The Nationalist and Leinster Times of 10 August 1957 under the headline The Dominican Athy Foundation read:
“On Sunday, August 11th, the Catholic population of Athy and District will jubilantly join in celebrating the seventh centenary of the coming to Athy of the Dominican Fathers.
At present, a beautiful wrought iron centenary memorial gate is being erected at the main entrance to the Dominican grounds and at either side of it a handsome wall of cut stone is being constructed. The gate will have two plaques, one bearing the crest of the Dominican Order and the other the Irish title Naomh Dominic.” I remember when the cut stone wall was being built by the late John Murphy of St Michael’s Terrace. Working alone over many weeks, he created what was a beautiful monument to the stonemason’s skill.
Reading the newspaper account of 50 years ago, I was struck by the way in which references were made to “the Catholic population of Athy”, highlighting the apparent exclusivity of the celebrations planned for the Dominicans. Now as we approach the celebration of the 750th anniversary of the Dominican connection with Athy, no-one would dream of claiming, or indeed assuming, that the celebrations are not to be shared with and by the members of other churches.
The somewhat unsophisticated attitude of those days was further brought home to me when, on the same page, I read a report which opened with the line “a 64 year old man of the itinerant tribe … appeared at Portarlington Court on Wednesday”.
How about that for political correctness in the 1950s! The following week’s paper carried a front page account of the 1957 celebrations, which began in heat and sunshine but ended in a downpour. One of the highlights of that day was the talk given by Rev JP Cullins, OP of St Mary’s, Tallaght on the history of the Dominican Order. He made the point that while the Dominicans came to Ireland in the wake of the Norman knights in the 12th century, it was not their purpose to enlarge or help consolidate the Anglo-Norman conquest.
Rather, the Dominican Order which had been founded by St Dominic, who died at Bologna in Northern Italy just 30 years previously, came to Ireland to preach the word of God.The Order of Preachers was the name conferred on the Dominicans by the Pope at a time in 1216 when a Council of the Church had already deplored the lack of preaching everywhere. The Dominican Order was commissioned by the Holy See to take the whole world as its mission and help the hard-pressed secular priests, wherever they were to be found.When the Dominicans came to Athy, it was little more than a tiny village on a river crossing, with a newly-built castle at its centre and a nearby Trinitarian monastery. The medieval village developed during the 13th and 14th century around the two religious foundations of the Trinitarians and the Dominicans. This development continued despite the departure of the Trinitarians sometime before the Reformation and the temporary displacement of the Dominicans in the aftermath of Henry VIII’s dispute with the Catholic Church.The continuing Dominican presence in Athy for 750 years gives us the most tangible link with the early medieval years of our town.
It is a link which is historically important and one which we all hope will continue long into the future.
It is interesting to note that the Dominican Priory in Athy is distinguished in being the only one in the Irish Dominican province which is dedicated to the founder of the Order of St Dominic. The celebrations in 1957 were attended by members of Athy Urban District Council, the Knights of Malta and St Michael’s and St Joseph’s bands, all of whom greeted the provincial of the Dominican Order on the Dublin Road entrance to the town. The Dominican graves in St Michael’s Cemetery were visited before a procession wound its way to St Dominic’s Church, where the celebrations were held. At the entrance to the Dominican grounds, an archway depicting on the one side St Dominic and on the other Pope Pius XII had been erected and in the church grounds an outdoor altar had been constructed.Locals involved in the arrangements 50 years ago included Tom Fleming, described in the newspaper account as “an indefatigable Dominican worker”, who led a team of volunteers in erecting the decorated archway and the outdoor altar. Others involved and named in the newspaper account were Tom Hughes, Michael McHugh, Martin Eaton, Billy Nolan, C Dunne, MG Nolan, Gerard Tully and Frank O’Brien. Miss Mary Keogh, Mrs G Tully and Miss Burley were responsible for decorating the altar.
Another memory I have of a great Dominican occasion was the unveiling of the statue of St Dominic in the grounds of the Dominican Priory in August 1955. The statue located in front of Riversdale House was presented by George Farrell of Spring Lodge.
Made by a French firm, it stood five-and-a-half feet high and was mounted on a pedestal standing on two circular steps.
The unveiling was performed by Fr JE Garde, Dominican Provincial, with honours rendered by a detachment of the FCA under Captain JJ Stafford and Lieutenant P Dooley. The 750th anniversary celebrations of the Dominicans in Athy will commence on Friday 5 October at 7pm, when a civic reception will be given in the municipal offices in Rathstewart for the Dominicans by Athy Town Council.
This will be followed on Saturday by a number of events starting with a music and dance celebration in Emily Square at 3pm. At 6pm, a plaque will be unveiled at Convent Lane to mark the 750th anniversary and this will be followed at 6.15pm by a Mass celebrated by the Dominican community in the Dominican Church. Later on, following the Mass, there will be a reception in the GAA Centre.
On Sunday 7 October at 3pm in the town hall, a lecture will be given by the noted Dominican historian, Fr Hugh Fenning, on the history of the Dominicans and their connection with Athy. Later that evening at 8pm in the Dominican Church, a concert showcasing local singers and musicians will take place in what has been described as a celebratory concert commemorating the link between the Dominican Order and the town of Athy.
Athy Heritage Centre will hold an exhibition on the Friars Preachers in Athy from Thursday 4 to Friday 12 October and the Heritage Centre will be open during the weekend of 5 to 7 October.
All the events listed above are free and everyone is welcome to join in the townspeople’s celebration of the Dominican’s 750th anniversary.
However, if you plan to attend the reception in the GAA Centre on Saturday evening, the Dominicans would like you to pick up a ticket for each person in your party at the Dominican Office. The tickets are free, but the ticketing system is to allow them to make adequate arrangements for the numbers attending.