The 60th anniversary of the founding of Cara, since renamed Aontas Ogra, will be marked with a birthday celebration in the club premises which was formally part of the old Dreamland Ballroom on Saturday, 23rd September at 8.00 p.m. It promises to be a night of joyful celebration for its current members, while for past members, including those of us who were founder members, it will be a nostalgic night as we remember past events and friends and colleagues, many of whom have since passed away.
Twenty years ago after celebrations for the 40th anniversary of its foundation I wrote the following.
‘There will be a meeting in the lower classroom after school which you should all attend." Brother Brett, Headmaster of the Christian Brothers School in Athy, taciturn as ever, addressed his remarks to eager third year pupils. The year was 1957. Later that day the noisy gathering of schoolboys was addressed by a fellow student, Michael O'Neill, who had obtained Brother Brett's permission to hold the meeting. Michael was from Kerry and arrived in Athy about one and a half years previously when his father took up work as a farm steward with Shaws of Cardenton. His rich mellifluous Kerry accent soon earned Michael the nickname "Aru". As he stood before his schoolmates that day he spoke firstly in Irish and then in English.
Michael, a native Irish speaker, wanted to start an Athy branch of an Irish youth organisation which up to then had only one other branch in Ireland. "Cara" or Friends of the Irish Language sought to bring the Irish language and culture to the forefront and Michael was anxious to enrol his school mates as club members. As far as I can recall Pat Flinter, a classmate of mine, was one of Michael's acolytes that afternoon and so must share with him the honour of founding the organisation which was later to become Aontas Ogra.
Our early attempts at promoting the speaking of Irish was less than successful. The margins of Irish culture were in time pushed out to encompass dancing, not necessarily confined to the walls of Limerick or the high caul cap. Truth to tell we did start out with Irish dancing classes which of course necessitated the readily obtained co-operation of our female colleagues from St. Mary's Convent School. Margo Clandillon, Sheila Kehoe, Betty Clancy, Catherine Millar, Josie Murphy, Claire Bracken and Olga Rowan were just some of the names which immediately come to mind when I recall Sunday afternoon spent in St. John's Hall or the Town Hall struggling through the intricacies of Irish dancing. Whatever the quality of our dancing our interpersonal skills were being nicely honed, from the intermingling with the girls from St. Mary's.’ Frank English, Eddie Hearns, Pat Timpson, Mick Robinson, George Robinson, Anthony Prendergast and many others had occasion to remember with some pleasure those innocent days.
A Club outing to the Rock of Dunamaise on a hot Sunday afternoon is remembered as boys and girls, each with a bicycle walked in formation down the hill into Stradbally whistling the theme tune from the Bridge on the River Kwai. Several trips to the only other Cara group then in Dublin with club premises in the basement of Molesworth Street was also a welcome diversion from school and the narrow confines of provincial life of the late 1950's. Another highlight in those young days was a trip to the Scalp, a part of outer Dublin never before known to us but where we stored up enough memories to last a lifetime.’
At a more recent birthday celebration of a former member of Aontas Ogra photographs of some of our youthful Aontas Ogra outings were eagerly poured over. They included coverage of the trip to the Rock of Dunamaise (which I can still vividly recall) and a pageant in St. John’s Hall (which I cannot recall at all). Once familiar faces captured on film all those years ago in some instances did not immediately bring names to mind, while others were instantly and unmistakably recognised.
Everything comes to an end and for those who attended the initial meeting in 1957 this meant that by June 1960 we had passed out of the secondary school system. With many of those involved leaving Athy to take up employment in Dublin and elsewhere Cara was to continue with new members but with one person who throughout the years has been the lynchpin in the organisation. Billy Browne is still associated with the Club, carrying on a proud tradition going back sixty years. Honoured in the past by the Town Council and by the Lions Club International for his contribution to the youth affairs in Athy, Billy and all the other leaders involved with the club over the years epitomise the commitment, dedication and support which marks the continuing success of the organisation founded in Athy sixty years ago. Past members and partners are invited to the 60th birthday celebration on Saturday 23rd September.