Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Carberys

The River Liffey Reservoir Scheme, popularly known as the Poulaphouca Scheme, saw the E.S.B. and Dublin Corporation coming together in 1937 in a venture which would give the Electricity Board an enormous new source of power generation and the Corporation a fresh source of water for the city of Dublin. Work on the scheme commenced in November of that year and before the civil engineering work was completed some years later two young men from Athy had died in tragic accidents on the site. Both men were carpenters. Jim Lawler of the well known Lawler family of Woodstock Street was only a short time married when tragedy struck, leaving a young widow who was expecting their first child. He was just 29 years of age when he died in 1940. By an extraordinary but tragic coincidence his brother John would die in similar circumstances 13 years later while working for the same employer on the Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal Hydro Electric Scheme.

Bill Carbery was 41 years old when he fell from a crane on the Poulaphouca site and died from his injuries on 14th June 1941. He was the son of Joe and Brigid Carbery who once lived in Ballintubbert but who later farmed land at Ballyadams before opening a small shop at the Bleach, Athy. Another son was Tom Carbery, the legendary local politician who had a remarkable long career as a member of Athy Urban District Council and Kildare County Council and who has given his name to a housing estate in the Woodstock Castle area.

Bill Carbery emigrated to America at 22 years of age, as had so many of his generation. He worked in the construction industry in New York and like many other hundreds of his fellow Irishmen he was employed on the building of the Empire State building. Built during the American Depression it was to be the highest building in the world. Construction work commenced on St. Patrick’s Day 1930 with at times upwards of 3000 men employed and in quite an extraordinary feat of engineering the 103 storey building was completed and opened by President Hoover on 1st May 1931.

Four years after he had arrived in New York Bill met and married Anna Hegarty whom I understand came from Co. Kerry. They had two children, Eileen and Joe, who were born in New York. Like so many Irishmen and women who had emigrated to America during and in the immediate aftermath of the Irish Civil War, the young Carbery family found the American depression years very difficult. The hope and optimism of the early years of America’s laissez faire economy turned sour with the Wall Street crash of 1929. It would take almost another 10 years before the American economy recovered. In the meantime many of the young Irish emigrants of the 1920s returned to their home country and amongst them was Bill and Anna Carbery with their two American born children.

In time the Carbery family settled at No. 20 St. Patrick’s Avenue where three more Carbery children, Liam, Anna and David were to be born. The children grew up in the small housing estate which had been opened by Athy Urban District Council in March 1931, having been built on land acquired from Miss Kilbride and Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill. The Council documents relating to the St. Patrick’s Avenue Housing Scheme referred to the “Jail Field” as it formed part of the local penitentiary complex opened up on the Carlow Road in 1830.

Youthful friends remembered by Joe Carbery, his brothers Liam and David and his sister Anna from the 1940s include Alfie Rafferty who tragically died in a road traffic accident in London, Brian O’Hara, Cecil Carroll, Mary Keogh, Mary Noonan, Vinnie and Paul Smith, Andy and Peter Smith. The Carbery boys and girls attended the Christian Brothers School and the local Convent and Joe also attended Athy’s Technical School where T.C. Walsh was headmaster. They all have fond memories of their school days and of St. Patrick’s Avenue and of Athy town. Indeed Anna who now lives in America has corresponded for many years with one of her teachers, Sr. Carmel.

In 1948 the Carbery family moved to Co. Kerry when their mother married widower Roger O’Donoghue who was a hotelier based in Killarney town. Joe, like his father before him, emigrated to America a year later and it was Joe I first contacted when with other family members he attended a Carbery clan re-union in Athy Golf Club earlier this year. Now 77 years of age he lives in Pomona New York. Located in Rockland County, New York, Ponoma is one of New York State’s newest urban settlements, having been established in February 1967. Joe served as the fourth Mayor of Ponoma following municipal elections in 1980 and he held that position for the following six years.

His brother Liam who now lives in retirement in North Wembley, London was a member of the Kerry football squad in the days when the legendary John Culloty and Tadghie Lyne were players. He was a sub on the Kerry senior team in 1957 and also played minor county hurling. In London he featured on the Round Towers team, where a playing colleague was the future Kildare County Board Secretary, Seamus Aldridge. Employed by British Rail, he was chief steward on the Royal Train for 7 years. His son Peter is Deputy Editor of the UK National newspaper, the Daily Star on Sunday.

The youngest member of the Carbery family, David, is also retired, but unlike his siblings he still lives in the country of his birth. North County Kildare and more specifically Donadea is home to David who retired some time ago as Director of Catering in Maynooth College.

Their sister Eileen is married and living in America and she recalled for me when we met earlier this year friends from her school days. They included Mary Smith, now also living in America, and former neighbours Noreen Dooley and Pauline Rowan, both of whom sadly have since passed on but who were remembered with fondness.
Eileen, the eldest member of the Carbery family, died some years ago in America. During the 1940s she was a member of the local musical society and participated in many of the shows which were put on in the Town Hall. The photograph reproduced with this article comes from the Carbery family album and shows young locals dressed as fairy tale characters for a Town Hall show. They have been identified as Una McHugh, Mrs. Crampton, Vera Cross in the front row, Mona Farrell, Eileen Carbery, May Fenlon in the middle row and at the back Maura Blanchfield and Frank Prendergast. I have not been able to identify the show or when it was put on but no doubt many of you can help me in that regard.

The extended Carbery family has had at least two reunions in Athy in recent years, organised by amongst others Jerry Carbery, formerly of St. Johns and now of Farmhill. The members of Bill and Anna Carberys family travelled from America, England and nearby Donadea to attend the most recent gathering held in Athy Golf Club and I was privileged to meet them and hear of their high regard for the town where they spent many happy years in the 1940s and 50s.

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