Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Fr. Frank Mitchell and Claire O'Flaherty

Fr. Frank Mitchell spent some years as a young curate in Athy in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.  He was actively involved with the Geraldine Gaelic Football Club and on a few occasions togged out for club games but always under a non de plume, given Archbishop McQuaids, aversion to diocesan clergy playing contact sports in public.  Fr. Frank was also a member of the Geraldine Parks Grounds Committee and I recall him compering the annual monster draw which the local club held in the Grove Cinema in the late 1950’s.  It was John W. Kehoe, the proprietor of Offaly Street’s only pub who as chairman of the grounds committee started the annual G.A.A. draw.  The draws which were held for four years up to 1960 had a Hillman car and a caravan as the first prize and John W. and his team of helpers travelled the length and breadth of the countryside selling tickets while using the car and the caravan as transport and sleeping accommodation.

Fr. Mitchell during his time in Athy endeared himself to the parishioners of St. Michael’s and indeed to everyone with whom he came in contact.  This morning I was told of his death and my informant at the same time told me something I had not previously known.  Fr. Mitchell, she claimed, left Athy in November 1965, the same week as my brother Seamus was tragically killed in a road traffic accident on the Dublin road.  May they both rest in peace.

A few weeks ago, Clare O’Flaherty who was born in Athy in 1947 passed away following a debilitating illness.  Clare was the eldest daughter of Jim and Carmel O’Flaherty formerly of St. Patrick’s Avenue.  Jim for many years was a Post Office Official in Athy and will be remembered as one of the founder members and the first President of the local Credit Union which was established in 1968.  The O’Flaherty family left Athy in 1975 when Jim was promoted to the position of Postmaster of Greystones, county Wicklow.  

Clare attended the local convent school and by coincidence sat her Leaving Certificate examination the same year as Fr. Frank Mitchell left Athy.  Among her school colleagues were Statia Harris, Renee Mullen, Stephanie Brophy, Patricia Kelly, Joan Mortimer, Bernadette Howard and Valerie Gibbons.  When the class of 1965 organised a reunion some years ago, Clare travelled from Brussels to be present.

Clare joined the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1972 and served in Rome, Paris, Geneva, Bussels, Dublin and Washington.  She was appointed by the Government as the Irish Ambassador to Finland in February 2002 but tragically, soon afterwards, the symptoms of the illness which would proved fatal became apparent.  Clare passed away on the 11th September survived by her parents Carmel and Jim, her brothers Paschal, Gerard and Seamus and her sister Colette.

Her mother will be remembered by the older residents as Carmel Glespen who lived in Duke Street where her father James Glespen carried on business as a coach builder.  Her brother Seamus who was born in 1920 entered the Christian Brothers and while teaching in St. James’s Grammer School in Belfast undertook research on the United Irishman, Thomas Russell.  Awarded an M.A. by University College Galway for his thesis on Russell, he published the work two years later under the title “Tomás Ruiséil”.  Some time ago, I purchased in a Dublin antiquarian book shop a copy of Br. Glespen’s original typed and bound thesis which he had submitted to U.C.G. in 1955.  He was only the second Athy man to write of the 1798 Rebellion and like the published work of Patrick O’Kelly, Br. Glespen’s contribution to the historiography of ‘98 will always merit consultation. 

The paths of Clare O’Flaherty and Fr. Frank Mitchell who passed away within a few weeks of each other, may not have crossed after the young curate left Athy just as a school girl from St. Patrick’s Avenue was finishing her Leaving Certificate examination.  Both went on to greater achievements, one to minister to the pastoral needs of his Blackrock based parishioners and the other to represent her country in the Finnish capital of Helsinki.  When Clare O’Flaherty was appointed, I noted her elevation within the diplomatic ranks in this column, little realising that within a brief period, her career and ultimately her life would be cut short.  She was the first person from Athy to have reached Ambassadorial rank and the pride we in Athy took in her appointment is now submerged in the sorrow we feel for her parents and family members. 

Fr. Frank Mitchell was a young cleric when he came to Athy and when the time came for him to leave south Kildare, youthfulness still marked his features as pleasantness marked his personality.  He will be remembered with fondness by his old parishioners. 

Writing of death prompts me to recall that Sunday, 14th November will be set aside to remember the thousands and thousands of men and women whose lives were brutally torn apart during World War I.  I will write of this at length next week but in the meantime, let me give advance notice of the ceremony which will take place in St. Michael’s cemetery on Sunday, 14th at 3.00 p.m. to remember and respect the menfolk of Athy whose violent deaths during 1914-1918 created social and economic shock waves, which, some would say, are still felt to this today.

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