Those who once were young and die in old age are seldom remembered for the many good works which mark their earlier involvement in their local community. The unkind fates which consigns the deeds of the past to the dustbin of memory is perhaps unkindest to those who live long lives, the latter part of which is generally spent out of the public gaze. In sharp contrast to their more active years when with spirit and generosity they involved themselves in the daily life of community living, their latter years are spent quietly and sedately, while others, younger in years take on the roles which they once filled.
I was reminded of this when listening to Fr. Dennehy extol the many good works of Paudge Dooley, who as a young man and beyond, immersed himself in the life of our town and the many causes which arose at one time or another during his active years. The same thoughts crossed my mind when a week or so later I followed Megan Maguire’s cortege down the familiar main street of Athy.
Paudge Dooley came from a family background which extended back to the dark days of the Luggacurran evictions when his great grandfather, Tom Dooley, was evicted from his holding at Coolglass. The Dooley family resettled in Levitstown to become lock-keepers on that stretch of the Grand Canal. Family involvement in the Plan of Campaign and the Land League no doubt underscored the political allegiances of the Dooleys thereafter and it was no surprise to find Paudge a long serving and dedicated member of the Fianna Fáil party. For the removal of his remains from the funeral home to St. Michael’s Parish Church a guard of honour was provided by the local Fianna Fáil Cumann, headed by the Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche.
Paudge’s involvement in community affairs was not limited to elections and party politics. Throughout the 1950’s and ‘70’s and earlier he was a prominent and valued member of the fund-raising team first organised by the late Fr. McLoughlin to raise funds for the new Parish Church. For several years the fund-raising went on prior to the opening of the church on Sunday, 19th April 1964 and continued for a time thereafter until the Planned Giving Campaign came into operation. Until it did, whist drives, carnivals and turkey drives were just some of the many and varied ways employed by those men and women who like Paudge, week in week out, gave of their time and energies to building up the funds needed for our new church.
Paudge was also one of the original members of the swimming pool committee which was formed following a meeting in the Leinster Arms Hotel called by Mick Rowan in 1967. The committee set itself the task of collecting £10,000 in three years as the local communities contribution to a £60,000 pool which Kildare County Council were prepared to build in Athy. The plans for the pool were conditional however on the local contribution of 20% of the local cost being made by the people of Athy. Under the chairmanship of Mick Rowan and with Eoin Blanchfield as secretary and my father as treasurer, the committee organised a monthly draw. It was the likes of Paudge Dooley who enthusiastically undertook the thankless task of calling on neighbouring houses to collect the monthly draw money. It was an undertaking which was to continue for thirteen years up to 1980. In the meantime the dream of a swimming pool was realised with the opening of Athy’s new pool on 11th June 1977. By then the cost had soared to over £117,000, almost double the original estimate, leaving the local committee to collect £23,518, the last instalment of which was collected and handed over to Kildare County Council in 1980. The town’s swimming pool facility will always remain, as will St. Michael’s Parish Church, a lasting testimony to the work of community activists such as Paudge Dooley.
Megan Maguire was another community worker who came to live in Athy with her husband Dr. Brian in 1958. As a young married woman with a growing family she nevertheless made an effort to become involved in the local community. Apart from her involvement in the campaign for the protection of travellers rights, Megan and her husband Dr. Brian shared with other volunteers for many years, responsibility for the successful operation of the Care of the Elderly Committee founded in 1965. Indeed Brian was the first chairman of the committee and was re-elected each year over the following twenty years to the same position. Megan was the honorary social worker to the committee and worked indefatigably over thirty years or more to ease the plight of the many elderly and often time lonely men and women who benefited from the help and support of the Care of the Elderly organisation.
It was while secretary of the South Kildare branch of An Taisce in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that Megan realised perhaps one of the greatest victories, which if not won, would have seen the demolition of our Town Hall. I have before me a letter dated 23rd May 1980 from the then Kildare County Manager addressed to Megan advising of the unanimous decision of the members of Athy U.D.C. “to demolish the Town Hall and replace it with a modern building”. With the support of the townspeople, Megan as secretary of An Taisce mobilised opposition to the preposterous demolition plan and gathered hundreds of signatures urging the Council to carry out much needed repairs to the Town Hall rather than have it demolished. The campaign succeeded and Kildare County Council undertook with the benefit of a FAS scheme to restore the building which Patrick Shaffery, architect and town planner retained by An Taisce described as “a fine building, the demolition of which would be an irreplaceable loss to the architectural heritage of Athy.” As we now know the Town Hall was saved thanks to the dedicated work of people such as Megan Maguire.
As an extension to her work in the community Megan entered local politics and in 1974 headed the poll in the election for the local Urban District Council. The following year she became the first lady chairman of the Town Council and indeed the first lady to head up the municipal affairs of the town since it was incorporated in 1515. It was a truly singular but richly deserved honour for a woman who had devoted her time and her energies since coming to Athy to various community initiatives and developments. Megan remained a member of the Urban District Council up to and including 1985.
In recent years as they grew older neither Megan or Paudge played an active role in community life. Their time and energies had been given freely when both were of most benefit to the town and it’s townspeople and in old age they treasured the memories of those days. Community involvement is about men and women such as Paudge Dooley and Megan Maguire sharing their talents and their skills with those around them for what we call the common good and seeking nothing in return.
Even with their passing, Paudge Dooley and Megan Maguire have left a legacy by which they can and should be remembered. It is a legacy to be seen not only in the Parish Church, in the swimming pool and the Town Hall, but elsewhere in recaptured memories of neighbourliness and kindness which marked their time amongst us.
Just before Christmas when writing of Athy Soccer Club I referred to Matt Tynan as the proprietor of the Leinster Arms Hotel, when I should have, of course, described him as the manager of the L&N shop which operated at the corner of Emily Square alongside Andersons public house.
My recent articles on the Farm Workers Strike of the early 1920’s resulted in contact with Christy Supple’s son who now lives in America. I was anxious to get some background information on Christy Supple who as a young man lead the Farm Workers Strike and first organised the Transport Union in this area. I have since discovered that Christy’s wife is living in London and with her help and that of her son in America I hope to bring you in the near future an article on Christy Supple, Trade Union activist who had to emigrate to work in England in his later years.
Finally to save the pension officer from preparing an unwanted Old Age Pension book I must tell you that the two photographs which appeared last week were taken by Mary Cunningham in the late 1970’s and not the 1960’s as stated in the accompanying article.