Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Pat Daly remembered

On Easter Sunday we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the dedication and opening of St. Michael’s Parish Church.  On Easter Monday we gathered in the same church to remember Pat Daly of Prussellstown.  Pat, who was from Mount Collins in County Limerick, came to Athy 54 years ago as a young man just out of school to start work in the Wallboard factory.  It was 19th September 1960 when the young Limerick man, together with George Robinson of Pairc Bhride, joined the Wallboard Laboratory staff under Jim Flanagan of Church Road.  Pat was to remain there for a number of years before joining the Asbestos cement factory in Athy.

The opening of St. Michael’s Church on 19th April 1964 was a historic event and no doubt both Pat Daly and George Robinson like myself took part in the celebrations on that occasion.  The ceremonies that day began with the Archbishop of Dublin inspecting a guard of honour of F.C.A. personnel while the band of the Curragh Training Command under Capt. Mellerick sounded a salute.  The Archbishop was escorted by Comdt. Jim O’Doherty and Captain P. Dooley, both from Athy.  When blessing, firstly the exterior of the new church and secondly the church’s interior, Dr. McQuaid was accompanied by the Parish Priest Fr. Vincent Steen and the local curates Fr. Frank Mitchell, Fr. Joe Corbett and Fr. Philip Dennehy.  The mass which followed was celebrated by Fr. Steen during which the church choir augmented for the day by members of the South Kildare Musical Society gave a wonderful rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus.

George Robinson, now retired and living in County Roscommon, still retains a great affinity for his home town of Athy and like Pat Daly followed Kildare football with a passion.  Pat and George were always to be seen wherever the shortgrass County played, whether championship, league or friendly games.  Indeed neither missed a county team game no matter where played.

For Pat, a Limerick man by birth, Kildare football held an abiding interest buttressed no doubt by his long standing connection with Athy Gaelic Football Club.  For almost 20 years Pat served as secretary of the local club and at other times as a senior team selector and committee member.  He was, as described by his son at the funeral mass on Easter Monday, a traditionalist, but if I may venture, a traditionalist in the best sense of the word.  For Pat the administrative duties of club secretary meant that the club records were properly maintained, ticket sales properly accounted for and everything else done properly to ensure the continued viability of the south Kildare club.  His administrative abilities were also brought to bear on the Club Kildare annual draw, with Pat pushing the sales with admirable persuasive skills.  Indeed it was virtually impossible to refuse anything of the modest Limerick man.

As George Robinson and myself walked behind the hearse on its way to St. Michael’s Cemetery we recalled the number of times we retraced the same steps on similar previous journeys.  George who worked with Pat so many years ago kept up contact with his former work colleague.  Their common interest was Gaelic football and especially the Kildare county teams.  Neither man ever despaired of the relentless yet so far unsuccessful attempts by the County Seniors to annex the Sam Maguire cup.  For both Pat and George it was an unstated belief that Kildare’s opportunity would come in time.

The guard of honour provided for Pat’s funeral cortege by members of Athy G.F.C. spoke volumes for the high esteem in which the club’s former secretary was held by all and sundry.  Pat was a man whose unobtrusive yet determined approach to his work as Club Secretary was valued by his peers.  The large attendance at his funeral represented different stages of his career and included former work colleagues from the Wallboard factory, many who worked with him in the Asbestos factory and members and former members of Athy Gaelic Football Club as well as friends and acquaintenances both past and present.  To his wife Pattie, who herself over the years played a prominent role in the development of Athy Community Council and Athy’s Alternative Project , and to Pat’s children go our sympathies on his sad passing.

On Tuesday 6th May at 7.00 p.m. there will be an illustrated talk in Athy’s Library on the folklore collection compiled by pupils of local national schools in 1937/38.  The schools involved were Skerries, Churchtown, Athy C.B.S. and Mercy Convent, Kilberry and Levitstown.  In next week’s article I will give the names of the young pupils who contributed to the folklore collection which is now held in U.C.D.  The talk will be a wonderful opportunity for former pupils and their families to revisit and recover a time which may have long gone from memory.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Photographs - Athy G.F.C. Senior Team Late 1950's / Kildare Seniors 1957

With rain and dampness providing an unwelcome backdrop to the Emily Square market on Tuesday last my thoughts turned to past sunny days when footballing matters held my interest.  I was prompted to do so after a meeting with Hugh Moran, a native of Athy who emigrated to England over 50 years ago.  Hugh called on me on his first visit back to Athy in over half a century and talked to me of his footballing days with Athy and the Army team on the Curragh.  He recalled many of his teammates on the Athy team and a week or so later I received a photograph of the Athy senior team on which Hugh featured in the late 1950s.  The exact date when the photograph was taken and indeed the occasion are not known to me.  However, I am fairly confident that many of you will be able to recall all of those details as well as naming the players, officials and supporters captured forever on film over 50 years ago.  I would be delighted to hear from you.

The other photograph featured this week is of the Kildare senior team togged out to play Louth in the Leinster semi-final at Croke Park in 1957.  It features Danny Flood and Paddy Wright, Athy’s only representatives on that team.  Paddy told me that it was his first time on the Kildare seniors but the records show otherwise.  The match against Louth who went on to win the All Ireland that year was played on the 16th of June and Peadar Smith, then living in St. Patrick’s Avenue and working in the Asbestos Factory, played for the ‘wee County’.  It was Paddy Wright’s second match with the Kildare seniors as four weeks earlier he had togged out against Offaly in a game played in Portlaoise.  He played a few more matches for his native County and on the team in his final game for County Kildare were fellow Athy men Danny Flood and Brendan Kehoe.  The Kildare senior team photographed in June 1957 was as follows, from left to right at back Tos McCarthy, Tom Connolly, Paddy O’Loughlin, J. Byrne, Des Marron, Micko Doyle, Danny Flood and Paddy Moore.  In the front row from left were Seamus Aldridge, Michael Bohane, Eddie Hogan, Paddy Wright, Paddy Gibbons, Seamus Harrison and Paddy Feeley (Captain).

Kevin O'Toole / Aiden McHugh and Athy's Gymnastic Club

Twice this week I joined with friends, acquaintances and neighbours to pay tribute to members of our local community on Tuesday evening.  I walked behind the funeral cortege of Kevin O’Toole, a young married man, on its journey to our local Parish church.  A lone piper walked before the hearse as it passed down Duke Street and into Stanhope Street.  The plaintive air of ‘The Dawning of the Day’ provided a sombre setting as the measured steps of local sympathisers approached St. Michael’s Church.  Kevin’s passing was not unexpected as illness marked his last days, but the announcement at Mass of his death on Sunday filled me with sadness. 

I knew Kevin from his involvement in the re-enactment group which he headed up and from the Medieval Festival he organised in the Town Square for the last two years.  As Fr. Dennehy said at the Church that evening Kevin was a very pleasant man who was universally liked.  He is survived by his wife and two young children, as well as his mother, sister and two brothers, to all of whom we extend our sympathy.

Earlier in the week I was one of an admiring group comprised of parents and young people who came to the local G.A.A. Centre to pay tribute to Aiden McHugh.  It’s not every person who receives a well deserved accolade or acknowledgement during his or her lifetime.  Indeed, for many such as the late Kevin O’Toole, the only time we show, as a community, our appreciation is when we join a funeral cortege.  But last Saturday evening things were very different.  A small group had got together and brought many more together on that Saturday night to pay a well deserved tribute to the man who for the last 35 years had organised and trained the members of Athy Gymnastics Club.  Aiden McHugh is a native of Athy, his father Mick and his mother Kathy having raised a family of six in their home at St. Michael’s Terrace.  He served in the Irish Army for many years where he developed an expertise in gymnastics which would eventually lead him back to his home town of Athy. 

It was in 1972 that Brother Sykes of the local Christian Brothers started the Gymnastic Club which for the first year or so used a large building in Meeting Lane as the gym centre.  Shortly thereafter the Club’s activities were transferred to the Christian Brothers School in St. John’s Lane where another Christian Brother, Br. Creevy, helped out.  Some of the early members of that Club included Gabriel Dooley, Anthony Healy, Derek Donovan, Kevin McDermott and Colm Wall whose training, owing to lack of equipment, was confined to floor and horse exercises.  This was soon to change when transfers amongst the Christian Brothers personnel prompted the Club to seek the services of an experienced gymnast.  An approach was made to Aiden McHugh and in 1974 he took over as trainer and organiser of the young club.

The enthusiasm and expertise of the new trainer soon brought rewards for the youthful gymnasts who practised every Saturday under Aiden’s watchful guidance.  The Club affiliated to the I.A.G.A. and its members started to compete in national competitions.  The first Community Games in which the Athy Gymnastics Club participated was in 1975 and two years later the Athy gymnasts recorded what was their first success at national level.  Athy Club members returned from the 1977 Community Games with four gold medals and one bronze, making almost a clean sweep of Ireland’s premier games for young gymnasts.  The gold medals were won in underage competitions at Under 10, Under 12, Under 14 and Under 16 levels, while Conor Wall won a bronze medal in the Under 8 category.  The gold medallists were Declan Porter, Michael Rowan, Niall Wall and Paul Porter. 

The members of the Scottish Gym Council who attended the 1977 Mosney Games were so impressed by the Athy Club members that an invitation was extended to the South Kildare Club to travel to Scotland.  The resulting trip was the first overseas visit by members of Athy’s gymnastic club which by the late 1970s had almost 30 members.  In a few short years the club had become one of the best gymnastics club in Ireland, but as an exclusively male club it required pairing with female gymnasts from Sligo to allow for participation in mixed pairing events. 

Early in the 1980s the club was opened to female members and before long the membership had increased to 100 or more and the premises at the Christian Brothers School proved no longer adequate.  A move to the former Dreamland Ballroom, a move facilitated by the local Lions Club, provided much improved facilities and allowed the club to host several All Ireland competitions.  However, a further move, this time to the GAA Hall at Geraldine Park, was necessary and it was there that the Club hosted the County Community Games for six years in succession.  Following the opening of the new secondary school in Rathstewart the old Christian Brothers School again became available and the Gym Club relocated back to St. John’s Lane, now using rooms much larger than those previously available. 

The female gymnasts soon showed abilities to match those of their male colleagues and Fiona McHugh, Rosemary O’Sullivan and Clara O’Neill were honoured to represent Ireland at an international event in Cobh, while Rosemary O’Sullivan and Susan Walshe were among the winners at an international competition in Germany.

The success of the Gymnastics Club was due to the extraordinary commitment and dedication of Aiden McHugh who over the past 35 years has guided the club and trained its young members.  Former club members who could not be present at the function on Saturday night sent messages of congratulations.  Mark Loughman, now in Boston, fondly remembered a club trip to London in 1983 and wrote of the happy memories he retained of his 10 years as a gymnast under Aiden’s supervision. Tributes were also paid to Aiden’s leadership by other former members who couldn’t attend.  Ian Macdougald, Niall Wall and Conor Wall gave glowing accounts of happy days spent in the gym, while Paul Griffin, now in a Californian University, referred to ‘Aiden’s inspiration and dedication’.  Several speakers in the G.A.A. Hall that night made reference to Aiden’s work with the club members as ‘enhancing so many young lives’.  Aiden’s involvement also extended to providing since 1992 gym classes for youngsters with special needs in conjunction with KARE.  The Gaisce Awards has seen the club’s most recent involvement with several young gymnasts taking part in the Presidents Awards Scheme.

While Aiden’s stepping down as club trainer was the occasion for the reception, reference was also made to his involvement in the Canoe Club which he started in Athy approximately 20 years ago.  There was an earlier Canoe Club, founded by Athy Lions Club under the guidance of Lions members Michael Wall, Des Perry and Jerry Carbery in or about 1976 which had faltered.  Aiden revived the Club some years later and his involvement in canoeing will continue into the future.  However, in the meantime Aiden is off to Australia for further adventure to add to parachuting, hot air ballooning and other exploits which form part of his ‘bucket list’.  Padraig Dooley from Nicholastown, perhaps the most successful gymnast to come out of the local club and an Irish international gymnast will take Aiden’s place as the club trainer. 

Athy has benefitted enormously from the involvement in their community of Kevin O’Toole and Aiden McHugh and a week which sees the passing of Kevin and the stepping down of Aiden after 35 years heading up Athy Gym Club is a sad week for our local community.

Ploughing Championship 1931

The Ploughing Championship for 2009 has come and gone and by all accounts it has been a resounding success.  Returning to the area in which the first inter county ploughing contest was held in February 1931, this year’s event brought almost 150,000 visitors, compared to the 3,000 who were reported to have been present at the one day event held at Coursetown, Athy on Monday, 16th February 1931.  On that occasion there were ten counties represented in the ploughing competitions, with 52 horse ploughing competitors and six tractor competitors.  The winning county was Wexford, with its team captain Edward Jones who used a Pierce plough winning the first prize and the gold medal for all round ploughing.  Jones also won the ESMA Perpetual Challenge Cup as the champion ploughman of Ireland.

The Nationalist newspaper in its report of the 1931 ploughing championships mentioned 14 year old James Ryan of Athy who came third in the local class using a Ransome plough and whose work the reporter noted was ‘one of the outstanding features of the competition.’

Local ploughing contests had been a feature of rural life in Ireland for many years prior to then and local Kildare newspapers often carried reports of ploughing competitions at Levitstown, Kilkea and Narraghmore.  However, it was J.J. Bergin of Maybrook, Athy with his friend Denis Allen of Wexford who first mooted the idea of an inter county ploughing contest following a ploughing match in the Athy area in February 1930.  That first inter county contest was held on the lands of Captain Hosie at Coursetown, Athy on 16th February 1931.  The organising committee for the event was chaired by D.C. Greene, with James Duthie as treasurer and J.J. Bergin as Honorary Secretary.  Contrary to the oft repeated claims that the first competition was confined to ploughmen from Counties Kildare and Wexford the competitors in fact represented counties Carlow, Kilkenny, Offaly, Leix, Kildare, Wexford, Wicklow, Dublin, Cork and Louth. 

Each county was represented by three ploughmen who provided their own ploughs, swings and marking poles, while pairs of plough horses were provided by local farmers where necessary.  These horses were brought to the plough field by their owners and the various competitors then drew lots to decide which horses they could use for the competition.  A very detailed set of rules were laid down by the Competition Committee including a ban on ‘coulters or any other gadgets’.  Each competitor was  allowed to avail of the help of the horse owners man at yoking his horses and the same man was allowed to accompany the competitor for the first round, ‘but must not handle the reins or plough’.

The David Frame Perpetual Challenge Cup and a cash price of £12 were offered for the overall county winners while the ESMA Perpetual Challenge Cup presented by Estate Management Supplies Association of Millicent Sallins and £5 went to the individual ploughman who was named champion of Ireland. 

The tractor class also attracted prizes, as did the contest confined to County Kildare ploughmen and there were a number of other prizes ranging from best work by an Irish made plough to best turn out of horses and harnesses.  However, the most unusual competition prize was that awarded to ‘the married competitor with the greatest number in family.’  That worthy individual was to receive a 10stone bag of flour presented by Mr. J. Gracie of Kilmeade. 

The programme for the 1931 event carried a number of advertisements for local firms.  Messrs Greene Brothers of Kilkea Lodge Maganey, auctioneers, valuers and livestock salesmen, advised potential clients that ‘all business entrusted to us will be attended to promptly and with care.’

Industrial Vehicles (Ireland) Ltd. advertised the sale of ‘universal trailers’ being part of their business as ‘main tractor dealers and trailer manufacturers’.  Jackson Brothers of 58 Leinster Street were agents for Star ploughs and stocked ploughs and harrow fittings, as well as having ‘a fully equipped workshop for all motor and cycle repairs’ in addition to a high class grocery.

The Leinster Arms Hotel, telephone no. Athy 21, was fully licenced with a free garage and advertised itself as a first class family and commercial hotel.  Minch Norton and Company Limited of Levitstown Mills, Maganey specialised in Decorticated cotton cake, Yefato yeast cake, standard pig meal and other animal feeds as well as importing American and English linseed cake, Rangoon ground nut meal and many other exotic sounding commodities. 

The Central Hotel in Leinster Street owned by J. Hutchinson proudly advertised that it had ‘electric lights throughout’ with hot and cold baths, home comforts and excellent cooking.  Thomas L. Flood, proprietor of the Railway Hotel, included in his advertisement the line ‘official caterer’.   There was no further explanation, but I assume that this reference related to the hotel’s position as official caterer to the ploughing contest.

Duthie Large & Co. of the Foundry, Athy were agents for all the major plough manufacturers as well as Fordson tractors and Ford cars and trucks.  E. Nolan of 1 Leinster Street was local agent for seed merchants Hogg and Robertson of Mary Street, Dublin.  An advertiser unfamiliar to me was Eugene J. Fagan of Duke Street who described himself as Irish Sales and Service Manager for Beardmore Commercial Vehicles which were suited for the carriage of livestock, agricultural produce and general merchantise.  He had offices in Athy as well as a service depot and stores.

The Nationalist newspaper reporting on the ploughing contest in Coursetown in 1931 mentioned that the weather was ‘extremely cold with rain and sleet, but this did not dampen the ardour of the spectators who took a keen interest in what has been well described as the battle of the ploughs’.

This year’s event, just a stones throws away in Cardenton, (indeed one of the car parks for the 2009 event was the site of the 1931 event) was marked with good weather and the many thousands who travelled from all parts of Ireland over the three days spent several enjoyable hours visiting the nine hundred or so exhibition stands and the ploughing events.

J.J. Bergin, an Athy man of tremendous initiative, was the driving force behind the early development of the National Ploughing Association and was one of the founders in 1952 of the World Ploughing Association.  The continuing success of the National Ploughing Association and its annual event owes much to another local person, Anna May McHugh who since 1973 has served as Managing Director of the National Ploughing Association.  The huge success of this year’s event is a fitting testament to Anna May’s organisational skills and the wonderful team which is the National Ploughing Association.