Teresa Delaney died on Mother’s Day in Luton, England. She was a mother and of my generation and a native of this parish. Born in Athy, the youngest child of Darby and Annie Delaney of The Bleach, she attended the local convent school and was a member of those groups of boys and girls of the late 1950’s whose lives interlinked and mingled and enjoyed shared experiences. I had not met Teresa for many years, but even in her absence she remained a treasured part of a remembered past where youth and friendship came together to provide a rich vein of memories.
Teresa was the youngest of six children born to an ex-soldier who, having suffered the loss of a leg in the First World War trained to become a tailor before his demobilisation in February 1919. Gunner Darby Delaney served in the Royal Garrison Artillery and was 29 years of age when he went overseas in 1914. He was originally from Shruileen and when he returned to Athy after the war he settled down to civilian life and in time married Annie Daly of Blackparks. Darby worked as a tailor in a variety of tailoring establishments over his lifetime, including Lumley’s of Duke Street and Egans of Leinster Street. The Delaney family lived in No. 6 Plewman’s Terrace, before moving across the road to take up residence in No. 1 The Bleach in or about 1948.
Of the Delaney family of five girls and one boy, four were destined to emigrate to England. The pattern of emigration from Athy in the 1940’s and 1950’s was determined by lack of job opportunities in Athy and in Ireland generally. Work was simply not available for many of the ambitious young persons who wanted to better themselves. The prospect of getting employment in post war England was the magnet which drew so many young Irish men and women across the English Channel. Darby Delaney’s two eldest daughters, Mary and Bridie, emigrated to Manchester where Mary would live for several decades before returning in recent years to her home town of Athy. Bridie returned to Ireland after some years in Manchester and now lives in Dublin.
Darby’s son Paddy also went to England where he still lives, as did Teresa, the youngest of the family. It was in the early 1960’s that Teresa, together with her friends, Mary Donaldson and Kathleen Dignam, left Athy to train as nurses in the Luton and Dunstable General Hospital. In those days the opportunities for training as a nurse in Ireland were not readily available and for many young girls the English hospitals provided the only real prospect of embarking on a nursing career.
The three young girls from Athy duly qualified and Teresa and Mary Donaldson would eventually settle down and make their homes in Luton. Teresa for many years nursed in the Luton and Dunstable General Hospital and it was there last week that she passed away, survived by her husband Bill Abbott, a native of County Longford, and her children, David and Fiona. Teresa, as I mentioned at the start of this article, was part of shared youthful experiences of almost 50 years ago, the memories of which become all the more precious as the years pass and those we once knew so well, slip away.
Another recent death which caused me to reflect was that of John McGahern, the writer. It was in 1965 that I first came across his work at a time when I was living in Dublin. His first novel, “The Barracks” had already appeared but was not known to me when “The Dark” was being spoken of in terms which suggested it should be read. It was banned, for what reason I cannot now remember by the Irish Censorship Board, which of course meant that the copy which I eventually got to read was a well thumbed edition which had passed through many hands. McGahern’s sacking from his teaching post in Clontarf following the publication of his second novel “The Dark” was a shameful abuse of clerical power which at the time was accepted without question by the Teacher’s Union and most of us in Irish society of the mid 1960’s. How much Irish society has changed in the intervening years can in some ways be measured by the virtual disappearance of State censorship of the written word and the knowledge that the dismissal of a teacher or anyone else in similar circumstances, would not be tolerated today. McGahern’s early novels were substantially biographical, dealing as they did with family relationships which his last book “Memoirs” confirm reflected relationships within the McGahern family. John McGahern was in many ways the first Irish novelist to attract my attention and from reading and enjoying his exquisite literary works I developed an interest in the works of Irish writers which has afforded me enormous satisfaction over the years.
Some weeks ago the Kildare Nationalist printed a letter I wrote regarding the K-Doc Scheme as it operated in South Kildare and part of Wicklow. I wrote that letter in response to approaches from several people who expressed dissatisfaction with the current system whereby a Newbridge based locum doctor provided a callout service for emergency cases after six o’clock each evening. Following my letter a total of 29 persons contacted me, of which 28 agreed with my suggestion that the doctors in Athy should get together to provide an Athy Doc Scheme for the town and its hinterland. Five persons wrote to me on the topic, twelve phoned me with their views and the remaining eleven met me or stopped me on the street and expressed their opinions. One person who wrote anonymously to me was disregarded as he or she used the opportunity to criticise in a most vehement way the medical services currently available in the town without offering any opinion as to how they could be improved.
I had intended to return to this issue long before now but I have not been able to do so for one reason or another. If I am to accept that the 28 persons who contacted me are representative of the views of the local people, should we expect the local doctors to address the concerns expressed regarding the unsuitability of the current K-Doc Scheme? What the people of Athy want is a locally based doctor providing an out of hours medical care service. Can not the doctors practising in Athy arrange that? I’m sure the local people would be interested in hearing what they have to say on the topic.
Congratulations are due to Tommy Yates on his recent election to the National Council of Ireland Waterways Association of Ireland. Tommy was the organiser of the Athy Water Festival which has become an important annual event in Athy and this year takes place on 27th and 28th May. He has also made an enormous contribution over the years to many other community based organisations and his election to the National Organisation for Inland Waterways is a much deserved recognition for his good work with the North Barrow Branch of the Ireland Waterways Association.
Finally, to celebrate the 40th birthday of a girl who for the past 20 years has provided me with the daily support I need in my work, I offer the following lines.
The Ballad of Noreen
While working one time for the Council,
And dancing her jigs and her reels,
She was offered a job in a law firm
And immediately took to her heels.
Embroiled in the daily conundrum
Of contracts and legal tomes,
She found time to teach dancing and play music
From the Horse to the county stone.
While her dancers were gracing the feiseanna,
Their feet doing overtime jigs,
This woman was busily preparing
To satisfy the bucko’s with wigs.
Sometimes she may have imagined,
That instead of preparing court briefs,
She’d prefer to be still in the Council
Planning streets for inner relief.
But as she now hits the big forty,
We wanted quite simply to say,
We’re glad that you joined us to work here,
And help keep the traffic warden at bay.
Happy fortieth to our colleague Noreen Day.