This week I am writing of a lady, now long gone, whose name is mentioned whenever the not so young members of the local community get together to talk of times past. I remember her, but truthfully only as a shadowy figure in the background of a fading recollection of inter-county matches in Geraldine Park. For it was there on big match days that Liz Moylan was sure to be found setting out her stall of fruit, sweets and lemonade. Liz even then had reached a venerable old age, but as we youngsters passed by on our way into the football field we little realised that she was born just one year after Charles Stewart Parnell was first elected as a member of parliament. Born in Mountrath when Queen Victoria still had 25 more of her reign on the English throne, Liz lived on until 1964 when on 16th April she passed away aged 88 years.
I have been unable to find out when Liz came to Athy, for everyone who remembers her does so in the context of her living in 33 Dooley’s Terrace, Athy. When I previously wrote of Dooley’s Terrace and the first tenants of the houses built there in the early 1930’s I referred to Liz as “the famous Liz Moylan who with her daughter Dinah lived next door to Christy and Rosie Brennan. Liz was an industrious independent woman who carried on business as a fruit seller at football matches and other events which attracted a crowd. Her wares were displayed in a pram and she was a familiar sight in and around Athy, pushing the pram stacked with fruits and sweets to and from Geraldine Park.” I remember Archbishop Empey on a visit to Athy some years ago recalling how Liz was helped to set up her little business with a gift of money from his mother-in-law, Mrs. Cox of Duke Street. Indeed, many persons were helpful to Liz as a recent letter I received from Liz’s Manchester based grand-daughter relates. In that letter Molly Roche recounted how her grand-mother was helped at different times by the proprietors of the Leinster Arms Hotel, as well as Lady Geoghegan of Bert House, Sam Shaw of Shaw’s Department Store and Tom Bradbury of Bradbury’s Bakery which was then located in Stanhope Street.
Before Liz and her family moved to 33 Dooley’s Terrace from where she sold toffee apples, the Moylan’s lived in what the locals referred to as “the Docks”. It was in fact Shrewleen Lane from where the tenants moved to newly built Council houses during the Slum Clearance Programmes of the early 1930’s. Liz had five children, all of whom in time emigrated. Her three sons, Richard, Bill and Johnny married and lived in England and Bill is especially remembered in Athy as a staunch Fianna Fáil supporter who was always to be found at political meetings held in Emily Square during the years of the economic war. After emigrating to England four of Liz’s children lived in Manchester, while Lily lived in London. All are now dead, Dinah being the last to pass away almost 16 years ago. By a strange and sad coincidence Liz Moylan’s first grand-daughter named Lily, a daughter of Richard Moylan, died in Manchester on Thursday, 18th November last aged 77 years.
Liz Moylan was one of the many colourful characters in Athy before and after the second World War. The annual Punchestown Races was a venue often graced by Liz’s presence, and each year Liz set out on “Walking Sunday” to travel to the course. In her younger days she often made this trip on foot, accompanied by Athy locals John and Kate Hayden of Higginsons Lane. The Haydens sold race cards during race week, while Liz concentrated on selling copies of Old Moores Almanack supplemented by the sale of race cards. As a well known and well liked local figure Liz often got a “lift” to and from Punchestown and when Athy public “Bapty” Maher brought Liz home on one occasion in his funeral undertakers hearse it afforded Liz the opportunity to make the oft repeated claim “I’m the only person ever to have got out of a hearse alive”.
She struggled, as did so many of her contemporaries, to overcome the harshness of everyday life at a time when jobs were scarce and earnings were counted in small amounts sufficient only to keep a family in lingering poverty. She was often to be seen in Emily Square on Friday mornings selling fruit alongside Mary Browne’s fish stall. I haven’t been able to find out whether she was helping Mary on those occasions or whether she was working on her own account, but in any event another couple who occasionally were to be seen selling fruit in the Friday market were “Gauchy” Mulhall and his wife who lived in what is commonly referred to by the older generation as “the Flags” on the Kilkenny Road.
I do not know what happened to Liz’s husband, but like a true troubadour she battled on alone to rear her family of three sons and two daughters. She may not have had great rewards from making and selling toffee apples during the week from her house at 33 Dooley’s Terrace or from the sale of fruit and sweets at weekend football matches at Geraldine Park, but Liz Moylan earned the respect and the appreciation of the people of Athy and district, so much so that long after her passing she is recalled with affection by those who were privileged to remember her.