One of the great pleasures of writing a weekly article such as “Eye on the Past” is the many unsolicited but welcome letters which arrive in the post. Sometimes contact is made in person, nearly always so, when the caller is an overseas visitor looking for background information on members of a family long gone or forgotten. Occasionally the contact is by telephone and one such phone call a few weeks ago came from Salthill, Galway resident Johnny Mee. A retired bank official, Johnny lived and worked in Athy in the early 1950’s and while here he was a member of the Social Club in St. John’s Lane.
As a club, its heyday was the 1940’s and on into the 1950’s and during its relatively short life it co-existed with another local club, the C.Y.M.S. The Social Club had its premises in the former Comrade’s Hall, as the British Legion Hall was once called, in St. John’s Lane, while the C.Y.M.S. (Catholic Young Men’s Society) held sway in its own premises at the corner of Stanhope Street and Stanhope Place. Both premises are now gone, the C.Y.M.S. Hall having succumbed to the might of the wreckers ball and chain so that its site could be included as part of the site for St. Michael’s new Parish Church. The Social Club hall on the other hand had a life long after the Social Club ceased to function and even became, for a short period, the home of the dislocated C.Y.M.S.
The two clubs catered for different types of members. The C.Y.M.S. with a history going back nearly 100 years was a working mans club. The Social Club had a membership which probably saw itself in a somewhat different light but there was another more fundamental difference between the two clubs. The Social Club had male and female members, while the C.Y.M.S. had an all male membership which in a way was to be expected because of its links with the male dominated Catholic Church.
I was reminded of the C.Y.M.S. and of the Social Club of the 1950’s when Johnny Mee sent me from Salthill a photograph of some members of the Social Club taken in 1951. They were cast members of the play, “The White Headed Boy” which was put on in St. John’s Hall in November of that year. The photograph shows standing at the back 5th from left the tall figure of a young Johnny Mee. The others in the photograph in the front from left are Jo Lawler, her sister Florrie, Chrissie Burke, Paddy Flynn, Nellie Fox, Frances Fenlon and Claire Moore. At the back, again starting from the left, are Tadgh Brennan, May Fenelon, Tommy Walsh, Tom Fleming, Johnny Mee, Pat Mulhall, Kitty McLoughlin and Tommy Doyle.
Photographs are a wonderful record of the past, giving us as they do an opportunity to gain a glimpse of life as it was. Many of the happy faces captured by the camera lens of 54 years ago are gone to their eternal reward, but many of us can still recall the names and the personalities of those distant days.