Last week there was a well organised celebration of community involvement stretching back over the years when Athy Town Council remembered those men and women who since 1899 were elected as local Councillors. It was a wonderful occasion graced by the descendants of past Urban Councillors and included amongst them were many family members of the first Urban Councillors elected in 1899.
Amongst those elected to the Urban Council in later years was Michael McHugh of 6 St. Michael’s Terrace who sat on the Council between 1945 and 1950. Michael was a passionate de Valera supporter who with his brother Matt operated a foundry in Meeting Lane. Small local foundries were once a traditional craft industry in Athy and gave rise to the establishment of the very substantial I.V.I. Foundry which operated in Leinster Street next to the People’s Park for upwards of 60 years or more. Michael’s son, Aiden McHugh, like his father has committed himself to local community involvement over a number of decades. The essential difference between father and son is that the former channelled his energy through his party political involvement, while Aiden shunned politics and committed himself selflessly to the young people of Athy.
Looking back over the decades during which time Aiden worked with the young people at gymnastics, canoeing and more recently dragon boat racing and the sign language movement I could not but be amazed at his commitment and dedication. Aiden served in our national army for over 22 years and saw service overseas in the Congo, Cyprus and the Lebanon. On rejoining civilian life his army training was put to good use when he committed himself to working with the youth of his native town through sport, especially gymnastics, canoeing and more recently dragon boat racing. His success in that regard was marked with several Gaisce awards for his young trainees and Aiden himself has received the Irish President’s award for leadership. The gymnastics club which he founded in the mid 1970s is still going strong and over the years its young members have won many national awards. The provision of gymnastic classes for those with special needs was another of Aiden’s initiatives which won for him a Person of the Year Award from K.A.R.E.
In or around 1981, encouraged by the parents of his gymnastics class, he started a canoe club. The club, which is still very active, has given scores of young Athy people their introduction to the River Barrow. Many of the young canoeists trained by Aiden in canoeing and life saving skills have competed in the famous Liffey Descent.
In 2012 Aiden brought dragon boat racing to the River Barrow in Athy and this year the third Dragon Boat Regatta arranged by Aiden and his colleagues will take place on the Barrow on Sunday, 4th May. Not content with his many exploits on water Aiden has now embarked on a walking leaders course with the Irish Heart Foundation.
The ever cheerful Aiden celebrated his 70th birthday last week and I understand will be the subject of a civic reception to be given by the Town Council this week. It is a well deserved honour for a man whose family on his mother’s side, the Mullery’s of William Street, played a prominent role in the life of the town for many decades.
Best wishes also go to Dominic Day who retired last week as Athy’s traffic warden two months in advance of the dissolution of the Town Council. The last occasion the word ‘dissolution’ could be used in Athy with accuracy in relation to a local issue was all of four and a half centuries ago when King Henry VIII’s actions lead to the dissolution of the local Dominican Friary. The pity is that the departure of the Town Council is not accompanied by the town’s parking Bye Laws which since their implementation have contributed to a degrading of the local shopping experience.
The men elected to Athy U.D.C. in 1899 presided over a town which had many problems but yet managed to develop and retain a commercial/retailing life in the town centre which was vibrant and profitable. When the Council celebration took place last week I was moved to reflect on those men and the few women who graced the Council Chamber in the past. Their individual and collective contribution to the wellbeing of Athy is all but forgotten, lost as it were in the midst of times past. Nevertheless we owe a debt of gratitude to those forgotten folk for their work as local Councillors in the same way as we must now acknowledge the wonderful contribution of community activist Aiden McHugh.