St. Mary’s Church, Haddington Road, Dublin uniquely for a Catholic Church in Ireland, has a memorial to the men of the parish who died in World War I. I was reminded of that last week when I met the Athy born Parish Priest of St. Mary’s, Fr. Paddy Finn. Fr. Paddy who is a regular reader of this column was aware of my own interest in the Great War, an interest which was first aroused when my research into the history of Athy showed up the large scale involvement of local men in that war.
Fr. Paddy who was born in Athy maintains a great interest in his home town from where he left to join Clonliffe Seminary almost 50 years ago. The oldest of four children of Mick and Doretta Finn of Woodstock Street, Paddy has family connections with two old families from South Kildare, the Finns and through his mother, the Flinters.
Mick Finn’s brothers included Andy who for many years up to the early 1960’s carried on business as a butcher in the premises now occupied by Hacketts bookmakers in Leinster Street. Mick worked as a mechanic in Maxwell’s Garage at the time when that garage operated out of a Duke Street premises directly opposite the then Garda Station. The leisurely pace of life in the 1940’s and ‘50’s can be gauged by the fact that Maxwell’s sold petrol from pumps positioned on the footpath in Duke Street and continued to do so until the garage business transferred to the former Smith’s garage alongside the I.V.I. premises in Leinster Street in the 1960’s. Fr. Paddy’s father, Mick, started up his own garage business in Woodstock Street in 1955. The Finn’s garage premises is still there but it is now occupied by Pearsons and the house in which the Finn family lived is owned today by Mick Fitzgerald.
Paddy Finn was a classmate of my brother Tony and I recall hearing of a camping trip to Kerry in the early to mid 1950’s by Paddy, Tony and a number of school pals, courtesy of a car provided by Finn’s Garage. The trip was apparently an eventful one, not by virtue of the outstanding scenery witnessed on the way but rather because of the inordinate number of punctures, which I later learned, marked the holiday makers slow progress down the country. The first puncture was at Ballylinan and thereafter punctures occurred a couple of times a day, if my informant is still to be believed.
Paddy left Athy in 1955 after completing his Leaving Certificate in the local Christian Brothers School and joined 30 or so clerical students in the first year of training for the priesthood. Around the same time as Paddy joined Clonliffe his father’s garage business went into decline due to the failure of many who availed of his services to settle their accounts. Some things never change!
Paddy Finn was ordained a priest of the Dublin diocese in May 1962 but sadly his father Mick died just three months previously. Afterwards it was discovered that Mick Finn had been learning the responses to the Latin Mass in preparation for serving his eldest son’s first Mass. It was not to be and with his passing the justifiably proud father was deprived of the opportunity of sharing in the joy of the great day which was to be his son’s ordination.
After a number of years spent as a Chaplain, teacher and later as a curate, Fr. Paddy Finn was appointed to his first parish as a Parish Priest in 1994. As Parish Priest of Dunlavin, where he remained until last year, he followed in the wake of another Athy born priest, Canon John Hyland who ministered there as Parish Priest in the first half of the 19th century. Last year he transferred to St. Mary’s, Haddington Road and strangely enough one of his predecessors as Parish Priest was another Athy man, Monsignor Michael Hickey. Monsignor Hickey’s parents who were from Kilberry are commemorated on a church pew in the nave of St. Mary’s Church.
Last week I accompanied Fr. Paddy as he re-visited some of the scenes of his youth in and around Woodstock Street. The Barrack Lane, where in the 1940’s and for some time beyond, the old Military Barracks and the handball alley stood, is no more. Still fresh however are the memories of those days over 50 years ago. Names once familiar came to mind as Fr. Paddy looked out across housing estates now standing where Doyle’s and Flinter’s fields previously provided a playground for the children of the area.
The district which he knew as a young man has changed, almost but not quite beyond recognition. Woodstock Castle, the lone sentinel in the middle of the present housing estates and the last remains of Barrack Lane extending down to the riverside and the barrack well, are reminders of a time full of fond memories.
As we passed up Dooley’s Terrace Fr. Paddy recalled “Boar” Alcock, “Lang” Alcock and “Bunger Eye” Day as well as a host of others who were part and parcel of the life of Athy so many years ago. The familiarity of nick names which were a common feature of town and country life up to two or three generations ago helped to provide a social bond which is not as strong in today’s society. It was that same bond and the familiarity with what was happening around him, which laid up the store of memories for Paddy Finn while still a young fellow scampering around the once familiar fields and hedgerows of Woodstock.
The Parish Priest of St. Mary’s retains a life long affection for the places and people associated with his youth. It was a wonderful treat to walk with him last week visiting areas which I was not familiar with as a young man growing up in Athy and to hear him re-tell the stories of the people who lived there. I have often written of my own years in Offaly Street, and Fr. Paddy who is a regular reader of this column has commented on more than one occasion of my apparent reluctance to cross the River Barrow.
With his help the omission has been corrected and hopefully another visit will give me an opportunity to write of those places and people who are such an important part of the rich social fabric of Athy before and after the second World War.
Writing of war reminds me that I received an enquiry last week concerning the family of Michael Shortall who died in Flanders on 14th May 1915, aged 19 years. His father, Stephen Shortall, was a boatman who lived in Barrack Street but Michael Shortall gave his address when he enlisted in the Army as Nelson Street. Michael’s mother was the former Kate Moore who died in 1898 and his siblings were Annie, Kate, Martin, Patrick and Stephen. When Michael’s mother died in 1898 his father married a widow named Ellen Day, formerly Ellen Kavanagh who had three children of her own called Patrick, William and Christina.
I would be interested in hearing from anybody who can tell me whether there are any descendants of that Shortall family still living in this area.