Mary O’Shaughnessy, formerly Mary Townsend and Maria Dunne passed away last week. Both were well advanced in years and in an almost subliminal way formed part of my memory bank of Athy of the 1950’s. I knew both of them, not personally, but as members of a decreasing group of men and women, now all elderly, who were once part and parcel of the daily life of Athy with which I was familiar as a youngster.
Maria Dunne was born in New York but as a year old child returned to Ireland with her parents in 1913. A quiet woman she was married to Christy Dunne, known affectionately to all and sundry as “Bluebeard” Dunne, one of the better known locals in Athy in the 1950’s. Employed in the Asbestos factory, Christy was an active member of C.Y.M. Society for many years and was one of the great card players who graced the tables in the C.Y.M.S., particularly for the Sunday morning game of poker. One of my abiding memories was “Bluebeard’s” ability to spot a “bluff” where others could not do so and invariably his cry of “see ya” would soon thereafter result in the pot being pulled from the centre of the table to rest in front of the man from the Coneyboro. When Christy died at 52 years of age in 1966 while still a member of Athy’s Fire Brigade, Maria continued to live in the family home at Coneyboro. She died in Naas Hospital last week at 91 years of age, one of the last of the original tenants who moved into the houses in the Coneyboro when they were built a few years after the end of World War II. She is survived by her children Christy, May, Tim and Breda.
Mary O’Shaughnessy who died last week, like Maria Dunne after a long and fulfilling life, spent almost 60 years in Athy. Mary was a farmer’s daughter from Co. Kilkenny who married Martin Townsend of Carlow before moving via Milford, Carlow and the Fighting Cocks to Athy in January 1944. The war was still raging in Europe and Athy, like so many other Irish towns, was in the grip of an economic recession. Many of the local public houses had closed their doors and would remain closed for years on end. One of the pubs so affected was P.J. Carey’s at 44 Duke Street which was closed for several years after its owner went to England to get work and before it was sold to one time farmer Martin Townsend of Carlow and his business partner Tom Nolan who earlier worked in Dempsey’s of Carlow.
The Carey establishment had previously been part of Glynn’s pub, hardware and grocery shop which had extended over what are now two premises on either side of the archway which led to stables at the rear. When the Townsend family arrived in 1944 the pub and grocery business was confined to one side of the archway. The young married couple had seven children, Mary, Kathleen, Chris, Jim, John, Ann and Martin. The business partnership with Tom Nolan ended when Tom set up on his own account a few doors further up in Duke Street. Martin Townsend had been involved in motor cycle racing and as such had competed in many competitions but not, so far as I can find, in the famous Athy 75 races which were held annually between 1925 and 1930. His children are today the proud holders of many trophies and medals which their father won in competitions organised by Athy Cycle and Car Club and by the Athy Scramble Club. Martin Townsend died a young man at 43 yeas of age on 7th May 1947.
I did not know Martin Townsend, but Townsend’s public house at 44 Duke Street was an important part of the fabric of Athy in the 1950’s and 1960’s. By then his widow had re-married and Mary was the wife of Danny O’Shaughnessy and had three more children, Rita, Pat and Carmel. Mary continued to run the family pub until 1964 when it was taken over by her eldest son Jim. In the late 1960’s Townsend’s pub changed hands after almost 25 years and strangely enough it was sold to another Carlow man by the name of Haughney. To the long list of names of proprietors of 44 Duke Street such as Glynn, Carey, Townsend and Haughney have been added in more recent times the names of Gaffney, Henshaw and O’Donoghue.
Mary O’Shaughnessy was a fluent Irish speaker and on her passing she was survived by eleven children, 33 grandchildren and 37 great grandchildren. The passing of both Mrs. O’Shaughnessy and Mrs. Dunne brought back memories of a time not so long ago, when life was simpler and gentler in so many ways.
Fr. Philip Dennehy officiated at the funeral Mass for Mary O’Shaughnessy and as I listened to his thoughtful well chosen words I wondered whether as parishioners of St. Michael’s we appreciate what a remarkable understated preacher we have in our Parish Priest. I have yet to hear him give a sermon which was other than well constructed in terms of thought and expression and never less than eloquent, especially when he speaks at a funeral Mass for one of his parishioners. In short he is a wonderful thought provoking preacher.
Speaking of eloquence it would be remiss of me not to bring to your attention the wonderful array of lecturers scheduled to speak over the coming weekend at the Shackleton Autumn School in the Town Hall. Frank Nugent, whose forthcoming book on Irish Arctic Exploration is due for release, will be joined by Michael Smith who has written a biography of Tom Crean and also the story of Captain Oates. Myles Dungan has written a number of books on Irish men in World War I, but in his next book due out before Christmas he will tell the story of the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels and the involvement of Kilkea born Frank Shackleton. Two English authors, Sara Wheeler and Ann Savours will also be in Athy for the weekend to give talks on Antarctic explorers and exploration. Film shows and plays by John MacKenna and Aidan Dooley are also on offer over that weekend and of particular interest to school children will be a special performance of Aidan Dooley’s one man show on Tom Crean to be given in the Hall Mór, Scoil Mhicil Naofa on Saturday, 25th October at 3.00pm.
There is much on offer over the October Bank Holiday weekend in the Town Hall and the Heritage Centre and between lectures, plays and films there are more than enough attractions for all tastes. Give your support, if at all possible, for the Third Ernest Shackleton Autumn School which promises to be an exciting and entertaining event.