For the second week in succession I have had to put off the article I had intended to write about the Carbery family of St. Patrick’s Avenue. The passing of two men of my acquaintance, one in relatively old age, the other at the far end of the age spectrum, both dying within 12 hours of each other, prompts the article this week.
Declan Wall was just 33 years of age when he died in tragic circumstances shortly after returning from the Circuit Court in Naas where he had shared some time with my son Seamus. Indeed both had lunch together that same day and Seamus returned to the office in the late afternoon, little realising the awful tragedy that would later overtake his companion.
Declan was a young barrister whose advocacy skill and commanding Court presence marked him out as a rising star amongst his colleagues on the Eastern circuit. His early years at the Bar, like those of his bewigged junior colleagues were spent building up contacts, amassing knowledge and know-how, all in preparation for a legal career which held out much promise for the future. It was not to be and Declan’s death caused great sorrow amongst his colleagues and friends. Our sympathies go to his wife Fiona, his mother and the Wall family.
Within hours of Declan’s death I heard the not unexpected news that my good friend Paddy Eaton had passed away. Paddy had been unwell for some time but yet when I last visited him, only a week or so ago, he was bearing up well and was as cheerful as ever. I knew Paddy ever since he returned to his hometown of Athy after many years in Birmingham. A master painter, who like his father before him acquired and the skill and good taste of a craftsman, Paddy took pride in his work.
Verschoyles old house in Ardreigh was perhaps one of the last place to benefit from his craft work. I know he took great pleasure in restoring the doors and woodwork of that old house which had suffered greatly after years of subletting and apartment living. The internal walls of the house built for Samuel Haughton, the Quaker miller of Ardreigh Mills, immediately after the Great Famine were also to benefit from Paddy’s attention to detail. Almost 20 years after he had devoted so much time and skill to re-decorating Ardreigh House his workmanship is still as fresh and appealing as it was two decades ago.
Paddy was the second generation of the Eaton family to take up the painting trade. His father Martin worked for Newcombe Empey Sign and Ornamental Painter and Gilder of Leinster Street and Paddy who was born in 1934 began his apprenticeship with the same firm in 1948. He was just 14 years of age and earned 7 shillings and 6 pence per week which is the modern equivalent of 37½ cent. Despite his youth it was his second job, Paddy having spent the previous year working in Tom McHughs foundry in Janeville Lane. The youngster of 13 years of age had started working in the foundry when his father fell ill and Paddy as the oldest in the family took on the responsibility of earning a wage to help his parents and siblings through what were very difficult times.
Paddy talked to me some years ago of his time working for Tom McHugh and mentioned the names of some of his fellow workers such as Mannix Thompson, Frankie Aldridge, Des Donaldson and Robbie Lynch of Shrewleen Lane. Tom McHugh was one of two brothers who operated foundries in Athy – the other foundry being based in Meeting Lane. Paddy described Tom as the ‘best floor moulder’ in the country who worked the sandboxes with an artistry which belied his down-to-earth appearance, tracing intimate designs in the red sand which came from Dan Neill’s field on the Carlow Road.
Working in the Foundry at such a young age was contrary to the law relating to school attendance but in the harsh economic climate of the post War years, the local Garda Sergeant, who happened to be my own father, took a benign attitude to the youngsters school absence. At 14 years of age Paddy was free to take up an apprenticeship with Newcombe Empey and for four years served his time, the latter part of which was as an ‘improver’.
The economic difficulties currently facing the country will no doubt disimprove before they get better and those of us not acquainted with the economic stagnation and the unemployment of the 1950s will come to appreciate what young men like Paddy Eaton faced during those dark days. The emigrants boat held out the only hope for many at a time when jobs were scarce and where those lucky to be in employment earned little more than enough to keep body and soul together. Paddy Eaton was one of the many hundreds men and women who had no alternative but to leave their hometown in search of work in the 1950s. Sally Oak, Birmingham would in time be home to Paddy and many more of Irish descent who found work in car manufacturing and in the huge engineering works of that city. Having trained as a painter Paddy continued to work at this craft, even while employed full time in a Birmingham factory. Working on his own account at the weekends added long hours to the working week and Paddy continued to do this for many years until a heart attack prompted him to cut back on his work schedule.
He returned to Ireland and to Athy following his early retirement and it was then that I first got to know Paddy. The craft skills acquired almost 50 years previously were never to leave him. His training in mixing paints, in the preparation of surfaces for painting and in the other detail which marked him out as a craftsman required a patience and an attention to detail which suited his temperament. A courteous even-tempered man, he enjoyed most of all his pint and ruefully admitted to over indulging on some occasions. However, Paddy was always courteous, always pleasant and ever good natured. The hard times he had experienced as a youngster of 13 years working in the adult world were never allowed to colour his attitude to those he met. He was immeasurably proud of his son Patrick and his daughter Shirley who in recent years returned to live and work in Birmingham City where they were born. He is survived by his wife Mary, his two children and two grandchildren.
Ar dhéis Dé go raibh a nanamacha.