Tuesday, November 3, 2015

World War 1 and Fr. Crotty O.P.

On Sunday 8th November at 3.00 p.m. St. Michael’s Cemetery will once again be the scene for a commemoration service for men from Athy and district who died in war.  The service will centre on the graves of six World War 1 soldiers who died at home before the end of the Great War.

The Athy soldiers who are buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery include John Lawler, aged 37 years of Ardreigh, who enlisted in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1899 and served in South Africa during the Boer War.  John was married and his brother Edward who survived the war later lived at No. 1 Dooley’s Terrace.  Private Michael O’Brien of Meeting Lane, aged 27 years, was killed by a train at Carlow Railway Station.  Martin Hayden of Offaly Street, aged 29 years, was wounded in France and subsequently died in Cambridge Hospital.  His remains were returned to Athy for burial.  He was survived by his widow and family.  James Dwyer, a native of Rathangan, was living in Athy when he enlisted.  He died on 31st March 1918 aged 39 years.  Thomas Flynn died at 28 years of age.  He was son of James and Bridget Flynn of Whitebog and was one of four brothers who fought in World War I.  Michael Byrne, uncle of Mrs. Eileen McKenna, died aged 27 years on 21st November 1918.  He entered France on 19th December 1914 and survived the war only to die during the influenza epidemic ten days after the ceasefire. 

In this decade of commemoration when we are remembering events which occurred on the island of Ireland 100 years ago it is equally important not to overlook an earlier generation whose lives were lost to family and friends.  This year the Organisation of National Ex-Service Men will play a significant part in the St. Michael’s Cemetery commemoration.  Their participation is a clear indication of the changing attitudes in public opinion insofar as it relates to World War I and Irishmen’s participation in that war.

With the departure of the Dominicans from Athy approaching fast I was delighted to hear of the arrangements concluded with Kildare County Council whereby the Council will acquire all of the Dominican holdings in Athy.  The deconsecrated church, the Friary, the halls, the car park and the grounds will be available as public amenities for the people of Athy.  Of particular interest is that the church, which opened in 1965, will be developed as the town’s library and as a concert hall.  This is wonderful news for Athy and the community’s thanks must go to the Chief Executive Officer of Kildare County Council, Peter Carey, who supported by the elected members of the Council concluded the deal with the Dominican Order.

Fr. Gregory Carroll O.P., Prior Provincial of the Irish Dominicans, and incidentally a native of Naas, came to Athy on Tuesday morning to make the announcement regarding the arrangement with Kildare Co. Co.  The Dominican Order, he said, was pleased that the lands and buildings in which the friars carried out their ministry, will be available as a public amenity for the people of Athy. 

It is remarkable to think that the Dominican ministry started in 1257 and but for short periods during which they were exiled the Dominican friars have been a constant presence in our town for almost 750 years.  One of those friars was Fr. James Crotty, born in New Ross in 1867 who following his ordination in Rome in 1891 returned to Ireland to join the staff of Newbridge College.  Nine years later he was appointed Prior of the Dominican community in Athy.

In 1916 Fr. Crotty was appointed chaplain to the Irish prisoners in German Prisoner of War camps.  It was in that capacity that the former Athy Prior met Athy men Michael Bowden and Michael Byrne who had been captured following the Battle of Mons and imprisoned in Limburg Prisoner of War Camp.  Another Athy man, Martin Maher, died in Limburg on 5th March 1915 from wounds received in the Battle of Mons some months previously. 

Michael Bowden, an Athy post man, was a married man with one child when he enlisted at the start of the war.  Soon after he departed for France his second child was born.  Sadly Michael Bowden was never to see his wife or children following his capture as he died in Limburg on 27th May 1918.  The third Athy man, Michael Byrne, who had worked as a gardener for local veterinary surgeon John Holland of Model Farm also died in Limburg on 27th September 1918 just weeks before the end of the war. 

The former Athy Prior, Fr. Crotty, who was described by Roger Casement as ‘a raging Fenian’, had a 10ft. high Celtic cross erected in Limburg to commemorate the Irish prisoners who died in the Prisoner of War camp.

The ministry of the Dominicans amongst Athy people was carried out not just in the town of Athy over 750 years but in Fr. Crotty’s case in far away Limburg during World War I.  Sadly three of the local men whom we will commemorate next Sunday died there and today they lie in German soil. 

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