Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tom Webster and Offaly Street

Twice last weekend I received news which brought me back 50 years and more to the street where I spent my youth.  Offaly Street in the 1950’s was a street of young families, a close knit community where everyone knew their neighbours.  By and large we all shared the same deprivations, more financial than social.  There were just two motor car owners in the entire street.  John W. Kehoe, Publican and G.A.A. man extraordinaire and Bob Webster manager of the local cinema were the lucky duo although that exclusive club was later joined by Bill Cash when he came to live in No.  3 Offaly Street.  There was one other car owner, hackney owner Paddy Murphy whose car could be found parked outside his house without causing any inconvenience to passing traffic.  Indeed, there was so little traffic on the street even into the 1960’s that I could park outside our front door  the Morris Minor bought by my father when he retired but which he soon passed on to me. 

The paucity of motorised traffic had its advantages of course.  The street became a playground for the local youngsters and it was news of two of those youngsters of yesteryear which came to me last weekend.  On Saturday I met Teddy Kelly to be told that Willie Moore who had lived in No. 7 Offaly Street, when I was two doors down and Teddy was across the street at No. 27, had celebrated his 70th birthday.  We both jokingly acknowledged our relative youth compared to our elderly friend who has been living in Wexford for many years past. 

The next day at morning mass I was startled to hear news of the death of Tom Webster, like Willie Moore a former neighbour and school friend with whom many happy youthful hours were spent.  Tom lived in Butler’s Row and shared with the Kelly brothers, Leopold and Teddy, the Moore Brothers, Willie and Mickey, the White Brothers, Andrew and Basil and the Taaffe’s, Frank and Seamus, a youthful friendship which was the first and  most enduring friendship of our lives.

As the decades pass, the memories of youth become even more precious as some of those early companions pass away.  With Tom Webster’s death, the once sizeable group has diminished and crowded memories of Offaly Street old now rest with a few survivors. 

Leopold Kelly, a wonderful athlete and a leader of the Offaly Street youngsters of his generation was the first to die.  Just a few short years after his ordination to the Priesthood he passed away and since then he has been joined by Seamus Taaffe, Mickey Moore, Andrew and Basil White and now Tom Webster.  Two late arrivals to Offaly Street and so peripheral to early memories of my youth, Miley and Danny Cash have also passed on. 

As I pass up and down Offaly Street every day of the week on the way to work I marvel at the changes in personnel in the street where for so long the family names were unchanged and constant.  Only two families from those who lived in Offaly Street in the 1940’s and 50’s still retain a presence in today’s street.  Physically Offaly Street is very much as it was 50 or 60 years ago.  Some small changes have of course taken place, not least of which was the partial demolition of Murphy’s house at No. 24 and the conversion of Tuohy’s and Neill’s into shops.

Webster’s sweet shop is closed and sadly has been for some years past while the cinema is a bridal shop.  Everywhere else seems the same as it was so many years ago although if you look at old photographs of Offaly Street you will immediately notice that the drabness of the 1950’s has given way to today’s colour coordinated painted exteriors.

Butler’s Row, where Tom Webster lived, has disappeared to be replaced by an excellent scheme of bungalows built by the Town Council for elderly people.  Many a time Tom, with others from Offaly Street including myself, took advantage of the delightful fruit to be had in Mona Sylvester’s orchard at the top of Butler’s Row.  Tom was an integral part of the group which included Willie Moore, Andrew White, Teddy Kelly and myself who with the dog Toby sported and played in Offaly Street and further afield so many years ago.  Tom, as was common in the 1950’s and later, left school at an early age.  Like his father Jack, he was a member of Athy Fire Brigade and became in time Station Officer at Athlone Fire Brigade Station.  He retired from that position some years ago.

Tom Webster was for many years a part of my life which is forever linked with Offaly Street.  His death brings sadness, yet realisation that with the passing years, the memories of youth remain undimmed.

My sympathy goes to his wife Lill who is a native of Athy and to her family and to Tom’s mother Cis and his brothers and sisters.

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