Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Kathleen Doody and Sean McNamara

Kathleen Doody died last week, just a few weeks short of her 89th birthday.  She was widowed 37 years ago when her husband Paddy, the father of her thirteen children, passed away.  The Doodys were always part of my youthful years which were spent during the spartan 1950’s in Offaly Street, then a street given over to young families.  A family of old Athy stock, the Doodys were noted for their musically talented family members whose ability as singers passed from generation to generation.  Paddy’s brother, Joe Doody who was regarded locally as an exceptionally fine singer, is still hale and hearty and living in England.  Another member of the family, Paddy’s sister Aggie Walsh, stole the show on many occasions when local talent was showcased in the local Town Hall.  Her son, “Siki”, was a highly regarded singer who in his time fronted a number of musical combinations in the locality.

The economic backwater which was Ireland in the 1930’s and 1940’s meant that many of Paddy Doody’s siblings emigrated to England.  Only Paddy and his brother Mick remained behind in their home town, while Jim, Liz and Joe went across the Irish Sea.  It was a journey that all of Paddy’s own children would make decades later, although three at least, Christina, Ann and Dominic returned to settle in Ireland.

The Doodys lived in Janeville Lane, a small row of terraced houses built by Thomas Cross in the early 1870’s.  Twelve of the Doody children were born while their parents lived in Janeville Lane which even in the early 1950’s was in the final years of its life as home to a small community of families and which would disappear within ten years or so thereafter.  Opposite the Doodys at the entrance to Janeville Lane lived Willie Howard, while further in on the small narrow cobbled cul de sac lived at different times the Roycroft family, Mrs. Browne, Fanny Ivors and many others whose names now escape me.

There were thirteen Doody children, the eldest of whom, Christina, known as Diane with her sister Breda emigrated to England before I had reached an appreciable level of understanding of the area in which I lived and the good people who made up the local community.  Paddy, the eldest son of the Doody family, was a school colleague of mine and well I remember his unique ability to create music out of the most unlikely objects.  A biscuit tin became a drum, not just any drum but one which melodically resonated to the tuneful beat of Paddy’s fingers.  A comb partially screened with paper became in Paddy’s hand an instrument of pleasant, if unidentifiable, musical origin. 

I remember the May bush which each year, courtesy of the young Doody brothers and sisters, appeared at the top of Janeville Lane secured to the pole next to No. 4 Offaly Street.  It was a tradition continued for as long as the Doody family lived in Janeville Lane and provided each May day a colourful reminder of an age old custom shared both by the Irish and the English alike.  St. Stephen’s Day provided an outlet for the musical talents of the younger family members who invariably led by the eldest boy Paddy enlivened the Christmas festivities with their traditional wren boy performance in and around Offaly Street.  These are my youthful memories of my neighbour and school pal Paddy Doody who with Willie Moore, Teddy Kelly, Basil White and myself share a treasured photograph taken on our First Communion Day in the Peoples Park which now sits on my desk.  Paddy left school at an early age as indeed did most of my classmates in those post war years and eventually emigrated to England.  There he would be later joined by his brothers and sisters, ten of whom would remain permanently in England.  The fact that at least six of Kathleen Doody’s children now live in and around Mansfield in Nottingham must surely arouse the interest of a sociologist interested in the Irish Diaspora, its cause, effect and the creation of Irish communities outside of Ireland.  Kathleen Doody was a kind quiet lady and a former neighbour who reared a family of whom she was justifiably proud.  May she rest in peace.

Within a week of Mrs. Doody’s passing a relatively young man (younger than myself I mean) stepped off the treadmill of daily work and decided to take life a little easier after 39 years teaching in secondary school.  Sean McNamara is one of the quite large contingent of County Clare people working and living in Athy.  He is a native of the seaside village of Carrigaholt, famed in history as the home of the man who raised and gave his name to Clares Dragoons.  I first met Sean when he arrived in Kells in September 1966 to each in the local school.  I had myself arrived in Kells the previous May and football training in the local Colmcille Gael’s pitch was the principal sporting outlet for many of us who were then living in digs.  I remember playing football on many nights of the week with Sean and the likes of the legendary Des Ferguson and the formidable Greg Hughes, becoming in the process fitter than I had ever been before or since.

I left Kells after a year and a half and I was not to meet Sean for another fifteen years.  When I did it was in the yard of my old school at St. John’s Lane when I brought my two sons for their first day in the Christian Brothers School.  When Sean came to Athy in 1969 the local Secondary School was a nine teacher school, having increased from the four teacher school it was in my time less than ten years previously.  Nowadays there are upwards of twenty-five teachers tending to the needs of the ever increasing number of students availing of second level education. 

I am told that Sean was a useful badminton and squash player in his younger days and was a member of the Athy teams which achieved cup and league success in both sports in the early 1980’s.  After the closure of the Social Club in St. John’s Lane badminton was played in a building behind the Oasis public house before transferring to the Dominican Hall [was this the old Church?].  Sean remembers playing on teams which included Claud Gough, Tony McGee an inter provincial player who by day worked in Shaw’s, Catherine Clancy and Barbara O’Neill, to mention just a few.  Sean served under eight school headmasters during his 36 years in Athy, commencing with Brother Cullen who died in August of this year and more recently under the first lay headmaster, Tom Sheridan and his successor Tony O’Rourke.  When he joined the staff of Athy Christian Brothers School Sean was part of a teacher intake required to meet the demands of Donough O’Malley’s free secondary education scheme and two other teachers who joined that same day were Joe May and Peadar Murphy.  Mick Kelleher and Mick Hannon were already members of the teaching staff and with the earlier retirement of all four some time ago Sean, as he describes it, is “the last of the old brigade to go”.

I was interested to hear a Clare man’s impressions of Athy in 1969.  He admitted to not being initially too impressed, believing that the social outlets in the much smaller town of Kells were far superior than anything then on offer in Athy.  However, as he wrote to his mother soon after arriving in Athy, “if I stick it here for a year I’ll probably be here forever”.  Indeed Sean not only stuck it for a year but as he happily admits “Athy grew on me” and so his stay extended to 36 years and hopefully for many more years yet to come.  No doubt his stay was made all the more pleasant following his marriage in 1976 to Phil who comes from Mohill in County Leitrim.  Their three children Brian, Niamh and Colm shared in the celebrations last weekend to mark Sean’s retirement from Scoil Eoin. 

Our teachers we never forget, as indeed we should never forget our old neighbours.  This week marks the passing of Mrs. Kathleen Doody whose family were so much a part of my treasured memories from the past.  At the same time it marked the start of a new stage in the life of a man who gave 36 years to my old alma mater and in the process helped to bring two of my own sons further along the path of life.

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