Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Urban Councillors of the past

Doing some research recently on the minute books of Athy Town Council I was struck by how quickly events of the recent past have escaped from memory.  Even events in which I was personally involved, for as I read the council minutes I could only vaguely bring them to mind.  The written record is an important if not necessarily an impartial record of times past.  On the other hand memory is a fallible and at times an uncorroborative source of information.  The contemporaneous written record is our most trusted ally when we come back to look at past events.  Knowing the source of the written record allows us to judge the partiality or impartiality of the informant and so make such allowances as may be justified in assessing the truth or correctness of the record.

These thoughts struck me as I read through minutes of town council meetings, noting the names of the public representatives who over the years have represented the people of Athy.  Many of the names were unknown to me.  Their faces, perhaps never seen, their deeds largely unrecorded, except for a few brief references in the bound volumes of the local council.  Who for instance was Patrick Keogh of 28 Woodstock Street, elected as an urban councillor in the elections of 15th January 1920?  Elected with him were Joseph O’Rourke and Thomas O’Rourke, both of William Street.  Were they, I wonder, brothers and what connections had they with the O’Rourke family of the Grand Canal stables whose family members were actively involved in the Irish War of Independence?

Who was Daniel Toomey of Meeting Lane who was an urban councillor from 1920-1934?  James Foley of Emily Square so far as I can see served for a time in the dual role of urban councillor and county councillor.  He eventually lost his urban council seat in 1931 when disqualified for non attendance at council meetings.  But who was James Foley?  With an address in Emily Square he was more than likely to have been a shop keeper.

There are so many other names which grace the pages of the council minute books, names of men and women who are now all but forgotten.  The 1942 local election brought with it the election of two local housewives, Mrs. Bridget Whelan of Holmcroft and Mrs. S.K. Doyle of Hillsview House.  They were not the first females elected to the local council.  That was an honour which fell to Brigid Darby of Leinster Street, a national school teacher whom I believe was head mistress of Churchtown National School.  She was first elected to Athy Urban District Council in the June 1925 local elections, the first such elections following the establishment of the Irish Free State.  I know something of Miss Darby, but nothing of Mrs. Doyle or Mrs. Whelan, both of whom were members of Athy Urban District Council from 1942-1945.

Even as we move nearer to our own time the council minute books give up names which perhaps mean little or nothing to a generation younger than myself.  Take the election of 1967 when the nine councillors elected comprised Jack McKenna, Joseph Deegan, Jim McEvoy, M.G. Nolan, Frank English, Tom Carbery, Enda Kinsella, Mick Rowan and P.G. Dooley.  Only Jim McEvoy, a young man when first elected in 1960, remains with us.  I remember the eight other members, but for many others living in Athy today the majority of the names mentioned will probably mean little or nothing.  It is a sad fact of life that as time presses on our memories recede and we forget those men and women who played their part in fostering the local community.

The Town Council minute books are a valuable record of times past.  The local newspapers are papers of record insofar as local communities are concerned.  Together the Council minute books and the newspapers provide a snapshot of events and people which if left unrecorded would pass unnoticed and slide into oblivion.

Last week Florrie Pender of fond memory passed away at the extraordinary age of 102.  She was part of my school memories of the 1940s when I attended St. Joseph’s boys junior school at Rathstewart.  St. Joseph’s was amalgamated with Scoil Mhichil Naofa in 1959 and it was that enterprising school which last week gave us what I believe was the most entertaining theatrical experience I have had for many years.  The occasion was the performance of Jimmy Murphy’s play, ‘The Kings of the Kilburn High Road’, a play which I first saw in London a few years ago.  The cast of five included four teachers from Scoil Mhichil Naofa under the direction of David Walsh.  Incidentally, Davy Walsh, son of the director David was the fourth generation of the Walsh family to take to the stage here in Athy.  They gave a wonderful performance and the young teacher, Damian Walsh from Ballanakill, gave what I regard as a stupendous sustained performance of quality in the principal role of ‘Jap Kavanagh’.  His acting was exceptional and was the finest performance I have seen from an amateur actor for many years.  Well done to all concerned.

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