Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Robert Redmond's Athy Town

Before you read this article, Robert Redmond’s book of photographs of Athy Town will have been launched.  I was privileged to get a pre-launch copy of the book which features on it’s front cover an outstanding piece of imagery in the picture of postman, Mick McEvoy astride his bicycle on the roadway at St. Martin’s Terrace.  That photograph shows Mick about to set off on his last day as a postman to serve as he had done for over 40 years, rural communities stretching from Rockfield to Ballintubbert.  The smiling face of Mick, who has since passed away, was a familiar sight in the town where he was born and where he lived all of his life.  Mick was an Athy man through and through, whose whole life was encompassed within the familiar sights and sounds of the locality and the people amongst whom he grew up and with whom he shared the experiences of an Irish provincial town.  He was a man for whom the regularity of work and life fashioned during the hardships of the 1930’s and beyond were thereafter and forever shaped by the experiences of those times.  So it was with many of those men and women whose photographs appear in Robert Redmond’s book.

This is a delightful book which is a wonderful addition to the all too limited material available on our fine town and its people.  Photographs so easily capture the moment more so than words can ever do, saving for future generations a visual image in which one experiences, as it were, life as it once was.  This book is proof if same was  ever required, of the old adage, that the camera is mightier than the pen.

The photographs of Butler’s Row and Convent Lane showing the small substandard houses which once made up a substantial majority of the housing stock in the town are a grim reminder of the hardships which were endured by so many and for so long in Athy’s pre-industrial days.  Some of the industries which helped to bring improvements in the living standards of Athy men and women are featured.  Minch Nortons, perhaps Athy’s eldest industry is represented by a group photograph of workers gathered together in 1983 to mark the retirement of four long serving workers including Robert’s own father Peter.  Elsewhere I.V.I. Foundry men are photographed at work, a unique and valuable insight into a world which has since disappeared.  I have often felt that there is a pressing need for more photographs to be taken, on a regular basis, in the workplace in order to provide an insight into a part of all of our lives which is so seldom recorded.  The largest employer in Athy, Tegral is represented by photographs of two workmen, the late Michael Pender and the late Mick Ryan.  Unfortunately, neither photograph gives us any idea of the work processes in the factory which has been with us since 1936.

The books value lies in capturing the faces, some familiar, some now not so, of persons who in their time were part of our ever changing community here in Athy.  Nurse Brennan’s retirement as a Public Health Nurse features in two photographs and faces recognised include former T.D. Paddy Dooley, Gertie Gray, Kitty McLaughlin, Lily Moore, Maureen Clancy, Maureen Dowling, all of whom have since passed away. 

Sr. Dominic, that great charitable lady who for so long was Matron of St. Vincent’s Hospital is captured on film congratulating Jack Keogh on his retirement from the Ambulance Services.  Other featured names and faces from the past include Brendan O’Flaherty, Dot Mullen, Mrs. Ned Wynne, Alex Kelly, Pat Dowling, Bapty Maher, Rexie Rowan, Mick O’Shea, Joe Bermingham and John Allen. If like me, you remember these men and women who once walked our streets and shared in a common community purpose, then like me you will feel a sadness and perhaps a realisation that life is in all too short an excursion. 

It seems like only yesterday that many of those pictured in the book were part of our daily lives but yet it is many years since they were amongst us. It is the magic of Robert Redmond’s lens which recreates for us once again, a time in our lives which has passed.  We can again enjoy the moments shared with those very real people and places now no more whose images fill the pages of this latest addition to the literature on Athy. 

Provincial life as experienced by many of us is captured for all time within the covers of this book, copies of which I have no doubt will be soon found in every home in Athy.  It will also make a splendid Christmas gift for those of our friends and families living abroad

Last week, two men died, both of whom had made a lasting impact on many lives.  Ronnie Barker was an actor with a wonderful comic talent whose work as a script writer and a performer delighted me for decades.  He was my favourite television personality and reading the press reports of his career, quite clearly he was a man who was universally liked within the theatrical profession, which in itself is a measure of his greatness.  The other man who passed away was well known to me, at least he was when for one year he was one of my lecturers in my post graduate studies.  Fr. Fergal O’Connor was a Dominican Priest whose sympathy and compassion for the socially disadvantaged was marked by a rigorous independence of mind on issues whether religious or lay.  He was one of a triumvirate of lecturers whom I remember from that time, the others being Dr. David Thornley and Dr. Jeremiah Newman.  The latter who was later to become the Bishop of Limerick taught Sociology on what can only be described as strict orthodox Catholic lines whereas both O’Connor and Thornley were free thinkers who shunned orthodoxy.   Fr. O’Connor was an invigorating thought provoking lecturer whose influence was still felt by his pupils long after they had departed from his classes. Thornley had a similar effect on his students and I have often wondered to what extent Fr. Fergal and David Thornley altered the staid mindset of the junior local government official from Athy who attended their lectures all those years away.  I cannot answer that question myself but I do know that the chain smoking Dominican Priest awakened within me an awareness and a questioning which thereafter shaped my approach to many issues.

If you haven’t got a programme for the Shackleton weekend events in the Heritage Centre scheduled for the last weekend in October,  why not call into the Town Hall and get your free copy.  Even better still, why not buy a ticket for some of the lectures or other events which will commence with the opening by Brian Keenan on Friday, 28th October.  Keenan who will give a talk that evening survived four and a half years in captivity after being seized in Beruit by fundamentalists Shi’ite militamen.  He was released in August 1990 and subsequently wrote an account of his experiences in the award winning book “An Evil Cradling”. The lecture by Keenan on Friday evening in the Town Hall follows the opening of the Shackleton weekend at 7.00 p.m. and is free to the public.

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