Two people with whom I shared a friendship in recent years passed away last week. Pat Henshaw, born in Malta but a resident of this country since 1986, came to Athy three years later when her husband Dave purchased a public house in Duke Street. The one time newspaper journalist who had worked for the Evening News had earlier shown her social commitment when she became a member of the long running anti nuclear protest at Greenham Common.
Pat and Dave came to live in Athy from Dave’s hometown of Athlone 23 years ago. Athy was long remembered by Dave as ‘a magic place’ which he had visited on frequent boat trips on the Grand Canal. Athy was to subsequently benefit hugely from Pat’s involvement in the local community and especially the town’s cultural activities. At various times she was chairperson of Athy’s Art Group and the Cultural Sub-Committee of Athy Urban District Council. It was as chairperson of the latter group that she headed up for some years the ‘Cecil Day Lewis Awards’ for young writers. Her drive and commitment was recognised by the Urban Council when the then chairman of the Council, Councillor Sean Cunnane presented an award to Pat at the Riverbank Theatre in Newbridge some years ago.
It was Pat, together with her husband Dave, who organised the memorable River of Light event when thousands of candles were lit and floated at night time on the River Barrow to highlight and promote the Northern Ireland peace process. This was an emotional night which brought the people of Athy and district together in an admirable display of unity and hope for the troubled Northern Ireland. It was yet another example of Pat and Dave’s innovative approach to community activities which showed itself again when both were instrumental in founding the local Traders Association.
Ill health marked Pat’s last years and her gradual withdrawal from active participation in local events was sadly our community’s loss. Her passing removes from amongst us a woman whose contribution to her adopted town cannot and should not be underestimated.
If Pat Henshaw, a British subject living in Ireland, became more Irish than the Irish themselves, my other friend Frank Meehan of Portlaoise was Irish by birth, but British by inclination. Grandson of P.A. Meehan and nephew of P.J. Meehan, both of whom were Members of Parliament and Members of the Irish Parliamentary party, Frank was a fervent Royalist and an unrepentant Unionist. For him the breaking of the links with Britain was a step too far and Frank, never slow to air his views, was almost always out of kilter with his tolerant associates and friends.
I first met Frank 25 or so years ago, our association coming courtesy of a common interest in local history. Frank was a member of Laois Heritage Society and its vice president for several years. His writings on local history are to be found in several journals and he was justifiably proud of his books on the Members of Parliament for Laois/Offaly and the Dail representatives for the same counties.
Frank had a great love for Portlaoise, or more precisely Maryborough as he persisted in naming his home town. He was meticulous in his research of local history and passionate in his ever vigilant overview of his county’s built heritage. He railed against the despoilers of the county’s heritage, never once seeing any contradiction in his love of Ireland’s ancient heritage and his unwavering adherence to what he perceived to be the uncontradictable policy of John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary party. Frank was a character, to some he was an eccentric throwback to an age which was swept away by Sinn Fein’s success at the 1918 General Election. Frank never saw himself other than a custodian of the values and principles held by his grandfather and his uncle and of the man whom he saw as the real uncrowned king of Ireland - John Redmond.
Frank was a courteous man, a man of old world charm who was dealt a bitter blow by Laois County Council many decades ago when his farm in Portlaoise was compulsorily acquired. He was outraged by the Council’s action in depriving him of his family inheritance and much time and energy were expended by him in his later years railing against the injustice which he felt was caused by the Council. Frank will be sadly missed but his legacy of written work will be a valuable source of reference for future students of local history in the midlands.
Both Pat Henshaw and Frank Meehan, in their different ways, made noteworthy contributions to their respective local communities. They will be missed. Our sympathies go to Dave Henshaw and to the sons and daughters of Frank Meehan.