In May 1971 twenty four young men gathered for a meeting in the Leinster Arms Hotel at the corner of Leinster Street and Emily Square. They were there at the request of local pharmacist Des McHugh who in conjunction with his Kilkenny based brother-in-law Paddy Reynolds wanted to explore the possibility of establishing a Lions Club in Athy. Lions Club International was founded in 1917 and is recognised today as the global leader in community and humanitarian service. Its mission statement is ‘to empower volunteers to serve their communities, meet humanitarian needs, encourage peace and promote international understanding through Lions Clubs.’
During the meeting which was sponsored by the Kilkenny City Lions Club it was decided to form a Lions Club in Athy. The names of the founding members of the club, now known as charter members, were Tully Curry, Des Perry, Michael Prendergast, John King, Jim Loughrin, Des McHugh, Ken Turner, Michael Dwyer, Dick Barrett, Kieran O’Grady, Michael Walsh, Ger Moriarty, John Perry, Gerry Carbery, Richard Norris, Liam Porter, Michael Cunningham, Gerry Cleary, Johnny Watchorn, Michael Wall, Barry Donnelly, Trevor Shaw, William Cade and Liam Owens.
It was then an all male organisation, unlike today when women play a prominent role in the running of the club. Forty three years after its foundation Athy Lions Club through its members is still heavily committed to fundraising for local charities, as well as being involved in many community enhancing projects. Within the present Lions Club membership there are four members who were involved in the initial meeting held in the Leinster Arms hotel 43 years ago. They attend the monthly Lions Club meetings, as well as involving themselves in the club’s fundraising activities which in recent months included a cycle rally, a charity auction and the annual Christmas Food Appeal. Their commitment and dedication over the 43 years of the club’s existence was marked last week with the presentation of Melvin Jones Awards to Gerry Cleary, Michael Dwyer, Ken Turner and Trevor Shaw.
The Melvin Jones Award is the highest award that can be granted by a Lions Club and in the case of Athy Lions Club this is only the second occasion that such awards were made. Previously the late Johnny Watchorn was the recipient of the Award for his work over many years on the governing body of the National Lions Club organisation. The award to the four local Lions Club members was a unique event marked by the presence of the Lions District Governor who travelled from Cork to present each of the recipients with a Melvin Jones plaque.
The members of Athy Lions Club have made a huge contribution to the local community during the 43 years of the Club’s existence. Perhaps the most visible reminder of the Club’s work is the sheltered housing scheme in the grounds of St. Vincent’s Hospital. That was a project headed up by Athy Lions Club, funded in part by government grants and funds raised locally by the Lions Club members. Another major project was the purchase in conjunction with St. Michael’s Parish of Dreamland Ballroom on the Kilkenny Road which is now used for sporting and other community based activities.
If you are interested in the work of the Lions Club and would like to be involved as a Lions Club member in raising funds for local charities I would welcome hearing from you.
Ken Sale from Graysland and originally from London passed away a few days ago at 80 years of age. Ken came to Athy with his wife, the former Maisie Day from Dooley’s Terrace, Athy and his two daughters in 1981. I returned to Athy the following year. I first met Ken when he volunteered to help the newly established Museum Society to get ready its first premises in the vacant classrooms in Mount St. Marys. That was in 1983/’84 and I recall with gratitude the outstanding help Ken gave during the weeks involved in setting up that first local Museum. At the funeral Mass on Sunday his daughter Katie gave an eloquent touching eulogy which surpassed anything I had previously heard on such occasions in our Parish Church. It was a wonderful tribute to a man whose path first crossed mine 30 years ago.
Coming to the end of 2014 I want to thank the people who have contacted me during this year offering information and help with the stories which have appeared in this column. I am always delighted to hear from you.
Happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year to all the readers of Eye on the Past.