Thursday, July 5, 2007

A week of celebration and achievements

Two local men at opposite ends of the age spectrum come to mind this week as I prepare to write this week’s Eye on the Past. The victory of young Athy man, Roy Sheehan, in the European Championships held in Dublin marked a new high in terms of sporting success for Athy. We have never had a sporting achievement on this scale before and the reception given to the young boxer on Tuesday night on his return home was a wonderful tribute, not only to him but to all those involved over the years in the running of St Michael’s Boxing Club. St Michael’s is one of the most successful boxing clubs in Ireland in recent years in terms of Irish national titles secured by club members. The people of Athy can be justifiably proud of the many achievements of St Michael’s Boxing Club to date and especially of the latest success of club member Roy Sheehan.

To achieve so much at such a young age is an indication not only of Roy’s talent, but also of the dedication and commitment which he has invested in that talent over the years. The active sporting life of a boxer is relatively short, but Roy Sheehan has already secured for himself a place in the sporting annals of Athy which will forever be remembered.

By contrast, the other man whom I want to mention has had a long innings on the local political stage and on 1 July celebrated the 40th anniversary of his election to Athy Urban District Council. Frank English was first elected to the local council in 1967 and since then he has successfully contested six further elections. In that first election 40 years ago, those elected with Frank to the urban council were Jim McEvoy, Mick Rowan, Tom Carbery, Jack McKenna, MG Nolan, Paddy Dooley, Joe Deegan and Enda Kinsella. Competition for the nine council seats was quite intense, with 19 candidates putting themselves before the electorate. The unsuccessful candidates included Jim Bolger, Ann Brennan, Michael Cunningham, Patrick Doyle, James Fleming, John Foley, Paddy Lawler, Tom Moore, Frank Whelan and Ted Wynne.

Frank served on the council for nine years before becoming council chairman at the age of 35 years, leading the Nationalist to claim that “he is Athy’s youngest chairman ever”. He succeeded Megan Maguire, Megan having been the first woman to be elected to the position of first citizen of the town since the establishment of municipal government in Athy under Henry VIII’s charter of 1515.

Frank’s long service as a councillor still has some way to go to match that of Thomas Plewman, who in 1911, when he reached 70 years of age, celebrated 45 years as a member of Athy Town Commissioners, the predecessors to Athy Urban District Council and Athy Town Council. Plewman, who was born in 1842 in Kilcoo, was elected to the town commission in 1866, replacing his father who was first elected 24 years earlier. Thomas Plewman continued on as a member of the council for another nine years and the Plewman family association with the council which had extended over 78 continuous years ended in 1920 when Thomas Plewman resigned. By my reckoning, Frank has another 38 years to go before equalling the Plewman record, but maybe one of the young English family members might be prepared to emulate their father’s record of service and stand for election when Frank eventually steps down.

During the coming week, his fellow councillors will mark Frank’s 40 years as a councillor with a function in the council chamber. In January 1993, Frank was the recipient of a presentation by his council colleagues to mark his 27 years on the council and I have before me a copy of a press report of that presentation which appeared in the Carlow Kildare Post. Headed Frank’s 27!, it included a photograph of the then council chairman Kieran Dooley presenting a crystal decanter to Frank, who described himself as “an ordinary honest to God individual whose hobbies are politics and swiming”. Interestingly, Kieran Dooley’s father Paddy was a member of the council when Frank was first elected and indeed Frank owes his involvement in local politics to Paddy Dooley and MG Nolan, who approached him more than 40 years ago to stand as a Fianna F·il candidate in the local elections.

Frank was also involved during the past week in the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Aontas Ogra, the youth organisation which for so long has been associated with its long-time leader, Billy Browne. Some of Ogra’s founder members joined with the large numbers who crowded into the former Dreamland Ballroom last Thursday night to celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary, and among them was Michael O’Neill, who travelled across from the English Midlands. Michael was the founder of Aontas Cara, as it was then called, and Frank English and Pat Flinter recalled the early life of the organisation which has remained a constant in the social calendar for the youngsters of Athy for the last five decades.

The occasion was marked with the publication of a book recording in photographs, many of those who as young people were involved in Aontas Ogra over the years. The celebration was a lovely occasion and Billy Browne who in the past has been honoured by the Lions Club and the Urban District Council for his unstinting contribution to the youth affairs in Athy was given due recognition by those in attendance.

Eddie Wall, whom I last met at our class reunion a few years ago, has written to me from England concerning the recent death of Maureen Dunphy, formerly of the Bleach. Eddie writes: “Just a month ago I attended here in Luton the funeral of Maureen Twitchen, née Dunphy, formerly of the Bleach, Athy. Maureen emigrated to England when she was 17 years of age.

Her sister Margaret and brothers John and Eamon would also leave Athy to settle in England. I went to school in Athy with Eamon and John and I met Maureen for the first time in the 1970s when we both worked with the Chrysler Truck Company in Luton. She married Sean Twitchen from Kildare Town and involved herself in the local community and the Church of St Martin de Porres here in Luton. A keen gardener, she won prizes for the most beautiful garden in her area on several occasions. She was a wonderful person who will be sadly missed by her husband Sean, her son John and grandchild. I will miss her warm hello and big smile and the times we shared together reminiscing about the old town of Athy which we called home”.

I am sure many of the readers will remember the Dunphy family of Bleach and I remember Eamon and John Dunphy, both of whom attended the local Christian Brothers School before emigrating to England almost 50 years ago.

I end this article by congratulating Roy Sheehan, Frank English and Aontas Ogra in a week which has seen celebrations marking achievements of which all of us can be immensely proud.

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