Volunteers to help with the work of the local Heritage Centre are always welcome. The Centre, which this year received full museum accreditation from the Heritage Council, is limited in what it can do with the funds available to it. Regrettably with only two part-time staff members and a number of volunteers it is not possible to keep the Centre open on Saturdays and Sundays. A very substantial part of its annual funding comes from Kildare County Council, with admission charges making up the balance. I am firmly of the view that admission to museums and heritage centres should be freely available but unfortunately because of current financial constraints a small admission charge must be imposed for the foreseeable future.
As I mentioned in a recent Eye on the Past there is huge interest in local history and the Heritage Centre has helped to engender a sense of pride in our own history and in our own town. The part played in this by volunteers attached to the Heritage Centre must be acknowledged. One of those volunteers is a young man who has worked tirelessly over the last few years to provide a genealogical research facility as part of the Heritage Centre’s contribution to the local community. Clem Roche of St. Patrick’s Avenue has recently obtained a Diploma in Genealogy from University College Cork following the completion of his thesis ‘British Military Records 1881-1920 and Family History”. He had earlier completed a classical studies course through the Open University and obtained a Batchelor of Arts degree.
Clem’s interest in genealogy was first awakened by his search for details in the World War I army records of a relation of his, James Roche. James was a native of County Clare who enlisted in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and was killed in action on 25th August 1918, just a few weeks before the war ended. Another County Clare relation of Clems, his grandfather Michael Roche, was a member of the First Western Division of the Freestate Army who was killed in Tralee on 22nd August 1922. His son, Patrick Roche, enlisted in the Curragh in 1938 and two years later he married Mary Carey of Nelson Street, Athy. The young couple came to live in Athy in 1942 or thereabouts and were one of the first tenants of the Pairc Bhride housing scheme which was built in the early 1950s. The Roche family soldier tradition was continued by Patrick’s son, John and Patrick, who served in the Irish Army for many years.
Clem’s research of both English and Irish army records for information relating to his own family members led him to investigate the records of Athy men who fought in World War I. His research in that area has added enormously to the work of others in that field including Pat Casey of Bray, Co. Wicklow. Clem’s concentration on the men from Athy and district has unearthed information previously lost to memory. He has made that information freely available and has never failed to offer his services and the results of his search to interested parties. He is one of several volunteers who have worked tirelessly over the years to make the Heritage Centre an institution of which the people of Athy and south Kildare can be proud.
On 11th November next, the 98th anniversary of the ending of the Great War, a new book outlining the men of Athy and district who died in World War I will be launched in the Heritage Centre. It represents the fruits of Clem Roche’s research over several years and promises to add another layer of knowledge to our understanding of a period in our history which witnessed the loss of so many young Athy men.
Not all of the Heritage Centre’s volunteers are engaged in research. Their primary role is to help the Heritage Centre staff in running the centre and to assist visitors in understanding the stories which lie behind the artefacts illustrative of Athy’s historical past.
The Heritage Centre is on the brink of embarking on the next stage of its development and there is an urgent need for more volunteers to assist in its work. If you feel you could help in advancing the town’s bid to make Athy a tourist stop-off destination, why not contact the Centre’s manageress Margaret Walsh. She would be delighted to hear from you.
On Thursday, 29th September the Castlecomer male voice choir will take to the stage in the Church of Ireland hall, Offaly Street in a concert organised by Athy Lions Club in aid of local charities. Also appearing with their conductor, Dean Philip Knowles, will be the In Cantorium choir. If the Taaffe family had not moved from Castlecomer to Athy when I was three years of age I would probably be on stage on Thursday as a member of the Castlecomer Choir. My absence will surely make the evening all the more enjoyable. Do support this latest Lions Club event.