Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Eye on the Past 753

Last week Des Murphy formerly of St. Michael's Terrace died in his county Meath home. His remains were brought back to his home town for burial in St. Michael's cemetery to rest along side his parents Joseph and May Murphy. A few weeks earlier the former Bernadette Cross who like Des was born in Athy passed away in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. Her ashes remain in Scarborough.

The Murphys and the Cross's are two families remembered by the older generation of the Athy people. Jack Murphy was a skilled mason who left a reminder of his work in the beautiful stone entrance gateway to St. Dominic's friary. The former Technical school on the Carlow road is another local building on which he worked in his time. His son Des was a member of the Garda Siochana as was his other son Sean who retired a few years ago. As the funeral cortege arrived outside St Michael's cemetery on a beautiful sunny day last week it was met by a generous gathering of Athy men and women whose memories of times past go back quite a few decades. For Des Murphy left Athy in the late 1950's but even after the elapse of 50 years or so memories of young days were stirred by the announcement of his death. The Murphy family formerly of St. Michael's Terrace were represented by Des's siblings Una and Sean and decade old acquaintances and youthful friendships were renewed when school pals were reunited at the graveside.

The news of Bernadette Cross's death reached me some weeks after it had taken place. We had corresponded for a while eight or nine years ago after she first wrote to me from her home which she called “Athy” at Seaview Gardens in Scarborough. She was the youngest daughter of “Watty”Cross of Duke Street, a Dublin born master plumber who came to Athy in 1925. He had married an Athy girl Christina Littleton who had been working in Dublin. After the birth of their first two daughters the Cross family came to Athy where they lived in a house near the old Comrades Hall in St. Johns Lane. Walter Scott Cross known to all as “Watty” Cross had served in the Dublin Fusiliers in World War I. His daughter Bernadette who first wrote to me in 1998 recalled her father singing the balled “The Dublin Boys” the opening lines of which were:

“We are the Dublin Boys
We are the Dublin Boys
We knew our manners
We earn our tanners
We are respected wherever we go”

Hannons Mills at Ardreigh and Crom a Boo Bridge closed down around the same time the Cross family came to Athy and in time “Watty” Cross bought the small office building towards the front of the mill in the town centre. He opened a sweet shop and an ice cream parlour making his own ice cream with cream bought each day from Mahers of Sawyers Wood. His daughters Maureen, Vera and Bernadette worked at different times in the ice cream parlour. About 1938 “Watty” bought 23 Duke Street where the following year he opened a hardware and plumbing business. His eldest daughter Maureen worked in the hardware shop for a while but World War restrictions on hardware supplies caused her to relocate to the ice cream parlour where she worked for the duration of the war. Cross's Ice Cream was very popular. I am afraid my memory does not go back far enough to recall what must have been a very welcome treat in war time but I am assured by many who remember Cross's ice cream parlour that the ice cream was superb.

Bernadette Cross went to England to train as a midwife in Paddington General Hospital. She later emigrated to Australia where she remained for seven years before returning to England. Her sisters Vera and Maureen would also emigrate to England. Maureen emigrated in 1945 and in 1949 married Athy man Fintan Stafford who passed away in 1999. Vera married Eugene Gormley who worked as a butcher in Athy. When Eugene went to England Vera continued to work for a while in the Duke Street ice cream parlour before joining her husband.

“Watty” Cross sold the former ice cream parlour premises to Tom McStay in or about 1951 and Tom opened a butchers shop from where his son David today operates a fast food outlet. “Watty Cross” died aged seventy nine years of age in February 1968 and is buried in new St. Michaels cemetery. Number 23 Duke Street was sold to John Dunne when “Watty's” widow Christina went to Birmingham to live with her eldest daughter Maureen. Christina died in 1971 aged eighty one years and her remains were returned to Athy for burial with her late husband.

There are no members of the Cross or Murphy family living today in Athy. The links fashioned in decades before and after the Second World War have long been broken but nevertheless the town in which Bernadette Cross and Des Murphy went to school and spent their youthful days was never quite forgotten. In the North Yorkshire town of Scarborough Bernadette called her home after her native town of Athy. Des who lived never too far from the town in which he was born and reared made the final journey back to his roots and joined his parents in the family plot in Old St. Michaels. Athy is for many living in Ireland as well as abroad “the home where the heart lies” For the new families arriving amongst us it may in time become the same.

The local Chamber of Commerce held an information meeting in the Clanard Court Hotel last week to announce details of the various water/canal events planned for 2007 which has been designated “The Year Of The Barrow”. Amongst those was the “Tri Athy” event a triathlon race where the competitors compete in swimming, cycling and running over the Olympic distance. This promises to be one of the most important sporting events ever to be held in Athy and already has attracted over 400 competitors. Hundreds if not thousands of spectators can be expected to come to Athy for the 2nd of June when the river Barrow will be the starting point for the men and women competing in this most difficult of sporting disciplines. I will return to this again but the date should be noted as one of the great highlights in the sporting and social calender of events planned for Athy this year.

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