Last week a man, perhaps little known outside his family circle and the people he worked with over many years, was laid to rest in St. Michael’s Cemetery. James Redmond was typical of many men and women of this and other communities who go through life causing offence to no-one and paying their dues to society by dint of a lifelong commitment to work.
James was born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford to Jim Redmond and Annie Bradley and his mother went on to have a second family with Michael Kane. Both sides of the family came to live in Athy and it was from there that James emigrated to England in the early 1960s. It was a time of yet another Irish recession, one which caused huge unemployment and prompted many young and not so young to take the emigrant boat to Britain. James worked in Manchester and London and returned in 1972 when he joined the Irish Army. After 6 or 7 years he left the Defence Forces and worked for a few months in the local I.V.I. Foundry before taking up work with Athy Urban District Council.
James was an outdoor worker with the Urban District Council and later Athy Town Council. He first worked for the Council at a time when the Acting Town Clerk was the legendary Jimmy O’Higgins. Jimmy regarded James as a dedicated worker who was almost irreplaceable in the work area for which he, James, was responsible. He was a conscientious worker who took pride in his job and gave of his best during his long time in the employment of the Council.
I well remember the occasion many years ago when I had to call on James for assistance in solving a drainage problem which had defeated the best efforts of engineers and building contractors alike. The problem was identified and rectified by James in no time, such was his knowledge and experience in dealing with drainage issues.
James married Bridget Foster who predeceased him and he is survived by his son David and daughter Mary, to whom I extend sympathy on their father’s passing.
I was invited during the week to address the children of Scoil Mhichil Naofa who are involved in a cross border project called ‘Dissolving Boundaries’, where the school children from Athy interact with school children from Portstewart in County Derry. The boundaries referred to in this project were of course those imposed by a territorial boundary which gave us a Northern Ireland State and a Republic of the 26 counties. The divide is not just a political one, for automatically when we draw contrasts with Northern Ireland we think in terms of Protestant and Catholic.
It is starting at the level of young people that gives the best hope of dissolving, however slowly, the boundaries which have encrusted attitudes for decades past. But what about dissolving boundaries at local community level I thought. The boundaries here are those created and nurtured by neglecting to commit oneself to the local community by failing to participate in the social, cultural and the sporting life of the town. This to me is a boundary division which could in time stultify the local community.
There is always a need for commercial and social interests in the town to come together and work for the future of Athy. Our town is on the cusp of a wonderful opportunity to develop commercially if the announcements made recently about the building of the outer relief road in 4 years time prove to be true. Lets hope that the newly reorganised Chamber of Commerce and the Town Council can keep in step with each other as the town seeks to maximise the benefits of moving all through traffic, including heavy goods vehicles, away from the centre of the town.
There are tremendous opportunities ahead for planning wisely and well for the future of Athy and now is the time to start that process. It was a lack of proper planning in the past which caused so many men and women who over the years like James Redmond had to leave Athy to achieve the self respect and personal independence that comes with employment. If we plan properly for the future we should be able to protect existing employment and create new jobs in this part of the county.
James Redmond embraced work and his work ethic reminded me of the lines of Elizabeth Cooke, the self educated poet of the 19th century who celebrated work and workers with these words:-
‘Hold up your brow in honest pride,
Though rough and dark your hands may be,
Such hands are sap - veins that provide,
The life blood of the nation’s tree’.