How one got on in Dreamland determined one’s mood for the following 48 hours or so.  An enjoyable night meant that the tiredness of a shortened sleep could be submerged in the feel good factor, while an unsatisfactory night attracted the opposite feeling.  One way or the other, the Monday morning ritual of getting out on the road to thumb a lift back to work had to be faced.

One man with whom I remember getting a lift home from Naas on several occasions was the late Paddy Dooley who was then a T.D. for Kildare.  Of course in those days, a man of his years was addressed as Mr. Dooley, a convention which seems to have disappeared in today’s egalitarian society.  Paddy Dooley was an extraordinary man.  Quiet and gentlemanly to the point of shyness almost, nevertheless he was a politician at local level for decades and at National level for 9 years or so.  Son of Michael Dooley of Duke Street who is remembered in the 1930’s Housing Scheme, Michael Dooley’s Terrace, Paddy was educated at the Christian Brothers School, Athy and St. Enda’s College in Dublin.  Qualifying as a National School teacher, he taught at Skerries National School before becoming Principal of Kilberry National School.  His late father was a founder member of the Athy branches of Sinn Fein and the Gaelic League and Paddy himself continued the family link with republican politics.  At an early age he joined the Fianna Fail party and was elected a member of Athy U.D.C. for the first time in 1945.  Elected with him on that occasion was M.G. Nolan, Eddie Purcell, Mick McHugh, Tom Dowling, J.C. Reynolds, Tom Carbery and John Lawler who resigned the following year to be replaced by Bill Ryan.  Paddy Dooley was re-elected as an Urban Councillor in five subsequent local elections up to and including 1974 and by then he was longest serving member of the Council.  He served as Chairman of the Council in 1953/’54, 1966/’67, 1972/’73, 1974/’75 and again in 1978/’79.

Paddy was elected a T.D. for the Kildare constituency in 1957 and served in that capacity continuously until 1965.  In 1957 I was a pupil in the Christian Brothers Secondary School and one of my classmates was Enda Dooley, a son of Paddy’s.  Obviously the fact that a local man was standing for the Dáil must have been a matter of considerable interest in the town.  However, quite clearly it did not hold my attention at the time because I recall my first initial awareness of the 1957 election was the Superior of the Christian Brother, Brother J. Brett at the start of morning class extending congratulations to Enda Dooley on his father’s election to the Dáil  following the previous nights count.

Unusually for a politician, Paddy Dooley was a sincere mild mannered man who was never aggressive and who tried as best he could to represent the interests of his native town and County.  I can recall many occasions when he stopped on the road outside Naas on his way home from the Dáil to give me a lift to Athy.

Isn’t it wonderful how, even after the passing of 40 years or so, some small acts of generosity are still remembered and recalled when perhaps more important matters have left the memory forever.

I was contacted recently by a reader who mentioned a “Reminiscence Night” which was held some years ago in the Leinster Arms Hotel.  “When are we going to have another such night?” was the question, the answer to which is “maybe soon”.  You may remember the previous occasion when people interested in their own locality came together for a social evening consisting of chat, stories and reflections on times past.  If there is sufficient interest it might be possible to have a “Reminiscence Night” maybe once a month over the winter.  What better way of passing away the time than an evening spent in congenial company.

More about this again.  

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