Thursday, March 18, 2010

Eye on the Past 731

On Saturday, 11th November the local Golf Club will hold the 2006 Captains Dinner in it's relatively new Club House at Geraldine . The Captain this year is Ger Ennis. A low handicap golfer, he was honoured to be elected as the Club Captain during the Club's centenary celebration which commenced earlier this year with the holding of a Club Committee meeting in the offices of Athy Town Council. That meeting was a symbolic re-enactment of the first public meeting held in the Urban District Council offices in the Town Hall, Athy on the 30th January 1906 when the plans for the setting up of a Golf Club in Athy were first given a public airing. The meeting one hundred years ago was called by John Corcoran acting in consort with a number of local men. Because the records of Athy Golf Club have been lost, we cannot positively identify the other men involved but it would seem that they probably included M. J. Minch of Rockfield House, Rev. William Duggan a curate in St. Michael's Parish Church and Patrick Lynch who lived in the Abbey in Emily Square.

The formative years of the Golf Club were marked by the early retirement of it's first captain and the enforced resignation of it's second captain all within the space of approximately eighteen months. The Club quickly regrouped and continued to develop even if somewhat slowly for the first few decades of its existence.

Golf in the early part of the 20th Century was the preserve of the well heeled members of society and even the onset of the First World War which saw the enlistment of hundreds of local working class men had no appreciable effect on the local Golf Club. However, the enlistment of club member such as Dr. John L. Kilbride and Dr. Eugene Minch must have had some impact given the small membership of the club at that time. The remaining club members according to the report of the Irish White Cross played their part in the war effort by putting on amateur shows for hospitalised soldiers.

The course at Geraldine was constantly undergoing improvements but even as these improvements were put into place, the club suffered a decline in membership to the extent that it's continuing existence was in doubt. At a time when financial rectitude did not condone the borrowing of money, whether small or large, the club found itself with an overdraft. The monies owed to one of the local banks was quite small but those in charge of the clubs affairs were sufficiently alarmed to question whether Athy Golf Club could continue to operate. That crisis was referred to by Dr. John Kilbride in April 1938 on the occasion of a presentation to Dan Rice, retiring Headmaster of the Model School, a founder member of Athy Golf Club and for many years the Honorary Treasurer of the club. “Some years ago when it looked as if the Golf Club would have to close down, Dan Rice was the person responsible for securing for it a new lease of life” claimed Dr. Kilbride.

The financial storm was weathered and the subsequent history of Athy Golf Club was one of continuing success. That success was ultimately marked with the extension of the original nine hole course to become an 18 hole course and the erection of a modern clubhouse with restaurant facilities. It is a matter of record that the eighteen hole course came about as a result of a conversation between the clubs landlord Brian Tobin and the club's President, Denis O'Donovan in September 1990. This followed an earlier unsuccessful attempt to provide a nine hole extension to the course for which the Club purchased land which was later resold. Denis relates in an article he wrote for the centenary history of the club how they met on the 4th September 1990 as Denis was playing the old 8th hole and Brian was working in the adjoining field. The conversation came around to the “possibility of extending the course to eighteen holes” which could only be done with the agreement of the landowner who himself was a member of the Athy club. Ten days later Brian advised his willingness to provide additional land for the course extension subject to agreement on appropriate terms. The rest is history and is retold in the centenary history book which I understand will be launched at the Captain's Dinner on November 11th.

Denis O'Donovan's role in the development of the eighteen hole course and the building of the new clubhouse cannot be overstated. Denis has played a key role in the centenary celebrations of the club and in particular worked tirelessly for three or more years extracting newspaper reports of the clubs activities dating back to 1906, which in the absence of Club records were used when compiling the centenary history of the club. Denis came to Athy from Limerick in 1960 to work in the local asbestos factory believing that his time in Athy was to be of a short duration before he continued on to Dundalk. He finished his working life in Athy, retiring in 1995. A member of the Golf Club since 1960 he has served on the Golf Club committee and is a former Club President and Club Captain.

The membership of Athy Golf Club has increased enormously over the years. From the initial 15 or so men who made up the Club Membership in 1906, it has grown to approximately nine hundred and ninety members today. Perhaps one of the more significant changes over the years was the recent admission of females as full members of the Club. Another significant change, albeit one which came about gradually as Irish society prospered, was the welcome shift in the publics perception of golf and golf club membership as the preserve of the well off members of the local community. Athy Golf Club has a membership from all walks of life and is all the better for that.
Tonight (Wednesday) a talk will be given in the Town Hall, Athy starting at 8.00 Zoltan Zinn Collis, a survivor of the Holocaust whose book,“Final Witness – My journey from the Holocaust to Ireland” has recently been published. Zoltan has an amazing story to tell and one which deserves to be heard. The name Collis is that of his adopted parents who were William Robert Collis and his wife. Robert Collis, as he was generally known, was one of three remarkable brothers born in Dublin all of who wrote books of commendable merit. John Stewart Collis, twin brother of Robert served in the First World War and during the Second World War was a farm worker who subsequently wrote of his experiences. His books which are highly recommended include,“While Following the Plough” and “The Worm Forgives the Plough” both of which deal with mans relationship with the soil. I first came across these books when they were recommended to me by a writer friend who in many ways is a kindred spirit of John Stewart Collis. I had earlier come across Robert Collis' autobiography “The Silver Fleece” written some time before the Second World War and also a play of his with the never to be forgotten title “Marrowbone Lane” which was specially written for the Marrowbone Lane Fund founded to combat T.B.. Robert was a paediatrician who entered Belsen in 1945 with a Red Cross team where he found the young boy, Zoltan Zinn whom he would take back with him to Ireland. The third Collis brother was Maurice who spent many years in India and whose writing was largely devoted to oriental topics.

The three Collis brothers were remarkable men of letters. John Stewart the Philosopher, Maurice the Orientalist and Robert the paediatrician and concerned medical activist have left an honourable legacy both in literature and in the arts.

Finally, I read of the recent death at 90 years of age of Jim O'Flaherty of Greystones. Jim was for a long time an official with the post office here in Athy. It was here that he met and married Carrie Glespen of Duke Street. He was a founder member of Athy Credit Union Limited and indeed was elected first President of the Credit Union by his fellow Directors following the inaugural meeting held at 82 Leinster Street on the 17th May 1968. It's remarkable to consider that in it's first year of operation savings in the Credit Union amounted to “almost” £5,000. Nowadays Credit Union savings are measured in millions and ensures that the objective of the Credit Union “to save together for the purpose of helping one another” remains a key element in its service to the community. Jim O'Flaherty and those other men and women who were involved in the setting up of the Credit Union will aways be remembered.

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