Local newspapers are papers of record insofar as local events and local personalities are concerned. The minutiae of town and country life is to be found amongst the pages of the local papers and like the weekly newspaper is quickly discarded and sometimes disappears from public memory without trace. I was reminded of this when reading notes extracted by me some years from the pages of the Nationalist and Leinster Times relating to Athy between July and September 1953. The paper reported on 28th July that the Kildare Men’s Association in Dublin was formed following a meeting in Mountjoy Square on the previous Tuesday evening. Johnny McEvoy, Athy was elected chairman of the association, with Ned O’Neill, also of Athy, as vice chairman and R. Fleming of Ballitore as secretary. I wonder if the Johnny McEvoy mentioned was the man originally from Woodstock Street whom I had the great pleasure of meeting many years ago. Johnny of my acquaintance was a retired Garda who in his young days played for Athy Gaelic Football Club and the Kildare senior county team as an outstanding goalkeeper.
The same paper reported the death at 68 years of age of John ‘Skurt’ Doyle who passed away unexpectedly at his home on the previous Saturday. ‘Skurt’ was a very popular and well known man in Athy. He served in the British Army during World War I and was imprisoned for a time by the Germans. On his retirement from the Army he worked for a number of years for C.I.E. and for three or four years prior to his death was caretaker of the C.Y.M.S. hall in Stanhope Street. ‘Skurt’ was an all-around sportsman and played soccer, rugby, Gaelic football and hockey while in the British Army. He played senior Gaelic football for Kildare county, as well as rugby for Athy Rugby Football Club. He was survived by his widow and his step brother Issac who was a member of the postal staff in Tullow.
St. John’s Hall, formerly the Comrades Hall and in the 1950s known as the Social Club, was the venue for the Asbestos factory G.A.A. club first annual social on Friday 31st July 1953. Joe O’Neill and his ‘new electric organ’ with the Stardust band and vocalist Maureen were providing the music. I wonder was that Maureen Ryan, formerly Maureen Clandillon? An interesting report of 15th August referred to a contingent of Athy ‘pikemen’, accompanied by Irish dancers and St. Joseph’s Boys band who were to participate in the unveiling of a memorial to Fr. Murphy of 1798 fame in Ferns on the following Sunday. The memorial was to be unveiled by the President of Ireland, Sean T. O’Ceallaigh. I have in recent years come across a photograph of St. Joseph’s Boys band attending what I believe was that particular event.
The harsh economic times of the 1950s were reflected in the report that tradesmen and skilled workers ‘in large numbers have left Athy for employment in England during the last couple of weeks’. Three who ventured further afield were Michael Purcell, son of Jacob Purcell, whom we were informed had emigrated to Canada, as had Tommy and Con O’Riordan, two brothers originally from Kildare town who worked as shop assistants for Michael Kelly of Leinster Street. The paper also reported that May Sunderland of Offaly Street, a popular usherette in the Savoy cinema for the previous 22 years had left Athy to take up an appointment in England.
In September the Nationalist reported that an increasing number of young men and women were leaving Athy for work in England. ‘This weeks departure included three whole families. Unemployment is not the sole cause as several men have left good jobs to cross the waters.’ I wonder if that comment was accurate. Two sisters who emigrated to America in September 1953 were Finola and Patsy McNamara, daughters of Joseph and the late Kathleen McNamara of Stanhope Street. Finola had taken part in the pantomime presented by Athy Musical Society in the previous year.
Mick Gould of 21 Emily Square was proud to advertise his ‘modern electric chimney cleaning service’, claiming ‘no dust – no dirt’. Apparently the Urban District Council were also keeping up with modern methods as it announced retirement of ‘Neddy’, the Council’s horse, which had pulled the scavenging cart for years. The Parish Church building fund opened twenty months had accumulated £12,000 up to September 1953. The fund raising would continue for another 20 years or so, long after the new church was built and consecrated in 1964.
St. Joseph’s Welfare Club was granted a licence at Athy District Court to hold seven ‘long’ dances and three ‘short’ dances in a marquee during a carnival on the Carlow Road site between 25th September and 11th October. The carnival site is now home to houses in Chanterlands. The description of the dances as ‘long’ or ‘short’ is a quaint one, harking back no doubt to a time when church approval was required for any engagement after dark between male and female persons. Do you have memories of 1953?