‘Soldiering is in the Athy blood’ was an oft repeated comment of 19th century observers of the South Kildare town whose men folk were to be found in large numbers amongst the ranks of the English army and navy. Today soldiering has been replaced by music prompting my thoughts last night after an entertaining concert in the local Arts Centre that ‘music is in the Athy blood’. The latest musical event in our Arts Centre was a benefit concert to raise funds for St. Vincent’s Hospital. Organised by members of the extended Day family, with Carmel Day topping the bill, it featured Athy artists throughout.
Supporting Carmel who gave a superb singing performance, was another talented singer Geraldine O’Connell and a young dancer, Jade McCartney. Completing the Athy line-up were the three members of the Shamrockers, a ballad group founded some years ago and now led by Rob Chanders Senior. Rob, playing guitar and lead singer, was joined on stage by his son Rob Junior on 5 string banjo and mandolin and Brendan Connolly on bazooka. Brendan also shared the vocals and the ballad makers gave us rousing renditions of ‘The Ferryman’, ‘Donegal Danny’ and several more classic Irish ballads which got a huge response from the audience.
Carmel Day’s singing was the highlight of the night’s entertainment and her name can now be added to the lengthening list of local singers and musicians who have provided many of the wonderful nights of entertainment enjoyed in the local Arts Centre since it opened. Incidentally the Shamrockers plan to release their first album next February, an event to be looked forward to.
On the same day as the evening concert I went to the local Library to hear and read what is being proposed by Waterways Ireland in relation to the development of the pathway for use by walkers and cyclists along the towpath of the Barrow Line. Stretching from its junction with the Grand Canal at Lowtown to St. Mullins, south of Graiguenamanagh, the towpath covers a distance of 112kms. I had followed the controversy which unfolded in the letter pages of the Irish Times some weeks ago as both objectors to the pathway proposal and those supporting the project outlined their views. I had an open mind on the issue, despite my often repeated observation that here in Athy we have not made maximum use of the waterways which pass through the town. I have been particularly pleased in recent times to see the berthing of boats at the town centre harbour next to Crom a Boo bridge. The boats present a wonderful sight and congratulations must go to Cliff Reid and his associates for encouraging boat owners to use the facilities here in Athy. Perhaps the benefit of removing the silt dumped at the harbour during the Barrow Drainage Scheme will now be seen. If it was removed it would allow the harbour to revert to its original size so that more boats could be accommodated.
To return to the waterways consultation day in the local Library I learned that what is called the Barrow Blueway is intended to support diverse recreational activities and help grow and develop business along its route. Its purpose is to facilitate cyclists and walkers to use the towpath and this will require surfacing sections of the existing towpath. I gather replacing some existing grass surfaces with bonded material to provide a cycling surface ranging in width from 2.0m to 2.5m is the principal reason for many objectors opposition to the proposal.
The work proposed by Irish Waterways includes not only the cycle/walk way, but also the provision of picnic tables and seating at viewing points along the way. Undoubtedly there is merit in what is proposed by Irish Waterways, facilitating as it will greater use and enjoyment of a much neglected facility. Hopefully the concerns of the objectors will be taken on board by Irish Waterways and wherever possible the pathway development will be carried out with minimal damage to the environmental aspects of what is a wonderful facility combining nature with manmade features.
During the week I learned of the passing of Biddy Telford, the last of the Telford family who once lived at Barrowford. Her brother Anthony died many years ago. It will be recalled that he married a Swedish lady, Gunda, who first arrived in Athy in the 1940s as a governess to the children of the first manager of the newly opened Wallboard factory. The Telfords were at one time proprietors of the Athy Tile and Brick Company and they also had an association with Ardree House on the Carlow Road which now sadly lies derelict, having been unoccupied for many years.