The evening before I left for a short holiday I walked behind the coffined remains of a young man in the company of many of his friends and former work mates. The funeral procession down the main street of the town as the hearse approaches our Parish Church is an oft repeated scene familiar to us all. It is always a poignant scene, particularly so when the funeral is that of someone who has died well short of the biblical three score and ten.
Mark Browne was just 30 years of age and is survived by his parents, Kieran and Eilish of The Bleach. That simple statement when read by any of the more recent arrivals in what is fast becoming the satellite town of Athy will be accompanied by no appreciation or understanding of a family whose contacts with Athy go back many decades. I was reminded even more forcibly of the “knowledge” deficit of the new citizens of Athy when again attending funerals last week of deceased members of two of the oldest families in Athy.
Christy Bracken of Woodstock Street was 90 years of age when he passed away. The Bracken family go back generations in Athy and with his brother Paddy, Christy had carried on the Bracken tradition of painting and decorating. The Bracken name is synonymous with that trade, even though it is many years since Christy last practised the skills which had been passed on to him by his own father, James Bracken. His uncle, Tom Bracken, who died aged 90 several years ago will be remembered as the father of “Tanner” and Willie, all of whom sadly passed away in recent years.
At the funeral I met my old school friend, Paddy Bracken who is now living in Naas. His family left their home in Emily Square in 1956 when Paddy’s father who was a brother of Christy of Woodstock Street started a market garden business in Caragh. That same year he collapsed and died, aged 44 years. None of us will ever forget the tragedy of 1948 when Jimmy Bracken, the older brother of my school friend Paddy slipped while playing on a raft at Barrow Quay and drowned. His home was just 20 yards away from the scene of his early tragic death.
A few days later another old Athy family laid to rest one of its members with the passing of Micky Dooley of Tomard. Michael, formerly of St. Michael’s Terrace, was a fine footballer in his younger days and on his last journey to St. Michael’s Cemetery was accompanied by a Guard of Honour provided by the members of Athy’s Geraldine Football Club. The Dooley family name is inextricably linked with the municipal history of Athy and with the struggle for independence at the early part of the last century. Micky’s uncle, Paddy Dooley, a National School teacher was T.D. for Kildare for a number of years in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and served, as did his father and his son, as members of the local Town Council for many years.
With the death of these three men is lost another layer of the interlinking story of a town in which their families played a prominent part over many years.
The month of May is historically very important in terms of Athy’s past. It was in May 1798 that the townspeople of Athy underwent harsh treatment at the hands of the military which quenched for generations, some will say quenched forever, the spirit of the local people. Patrick O’Kelly, originally from Kilcoo, as a young man was involved in the events of 1798 and afterwards left for France from where he returned to live in Dublin many years later. Just three years before the Great Famine he published his account of the 1798 Rebellion, giving many details in relation to the local happenings in the Athy area. He tells us :-
“Early in April ’98, free quarters commenced in Athy ….. every respectable farmhouse which could be met with by the military ….. was visited by lawless bands of soldiers who demanded entrance and then required that all places within should be opened and searched. Their cruelty knew no bounds for if any arms or papers touching on the time such as songs or ballads or lists of mens names were found, that house was instantly set fire to and burned. The ditches and cornfields in various places exhibited wrecks of half burned furniture, taken from the flames by women and children, whereas the men were forced from fear of being seized and dragged to prison to leave their houses and keep from the roads where the military might be supposed to pass ….. on the day that Peter Kelly’s property was destroyed and himself made prisoner, the pitch cap was appended to the turnpike gate for the people to look at and see what awaited them. Many among the Smiths and Carpenters were seized and dragged to jail and as floggings were introduced in various places, the use of the cow hide to extort confessions was unsparingly applied. Several were flogged at Athy in order to elicit information against all who were suspected of being officers among the United men or of being implicated in the fabrication or concealment of arms. The arrests were without number and many of the respectable females of the town and neighbourhood were sent by their parents to Dublin to be beyond the reach of military outrage”.
I have to again raise the issue of the 1798 monument which seven years ago was commissioned by Athy Urban District Council for erection in the town to commemorate the memory of those awful times and the local people who suffered and the many who died. The monument by Eithne Ni Rinne, still lies today in the Council yard in a disassembled state, if anything, a monument to the lackadaisical incompetence of officials and public representatives of Athy Town Council.
Can anything be done to have the 1798 Monument erected in the front of Emily Square as agreed to by everyone involved in this project. The continuing saga of Athy’s ’98 monument will not go away so I would urge the Town Hall authorities to complete the seven year old project before it becomes an enduring symbol of local authority incompetence.