A recent brief meeting with a retired teacher who once taught in the old Technical School in Stanhope Street, Athy, prompts this week's reflection on times past. Peter Halpin, a woodwork and mechanical drawing teacher, obtained his first teaching post from Kildare V.E.C. in 1936. He was taken on for the new Technical School which was scheduled for Castledermot but spent the first weeks of his teaching career in Athy before being transferred to Celbridge until required in Castledermot in 1938.
He remembered Athy and the teachers in the old Technical School in 1936 as if it was only last year rather than 56 years ago. T.C. Walsh whom he describes as "a great artist" was Headmaster and woodwork teacher while Tessie Morrin was commerce teacher. The school had approximately 60 pupils and the subjects taught included woodwork, metalwork, commerce and domestic science. Within weeks of his temporary assignment to Athy he was transferred to the Celbridge Technical School where his services were more urgently required. There is stayed until 1938 and left to take up his permanent full-time position in Castledermot where he was to remain for 15 years. In 1945 he replaced the first school Principal, Padraig O'Dalaigh, and was himself succeeded as Principal by Tadgh Hayden in 1953.
Peter remembers Michael Thorpe as the first and long serving Caretaker of the Castledermot School and recalled with pride his return to his old school in 1973 when the Minister for Education, Richard Burke, officially opened the present school. Stories of times past and times spent with his friends and acquaintances in the Castledermot area came flooding back. He recalled with particular fondness Una Bray who lived near the Technical School and whose homemade sweetcake was a particular favourite of Peter and his friends during the late 1930's. Una later married Jack McKenna who is still happily, hale and hearty living in Castledermot and whose son John is today one of the most promising young writers on the Irish literary scene.
The meeting with Peter Halpin was unexpected and unfortunately brief but his reminiscences of days spent in Athy and Castledermot created a feeling of guilt in his listener. Why you may ask but the answer is readily understood when I explain that so much oral history has been lost because of a failure to implement an ongoing systematic system of recording those men and women whose memory stretch back over events and times that are unknown to younger generations.
Meeting Peter Halpin has reminded me and hopefully others that within our community there is an extensive store of tradition and experience which needs to be recorded and retained. The recollections of the elderly members of our community are an essential part of the sense of who and what we are today. History is after all about people and the events they have shaped and the experiences they have shared.
Athy Museum Society will hopefully start in 1993 to record interviews with men and women of Athy and district in an attempt to recapture the past through their experiences. In the meantime we should never lose sight of the value of oral history particularly as a method of studying the recent past. The lives of ordinary people have so much to tell us of domestic life, work and experiences of childhood. To lose the benefit of these experiences would be to throw away much of what we are. Let 1993 be the year to change that.