John Maher was born in Athy in 1943 and emigrated to England in or about 1962. He was just 20 years of age when his first child, John Martin Maher, was born to his wife Frances on 31st October 1963 at Everton Road, Chorlton-on-Medlock. Exactly 19 years later the young John Martin Maher met for the first time the man with whom he would enjoy a golden musical association. It was the summer of 1982 when a friend brought Johnny Maher to meet another youngster with an Irish background, then known to friends as Steven Morrissey but now known to the world as ‘Morrissey’. It was a meeting which would eventually lead to the creation of the pop group ‘The Smiths’, and a song writing partnership which would cover every conceivable pop genre. It was the music of Johnny Maher, who would later change his name to Marr, and the lyrics of the extraordinary genius Morrissey which would provide many original hits for the Smiths over a period of 4 ½ years.
Morrissey would later claim that the success of ‘The Smiths’ was due to himself and the son of the Athy native, John Maher. ‘The Smiths’ lasted for almost five years and since their breakup Morrissey has embarked on his own music career. In the meantime Johnny Maher, or Marr as he is known today, is recognised as the most influential guitar player in British pop music. In 2007 he was appointed Visiting Professor of Music at Salford University and I understand he was also made an honorary patron of the Philosophical Society in Trinity College, Dublin. Three years ago he was the recipient of the Inspiration Award at the annual Ivor Novello Awards in London. A few months ago Johnny Marr was again honoured, this time by NME, ‘for re-writing the history of music with one of the world’s greatest ever bands, “The Smiths”’.
Despite my best efforts I have been unable to identify the Maher family into which John Maher, who emigrated to England in the 1960s, was born. He emigrated at a time when jobs were scarce, not only in his hometown, but throughout his own country. The local Urban District Councillors elected in June 1960 were struggling with plans to develop the town’s limited industrial base. The legendary Tom Carbery, first elected to the Council in 1942, was the Council’s longest serving member. His councillor colleagues included Michael Cunningham, Paddy Dooley, M.G. Nolan, James Fleming, Edward Purcell and two newly elected Councillors, Tadgh Brennan and Patrick Doyle of 14 Lower St. Joseph’s Terrace. At Christmas 1962 the local Council agreed to provide an illuminated Christmas tree in Emily Square and to contribute £120, less the cost of the tree, towards the cost of the street illuminations which were being provided by the Athy Illuminations Committee. John Maher, having left Athy for England some months previously, was not to witness the Christmas illuminations or the town’s Christmas tree. If he had remained in his home town for another year he would have learned of the proposal by Duke Street shop keeper and Fianna Fáil stalwart M.G. Nolan to have the Town Hall demolished. That the Town Hall survived long enough to be rescued and refurbished in the 1980s was due more to luck than the all too apparent inability of the Town Council to convert many of its proposals into concrete action.
In three months time the Town Council will be abolished and so will end 499 years of municipal self government by the people of Athy. Plans had been in place to celebrate 500 years of local government before Minister Hogan dropped his bombshell of dismantling the original model for decentralisation. While it did not always have our unstinted support, at least the local Council, poor and all as it appeared at times, was local and representative of the local people. Now the successor to Athy Borough Council of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the Town Commissioners of the 19th century and the Urban District Council of the last century will bow out of existence to be replaced by a county based Council with headquarters in Naas.
It is intended to commemorate Athy’s local government history with the publication of a book, the holding of a function in the Clanard Court Hotel and an exhibition in the Heritage Centre. The Town Clerk, Brian O’Gorman, is anxious to get photographs of past members of the Council and of the opening of Council housing estates or any other Council events of the past. He is also anxious to identify the descendents of former Councillors so that as many as possible of the men and women who over the decades contributed to the town’s government can be part of the celebrations planned for next month. The Town Clerk can be contacted at the Town Clerk’s office in Rathstewart, telephone no. (059) 8631444.
My search for John Maher, father of Johnny Marr continues and I would welcome hearing from anyone who can help me.