Thursday, March 27, 2003
Deaths - Jack Mitchell / Marjorie Lehane Smith / John Higgins / Mick Corr / Billy Darling / Willie Doyle / Reggie Rowan
The grim reaper gleaned a rich harvest from amongst the local community last week. Last Sunday we prayed for seven men and women who had died, not all of whom I knew personally or at all well. Jack Mitchell from Coneyboro whom I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing both in his own house and in more recent times in St. Vincent’s Hospital was an exception. He was a man who took pride in his South Kildare roots. He had lived all of his hard working life in and around the Ardreigh area. His memories of times past and of the people now gone who filled his memories of youthful days were a treasure trove for an inquisitive researcher like myself. Jack shared his experiences and his knowledge of the days when life was sometimes cruel, work was always hard and pleasures were simple and seldom encountered. Jack Mitchell who was 88 years old last May first went to work as a fourteen and a half year old lad in Bergin’s Bar in Duke Street. He was under age for such work and Garda Johnny McMahon brought his bar tending career to a close following which he worked for A.L. Spiers of Burtown and later still for Mickey O’Meara of Ardree House. A spell as an Insurance man followed before Jack joined the South Kildare Tennis Club, later Geraldine Tennis Club on the Carlow Road where he worked for eleven years. Jack eventually joined the I.V.I. in 1952 as a pattern maker and he retired from there after 30 years. He spoke unhesitantly of those years which are often referred to as the “good old days”. No matter how hard or impoverished life then might appear to somebody looking backwards through a prism created in more affluent times, Jack never faltered in his admiration for those far off days. Strangely in the same week as Jack Mitchell died, two others who had lived in or around the ancient Borough of Ardreigh also passed away. Marjorie Lehane Smith lived with her husband and family at the bottom of Ardreigh Hill from the 1970’s before moving in more recent years to Tramore in Co. Waterford. He husband William Smith, a Vet, died some time before I returned to Athy in 1982. Marjorie’s mother Christine Lehane died two years ago while her brother Ollie died a short time previously. The Lehane family came to Athy in the early 1950’s when Benny Lehane opened a chip shop at William Street. The business prospered and later transferred to Andy Smith’s former premises in Leinster Street and expanded into the adjoining premises once occupied by the Athy Agricultural Co-op Society. Both premises were sold following Mrs. Lehane’s death and are now undergoing major reconstruction. John Higgins of Ardreigh also died last week. He had lived a full and long life after spending most of his adult life working in the local cement factory. By strange coincidence his good friend and former work colleague, Mick Corr also died that same week. Both had outlived so many of their old workmates who either died during their working lives or passed way soon after they had reached retirement age. Mick Corr was a former neighbour when during the 1950’s he lived with his wife and sons Francis and Plunkett in Butler’s Row. I remember the shock of Mrs. Corr’s early death nearly 44 years ago which left Mick a widower with two young children to rear on his own. He continued to live in Butler’s Row after his sons grew to manhood, left Athy to work elsewhere. Mick subsequently transferred to a new house in Nelson Street when the terraced houses of Butler’s Row were vacated prior to their demolition. Both Mick Corr and John Higgins enjoyed a long friendship first forged as work colleagues in the local cement factory. Even in death, they were not to be separated for as news of John Higgins death was being transmitted to Mick Corr’s sons, word was received of Mick’s death. At the same time Billy Darling, late of Leinster Street died in Manchester. If you remember Athy in the 1940’s and 1950’s you will remember Darling’s Barber Shop in what is now Redmond’s Dry Cleaners. Barber shops were then a common feature of Irish provincial towns and the names Darling and Mulhall were long associated with the profession of hair cutting and shaving in the town of Athy. I have written on previous occasions of the Mulhall family and its connection with the Barber shops of Athy. The Darling family like the Mulhall’s had a long history of involvement with the profession which was not confined to Athy but extended to the Curragh and beyond. Billy Darling died in Manchester where so many young Athy men and women had made their homes over the years and where just weeks previously another Athy man, Willie Doyle, passed away. He was a brother of Paddy Doyle and son of the legendary “Barracks” Doyle who came from a family extending back many generations in Athy. I met Willie Doyle in Manchester some years ago and again more recently when he visited his home town. He was a man who was justifiably proud of Athy and of its people. Another man with a long family history in Athy who died last week was Reggie Rowan. Reggie was a family friend and a close friend of my brother George with whom he shared many escapades during their young and single days. Indeed, legion are the stories I have heard over the years of the young red haired teacher with the unquenchable thirst and his friend, the lorry driver, both of whom had the time, the energy and apparently the wherewithall to get up to all sorts of devilment in their younger days. This despite the watchful gaze of a certain local Garda Sergeant who it is said once stopped a motor car on the railway bridge to find a somewhat inebriated young teacher slumped over the steering wheel while his front seat companion was in no better state. I’m sure it never happened but equally, I know that the same two young men worked hard while finding the time to enjoy the fruits of their labour. They certainly lived life to the full before taking any family responsibilities and it was understandable that tears flowed as the friend of a lifetime was laid to rest in St. Michael’s cemetery. Reggie Rowan died the day before the Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy turned the first sod on the new Business Park for Athy. A major stakeholder, in that development will be the business firm which Reggie helped to develop. Reggie and his father before him Mick (Rexie) Rowan were in the haulage business and a generation back the Rowans were involved in the transportation of goods by Canal Boats. Reggie worked long and hard over many years developing and extending the haulage business which for so long was dependent on contract work with Bord Na Mona. When the time came for Reggie to hand over the business to his sons, he had laid the foundation for further expansion and development on what is now an International Transport Business. The passing of so many links with Athy’s past in such a short space of time is a great loss to the town. To their immediate families, the loss of loved ones is more keenly felt and our sympathies go out to all of them.