I haven’t yet developed the habit of reading the death notices in my daily paper, although I suppose I should, since I’m told it is a traditional pastime associated with someone of my age. This morning I was prompted, why I don’t know, to glance at those same notices and my gaze fell upon a name well known to me from 35 years ago. George Cannon, former County Manager from Monaghan, had passed away in what must have been his 94th year or so. I was Town Clerk in Monaghan town when George was County Manager. His was a name legendary in the Local Government services, even while he was still serving. Small of stature, what he lacked in height he made up for with a determined independent streak which saw him command the respect, if not the friendship, of his peers.
County Managers are one part of government service at local level, where the other side is represented by the elected members. The disparity amongst elected members in terms of ability, experience and knowledge invariably creates an imbalance when pitted against the same well honed qualities in a person who after many years service in local government comes to occupy the most senior management post in the county.
George Cannon was one of the wiliest men I had ever met up to 35 years ago. A few more have crossed my path since then but their stories are for another time. I described George as a legendary character, as indeed he was, and legion are the stories which circulated amongst local officials about the man in Monaghan. George, unlike his fellow County Managers, did not bother with being a member of the County Managers Association. He ploughed his own furrow according to his own directions, not feeling the need to consult or associate with his peers.
Council meetings which he always attended, invariably threw up one or two “Cannon gems” which when polished and adapted were added to the bank of stories in circulation about George. I recall one such Council meeting, the annual estimates meeting of the local Urban District Council when the estimates for the following year prepared by the Town Clerk and approved by the County Manager were up for discussion and ultimately for decision by the elected members. Invariably a small percentage increase in the rates was sought by the officials, but the elected members, as is usual on such occasions, waded through the estimates making reductions here and there in order to effect savings. George Cannon sat through the meeting, impassively as ever, noting on the back of an envelope the reductions made by the members, never once protesting or demurring in the decisions being made. At the end of the process the members, fully satisfied with their work, passed onto the next stage which was the striking of the rate in pound. Before they did however George turned to me and in his quiet Donegal accent said, “Town Clerk, will you contact the E.S.B. in the morning to arrange to have the public lights switched off at 8.00 p.m. each evening, also draw up a list of the Council workmen so that we can decide which two men are to be let go”.
The Councillors fell silent. There was some shuffling of feet underneath the table and a few coughs were heard as the nine members of the Council took in what the County Manager had said. No one ever contradicted George Cannon. In many ways he was the last of the old style county managers made of the same mould as the Parish Priests of old. His word was law and if you disagreed you kept your thoughts to yourself. Not even the elected members of Monaghan Urban District Council felt able to trade word with the diminutive County Manager and so the night of the estimates saw the meeting go on a bit longer than usual as the necessary additions were made to the estimates to ensure the continuity of services for the following year. I have to admit I enjoyed the moment. George Cannon died this week after a long life full of achievements.
Next Friday morning about 11 o’clock or so 30 or 40 vintage cars will arrive in Emily Square as part of a commemoration run to celebrate the 101st anniversary of the Gordon Bennett Race. The vintage car enthusiasts will drop into the Heritage Centre where there is a permanent display relating to the race which has always been associated with Athy. Incidentally, the Heritage Centre has a new manager. Margaret Walsh from Monasterevin started work two weeks ago and we extend good wishes to her in her new post.
Another welcome newcomer to the town is Rev. Cliff Peter Jeffers who was instituted as the new Vicar of the Athy Union of Parishes on 3rd June. He is a successor in a long line of vicars stretching back nearly 500 years and will administer in the Church of St. Michael’s at the top of Offaly Street. He also has charge of Kilberry, Fontstown and Kilkea and all of us wish him well in his ministry.
Some weeks I wrote of roadside memorials to victims of road traffic accidents following which I was contacted by a long time resident of St. Joseph’s Terrace who brought to my attention an old iron cross on the roadside opposite No. 8 Upper St. Joseph’s. It is believed to mark the place where a young boy of twelve years or so was killed in the 1920’s by a steamroller. Does anyone recall the name of the youngster whose tragic death is recalled in the simply metal cross which has been in position on the edge of the roadway for almost 80 years. If you can help with this query I would be delighted to hear from you.
Many of my readers will recall Garda Johnny McMahon who lived with his wife Molly in St. Patrick’s Avenue. I was reminded of Johnny this week as I watched a young Garda directing traffic at the town’s main cross-roads. The young Garda energetically and with total command directed the traffic coming from the Dublin, Kilkenny, Monasterevin and Carlow directions with practised ease. The traffic nowadays exceeds anything Johnny McMahon had to deal with, but Garda Ciara Holmes set to her task with such energy and panache that I could picture the doyen of traffic controllers of 40 years ago, Johnny McMahon, as he twisted and turned, pointed and directed a steady stream of traffic on its way. Until I saw Garda Holmes on traffic duty last week I had quite forgotten about the Mayo man who was part of our lives here in Athy for almost four decades and who retired from the Gardai in the mid 1960’s.