Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Shackleton Autumn School - Two Books - Bridges on the River Barrow / Achill

With the October Bank Holiday looming it’s time to remind all and sundry of the SHACKLETON AUTUMN SCHOOL which starts on Friday, 26th October with the official opening by Kevin Myers.  The controversial newspaper columnist who graced the pages of the Irish Times for many years is now part of the Irish Independent journalistic team.  He is scheduled to give the Shackleton memorial lecture this year and as such follows in the path of previous speakers Brian Keenan and David Norris.  It promises to be an interesting night and as in previous years the opening night at which Kevin Myers features is open to all without charge.  Indeed the organisers of the Autumn School would welcome a large attendance.  No invitation is required, so go along to the Heritage Centre in the Town Hall on Friday for the 7.00 p.m. opening.

That same night a new publication will be launched by Alexandra Shackleton, granddaughter of the Antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton.  ‘Nimrod’ is the annual journal of the SHACKLETON AUTUMN SCHOOL and Volume One includes a number of lectures delivered at past autumn schools held in the Town Hall, Athy. 

The various lectures will take place on the following Saturday and Sunday, commencing on Saturday at 10.30 a.m. and on Sunday at 10.00 a.m.  Ranging from an illustrated talk on polar photography to an examination of Captain Scott’s life as an explorer the lecture series will give a unique opportunity to hear at first hand a range of experts drawn from overseas.  A full programme for the weekend can be had from the Heritage Centre, Ph. (059) 8633075.

On Sunday night one of Ireland’s most celebrated folk theatre ensembles, ‘The Armagh Rhymers’ will perform their unique blend of music, song, drama and dance in the Town Hall.  Dara Vallely, Peter Shortall and Brenda Bailey have delighted audiences all over the world and recently represented Northern Ireland at the Smithsonian Folk life Festival in Washington D.C.  Theirs is a show not to be missed.

On Saturday evening the Autumn School dinner will be held in the Clanard Court Hotel, commencing at 8.00 p.m.  Places are limited so anyone wishing to attend should place their reservation with the Heritage Centre staff without delay.  Jacinta O’Donnell who recently took part in the Dominican commemoration concert will provide the after dinner entertainment.

The ERNEST SHACKLETON SCHOOL is now in its 7th year and the local organising committee have done extraordinarily well to bring together an interesting programme of lectures and events for the weekend.  The importance of Ernest Shackleton, who was born at Kilkea just a few miles from Athy, to the world of polar exploration cannot be overstated.  Athy Heritage Centre first highlighted Shackleton’s exploits after they had been overlooked for many decades and helped to bring him and his Irish colleague Tom Crean to the forefront of public awareness.  Indeed the local Heritage Centre has the only permanent display anywhere in the world dedicated to Shackleton.  The items on display range from a sledge from one of his Antarctic trips, to a biscuit he carried in his pocket as he sailed across the Southern Ocean in what was a successful attempt to have his men rescued from Elephant Island.  Through the generosity of one particular benefactor the Centre has amassed a valuable collection of memorabilia relating to Shackleton and his family which form a unique record of the Antarctic’s most famous explorer.

The SHACKLETON AUTUMN SCHOOL has something for everyone, including a film show on the Sunday afternoon and finishes with a bus tour of the ‘Shackleton country’ on the Bank Holiday Monday morning.  Contact the Heritage Centre for any information required about this worthwhile annual event.

Two books about to be launched this week deserve to be mentioned.  John Duffy has written an excellent commentary on the Bridges of the River Barrow as a follow up to his earlier book on the River Slaney.  Illustrated by the author, the section on the River between Monasterevin and Carlow includes a number of interesting photographs and pencil sketches with Crom A Boo Bridge and Whites Castle taking pride of place.  The Railway Bridge, just below the Horse Bridge, is noted as ‘the earliest reinforced concrete railway under bridge in Ireland’ which was built to allow coal to be brought from Wolfhill at the end of World War I.  Friends of ‘Person of the Year’ nominee Paddy Walsh will be delighted to find his poem on the Horse Bridge featured in the book.  No doubt the words ‘beneath the Horse Bridge, near sweet Athy’ will bring memories of younger days spent ‘down the line’ for many whose leisure hours in summers past were spent along the Barrow.

John Duffy’s book is beautifully produced and the foreword is by Dick Warner who looks upon the River Barrow, the second longest river in Ireland as ‘a very special river’.  It was always thought as such, even by the Normans who built fortifications on the River, three alone at this area, at Ardreigh, Ath Ae and Rheban.  Go out and buy this book.  It’s full of fascinating facts about our local river which you will want to know if you are ever to fully appreciate the hidden charms of the ‘dumb waters’.

The other book I want to recommend to you is Robert Redmond’s second book of photographs which he calls ‘Achill Voices’.  This time around Robert has merged words with his excellent photographs to provide an insightful view of life on the island of Achill.  The large mountainous land joined to the mainland by a bridge across Achill Sound includes a number of villages including perhaps the most famous missionary village of the 19th century, Doogart which was founded by Reverend Nangle.  Robert’s book, published by Nonsuch Publishing is being launched on Wednesday, 24th October by Minister Eamon O’Cuiv in the Filmbase Centre in Temple Bar, Dublin.  The last quarter of the year usually witnesses a succession of new books appearing and these two books are the start of the book fest which we can expect to happen between now and Christmas.

In February 1913 the three contractors employed by Athy Urban District Council to build the first Council houses in the town were ready to hand over the newly completed houses.  D. & J. Carbery of Athy built ten houses at Matthews Lane which was subsequently re-named St. Michael’s Terrace.  Michael Sweeney of Portarlington built six houses at Woodstock Street which were named St. Martin’s Terrace, while D. Twomey of Leinster Street built five houses at Meeting Lane.  For the first scheme of 21 houses the Council received 25 housing applications.  They were :-

  1. Mrs. Bridget Butler                 Woodstock Street
  2. Mrs. Ellen Brennan                 Meeting Lane
  3. Mrs. Bridget Byrne                 Meeting Lane
  4. John May                                Woodstock Street
  5. James May                              Leinster Street
  6. James McNally                        Convent Lane
  7. John Doyle                              Canalside
  8. James Flynn                            New Row
  9. Robert Carter                          Butlers Lane
  10. Thomas McHugh                    Meeting Lane
  11. Mrs. Elizabeth Hall                 Woodstock Street
  12. Thomas Murray                       Leinster Street
  13. Mrs. John Kelly                       Nurse, Leinster Street
  14. Edward Nolan                                    Ballylinan
  15. John McEvoy                          Postman, Woodstock Street
  16. Matthew McHugh                  Meeting Lane
  17. Ml. Sweeney                           Offaly Street
  18. Edward Hanrahan                   Emily Row
  19. Henry Lake                             Post man
  20. Thomas Keane                        Duke Street
  21. Peter Cunningham                  Meeting Lane
  22. Joseph Geoghegan                  Offaly Street
  23. Mr. Painting                            Tech. Instructor
  24. Daniel Shaughnessy                Brick Layer
  25. P.J. Devereux                          Post Office

I wonder how many of these families are still represented in Athy 94 years later.

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