Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dissolving Boundaries / Scoil Mhichil Naofa and Cairncastle

On Thursday evening 4th class students from Scoil Mhichil Naofa brought their parents and some Athy locals through their involvement to date in a unique cross border experiment which goes under the title of ‘Dissolving Boundaries’.  This is a North South initiative funded by the two governments on this island whereby selected schools in the Republic make and maintain links with schools in the North using the most updated communication technology, including video conferencing and online discussion with the assistance of computer resources and facilities provided by Dell and Eircom.  The young girls from Scoil Mhichil Naofa are linked with the school in Cairncastle, Co. Antrim and since earlier this year the two schools have developed mutual understanding using computer links and personal contacts between school children.

I was invited to last night’s presentation to give a talk to the Athy children and their parents with regard to the historical connections between Athy and the wee village of Cairncastle in County Antrim.  It seemed a daunting task when first mentioned to me for I did not even recognise the name of the village which I must have driven through two summers ago while on a brief holiday along the Antrim coastline.

The first link, as one might expect, was found in the high Presbyterian presence in Cairncastle.  The parish of that name has a population of approximately 2,000, while the village itself probably consists of 100 or so.  Most of them practiced the Presbyterian faith and there has been a Presbyterian ministry in that area since 1646, just 33 years after the first Presbyterian Minister was recorded in Ireland.  Athy had its first Presbyterian Minister in 1717 when a number of rich merchants in Dublin provided funding for a Dr. Thralkield to minister in the South Kildare town.  Following the 1798 Rebellion there was no record of Presbyterianism in Athy until the arrival of Scottish tenant farmers who came to this area from 1851 onwards on the invitation of the Duke of Leinster.  Four years later their kirk or church was built on the Dublin Road and continues to be used as a place of worship to this day.

Perhaps the most intriguing connection I found was in the person of Edward Bruce, brother of the Scottish King, who landed with his troops at Larne in 1315.  Larne is just 4 miles from Cairncastle and the Scottish Army in its attempt to wrest control of Ireland from the English marched southwards as far as Athy.  It was at the Moate of Ardscull on 26th January 1316 that Bruce’s Army and the English Royalists fought a famous battle in which many on both sides were killed.  The Scottish dead were buried in Athy’s Dominican Friary, while their English opponents were laid to rest in St. Michael’s.  So a very real connection between the tiny village of Cairncastle and the town of Athy has existed for almost 700 years. 

As you might expect there is a Masonic Lodge in Cairncastle, but in an amazing coincidence that Lodge shares the same name with its counterpart in Athy.  St. John’s Masonic Lodge Carincastle was established in 1807, while St. John’s Lodge Athy came into being 33 years later.  Intriguingly the Cairncastle Lodge offers the information that it meets ‘on a Friday on or before the full moon’. 

Athy for over 20 years has hosted the Bluegrass Festival and Cairncastle, as part of its Ulster Scots Festival, holds a Bluegrass evening.  Maybe the cultural exchanges between the two areas could be extended to have our local musicians ‘Woodbine’ invited to play at this year’s festival in the County Antrim village.

A name very familiar to Athy folk provided another slightly tenuous link, even if I could not find any direct connection between the two.  Cairncastle boasts a curious old building known as Shaws Mansion built in the early 17th century on the seashore commanding a view of the Bays of Cushendale and Glenarm.  Here, of course, Athy was for many decades the headquarters of Shaws ‘Almost Nationwide’ and Shaws first department store is still to be found on our main street.

When next the school children of Cairncastle and Athy meet face to face they will have even more reasons to acknowledge their common links and shared experiences.  Well done to the 4th classes of Scoil Mhichil Naofa on a project which is both innovative and hopefully beneficial to the local communities on both sides of the border.

On my way home from addressing the children and parents in the Halla Mór I saw Gerry Kelly and the members of the Tidy Towns Committee working late into the evening on improving the appearance of our town.  The members of the Tidy Towns Committee are to be congratulated on their wonderful community spirit. 

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