Christmas times past are for all of us well remembered times. The memories may not always be pleasant ones, but nevertheless the festive season is forever linked in our minds with thoughts of our younger days. And those youthful memories are a mishmash of people and events which come together in an unconnected but apparently seamless vision of the past.
I am reminded of this with the recent passing of 92 year old Cecilia Webster, formerly of Butlers Row. Mrs. Webster is forever associated in my mind with my mass serving days of five and a half decades ago. I still remember the coldness of the early morning as my father called me to get up to serve first mass in the Parish Church. Strangely I can’t recall if it was 7 o’clock or 7.30 a.m. mass, but whichever, the winter morning’s darkness had not lifted by the time I set out from Offaly Street to make the short journey to St. Michaels.
Invariably as I passed Emily Square Paddy Ennis was to be seen near the Courthouse loading bread into his delivery van from a large truck which came from a Dublin bakery. Was it Bolands or Kennedys bread? I can’t recall but I do remember the playful ditty we youngsters recited with gusto.
‘Bolands bread would kill a man dead
Especially the man with the baldy head.’
Passing by Mrs. Meehan’s chemist shop I always expected to see Mrs. Webster polishing the knobs on Bob Osborne’s office door. She worked for Osbornes for many years and Mrs. Webster was almost always to be seen on my early morning journey. As I neared Miss Dallon’s corner shop I recalled the shock I once felt when one dark morning Tom McHugh, who operated McHugh’s Foundry in Janeville Lane, stepped out unexpectedly from around the corner just as I approached. Tom was not a regular early morning attendant at Dallons Corner, but many mornings he was to be seen standing there in the semi darkness.
I still see in my mind’s eye the Christian Brothers approaching from Crom a Boo Bridge, invariably led by their superior Brother Brett, all walking in single file and separate from each other by 20 paces or so. They rounded Mrs. Carolan’s Corner, heading with purposeful strides to the first mass in the Parish Church. Brother Flaherty, that big genial Kerry man, is forever associated with my mass serving days, for not only did he train the mass servers but he also came to my rescue on one of my early mass serving days. I turned up one morning to discover that the more experienced mass servers were absent. I never forgot the kindness of Brother Flaherty who, on seeing the obviously frightened youngster kneeling alone at the steps of the altar, came out of his seat and knelt beside me for the duration of the mass. It was a kindness I never forgot.
Looking back on those days over 55 years ago I now realise that only four decades separated us from the horrors of the Great War. Even less time had elapsed following the ending of the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War. Many of the men and women whom I passed on the streets in the 1950s must have been witnesses to those terrible times when shots were fired in anger and young men’s lifeless bodies were often found lying on Irish roadsides.
Times have changed since the 1950s, and for the better. Nevertheless I have retained in my bones the early morning winter coldness which assailed me as I got ready to serve first mass in the Parish Church. A two up two down terraced house in Offaly Street offered little or no comfort by way of heat in those days. The 1950s were difficult, sometimes harsh times, but they were happy times, even if our living standards then compared poorly with today’s lifestyles.
Mrs. Webster is forever part of the memories of my young mass serving days and of dark winter mornings of 55 years ago when the ever changing pattern of life in Athy was played out. Her husband Jack died in October 1959 leaving her with 7 children, the youngest only a year and a half. She worked long hours outside the home to help rear her family. Cecilia Webster was a hard working mother who gave everything for her children and sadly her death last week came some months after her eldest son Tom, one of my school friends, had himself passed away.
My sympathy is extended to my former neighbours, the Webster family, on the death of their mother.