The worth of any community can be measured in the way it respects its past and honours those who are part of its history. In the last few years Athy has begun to show its appreciation and understanding of the part played by persons in the past. That appreciation has been shown in a few instances by plaques placed on buildings which with suitable working reflect the townspeople’s desire to commemorate and honour.
The first such plaque was put up on a vacant malt house building in Nelson Street in the early 1980s to honour the memory of the blind musician Johnny Lynch. It was the idea of the late Paddy Wright who arranged for Carlow Stone Centre to sponsor the plaque. Paddy approached me to provide suitable wording for the plaque and my efforts in that regard found permanence in the plaque which was subsequently removed to the side wall of the corner house of Nelson Street.
‘Erected to the memory of Johnny Lynch, blind musician, whose observance in music and song of the dawning of each new year brought joy onto the streets and into the homes of Athy.
Born 1897 – Died 1972’
The bicentenary of the birth of Edmund Rice, founder of the Irish Christian Brothers, coincided with the departure of the Christian Brothers from Athy in September 1994. A committee was formed to commemorate that event and a monument was erected in the re-named Edmund Rice Square. As secretary for that committee I was pleased to present, for the approval of the committee, the dedication which now appears on that monument, recalling the opening of the Christian Brothers School on 19th August 1861 and the dedicated service of the Christian Brothers to the people of Athy over 133 years.
The 750th anniversary of the arrival of the Dominican’s to Athy was celebrated in 2007 when, with the financial help of the Town Council, arrangements were put in place to mark the event. One of the stone gate piers so beautifully erected by the late John Murphy in the mid 1950s was chosen to carry a marble plaque with the inscription which I was privileged to prepare:-
‘This plaque is dedicated by grateful townspeople to the memory of the Friars of the Order of Friars Preachers who since the year 1257 have faithfully served the people of this town and district.
Erected by Athy Town Council – 6th October 2007’.
What I once thought might turn out to be the final commemorative piece was the plaque unveiled by Richard Daly, then Chairman of Athy Town Council at the Town Hall to commemorate the men from Athy and district who enlisted during World War I. This time my wording required the approval of the Town Council and the plaque subsequently unveiled on the front wall of the Town Hall reads:-
Erected by Athy Town Council in memory of the men from this area who enlisted to serve during the First World War. All are now remembered with pride and gratitude by a new generation of Irish men and Irish women who recognise that the enlisted men and their participation in the war are a respected part of Ireland’s history.’
It was the extraordinary delay in erecting the 1798 monument which prompted me to think that it would never see the light of day. However, full marks to Eugene Doyle and his committee which succeeded in having the fine ’98 monument unveiled on the 7th of November 2010. I was conscious when preparing the inscription that it should not glorify death or assume suffering, but rather acknowledge all those involved in the struggle for civil and religious liberty. Michael Dunne arranged for the Irish and French translation of the following words which I composed for the monument:-
‘In honour of the men and women from Athy and the surrounding countryside who in 1798 sought civil and religious liberty and the independence of their country.’
There is one more group of men and women I would like to see commemorated here in Athy. They are those who participated in the War of Independence and whose involvement was for so long overlooked and lost to local memory. The opportunity to do so in advance of the centenary commemoration for 1916 is one we should take. I hope that Athy Town Council as the civic leaders would take on board the suggestion and arrange to have a suitable commemorative piece erected somewhere in the town.