Sr. Carmel O’Leary died last week. A native of Inchicore Dublin she came to Athy in 1945 to join the local Convent of Mercy where 4 years later she was joined by her sister Marie. On receiving the Holy Habit the young Dublin girl took the name Sr. Mary Bernard. Her sister Marie took the name Sr. Mary Joseph in March 1950.
The War of Independence and the Civil War were just a generation away and the strength of Irish Nationalism was in evidence when on the following Easter Sunday 1,000 old IRA volunteers marched to Mass in St. Michael’s Parish Church. There the senior curate, Fr. John McLaughlin, himself an old IRA veteran, addressed the congregation. The Annals of the Sisters of Mercy noted that ‘after a warm welcome to his former comrades Fr. McLaughlin upbraided them in no uncertain terms for not having handed onto their children the splendid tradition of faith and fatherland for which they had fought and in whose defence so much noble blood was shed.’
Sr. Bernard was professed on 4th April 1951 and would spend the rest of her life teaching in the Sisters of Mercy Primary School. The centenary of Athy Convent of Mercy was celebrated in 1952 and Sr. Bernard was actively involved, as were her colleagues in religion, in the ceremonies which marked the occasion. The highlight was a pageant presented in St. Michael’s School on 20th July 1952 involving a choir of 36 and 22 verse speakers. The names of the young girls who were taught by Sr. Bernard in the Convent of Mercy Primary School and who participated in that pageant brings back memories of times past and of a generation many of us will remember.
‘The principal verse-speakers were Mary Webster (Offaly St.) and Eileen Mahon (Uppr. William St.). The other speakers were Geraldine Stafford (Duke St.), Imelda Brennan (Ballitore), Sally Hughes (Leinster St.), Pam Brophy (Minch Tce.), Esther Hyland (Ballyadams), Mgt. Brennan (do.), and Maeve Stafford (Duke St.). In the tableaux Our Lord was played by Sadie Corcoran (Stradbally), Our Lady by Kathleen Mahon (Uppr. William St.), St. Joseph by Helen Dallon (Ballitore), The Divine Child by Terry Bergin (Kildangan), St. Ann by Marie Kelly (Glasealy), St. Joacham by Peg Foley (Barrowhouse), Our Lady at the age of three by Maura Howard (Geraldine Rd.), the Three Shepherds by Sheila Cahill (Kilberry), Anne Hyland (Rosebran), and Susan Masterson (Boley); the Three Wise Kings by Moira McAnulty (Barrow Cottages), Frances Harris (Kilberry), and Pauline Rowan (St. Patrick’s Ave.); High Priest and Simeon by Anne Owens (Nicholastown), Prophetess Anna by Len Hayden (St. Patrick’s Ave.), Cherubs by Olive Keogh (Cardenton) and Gertrude Mullens (Leinster St.), Elizabeth by Collette Mulhare (Tankardstown), Angel Gabriel by Mary Townsend (Duke St.); the Four Doctors by Olive Smyth (Offaly St.), Sheila Millar (Larkfield), Rosie Byrne (Ballyadams) and Finola O’Flynn (Ballylinan); the Bride by Breda Pender (St. Patrick’s Ave.), and the ‘groom by Marie Kelly; St. John by Moira Kavanagh (Bleeding Horse), Mary Magdalen by Anna Ryan (Goulyduff); Two Guards by Angela Rowan (St. Patrick’s Ave.) and Margaret Foster (Kellyville);, Apostles by Betty Kelly (Cloney) Bridie Brennan (Kilcrow), Peg Curtis (do.), Joan Campbell (do.), Alice Finn (Ballindrum), May Bergin (Bray, Athy), Gretta Moore (Offaly St.), Carmel Brown (Ardreigh), Betty Moran (Cloney), and Mary Foster (Kellyville).
Recalling these young girls of 64 years ago brings with it the memories of the young women who over the years entered the Convent in Athy and spent their lives serving the people of Athy as members of the Sisters of Mercy. Sr. Bernard was part of that ministry for over 71 years and with her passing our local community loses another link with the religious order which came to Athy to establish a convent just four years after the end of the Great Famine.
Another death earlier in the week was that of Paddy Kelly, a relatively young married man whose funeral mass in St. Michael’s Parish Church was attended by perhaps the largest congregation I have seen for quite some time. The attendance of neighbours and friends in such numbers bore testimony to the popularity of the deceased and of the wider Kelly family.
Liz Prendergast of St. Patrick’s Avenue died under tragic circumstances a few days after Paddy Kelly. Her funeral mass and the graveside ceremonies at her burial in Old St. Michael’s Cemetery was marked by the beautiful uileann pipe playing of her son Joseph. It was a moving tribute by a young man whose musical abilities have attracted the attention and the appreciation of those involved in the Irish music scene.
My sympathies are extended to the relatives of the late Sr. Carmel, the late Paddy Kelly and the late Liz Prendergast.