In the past two weeks our local community has witnessed the deaths of several of its members, including two men who had spent their early years in Athy but lived away from their home town for many decades.
Dympna O’Flaherty and May O’Neill were in their eighties when they passed away. Dympna, who possessed a beautiful singing voice, was a member of the various musical societies which graced the stages of the Town Hall and St. John’s Hall from the late 1930s onwards. The many photographs which have come down to us of the musicals and shows of the society which flourished in Athy over 70 years ago invariably included amongst the casts a young Dympna and her sister May. Those halcyon days of community music making coincided with the Second World War and was marked by enthusiastic groups of young and not so young men and women who came together to give Athy a musical heritage of which it is justifiably proud.
That same generation will recall the music of Joe O’Neill, a musical genius whose Stardust Band criss crossed the Irish countryside in friendly competition with Mick Delahunty and his orchestra from Clonmel so many years ago. May O’Neill, the only daughter of parents from Convent Lane, married Joe O’Neill, an only son from St. Joseph’s Terrace. Several members of their large family inherited the musical talents of their late father and indeed the O’Neill family organised a music fest in Athy for charity over this October Bank Holiday weekend. May was a well loved lady whose memories stretched back to recall neighbours and friends whose men folk died during World War 1 and who were largely unremembered and unhonoured in the town of their birth for many decades. She was justifiably gratified when in more recent years it was possible to remember, without rancour, the young men from Athy and district who died in that war.
Jack Doyle who also passed away recently was remembered by me as a past pupil of the local Christian Brothers School in St. John’s Lane. Jack was one of the few from the St. John’s Lane school who was fortunate enough to find employment in his home town. Like his father Tom he worked in the Asbestos factory before retiring some years ago on health grounds.
Josephine Kenny, formerly a Prendergast of Milltown, died last week after a long illness. She was predeceased by her husband Jimmy who died some years ago and is survived by her four daughters Eileen, Mary, Geraldine and Siobhan. Her funeral mass was, I believe, a musically warm hearted farewell for a well loved mother.
The day of Josephine’s funeral I was in Dublin attending the funeral of an Athy man whom I first met nearly 20 years ago. Reggie Hannon was the sixth of eight children of Rex Hannon and Grace Telford of Ardreigh. His grandfather, John Alexander Hannon, who lived in Ardreigh House where I am penning these lines, was the proprietor of the mills which operated up to the mid 1920s at Ardreigh and Duke Street, Athy. Reggie married Elizabeth Colclough from Carlow and they lived in Dublin in a house which they called ‘Ardreigh’. Reggie was a fund of knowledge on Athy and its people of the 1930s and later. He was a wonderful man of courteous and charming manner, whose passing is a sad blow for his wife Elizabeth and daughters Gina and Ingrid.
By a strange coincidence Eddie Browne, who like Reggie Hannon once lived in Ardreigh, died last week. A retired Post Office official who lived in the south east for many years, Eddie was the brother of Billy and Kieran Browne.
Attending so many funerals over the past few weeks brought home to me the importance of the rituals which are part and parcel of the funeral rites of Christian burials. They are very much an essential part of the community’s desire to unite in sympathy for the loss of one of its own, while at the same time affording comfort to the family of the deceased. The marking of the last resting place with a gravestone is generally the final act in the grieving process and helps to retain within the local community that final reminder of the person who was once one of us. As the generations pass the community’s memory lessens and so our cemeteries become not so much places of family pilgrimage as repositories of a past local history.