Today I learned of the deaths of two one time residents of Leinster Street, Ger Moriarty and Mrs. Marcella O’Mara. Their passing came soon after the death of Paudence Murphy whose name was for so long associated with the town of Athy. I was abroad when I heard of Paudence’s death and consequently missed his funeral. We were once neighbours in Offaly Street, the Taaffes and the Murphys living directly opposite each other, both in the shadow of Dowlings, later Kehoes public house.
It was Paudence Murphy whom I can recall created the first remembered frission of youthful excitement when the Sorrento Dance Band, which he founded in 1946, broadcast from Radio Eireann. It must have been sometime in the early to mid-1950’s and it was the first time, so far as I was concerned, that a local lad had made it on to the National radio. In fact it wasn’t, but I was not to know that, given my extreme youth and my unfamiliarity with what had gone before. In any event the Sorrento Dance Band had its thirty minutes or so of fame when that long forgotten broadcast was aired over 50 years ago.
The Murphy family were members of the close-knit Offaly Street community before the Taaffes arrived in 1945. Their parents, Paddy and Mary, who was known as “Polly”, were members of old Athy families with links going back generations. Polly and her brother Paddy were the only children of Charlie Doyle and his wife, Lizzie Morrin, who following Charlie’s death as a result of an accident on the railway in 1905, married Danny Kavanagh. Lizzie and Danny Kavanagh had 7 children, all of whom have since passed away. As you go through the Crickeen in Old St. Michael’s Cemetery look to your left and you will see the last resting place of Charlie Doyle and his wife Lizzie and next to them lies the remains of Daniel Kavanagh.
Paddy Murphy was a hackney driver and I have a photograph of his car parked outside No. 24 Offaly Street where the Murphys lived with a projecting sign advertising the hackney business hanging over the front door. Offaly Street was, unlike now, a quiet place in which to live with little or no traffic. Indeed the only car owner in the entire street was Paddy and his car was a tool of his business. Paddy, like so many other Irish men during and after the 2nd World War eventually had to go to work in England and it was to England that each member of his family emigrated as they reached adulthood. They never lost touch with Athy where their mother Polly continued to live in the family home. Indeed, if my memory serves me right Paudence who worked for many years in the Wallboard factory was the last of the Murphy family to emigrate to England, which he did in 1968. The Sorrento Dance Band which had played as relief band to the legendary Victor Sylvester’s Orchestra at the opening of Dreamland Ballroom in 1961 disbanded when its founder and leader Paudence emigrated. He had a very successful career in England and retired some years ago. Paudence had seven brothers and sisters, one of whom, Brendan, on retiring, a few years ago returned to live in Ireland. Paudence’s passing reminds us of the great musical tradition which Athy once enjoyed, with dance bands and local bands to the forefront of social activity in the town.
Another great Athy tradition was in the dramatic Arts and one of the many who, in the past, tread the boards was Ger Moriarty who has also died. Ger first came to Athy in 1934 to work in M.G. Nolan’s new drapery store in Duke Street. Soon after his arrival he got involved in the Social Club Players in St. John’s Lane where with the likes of Bill Ryan, Tadgh Brennan, Tommy Walsh, Florrie and Jo Lawler, Kitty McLoughlin, Francis Fenlon and others too numerous to mention, Ger spent many happy hours. He married Lottie Brophy, daughter of a local publican in 1944 and continued working for M.G. Nolan for almost 30 years. During the war years he was a member of the LDF. In 1964 he opened his own drapery business in premises formerly occupied by Mrs. Blanchfield and retired from that business almost 13 years ago. Over the years Ger was a familiar figure at the weekly traditional music sessions in Clancy’s and in Turley’s of Vicarstown, contributing to those sessions with his much loved monologues. Ger who is survived by his son Gerard and his daughter Finola, was the last member of the Moriarty family to live in Athy.
Marcella O’Mara, widow of the late Louis O’Mara, also died this week. Long gone from Athy she and her husband Louis are still remembered as the owners of O’Maras public house in Leinster Street which in later years was known as The Angler’s Rest. The premises, once one of the finest in the town was purchased by Louis’s father Michael O’Mara, a man who had enjoyed success as a Dublin based tailor before arriving in Athy in 1910. In addition to owning a public house he also acquired Ardree House and a farm on the Carlow Road. The pub was in time to be inherited by his son, Louis while to his second son George passed the farm and Ardree House. Louis O’Mara’s family have long gone from Athy as have Georgee O’Mara’s two sons, Ray and Mick while his daughter Lily is the only member of the extended O’Mara families still living in the town.
The Murphy’s, the O’Mara’s and the Moriarty families had connections with Athy going back many years but with the death of Paudence, Ger and Marcella those links have now been further weakened. Indeed with their passing we are reminded of William Cowpers words “where once we dwelt our name is heard no more”.