Thursday, October 14, 2010

Arts Centre / Eileen McHugh

On Thursday night last Athy Community Arts Centre enjoyed its first full house as the local singer Jack L. who enjoys huge national success gave his first performance on Athy’s newest stage.  It was a great night, enjoyed by a capacity audience, with many more fans who could not gain admission having had to be turned away.  It was a very proud occasion for all those associated with Athy Community Arts Centre which was founded just a few months ago.

Even now, after a number of excellent shows, the Centre is still not as widely known as it should be. Thankfully the local and the wider communities are slowly beginning to recognise the valuable cultural asset in their midst.  The local Methodist Church which has stood on the Woodstock Street site for more than 130 years now doubles as the Arts Centre, while still fulfilling its primary role as a house of prayer for the followers of John Wesley every Sunday.  The generosity of the Methodist Church body and the local Methodists in allowing the Church to be used in this way is commendable.  Equally important to the development of the Arts Centre was the financial help of both Athy Town Council and Kildare County Council.  Aoife Breslin was Chairperson of Athy Town Council when the project reached a critical stage and with her fellow Councillors on the local Council did much to smooth the path which lead to the opening of the Centre earlier this year.  Another key player in the long struggle to get the Arts Centre opened was the Town Manager Joe Boland whose enthusiasm and expertise helped to bring finality to an idea which had been nurtured by a few optimists for many years past.

That same optimism was rewarded over a decade ago with the opening of another of Athy’s cultural facilities, the local Heritage Centre.  Occupying what was the old butter market in the centre of the Town Hall as well as adjoining rooms which once houses the headquarters of Macra na Feirme and the Town Hall Caretakers residence, the Heritage Centre has gone from strength to strength since it was first opened.  The Shackleton Autumn School, now an international event attracting visitors from abroad, is perhaps its best known annual event.  It has also hosted a number of other events and exhibitions, all of which have added enormously to our knowledge of the towns past as well as raising the local community’s appreciation and understanding of the wider cultural context in which we live. 

Next Monday, 18th October, at 7.30 p.m. a meeting will be held in the Heritage Centre on the suggestion of a number of local people to gauge support for the setting up of a ‘Friends of Athy Heritage Centre’.  It is suggested that the Friends Society would be a suitable vehicle to allow local people and anyone else who wanted to help to assist the Centre, maintain and indeed increase the level of activity which we have come to associate with the best museums and heritage centres in the country.  The meeting will be a forum to give anyone interested in the development of the Heritage Centre an opportunity to put their ideas and views before other interested persons.  It will also hopefully help to secure the future success of the Centre which has played such an enormous part in highlighting our shared history. 

During the week Eileen McHugh, formerly of Duke Street, died in Dublin and her remains were brought back to Athy for burial alongside her husband Des who died a few years ago.  McHugh’s Chemist was for over 100 years a well known landmark in Duke Street where the late Des McHugh carried on the business founded by his father in 1893.  Des was a founder member of Athy Lions Club and indeed he was the principal mover in establishing that fine charitable organisation in Athy in 1971.  His wife Eileen had particular fond associations in my memory.  I have always remembered her generosity to me when as a 13 or 14 year old I found myself outside Duffys Circus tent in the fairgreen without the money to gain admission.  I remember I was with my old friend Teddy Kelly who had the necessary shilling or so but for whatever reason I was penniless.  Raging against the unfairness of my situation I complained loudly and bitterly and to my lifelong embarrassment uttered a few ‘f’ words, all of which attracted Mrs. McHugh’s attention.  I would not have known her other than as the Chemist’s wife from the far side of town and my embarrassment was not in any way occasioned by my well established use of the ‘f’ word, but simply because I was overheard by a lady.  My embarrassment was quickly assuaged when Mrs. McHugh, realising the cause of my annoyance, opened her purse and gave me the admission fee for the circus. 

I never forgot her kindness and remember in equal measure to this day her generosity and my embarrassment at the use of profanities in her presence. 

The people of Athy will remember the McHugh family with fondness and for my part I will never forget Mrs. McHugh’s kindness to me all those years ago.

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