Thursday, December 8, 2011

Athy's Lions Club / The Pipe Shop and Mrs. Mahon

Athy Lions Club, a member of the world’s largest charitable organisation, celebrated its 40th anniversary last week.  I have previously written of the Lions Club and the very discreet way in which it goes about its charitable work within the local community.  Several of the founding members of the club attended the 40th anniversary dinner held in the Clanard Court Hotel.  It was marvellous to see men who had freely given of their time over the years presented with Certificates to mark the occasion.  The one person missing that night who more than anyone else personified Lionism within the local community was Johnny Watchorn.  Johnny, who has not been well for some time, served for many years on the National Executive of Lions Ireland and did trojan work for the Lions Club at national and local level.

Some of the major projects in which Johnny and his colleagues were involved over the years included the acquisition and development of the former Dreamland Ballroom as a community-based activity centre.  Now known as A.R.C.H., the former ballroom is also home to the Aontas Ogra group which has been active for over 50 years. 

Another major project was the development of the Sheltered Housing Scheme at St. Vincent’s Hospital.  This was an initiative of the Lions Club in conjunction with the Eastern Health Board and Kildare County Council and was quite a unique project in its day.  Its success has been replicated in several other counties since then. 

Earlier I referred to the men of Athy Lions Club for in its early years and indeed for quite a long time it was the exclusive reserve of males.  No longer so, for Athy Lions Club has broadened out to welcome female members whose contribution to the work of the organisation is extremely important.  The past and present members of Athy Lions Club are to be congratulated on the huge contribution they have made to the local community over the last 40 years.

No matter how many times I passed the Pipe Shop I had not found out the story behind its unusual name.  Now that Kathleen Webberly recently announced her retirement I felt obliged to find out more about the William Street shop.

I understand the original ‘Pipe Shop’ was opened beside Doyle Brothers in or around 1940 by Mary Lalor of 5 St. Martin’s Terrace.  Mary was a Court stenographer and also a local newspaper reporter.  She was also a writer of some merit and her novel ‘The Hidden Menace’ was published by English publishers Arthur Stockwell in 1927.  The Pipe Shop was presumably so called to reflect its principal business as purveyors of piped tobacco and pipes, although it was during Mary Lalor’s time also the local centre for a lending library.

Mary’s sister, Ann Patricia, married Garda Michael Mahon who was attached to the local Garda Station but following his death at an early age in 1943 she joined her sister Mary in running the Pipe Shop.  The shop business for a short while moved across to what is now Tully’s Travel and soon afterwards transferred to its present location when those premises were purchased from local man Georgie Farrell.

Mary Lalor, who had been ill for some time, died in February 1949 and Mrs. Mahon continued the business in her own right, greatly assisted by her youngest daughter Patricia.  The Pipe Shop was later sold to the Bolger family and it eventually came into the ownership of the Peter and Kathleen Webberly.

In my youth the Pipe Shop had long forgone its original trade of pipe and tobacco but continued to meet the daily needs of workers in nearby Minch Nortons and the Asbestos Factory as well as the local people from Gouleyduff to Pairc Bhride.  Toys, groceries, sweets, tobacco, icecream and a myriad of other goods were sold in the Pipe Shop and after some time Mrs. Mahon was also allowed to sell newspapers.

The sale of newspapers was until recent years subject to restrictive practices which made it extremely difficult for shopkeepers to become newsagents.  Mrs. Mahon overcame the objections of several local newsagents with the kind assistance of Ernest O’Rourke Glynn who was himself a newsagent operating from his nearby corner shop.  Newspaper sales were an important source of sales revenue and the arrival of the mail van at the local Post Office early each morning with the Dublin newspapers signalled the start of a busy day for local newsagents.  Miss Carolan’s supply of papers was collected by Mary Carty, while Denis Chanders brought Mrs. Mahon’s papers to the Pipe Shop.  In the meantime Ernest O’Rourke Glynn collected his newspapers to fulfil his orders which were believed to be the largest in Athy.  The papers for the Pipe Shop were counted and the young Denis Chanders quickly commenced his delivery round which brought him down Duke Street and into Leinster Street as far as the Co-operative Stores.  In the meantime Mary Carty made the same journey in the opposite direction, delivering the papers for Miss Carolan’s shop.

With its closure the Pipe Shop joins a long list of Athy businesses which over the years have disappeared.  Do you remember the Commercial House, the Railway Hotel, the Hibernian Hotel and what was once the oldest commercial business in Athy, the Leinster Arms Hotel?  To all of those businesses which are now gone must be added the Pipe Shop.

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