Last week the postman brought me a small parcel of papers which had originated many years ago in Athy, but now came to me courtesy of Mary Shevlin, formerly Mary Dooley of St. Patrick’s Avenue and now of Dublin. Newspaper cuttings with copies of two local publications, Fintan Brennan’s ‘History of Geraldine Park’ and ‘The Green Hill Magazine’ of Christmas 1964 provided more than sufficient interest. However, two sheets with handwritten notes on hurling facts relating to Athy, together with a carbon copy of typed poems by Vincent F. O’Brien of Hatfield, Hertfordshire caught my eye. The notes, I believe, were written by John J. Dooley, who more than anybody else was responsible for keeping the Gaelic game of hurling alive in the ‘garrison town’ of Athy.
A hurling club was formed in Athy or around 1887, the year that Dan Whelan of Fontstown was recorded as making hurleys for the club. The first County Kildare hurling championship was held the following year and involved just two teams with no Athy participation. An Athy hurling team played a Rathdowney selection in 1898 and suffered a defeat on the score of 3-13 to no score. Quite obviously the level of hurling skill amongst the local Athy players was of a very rudimentary type.
Eoghan Corry’s centenary ‘History of Athy G.A.A.’ notes that the 1924 Kildare County hurling team included a number of Athy players, but regrettably they were not identified. This was at a time when Seamus Malone, a teacher in the local Christian Brothers School, was reorganising Athy’s Gaelic Football and Hurling Club which had suffered badly due to emigration.
Athy hurlers secured their first major success when winning the Kildare Senior Hurling Championship in 1928, beating Johnstown Bridge in the final. The following year Athy were the losing finalists. 1936 was a very successful year for the Athy hurlers when the seniors defeated Broadford to take the championship, while the junior team secured the junior title following an objection when defeated by Kill in the junior final. Athy junior hurling teams would win the junior championship title on the playing field in 1943, 1950 and 1958 and a Junior B title in 1982.
The 1936 Athy senior hurling championship winning team featured Michael Sullivan, Michael Nolan, Dave Taylor, Paddy Fitzpatrick, George Comerford, Sean Feeney, John Campbell, Vincent O’Brien, J. Keogh, John Dunne, Vincent Thornton, Anthony Nolan, Seamus O’Byrne, Michael Noonan and George Moynan. The final was played in Newbridge on 22nd November 1936 when Athy defeated Broadford on the score of 6-1 to 3-1.
Thirty years later John J. Dooley, who soon after his arrival in Athy from Paulstown, Co. Kilkenny and who was the driving force behind the town’s hurling club, read a poem published in the Kilkenny People. It was written by Vincent F. O’Brien who lived in England and John recalled a championship medal won with Athy in 1936 by a man of the same name which had not been presented to the player. He wrote to Vincent O’Brien and the championship medal which had remained unclaimed for 30 years was finally reunited with the man who had won it in 1936.
Vincent O’Brien later wrote a letter which was published in the Kilkenny People explaining how he had played hurling for Athy while working in County Kildare. ‘I have an idea that there was only one Kildare man on the team. The others were shop assistants, teachers, Gardai, soldiers, etc. who were from various counties resident around Athy. The driving force behind the team was Mr. John J. Dooley, 3 St. Patrick’s Avenue, Athy who was from County Kilkenny and who was and still is chairman of the club ..... Mr. Dooley saw my poem “Falling Leaves” which had a Kildare theme in your issue of August 26th. This lead to his contacting me and so he was able to pass on to me the Senior Hurling Championship medal which I won with Athy in 1936.’
The success of 1936 was not repeated the following year when Athy, having inflicted a heavy defeat in the semi-final on the Army team McDonaghs, lost the championship final to Maynooth. In 1938 Athy went out at the semi-final stage, losing by 2 points to the Curragh team.
Athy’s Hurling Club lost a number of its senior players in the early 1940s and found itself restricted to junior hurling for a number of years. It was again John J. Dooley who revived the club in 1957. John, who had come to Athy in the early 1930s to work in the grocery department of Jackson Brothers, spearheaded the drive which lead to the Athy Hurling Club’s success in the Junior Cup of 1958, followed a year later by success in the Senior Hurling Championship. Again, as happened in 1936 when the Athy junior team won on an objection, the senior team of 1958 won the championship after McDonagh’s were stripped of the title following an objection. Athy senior hurlers would reach the County Final in 1961 and 1964, but on each occasion fell short of victory, losing to Broadford and Eire Og.
I wonder if anyone can remember the players of 1936 or if any of the senior or junior hurling championship medals won by Athy Hurling Club since 1938 have found a home in the South Kildare town.