Thursday, November 15, 2007

Three funerals and a happy surprise

During the past week, I attended the funerals of two men, who in their different ways and at different times were prominent in our community here in Athy. George Hayden I first came to know when, on returning to Athy, I joined the local badminton section of the Rugby Club, where he was the steward. A courteous gentleman, George Hayden was liked by everyone who was privileged to know him. An unassuming man he was, as described by Mark Bergin, president of the Rugby Club in his brief eulogy at the funeral mass, “a man of integrity”. In the local Heritage Centre, there is a unique memorial made from World War I bullets and pieces of marble which were sent to Mrs Hayden of Churchtown in memory of her two sons Aloysius and Patrick who were killed in the Great War. It was through George Hayden’s generosity and thoughtfulness that this important commemorative artefact of war was donated to the Heritage Centre some years ago. It will always remain a memorial, not only to the Hayden brothers, but for me also a reminder of the quiet gracious gentleman who extended courtesy and assistance to everybody who came in contact with him.

Brian Maguire also passed away last week, less than two years after his beloved Megan went to her maker. Both Megan and Brian were for many years actively involved in the community amongst whom they came to live in July 1957.

As a dispensary doctor, Dr Brian saw the raw underbelly of poverty and deprivation at close quarters. For Athy, in the 1950s and for a long time afterwards, was unlike the bustling, traffic clogged town of today. Job opportunities were few and far between and the emigration boat provided the only respite from the numbing effects of enforced idleness.

The young doctor on arrival in Athy was to spend the rest of his life working among the people who came to appreciate the thoughtfulness which he brought to the care of his patients, especially the elderly. His involvement with the Committee for the Care of the Elderly is well known and was documented by me some years ago in a previous Eye on the Past. His passing and that of George Hayden, both in advanced years, removes from the local community two men of integrity whose lives were an example to all of us.

Of their generation also was the late Ivan Bergin, who died a few weeks ago. I was away at the time and regretfully failed to note his passing. Ivan Bergin was a quiet modest man whose father, the legendary JJ Bergin, was an important figure both nationally and locally in the Ireland of 50 years ago.

Ivan was perhaps best known for submitting the winning design for the Macra na Feirme badge in a competition 60 years ago.

Members of the newly-formed organisation were invited to submit proposals and the winning design was forwarded by the young farmer from Athy, which featured ears of wheat, oats and barley framing a ploughman and a pair of horses ploughing a field. The design prepared by Ivan Bergin continues today as the Macra na Feirme logo.

Some months ago I wrote of Christy Supple, trade union activist who led the South Kildare Farm Workers Strike in the early 1920s. Christy was also an urban councillor for Athy and, if memory serves me right, was a member of Kildare County Council. He died in England on 15 November 1967 to where he had emigrated some years previously. His remains were returned to his native Athy for burial in St Michael’s Cemetery.

Following my article on this forgotten leader of the working man’s move-ment in this area, I was fortunate to make contact with his son Joe, who lives in America. I found to my delight that Christy Supple’s wife was still alive and living in London and that he was also survived by two sons. The Supple family members are travelling to Athy for the 40th anniversary of Christy’s death and I hope to meet them and to learn more of the story of the man who was harshly imprisoned for his trade union activities during the course of the Farm Labourers’ Strike in 1923.

Christy Supple was the kind of man who made things happen. He was an activist who worked hard to better the lives of the workmen he represented and in so doing he suffered hugely. His is a story I hope to deal with in greater detail at some time in the near future.

In the meantime I finish off this week’s article with a photograph taken seven years ago on the occasion of the celebration of the centenary of Athy Urban District Council. Sadly, two of the former councillors in that photograph, Megan Maguire and George ‘Mossy’ Reilly are no longer with us.

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