Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas memories

On Monday 10th December we witnessed one of the largest attendances at a funeral service held in Athy. John Perry a native of Bunclody but an adopted son of Athy had died three days previously. His passing was not unexpected but when it came it occasioned genuine regret for the man who was universally regarded for his courtesy and kindness.

The name Perry is synonymous in so far as townsfolk are concerned with the motor dealership and garage while for country folk the name is more associated with the farm machinery business. Both were developed from the start up business commenced forty five years ago by John Perry who came to Athy six years previously to work with Duthie Larges of Leinster Street. When he arrived in the South Kildare town he was just twenty years of age and within one week of his arrival he had made his first move in the upward transition which would eventually lead to the opening of his own business. That move, just a short distance up Leinster Street brought him to Jacksons, a firm well known and long established in the town of Athy. He later moved to Smiths Garage next to the I.V.I. foundry before branching out on his own just six years after he first arrived in Athy.

The friendly man who was John Perry was a highly respected business man who according to the many stories I have heard this week treated his customers with remarkable kindness and courtesy. Legion are the accounts that have come to my notice confirming that a happy customer was very important to the Bunclody man whose dealings were always fair and equitable.

As a committee member of the Church of Ireland John was a member of the local Select Vestry for almost forty years and for the last three decades fulfilled the role of treasurer of the Athy Parish. His involvement with the Athy Lions Club was perhaps less well know given that organisation’s work is by the most part carried out discreetly and without undue fanfare. As a past president of the Lions Club and a member of many years standing his contribution to local charities and good causes generally was exemplary. Above all he was an honourable man whose courtesy and innate kindness marked him as a man apart. The huge gathering at his funeral service at the Parish Church of St. Michaels was an indication of the esteem in which John and his family are held both locally and much further afield. To his wife Olive, his sons Stephen, Roger and Niall and his extended family go our sympathies.

Christmas time in Athy has been marked for many years passed with the performance of “While Shepherds Watched” in the local Dominican Church. A Yule time entertainment it’s always a very enjoyable festive offering guaranteed to bring good cheer and set the stage for the celebration of Christmas. This Thursday the 2007 performance takes place just days after Paul Stafford was laid to rest in St. Michaels Cemetery. It was Paul who fifteen years ago produced the very first “While Shepherds Watched”. His involvement in theatrical productions made him an ideal person to organise that first show and the audience reaction ensured it would become an annual event thereafter.

I recall Paul’s involvement in another event, an Oratoria written by John MacKenna and Mairead O’Flynn which he produced for Remembrance Sunday approximately 14 years ago in the Presbyterian Church on the Dublin Road. I had the performance captured on film but unfortunately the film has been missing for a number of years, no doubt lying on someone’s shelf, overlooked and forgotten. I can still remember the evocative scene created by Paul towards the end of the Oratorio when in darkness and with background commentary he gave the names of the Athy men who died in the 1914-1918 war, a candle was lit for every one of those men until finally 125 candles were flickering at the front of the Church. It was a very emotional scene created by a talented producer who worked on several theatrical offerings by John MacKenna and the Mend and Makedo Theatre Company. It was in fact the first public acknowledgment of the contribution made by Athy men during the 1914-18 war and thankfully in the intervening years we have witnessed the reclaiming of their memory as an integral part of our community’s proud history. Paul died after a long illness and our sympathies go to his mother Connie and his sisters Imelda, Celine and Anne.

A recent commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the death of Monaghan poet Patrick Kavanagh saw the planting of a tree at the Canal Harbour. It was a symbolic gesture for the Inniskeen man who wrote.

O commemorate me where there is water,
Canal water preferably
So stilly greeny at the heart of Summer. Brother
Commemorate me thus beautifully.

Later that evening in the nearby Gargoyles restaurant which was once the Grand Canal Hotel an evening of Poetry, Drama and Music brought to my attention for the first time the talented musicianship of octogenarian Seamus Farrell of Ballylinan. The tin whistle is his forte but somewhere along the way Seamus kissed the Blarney stone and luckily for social historians he is blessed with a good memory and a deep knowledge of this part of the country. Talking to Seamus that night and since then has brought a wealth of information from which I hope to piece together a few interesting articles in the new year.

In the meantime may I wish you all a Happy Christmas and a contented New year.

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