A very pleasant function in Kane’s public house in Leinster Street during the week saw the launch of Paddy Walsh’s book of poetry. Published by Glor na nGael, the slim volume of Irish poems, I understand, contains just a few of the substantial body of work which Paddy has produced over the years. A native of Ring in Co. Waterford, Paddy was the subject of an Eye on the Past some years ago. The gathering in Kanes to celebrate the book launch was treated to a reading of several of Paddy’s poems, or more appropriately danta, as they are all compositions in our native language. Paddy spoke and gave us a rendition of a wonderful bilingual piece called “Micháel Mór” which he learned from the late Ger Moriarty who for so long was part of the Thursday night Irish music sessions in Clancy’s of Leinster Street. Overseeing the event was the chairman of the local Glor na Gael, Johnny Watchorn. Not the Johnny Watchorn that immediately springs to mind, but a younger man whose family have lived on the Carlow Road in what was the Railway Cottage located alongside the crossing gates of the old Wolfhill colliery line. Johnny spoke eloquently in gaelic and his command of the language was delightful to hear in one who is a native of the Irish midlands. It made me realise that the Irish language is something which with some effort on our part could again become a vibrant everyday language of the people.
Kanes public house which hosted the book launch is an establishment associated in my mind with a man connected with the Irish War of Independence. It was here that Tom Flood, a member of the Dublin Brigade of the old I.R.A. came to set up business in the 1920’s after the end of the hostilities which had commenced with the 1916 Easter Rebellion. He was one of several Flood brothers who took up arms at that time and Tom was involved in the attack on the Customs House on 25th May 1921 following which he was arrested and imprisoned. Tom Flood served as a Fine Gael councillor during his time in Athy and died in October 1950.
Just a few doors away from Tom Flood’s former premises lived James McLaughlin and his family, the last of whom, Bridie, died recently and whose remains were returned from Cork to be buried in the family plot in St. Michael’s cemetery. Her father, James, was born to a farming family near Buncrana in Co. Donegal in 1885. In common with many young Irish men and women of the period when he came of age he emigrated to America. I gather he travelled with one of his first cousins and having cleared Ellis Island they eventually settled in Butte, Montana. This was the centre of the copper mining industry in America, if not the world, and had been first settled by Irish emigrants from West County Cork where copper had been mined for many years. By 1900 the first and second generation Irish in Butte numbered over 8,000 out of a total population of 30,000 or so, justifying its claim to be “the most Irish town in the United States”.
Labour struggles involving the old Irish and the new arrivals such as James McLaughlin were a feature of life in Butte, Montana where Ballyjamesduff born Marcus Daly, known as “the Irish copper king” organised the old Irish under the banners of Butte Miners Union to ensure job security by excluding “new emigrants”. Labour violence in Butte was a feature of life in the Montana mining town and McLaughlin’s county man Ed Boyce who led another mining union opposed to Daly’s Union was forced to move his union headquarters out of Butte. Irish organisations predominated life in Butte and amongst them was the Robert Emmet Literary Association and after the 1916 Easter Rebellion in Ireland, the Pearse/Connolly Independence club. Irish socialists such as Con Lehane who visited Butte in 1916 and Jim Larkin who visited the Montana city three times between 1915 and 1917 kept the Irish independence cause to the forefront of emigrant life in the mining city.
Two of James McLaughlin’s brothers, Edward and Patrick, joined him in Butte to work in the copper mines, but James and Patrick eventually returned to Ireland. With the dollars earned in the Butte mines James bought a public house in Dee Street in Belfast where he lived with his wife, the former Agnes McCabe from County Cavan. Belfast was the scene of many notorious sectarian killings at that time and in 1920 McLaughlin’s pub was destroyed in an arson attack. Happily enough James had moved his family to a safe address prior to the attack and with his two children, John and Lilly and wife Agnes left Belfast to live with his parents-in-law in County Cavan. From there McLaughlins moved to Athy after buying a small public house in Leinster Street, just a few doors away from the Railway Hotel which Tom Flood would later purchase. Bridie McLaughlin and her sister Kitty were born in Athy and here also their older sister Mary Elizabeth, known as Lilly, died aged 18 years on 6th May 1938. James’ wife Agnes died eleven years later aged 59 years and James McLaughlin, the Donegal man who for a time was part of the mining community of Butte, Montana died on 2nd August 1967 aged 82 years. Following his death the business continued to be operated by Bridie, while Kitty who was secretary to Athy’s Town Clerk worked in the Urban District Council offices. Kitty and Bridie were members of the Social Club in St. John’s Lane in the late 1940’s and the 1950’s and Kitty featured in many of the plays put on in the Social Club and the Town Hall during that time. Kitty died suddenly a few years ago and now with the passing of Bridie McLaughlin the last links with the McLaughlin family of Leinster Street is gone forever.
The two Leinster Street pubs once operated by James McLaughlin and Tom Flood are now in different ownership. Every generation or two the names over local businesses change and in many cases interesting family stories are lost. James McLaughlin’s working life in the mining town of Butte was such a story which unfortunately can only now be touched on without the detail which the Donegal man himself could have provided. It highlights yet again the importance of oral history in preserving the cultural and social life lines of a community. I wonder if the County Library services or some other agency might be encouraged to embark on a project aimed at recording the lives and stories associated with the older generation of Athy men and women.
Two weeks ago I mentioned the trip being arranged by Colm McNulty to visit World War One sites and graves in France and Flanders next August. I gather there has been a lot of interest expressed, particularly by people not living in Athy or South Kildare. The seven day trip is an ideal opportunity for locals who had family members involved in the 1914-18 war to visit graves and memorials associated with the war dead. Anyone wishing to travel in August should contact Colm McNulty on Ph. (059) 8631089 or by logging on to his website leinsterww1tours.sitesled.com. I am told bookings will be made on a first come basis so prompt booking is essential if you would like to make this trip.