Christmas is a time of good cheer and good will but is also sadly a time when we mourn the passing of loved ones. To that long list of the dead our recent Christmas has added several more members of our local community. Some were better known than others, but all were cherished by family and community alike.
Mary Hughes, known affectionately as ‘Ma’ Hughes, died in her 88th year. She came to Athy in 1949 when she and her husband Joe purchased No. 51 Leinster Street which previously housed Dooley’s Bakery. For the next 51 years she carried on a drapery business at the corner premises, retiring 11 years ago.
From Borrisokane in Co. Tipperary she worked for a while as a nanny for a wealthy Catholic family in Portadown where she met and married a widower, Joe Hughes, with two children. The move to Athy in 1949 was a merciful escape from the savage bigotry which prevailed in Portadown of 60 years ago, but which by all accounts has since somewhat lessened and is still today nevertheless evident in the County Armagh town. Mary and Joe Hughes would rear 11 children to add to the two children which Joe had with his first wife. Theirs was a happy home and the Hughes children added enormously to the community life, firstly of Leinster Street and later of the wider town of Athy.
Mary’s husband Joe died in 1990 and 11 years later ‘Ma’ Hughes retired from business and went to live in her newly built house at Shanrath, Athy. She was a wonderful enterprising businesswoman for whom her Catholic faith was an important part of her everyday life.
Her son Brian, now living in Canada, who like myself attended the local Christian Brothers School, returned to Athy for his mother’s funeral. It was Brian who told me that another old school mate from the 1950s, Frank Power, passed away last September in Vancouver, Canada. Frank’s father was an official in the Bank of Ireland in Emily Square and the Power family lived in Janeville House which is now lying vacant in the laneway leading to the newly built Church of Ireland Hall.
A sad coincidence was the passing of Barrowhouse residents Marie O’Meara who worked in Perry’s of Duke Street and Lily Langton, widow of the late Denis Langton. Both will be sadly missed by their families and friends.
Mary Miller, wife of Johnny Miller, with whom I attended school and often played football, also passed away. The loss of a lifelong partner is a tragic loss and my sympathy goes to Johnny and his family. Just a few weeks ago I wrote of Zoltan Zinn Collis, a wonderfully brave man who with his sister Edith survived the horrors of Belsen Concentration Camp. Little did I know that within two weeks of Zoltan’s death his beloved sister Edith would herself pass away while staying with the Collis family over the Christmas period in Athy.
Sean Doherty who worked for so many years on Benny Anderson’s farm also died over Christmas and as I am writing this article I have learned of the deaths of Val Mackey and Elizabeth Rigney. Val was a former ambulance driver who on retirement set up a taxi business. He was an exceptionally nice man whom I never knew to be offensive to anyone and who worked long and hard hours at his business. Elizabeth was a sister of the late Martin Rigney and had been a patient in St. Vincent’s Hospital for some years past.
Mrs. Bridget Howe, the mother of a large family and Mary Kate Byrne of Maganey, aged 108 years and reputedly Ireland’s oldest person, are also remembered in this callover of members of our local community who passed away over the extended Christmas period. Readers of this column will have memories of many of those who have recently gone to their maker and the community’s collective sadness at their passing is a reflection of the esteem with which each of them were held.
Returning to ‘Ma’ Hughes, on the last day she opened her shop for business in 51 Leinster Street I took photographs of the shop interior and of Mrs. Hughes and staff and the customers who came to wish her well. By a strange coincidence I came across the photographs about a week before she died but to my embarrassment I cannot now remember where I put them. But for that omission this Eye would have been graced by a photograph of ‘Ma’ Hughes’ emporium and of the good lady herself.
My sympathies go to the families and friends of all those who departed this life over the Christmas festive season. Each and every death is a loss not only to a family but also to the wider community and on their passing we acknowledge those who in so many different ways contributed to the life of our local community here in Athy.