It is always a pleasure to acknowledge services rendered to the community in which we live, especially where those services have extended over many years. So last week when I heard of the retirement of Mary Malone and Catherine Gillis I felt it appropriate to pay tribute to Mary, the librarian and Catherine, the teacher as they brought their working careers to a close.
Catherine Gillis was a young Catherine Casey living in Church Road when I first knew her. The young national school teacher was then on the teaching staff of Kilberry National School and our paths crossed when we were members of the local badminton club. Many years later and long after my badminton playing days had ended we were again brought together as members of the Board of Management of St. Patrick’s National School. As principal of my old national school she oversaw the transfer from the St. John’s Lane premises to the spanking new facilities now forming part of the educational campus on the Monasterevin Road.
Catherine was also in charge of St. Patrick’s School when the introduction of co-educational schooling was first mooted for Athy. Thanks to Catherine and Mary English, Principal of Scoil Mhichil Naofa, the difficulties facing both schools as they tackled the issues emerging from this realignment were kept to a minimum. The transition to co-educational schooling in Athy has now been finalised and with it comes a choice of schooling which had never before been available to both boys and girls in Athy and district. Best wishes to Catherine on her retirement.
I first met Mary Malone when she was on the staff of the local library in the Town Hall almost 20 years ago. The ever cheerful and helpful Mary soon transferred for Ballitore where over the last 15 years or so she has played a prominent role in keeping alive the story of Mary Ledbetter and the Quaker community which were once central to the life of the south Kildare village. I have particular reason to be grateful for Mary’s help over the years for she has always facilitated the October Bank Holiday Monday tours which are part of the annual Shackleton Autumn School. The tours include a visit to Ballitore village and of course the refurbished Mary Ledbetter house in which the local library is located is always an important part of that visit. Mary has always gone out of her way to assist our Shackleton visitors and I and the members of the Shackleton School Committee are very grateful for her cooperation over the years. Good wishes are extended to Mary on her retirement.
This week has been an important week for our local Heritage Centre which organises the annual Shackleton Autumn School. The Heritage Council of Ireland which administers the Museum Standards Programme for Ireland has granted Athy Heritage Centre/Museum interim accreditation. The citation awarded to the Centre/Museum noted achievements in caring for collections, museum management and educational exhibitions. Hopefully this interim award will lead in a few years time to the granting of full museum status, thereby entitling Athy Heritage Centre/Museum to participate fully in a whole range of inter museum projects involving Ireland’s leading museums.
It represents a huge step-up from the small local museum opened in St. Mary’s old school at the back of the Convent of Mercy in 1983. I remember spending my Sunday afternoons opening the Museum Room, as it was then called, and the interest generated amongst the local people who were very supportive of the project. I should also mention the late Bertie Doyle and Ken Sales, both of whom were very involved in the Museum’s early years. It was Gerry Ward, the then County Manager for Kildare, who allowed the Museum to move after a few years to the room in the Town Hall which had previously served as the caretaker’s living quarters. The subsequent development of the Heritage Centre owes much to the hard work of its manager, Margaret Walsh and her staff who over the years have done trojan work in ensuring that this great cultural facility is readily available to locals and visitors alike.
I received two queries last week, both from Athy men now living in England. John Joe Donovan, formerly of Prusselstown, is trying to source a film of a Barrow rope contest held in 1981. Apparently contestants had to cross the River Barrow by means of a rope using their hands and feet. The contest was won by John Joe who believes it was captured on film. Can you help trace the film? The other query related to a St. Patrick’s Day Parade organised by Cara, now Aontas Ogra, in or about 1959. It was the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade organised for many years and went off successfully, despite the then Parish Priest’s attempt to have it cancelled, claiming it would affect Sunday mass attendances. Do you recall that parade, if so I would like to hear from you.