A few Sunday’s ago I was brought back to a time when as a short trousered youngster I was one of a group of soutaned mass servers who attended the blessing of the Marian shrine at St. Joseph’s Terrace. The Parish Priest Fr. Steen was the chief celebrant on that day. The Marian year had passed by the time the shrine was finished and ready for the ceremonial opening. The delay however was not due to any fault on the part of the local committee of St. Joseph’s Terrace folk who had started the work on the project a year previously. The committee under the chairmanship of Paddy Doyle known locally as “Chevit” Doyle comprised Jim Fleming, Tony Byrne, Eddie Delahunt and Joe O’Neill. They were all members of the St. Joseph’s Welfare Club which had been in existence for many years previously.
A strike in the cement works at Drogheda curtailed work on the site which had commenced in 1953. The site chosen for the shrine was directly opposite the five terraced houses which once comprised Slatey Row. These houses were demolished in the early 1930’s prior to the building of St. Joseph’s Terrace.
The event which I recently attended at St. Joseph’s Terrace was the formal taking in charge by the local branch of the Organisation of National Ex-Service Men and Women of Ireland of the Marian shrine. The O.N.E. as it is known was founded in 1951 when a number of associations formed by demobbed service personnel following the end of WWII came together. Its initial purpose was to help maintain the comradeship and companionship fostered while in service but in recent years it has taken on the additional commendable object of providing accommodation for ex-service personnel of the Irish Defence Forces. Its official name is Oglaigh Naisiúnta na h’Éireann or in English, Organisation of National Ex-Service Men and hence the letters O.N.E. by which it is generally known. The former army and navy personnel all living in retirement in the Athy area have committed themselves and their organisation to maintaining the Marian shrine.
For the past 60 years this shrine which contains the work of many local craftsmen of 60 years ago has been cared for, initially by the original shrine committee and following their passing by residents of St. Joseph’s Terrace. The cut stone which adorns the shrine was assembled by John Murphy of St. Michael’s Terrace, a craftsman whose work can also be seen in the beautifully crafted stone wall entrance to the Dominican Church. McHugh’s Foundry of Meeting Lane made the small gates while the Fleming brothers, Tom and Jim with J. McEvoy were largely responsible for the wall erected around the Marian shrine.
On the same week as the handing over took place our Parish Priest, Fr. Gerard Tanham said his last Sunday morning mass in St. Michael’s Church before leaving Athy for Howth Parish. In the six years Fr. Tanham had been Parish Priest of St. Michael’s Parish he endeared himself to local parishioners and proved a popular pastor. As befitting a man related to the Irish patriot Thomas Kettle, Fr. Tanham displayed remarkable appreciation of our community’s responsibility to remember the hitherto forgotten folk from Athy and the surrounding countryside who died in the town’s workhouse during the Great Famine. When I first approached Fr. Tanham soon after his arrival in Athy to seek his help in holding a service in St. Mary’s Cemetery on National Famine Commemoration Day he readily agreed to participate. Not only did he do so but he also prepared and printed a service which he made available to those attending the commemoration ceremony. Incidentally this year’s famine commemorations service will take place on Sunday, 27th of September but more on that next week. Our good wishes goes to Fr. Tanham and a welcome is extended to Fr. Frank McEvoy our new Parish Priest who some years ago served as a curate in St. Michael’s Parish.
In congratulating the members of the O.N.E., the residents of St. Joseph’s Terrace and our departing and incoming Parish Priests I must not forget to welcome a very important person who joined us just three weeks ago. Emmet Taaffe Harward, my very first grandson following four lovely granddaughters is the latest addition to the Taaffe extended family.