Wednesday, February 19, 2014

50th Anniversary of CARA (Aontas Ogra) and Marjorie McNally

Thirty-four years ago Marjorie McNally left Ireland and emigrated to America.  She came back on vacation several times in the intervening years but last weekend she returned to Athy to celebrate in the Clanard Hotel a special occasion with family and friends.  Her sixtieth birthday was a family occasion but also one which was to be shared with those with whom she had formed friendships stretching back over forty years.

As a teenager living in Coursetown, Marjorie and her brother Joe were members of Ogra Chara, a youth club established in Athy in 1957 by local secondary school pupil Michael O’Neill.  Michael was the son of a migrant worker from the Kerry Gaeltacht who came to work and live in Athy.  With the co-operation of Brother Dalton, principal of the Christian Brothers School, Michael called a meeting in the school which led to the setting up of Ogra Chara in Athy.  Cara, as it was called by those of us who were it’s first members, was intended to bring together like-minded young people to promote the Irish language and Irish culture.  Irish dancing, of the dancing at the cross-roads type and involving a healthy combination of male and female participants, was to the forefront of the club’s activities.  I remember well our practised efforts in that respect in the ballroom of the Town Hall on Sunday afternoons, while on other occasions the social club hall in St. John’s Lane was similarly used.  It was a wonderful time to be young and carefree and the social contact with the girls of St. Mary’s Secondary School who were members of Cara afforded many of us our first insight into the wonderful world of polite female company. 

Amongst those who travelled to Athy for the birthday celebration was Noel Dunne, now retired and living near Bristol.  Originally from 19 Upper St. Joseph’s Terrace where his father Denis carried on the tailoring business, Noel was one of several children.  I was interested to hear Noel talk of the local tailors who had worked with his father way back in the 1940’s and ‘50’s.  Darby Delaney of The Bleach, Johnny Connell of Geraldine, Jack Doyle of Dooley’s Terrace and Peter Cashen who would later set up his own business in Carlow.  But who was it lived in No. 2 Dooley’s Terrace and who also did tailoring work for Denis Dunne?  His name could not be recalled and neither could Noel name the local woman who worked exclusively in making waistcoats for his father.  Noel’s older brother Anthony, now deceased, was a barber in Athy and a leading member of the Knights of Malta, in charge of the Cadet section.  I remember Anthony’s involvement in the Knights of Malta, coinciding as it did with my time as a volunteer cadet, and recall with pride his tutoring and coaching which inspired the Athy Cadets to win the Leinster First Aid Competition in Navan in 1959.

Noel Dunne was involved in Cumann na Rinncoirí , an Irish dancing club which emerged in Athy in the early 1950’s as part of the activities of the local Gaelic League.  Because of his involvement with the Cumann, Noel was approached by Michael O’Neill to become Ceannphoirt or Chairman of Ogra Chara.  He was working in Doyle Brothers of William Street at that time and as Ceannphoirt of Ogra Chara Noel oversaw its development through organising classes in Irish dancing and Irish language courses.  He emigrated to London in the 1960’s to work with London Transport, retiring about eleven years ago, and now lives in Nailsea near Bristol.  With his wife Margaret he made the journey to Athy to celebrate Marjorie McNally’s birthday and to meet many of the once young teenagers who were members of Aontas Ogra in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

It was a wonderful opportunity to bring together some of those who over forty years ago featured so prominently in photographs taken on Ogra Chara outings and functions.  Photographs brought along to the birthday party and eagerly pored over included coverage of a trip to the Rock of Dunamaise (which after 47 years or so I can still vividly recall) and a pageant in St. John’s Hall (which I cannot remember at all).  Once familiar faces captured on film all those years ago in some instances did not immediately bring names to mind, while others were instantly and unmistakably recognised.

Another to travel from England for the occasion was Marjorie’s brother, Joe McNally, who like almost all of my friends from Aontas Ogra days is now retired.  Joe and his sister were born in Coursetown and lived with their late uncle Jack Kelly and his wife.  Their father, David, was from County Louth and like his father and many generations back was a stone mason.  David McNally came to Athy to take up an apprenticeship as a stone mason with Shortts of Stradbally.  He married Jack Kelly’s sister, Mary, who worked in Crawley’s Bakery in William Street.  David McNally later worked for McKeown Stone Masons of Stradbally and it is said that he constructed in 1954 the Marian Shrine in Rathstewart.  It is quite likely that David McNally, who was then working in Stradbally, was involved in building the Marian Shrine as the granite slabs which form the arch in the shrine came from an old house in that area.  It is known however that John Murphy of St. Michael’s Terrace, assisted by John McEvoy of Rathstewart, worked on the shrine and perhaps David McNally did so also.  Certainly the late Joe O’Neill of St. Joseph’s Terrace who was involved in the Marian Shrine project always acknowledged David McNally’s contribution.

Marjorie who travelled from Texas with her husband and family was delighted to meet old friends from her Aontas Ogra days.  Olga Rowan, Claire Bracken, Margaret Clandillon, Ann Dooley and Mary Conlan were there, as were Ted Kelly, Ted Wynne, Liam Hughes, Eddie Hearns, Des Ryan, Ed Loughman and Frank English.  It was the last named who kept us mesmerised with his total recall of events and happenings which had slipped other minds.  Maybe a slight tinge of guilt had prompted the erasing of some memories, but for Frank English no such barrier presented itself as he regaled us with story after story of youthful indiscretions and the enjoyment of young innocent days.  Trips to the Rock of Dunamaise, to the Scalp in the Dublin foothills and to the only other Aontas Ogra club which met in a basement in Molesworth Street in Dublin were some of my memories of the early days of the club.  They were wonderful days and it was a great pleasure to have had the opportunity of meeting again some of those involved at that time.  Congratulations to Marjorie Clymer, formerly McNally, on her sixtieth birthday and a hearty thanks to her husband Charlie and her family for the opportunity to revisit some memories from what now seems such a long time ago.

But if forty-five years or more seems a long time, how must it appear to a septuagenarian whom I am told celebrated his birthday last week.  Best wishes to Cyril Osborne, whose son David, now the third generation of the Osborne family to practice law in Athy, will be getting married next Saturday.

Buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery are two of the famous Beasley brothers, Willie and Jack, who with their brothers Tommy and Harry, rode in the English Grand National of 1879.  It was a unique occasion but the famous amateur jockeys, all sons of John Lapham Beasley of Skerries House, Athy, would go on to create a remarkable record of family success in the Grand National.  The Beasley brothers won four Grand Nationals, came second on six occasions and third on two occasions.  Willie died following a fall at Punchestown in 1892 and was buried in the family plot at St. Michael’s Cemetery, Athy and his brother Johnny, known as Jack, was also buried there when he died six years later.  I am anxious to fill in some gaps in the information I have on the Beasley’s, including their well known descendants, Bobby and Rufus, and would welcome hearing from anyone who can help me in that regard.

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