Thursday, November 20, 2008
Church’s role in bringing community together
It’s just a few short miles out of Athy, yet on last Sunday it seemed a place apart. To Kilmead, formerly in the holding of the Fitzgerald family of Earldom and Dukedom fame, came neighbours and friends of the Conlan family to pay their respects to their 29 year old daughter Niamh who tragically died while on vacation in Australia. St. Ita’s Church, where I sat in the transept facing the choir gallery, had the ambience of what in my minds eye was a rural church in 19th century Ireland. The pews, polished by generations of use, to the ancient walls painted and maintained over the years with careful attention spoke of a community’s pride. Everywhere one looked there was evidence of community involvement. From the stewards outside the church gate marshalling cars as they arrived, to the choir which was in position a long time before the appointed hour. The choir’s choice of hymns was so different than anything I have heard before. The thundering evangelical-like hymns favoured a generation or more ago gave way to the more gentle strains of hymns I had never before heard. ‘I watched the Sunrise’ was one of those hymns sung to the accompaniment of a young local man, Stuart Lawler, whose sensitive playing of the organ provided a pleasing musical backdrop to the mass voices of the mixed choir of St. Ita’s Church.
‘I watched the sunrise lighting the sky,
Casting his shadows near
And on this morning bright though it be,
I feel those shadows near me.’
The choir leader was Joan O’Connor who played a beautiful instrumental piece on the tin whistle during the mass.
I remarked afterwards what a strong community involvement there seemed to be in the area and it made me realise how important is a church (any church for that matter) in maintaining a vibrant community spirit in its area. The church where the local community come together at least once a week to share in a common activity helps to develop and maintain a strong community spirit. We generally tend to overlook the importance of church based services or activities and the role they have played over the years in developing and maintaining the sense of community. Kilmead is a fine example of a church exercising its influence on community relationship and in this way seemed a place apart from my own town of Athy where the influence of the church has diminished alarmingly. Mass going is now a minority activity in Athy, the numbers who attended mass a generation or so ago have disappeared and I suspect that presently perhaps less than one third of those who once attended mass are now doing so. The fall off must have had an effect on the cohesiveness of the local community. If we no longer meet on a regular basis in the church where else are we likely to meet? For many the answer is nowhere.
St. Ita’s Church, according to a plaque on its front wall, was opened in 1798. If the date is correct it represents a unique event in Irish history. ’98 was a time of conflict, a time of terror and regrettably also it must be acknowledged, a time of sectarian barbarism. Several churches throughout the country were destroyed, and in that regard south Kildare suffered as much as many other areas. Our own Parish Church in Chapel Lane was burned to the ground on 7th March 1800 in an attack allegedly involving some members of the South Cork militia. The church in Castledermot had been torched on 20th March 1799 and nearby Stradbally Church suffered a similar fate on 24th June 1798. Indeed a total of 35 churches were destroyed in the five counties of Wexford, Wicklow, Kildare, Laois and Carlow during and in the immediate aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion. The opening of a Catholic church in Kilmead in the midst of such tumult seems improbable. However, despite the questions which must hang over the claim to be a ’98 church, St. Ita’s is unquestionably home to a vibrant and caring congregation and community which came out in great numbers last Sunday to pay tribute to one of its own.
I mentioned last week when I inserted a photograph of youngsters from the Avenue taken 65 years ago that I would write of the Carbery family of St. Patrick’s Avenue this week. Unfortunately and inexplicably while I mentioned the Carberys I gave the wrong names of those photographed, referring to the Carbery boys as Carrolls. Fortunately Denis Smyth has once again come to my rescue and courtesy of his letter I can confirm that Joe Carbery is photographed between Vinny Smith and Mary Kehoe and his brother Liam Carbery is in the front row.
Denis, who in his younger days lived at No. 2 Offaly Street, was able to identify the men in the second of last weeks photographs which was taken outside John W. Kehoe’s premises. The men from left to right were Bob Webster, J.W. Kehoe, Tim Scally, Tom McHugh and another. Bob and his brother Jack Webster were painters and Bob later became manager of the cinema in Offaly Street. Tim Scally worked in Kehoes and indeed I understood he also worked for Tom Dowling who was the previous owner of the premises. Tim later emigrated to England and is now living back in Athy. Tom McHugh lived at No. 8 Offaly Street and he operated his own foundry in Janeville Lane. The unidentified man standing next to Tom is believed to have been one of his workmen.
Another photograph from the Carbery collection in America is shown this week. It was taken on 22nd August 1948 and shows three young local lads sitting on a canal boat which I understood was captained by Mr. Wall of St. Patrick’s Avenue. Does anyone know anything about him? The boys are from left Alfie Rafferty, Des Noonan and Joe Carbery. Rafferty and Carbery lived in St. Patrick’s Avenue, while Des Noonan lived in Stanhope Street. The Carbery story is postponed to next week.