Thursday, September 9, 2010

Jack Meany and the Meany Family

‘There is no glory in defeat’.   A maxim oft told to a football team at half time as its members regather their strength and energies for the second half.  The result of last Sunday’s football match in Croke Park gave lie to the claim when the Kildare footballers walked off the pitch to the applause of proud supporters from the shortgrass county.  The team had remained on the pitch for quite some time after the game and the majority of the Kildare supporters also stayed behind in the stands and on Hill 16 to applaud their heroes as they trudged wearily towards the dressing rooms.  The Kildare Senior team did us proud, not only last Sunday, but after the opening losing match, throughout the subsequent footballing year and the supporters showed their appreciation at the end of the Croke Park game.

Nearer to home, Athy achieved a unique double with the success of Clare Kambamettu in the 2010 Rose of Tralee competition.  What are the chances of two Athy girls in successive years winning the London Rose competition?  But to transfer that question to the winning of the Rose of Tralee competition itself raises issues of betting odds far beyond our understanding.

Two Tralee Roses in two years from a small Irish town is a unique achievement and contributes enormously to raising the town’s profile.  For too long Athy was identified by reference to a bank robbery and unjustified claims of being a rough town subject to the activities of Hole in the Wall gangs.  All that is now surely in the past as the two winners of the Rose of Tralee competition show a different side to the South Kildare town.  Athy for the foreseeable future will be inextricably linked with the beauty and grace of two wonderful ambassadors who have given us cause to renew our pride in our own place. 

One family who in my time and before my time, took great pride in Athy and its people were the Meany’s of St. Patrick’s Avenue.  Jack, Kevin, Danny and Dermot with their sisters Molly and Margaret were involved in different aspects of the town’s life from the 1940s onwards.  I remember Kevin as the town’s librarian in the 1950s.  It was then a part time position, the library opening in the evening time only to give access to the books which were shelved in the small room in the Town Hall which is now used as a reference room.  Accessed by the stairs opposite Mrs. Josephine Gibbon’s house, the scarcity of motor traffic in those days posed no great dangers for library users.  Nowadays the hall door leading onto Emily Row is deemed a safety hazard and is consequently permanently locked.

I used the library a lot in the late 1950s, being then a great fan of John Creasey novels.  Kevin was proud of Athy and always encouraged library users to read anything touching on Athy and its history.  There was indeed very little known of local history in those days, but one book he always mentioned was ‘The Rebellion of 1798’ by Kilcoo born Patrick O’Kelly.  The local library never had a copy of the book and it was many years later before I managed to purchase a copy of this scarce work and so began a history journey which has never ended.  Kevin’s brother Danny who worked in the local Asbestos factory, was a keen photographer and an avid gatherer of photographic images of the town and its people.  Long before others had acknowledged the importance of photographs in recording social history, Danny had amassed and collated a lot of photographic material.  His legacy of prints and film is a vitally important element of Athy’s social history. 

Jack Meany had worked abroad for years, returning to Athy when he retired.  He was a great supporter of the Heritage Centre when it was first mooted and was always to be seen at historical walks and talks arranged in conjunction with the local history group.

Two weeks ago the last surviving member of the Meany family passed away, aged 86 years.  Dermot had been a patient in St. Vincent’s Hospital for many years past.  I knew Dermot when he worked in Paddy Dillon’s shop in Emily Square which is now the J1 Cafe.  He had previously worked in Galway and Tullamore.  He was a courteous man who was never known to give offence and his passing and the earlier death of his sister Margaret who passed away three years ago deprives us of the last of a family which graced the cultural and social life of Athy over many decades.

The local Heritage Centre is gearing up for the Shackleton Autumn School over the October Bank Holiday weekend and hosts a photographic exhibition on the Antarctic by John Gamble, Professor of Geology at University College Cork commencing on 14th September.  The exhibition titled ‘Fire and Ice: A Photographic Journey of Antarctia’ will run until 15th October. 

Professor Gamble returned to Ireland after 28 years in Australia and New Zealand.  He has published more than 100 scientific papers and has the rare distinction of having three terrestrial landmarks named in his honour – Gamble Glacier and Gamble Cone in Antarctia and the Gamble Volcanic Complex on the Tonga – Kermadec Island Arc in the South West Pacific.  The exhibition comes to Athy from the Jennings Gallery in Cork City.

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