The name Harland and Wolff conjures up many images. Tragedy hovers on the fringes of many of those images. It was in the sprawling shipyard of Harland and Wolff that the Titanic was built by Belfast workers. The White Star Liner was launched on 31st May 1911 but in less than a year the most awesome ship ever to come out of the Belfast shipyard would sink to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Bruce Ismay was chairman of the White Star Line which commissioned the liner and his name I came across many times in the mid-1960’s when I frequented the beautiful countryside around Connemara. Ismay left the stricken Titanic in controversial circumstances after it struck an iceberg on the night of 14th April 1912. Criticised for doing so, although exonerated by the British enquiry into the disaster, Ismay withdrew from public life and spent a lot of his time at his fishing lodge at Costelloe in County Galway. However, long after his death which occurred in 1937, the Connemara locals were critical of Ismay, the millionaire ship owner who survived the sinking of the Titanic while the majority of the third class passengers including several Connemara men and women, perished.
Harland and Wolff came to mind with the recent announcement by Athy Lions Club of a concert planned for the Dominican Church in Athy on Saturday, 28th April in aid of local Lions charities. Topping the bill for the concert is the Harlandic Voice Choir. The choir was founded in 1944 in the Harland and Wolff shipyard by a group of approximately 20 shipyard workers. During the past 63 years the choir has had many successes at music festivals in England, Scotland and of course Ireland and in 1983 came second in Europe, competing against 200 other choirs in the “Let the People Sing” competition. The choir has appeared many times on television featuring on programmes on the BBC, UTV and RTE alongside such stars as Harry Seacombe, Moira Anderson, Joseph Locke and Stuart Burrows. The musical repertoire of the Harlandic Voice Choir ranges from operatic choruses to Broadway musical hits and the performance in St. Dominic’s Church will mark the choir’s first visit to Athy. It promises to be a wonderful musical experience and because Athy Lions Club is promoting the concert for local charities a “full house” can be expected on the evening of 28th April. Tickets can be purchased in The Gem, Winkles or in Martin Mullins office at Leinster Street.
I had intended to write of Athy Boy Scouts which their notepaper claims as the “5th Kildare Unit Athy Scouts”. The local troop celebrated its 30th anniversary this month and Aidan Prendergast who has been involved with scouting all of those years was to be the focus of whatever was to be put in writing. However, the best laid plans don’t always materialise and I have to confine myself to extending good wishes to Aidan Prendergast and the team of adult volunteers who have dedicated themselves to maintaining scouting in South Kildare over the years. The Scout Centre at St. John’s is located on the site of the Old Comrades Hall which was built as a clubhouse for ex British soldiers following the first World War. It later became the centre of the local Social Club, which in its heyday in the 1940’s and 1950’s had an extraordinary powerful influence on the cultural and social development of the middle class of this area. The Old Comrades Hall, or the Social Club as it was known in later years, is no more. The scouting den of the 5th Kildare Unit now occupies the site and the wish is that the next 30 years will bring even more success to the local scouts.
I had a phone call from Riga in Latvia a few days ago seeking information on Konrad Peterson who was manager of the Bord na Mona peat factory in Kilberry from 1947. I am sure many will remember Peterson who lived in Church Road. He emigrated to live with his only daughter in Newfoundland following his retirement and the extended family returned to live in Athy sometime in the 1970’s. Konrad Peterson died in 1981 and is buried in Old St. Michael’s Cemetery. He was a man with an interesting past, involved as he was in the Latvian Revolution of 1907, and if it is to be believed, was also involved in Dublin’s Easter Rebellion of 1916. If you have any information on Konrad Peterson or a photograph of him I would be delighted to hear from you.
The amalgamation of the boys and girls secondary schools will take place later this year. Scoil Eoin, formerly the Christian Brothers School, will hold a week of events to celebrate its past which I gather will conclude with a celebratory dinner in the Clanard Hotel on 12th May. The Annals of the Christian Brothers Monastery commenced in 1861 with an entry dealing with the history of the house at St. John’s Lane which would later be refurbished as the Brother’s Monastery. The Annals continued and I quote:
“Reverend Andrew Quinn P.P. Athy and Canon of the Archdiocese of Dublin subsequently built two schoolrooms with the aid of the parishioners and a few friends, but chiefly with the assistance of the generous and truly charitable Mr. Pat Maher of Kilrush in this county who principally at the suggestion of his eldest daughter Mrs. Mary Teresa Maher, Superioress of the Convent of Mercy, St. Michael’s, Athy gave £400. When the schools were finished in the August of 1861, three brothers, viz John Stanislaus Flanagan, director; Francis Luke Holland, sub-director and John Patrick Sheely, lay brother were sent by our Very Rev. Brother Michael Paul O’Riordan, superior general to conduct the establishment which was put into the possession of the brothers on the 8th of August 1861 ..... the Brothers commenced the school on 19th August 1861.”
In the intervening years thousands of young boys have passed through the Christian Brothers School in St. John’s Lane and its successors, Scoil Eoin in Rathstewart and St. Patrick’s National School in Greenhills. Following the amalgamation of the two secondary schools the Christian Brothers will no longer have any involvement with secondary education in Athy. Theirs was a long and fruitful engagement with education in Athy and South Kildare and the only reminder we will have of the Christian Brothers past links with this area is in the name Edmund Rice Square, given to the newest public space created in the centre of Athy some years ago.
The Christian Brothers, like the Sisters of Mercy, made an enormous contribution to improving the life and aspirations of the people of Athy and district following the dreadful years of the Great Famine. The Sisters of Mercy came to Athy just a few years after the Famine, while the Christian Brothers arrived nine years later. The educational facilities afforded to boys and girls of this area following the arrival of the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy brought advantages both educational and social which had been denied to previous generations. The new secondary school to be opened in September will be a far cry from the two schoolrooms which John Stanislaus Flanagan and his colleagues first opened to boys 146 years ago. I would hope that at some early date there can be a joint celebration for both the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy.