Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Frank English

Several people have contacted me over the last few days looking for copies of the tribute paid to Frank English at his funeral mass last week.  One individual asked that it be published as an Eye and I am taking the opportunity of doing so this week, despite the fact that some of the material may be duplicating what appeared in last week’s article. 

‘With the death of Frank English Athy has lost a good man and I have lost a good friend.  A family man, a Town Councillor, a community activist and a Fianna Fáil politician, Frank gave of his best for the town of his birth.  For Frank was an Athy man, born, educated and worked all his life in the town which he grew to love so much and the people of Athy grew to love Frank for he was of a local family with a background similar to so many other families in the town.  His grandfather served in the 1st World War, while his father had to take the emigrant boat to England in 1948.  These were common experiences for many families as we grew up in Athy and it was against this background of shared experiences that made Frank’s involvement in politics and community affairs so uniquely relevant.  For 42 years he served the people of Athy as an Urban Councillor and tried all he could within the limits of the inadequate Local Government system to help improve the town of Athy and the lives of the people who lived here. 

Outside of the Town Council he served on the Community Council and was a founder member of Athy Credit Union and of Aontas Ogra.  A long time member of the Vocational Educational Committee he was at one time a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a member of the Parish Choir, served in the Knights of Malta and in recent years taught many hundreds of young children to swim.   An avid G.A.A. supporter he followed his beloved Lilywhites with unchallenged enthusiasm and gave freely of his time for the local football club.

His contribution to the town of Athy is beyond measure and he has left us a legacy of community service which we will always treasure.

Frank participated in politics with a sense of purpose, reserving his political allegiance for the party founded by Eamon de Valera.  However, he never allowed political differences to mar his relationships with others.  He was a devoted and energetic member of the Fianna Fáil party and in that respect followed a path first set out by his mother Peg.  She was his greater supporter, that is until the daughter of a onetime Labour Councillor from Westport, Mary O’Grady, came from the west and captured his heart.  It was then that Frank English added another dimension to his energetic commitment as a politician and a community activist. 

For it was as a family man that Frank achieved his greatest success.  Nothing could compare to the satisfaction of bringing into the world five children, all of whom grew up to bring honour on themselves and on their parents.  That above all is Franks and Marys greatest legacy, but for Frank who was justifiably proud of his children and his grandchildren, it brought him enormous satisfaction and contentment that Conor, Cathal, Gráinne, Tomás and Ciarán were able to have the educational and work opportunities which were not available to him in the Ireland of the 1950s.

I will remember Frank as a friend.  We both attended school for the first time on 12th May 1946.  We shared a classroom for the next 12 years or so, Frank leaving school after his Inter Cert, while I continued on for a bit longer.  We holidayed together for several years until the demands of married life put a temporary stay on our trips abroad.  In 1962 we first went overseas together, thumbing our way around France, staying in hostels and experiencing the delights of Paris.  Over the next few years we visited London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels and quite a few other places, some more exotic than others, but all offering a unique insight for two relatively inexperienced young men from provincial Ireland.

In more recent years we resumed our journeys and enjoyed together the sights and sounds of New York, indeed so much so that a return visit was necessary some time later.  These visits abroad provided Frank and myself with great memories and forge bonds of friendship between us which have only now been broken with Frank’s passing.

His was a friendship I treasured, for Frank above all was a considerate and courteous man whose zest for life was fashioned from an appreciation of the difficulties we all face, week in week out.  Indeed Frank was a friend to many, for his friendly outgoing nature combined with his innate courtesy, good humour and consideration for others, marked him as a man apart. 

Frank and I went to the west of Ireland to find wives.  He to Westport, myself to Connemara.  As a result both of us have strong links with Connaught and last night, mindful of the great number of people who came to Church Road to pay tribute to Frank, I thought of Padraic Colum’s poem, ‘A Connachtman’.  I re-read the poem this morning and felt that with some changes to the placenames mentioned to take account of Frank’s Kildare connections it was appropriate for the man we are honouring today.

            It’s my fear that my wake won’t be quiet,
            Nor my wake house a silent place;
            For who would keep back the hundreds
            Who would touch my breast and my face?

            For the good men were always my friends,
            From Kilcullen back into Kildare;
            In strength, in sport, and in spending,
            I was foremost at the fair;

            In music, in song, and in friendship,
            In contests by night and by day,
            By all who knew it was given to me
            That I bore the branch away.

            The old men will have their stories
            Of all the deeds in my days,
            And the young men will stand by the coffin,
            And be sure and clear in my praise.

The hundreds who turned up to attend Frank’s wake, the hundreds who turned up for the removal of his remains to St. Michael’s Church and the great crowd here this morning confirm, if confirmation was needed, that the people of Athy and those further afield who knew Frank, are in the words of Padraic Colum sure and clear in their praise of a great man.

I will miss him.  We will all miss him.  

Ar dhéis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.’

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