Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tim O'Sullivan and George Hegarty

Tim O’Sullivan spent 67 years of his long life in Athy.  A Kerry man by birth he was an Athy man by adoption.  George Hegarty too was a man who although born in West Cork was an adopted son of the town of Athy where he lived for 47 years.  By the time they passed on, Tim last week, and George a few weeks ago, both had become inextricably linked with the life of our local community.

Tim as befitted a man from the Kingdom immersed himself in Gaelic games and was a member of the local Gaelic football club since 1937.  He once described himself to me as “an undistinguished football player”, but he did tog out for Athy juniors and on at least one occasion was a substitute on the senior team.  That single occasion was the first round of the 1942 championship which Athy went on to win later in the year, but by then Tim was no longer on the panel.  His forte was on the administrative side of club affairs and he served as a Committee member for some years from 1945 and in 1953 he was appointed Club Secretary.  Tim was later elected to the Geraldine Park Grounds Committee and served as Chairman of that Committee from 1961 to 1963.  More recently he was elected President of Athy Gaelic Football Club and a few years ago both Tim and Barney Dunne were recipients of club awards in recognition of their years of dedicated service to the development of Gaelic games in Athy.

George Hegarty is fondly remembered as the mainstay for many years of the men’s department of Shaws Department Store which he joined in 1957.  He was a very popular man, who like Tim O’Sullivan enriched the lives of the local people amongst whom he lived for 47 years.

For Tim O’Sullivan gaelic games was a passion and a statement of his commitment to the modern Ireland.  George Hegarty was no less committed and his engagement with the Country of his birth was founded on his earlier long term association with the Fianna Fail party and an even longer association with Irish Freemasonry.  This seemingly conflicting association posed no contradictions for George.  His involvement with the longest established Republican party in Irish politics was for George a measure of his Irishness which was reinforced by his membership of one of the world’s oldest fraternal societies.

George joined the Athy Lodge in 1957 and was Lodge Secretary for 30 years.  He was also a Provincial Secretary for some years and his service and commitment to the organisation was marked by his elevation to the rank of Prince Mason.  Some years ago I interviewed George for an article on St. John’s Masonic Lodge in Athy which was founded in 1840.  His openness and frankness in dealing with my questions confirmed for me that contrary to what I and many others had believed, freemasonry is not an anti-religious secret organisation. 

Tim and George came from different religious backgrounds and while Tim’s Irishness was that of the Catholic Gaelic tradition, George’s Irishness was no less traditional based as it was on his Anglican background.  In our small community religious diversity marks and shapes our daily lives.  Many of us attend different churches on Sundays and some of our social activities in midweek are centred around the churches of our choice.  This might make it difficult for many of us in the community to socially interact as often as we might wish to do but nevertheless it is that very diversity of beliefs which helps to shape the community’s common actions. 

George Hegarty and Tim O’Sullivan lived long lives, outliving in both cases many of the men and women with whom they had been associated during their younger days.  Despite their longevity and the fact that the days of their active involvement in the local community has longed passed their funerals were marked by the presence of representatives of all sections of the community.

My first memory of Tim O’Sullivan was of a white coated figure behind a high counter in JJ Collins’s chemist shop in Duke Street.  That memory was of some time in the 1950’s and throughout that decade and later Tim was ever present whenever Athy Gaelic Football Club was involved in matches in Geraldine Park.  He was a font of information on players of the past and always generously shared his knowledge and experiences with me.  Tim was a particularly good friend of this column and on several occasions he volunteered material of local interest and was always anxious and willing to help with answers to queries which arose from time to time.

With the passing of Tim O’Sullivan and George Hegarty yet more threads in the fabric of the town’s history have unravelled.  I was honoured to have been permitted some time ago to write an Eye on the Past on George and on Tim and so record and preserve in print some interesting aspects of the lives of these two engaging and interesting men who settled in Athy all those years ago.  May they rest in peace.

Over the October bank holiday weekend the Shackleton Autumn School will take place in the Town Hall.  The official opening will be in the Heritage Centre at 7.30pm on Friday and an invitation is extended to all and sundry to come along that night and if possible over the weekend to enjoy the various events.  The Shackleton Weekend started 4 years ago and has become perhaps the most important event of its kind in the Athy Calender.  It attracts lots of visitors to our town over the 3 days.  The official opening on Friday evening will be by Grainne Willis who this Summer became the first Irish woman to climb Mount Cho Oyu. 

Come along and have a glass of wine on the opening night courtesy of Athy Town Council which is generously sponsoring the wine reception.

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