Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Kevin Maher




He togged out with the Cork senior football team in 1945 the year the Rebel county won the All Ireland Championship.  It was an unusual occurrence for a Kildare man and his unexpected appearance on the field in Newbridge wearing Cork colours prompted a later approach from Tim Clarke and Fintan Brennan with a request that he “declare” for his native county.  Kevin Maher, now in his 80th year is still amazed at the interest his appearance in the Cork colours for an early season friendly with Kildare county seniors aroused in the legendary County G.A.A. Secretary Tim Clarke and the then Chairman of the Leinster Provincial Council, Athy man, Fintan Brennan. 

As a good friend of “Weeshie” Murphy, full back on the Cork All Ireland winning team of 1945, Kevin often travelled on Sundays with the Dublin based Cork players to matches throughout the country.  That Sunday in February 1945 was the same as many previous such occasions, but when the Cork team arrived in Newbridge to play Kildare it was discovered that a number of Cork players were missing.  Kevin, then a student in the Veterinary College in Dublin and previously a Gaelic footballer with the Christian Brothers school team in Athy was asked to tog out for Cork.  Also pressed into service, even if only to keep Kevin company on the sideline, was the Dublin taxi driver who had driven Kevin with “Weeshie” and others to the venue.  So it was that Kevin Maher, by then a rugby player of some ability, was on the side line of the Newbridge G.A.A. pitch wearing the Cork colours, fervently hoping that none of the fifteen Cork players would have to come off injured.  None did, but nevertheless Kevin was noticed on the side line and before the week was out received an approach from the Kildare County Board to declare for the county senior team.  Kevin passed up on the request, but he must be the only Athy man to have togged out with a Cork All Ireland winning team. 

The Mahers are one of the oldest Athy families.  Kevin’s father, the legendary “Bapty” Maher, was himself the son of John Maher and a grandson of James Maher who died in 1900.  Further back into the fifth generation was John Maher, another Athy man.  The Maher name is frequently encountered as one researches the history of Irish nationalism in South Kildare.  John Baptist Maher, father of Kevin Maher, was one of the few participants in the War of Independence in this area and as a result he was imprisoned at Ballykinler Camp in County Down for a period.  Following the end of World War I and the return of soldiers from the front, differences often arose between the ex-soldiers and the members of the Sinn Fein organisation which had successfully contested the General Election of 1918.  Those who had joined up to fight “the hun” felt somewhat isolated as emerging Irish nationalism took hold in Irish towns.  Clashes between the two groups were frequent occurrences and the events of July 1919 was up to recent years still recalled as one of the most bitter riots ever seen in the town of Athy.  Ex-British soldiers, all local Athy men, whether in drink or otherwise, ran riot on the eve of a feis organised by the local Sinn Fein Club causing damaged to several properties.  It was no coincidence that the premises of Brigid Darby, teacher and Gaelic League organiser of Leinster Street and that of Bapty Maher of William Street were singled out for attention.  Bapty’s bicycle shop in William Street was extensively damaged, simply because he was a well known Sinn Fein man.

Bapty attended Castleknock College with his elder brother Joe.  He was a close friend and confidant of Kevin Barry, the young Irish patriot.  The Barrys lived in Dublin but spent most of their summers at their farm near Hacketstown, Co. Carlow.  The two families had always been friendly and their mothers enjoyed frequent visits between Athy and the Barry farm.  Bapty married Kevin Barry’s sister, Sheila, in 1923 and their eldest son Kevin was born in William Street, Athy one year later.  When Kevin was about three years old the family moved to Clogorrow and from there Kevin attended the local Christian Brothers School.  He sat his Leaving Certificate in 1940 when just sixteen years of age and the following year he enrolled in the Veterinary College in Dublin.  Qualifying as a veterinary surgeon in 1946, Kevin set up his own veterinary practice at 23 Leinster Street, Athy where his grandfather John had carried on business as a publican and undertaker until he died after a brief illness, aged 86 years. 

Having played Gaelic football while a pupil in the Christian Brothers School, Kevin joined Athy Rugby Club and remained a playing member of the club until 1948.  He was a member of the Athy team which was defeated in the provincial town’s cup final of 1948 under the captaincy of Dr. Joe O’Neill.  Also on that team was Frank Anderson and Tony Osborne, now of Naas, who saw their team defeated by Dundalk, the only score of the game being a penalty kicked by the late Frank Johnston who for many years sat as a District Justice in Naas and Newbridge.

Kevin’s other main sporting activity was golf and he has been on every committee in the Athy Golf Club since 1947 and is now the senior trustee of the Club.  He has the unique distinction of winning the Captain’s prize two years in succession in 1947 and 1948.  I am told that for the centenary of the Club which I gather takes place in 2006, Kevin will pen the story behind the famous “Crubeen Party” which engulfed the local golf club in controversy in the early months of 1948.

As befitting the son of a man who played his part in the fight for Irish independence, Kevin Maher has engaged fully in the community life of Athy over the decades.  Apart from his involvement in the Rugby and Golf Club, Kevin initiated the Old Folks Committee and played a major part in acquiring the premises in Leinster Street which has since been sold.  Of all his achievements he would perhaps be proudest of his involvement with the Veterinary Benevolent Fund to which he was elected Chairman in 1981.  He remained at the head of the association for the following twenty three years and during that time he set up an Irish based fund to provide benefits for the Irish members where before such benefits were derived from the British Veterinary Benevolent Fund.  Kevin married Mollie in 1953 and two of their sons, Peter and Kevin have followed their father’s profession and qualified as veterinary surgeons.  Another son, Hugh, works in Drogheda, while daughter’s Katherine and Fiona are married and living in Mullingar and Athy.

Like his father before him Kevin Maher has played a significant and ongoing role within the community life of Athy, where generations of the Maher family have lived and worked since the 19th century.  Within the last two generations, one was involved in the struggle for Irish independence, while the other helped to initiate and develop the course of social action, without which any local community cannot prosper and thrive.  The town of Athy owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to the Mahers, father and son, whose contribution to the history of their hometown will always be acknowledged.

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