His right hand reached out as the coffined remains of his neighbour approached near where he stood at the side of the nave central aisle. He touched the top of the polished oak coffin in a gesture of affection, acknowledging a neighbourly friendship extending back many years. It was the second time in 18 months that Ned came to St. Michael’s Parish Church to pay his respects to a deceased next-door neighbour. The previous occasion was the funeral mass for Danny Kane and now it was Danny’s wife Dell who was about to make her final journey to join Danny in St. Michael’s cemetery.
The neighbour’s final farewell was for many in St. Michael’s Church that day an unseen poignant moment in a ceremony marked by a beautifully worded and delivered eulogy given by our new Parish Priest. His presence at parishioner’s funerals together with that of our beloved past pastor, Fr. Philip Dennehy, confirms and reaffirms the re-emergence of the Parish of St. Michael’s as an important part of family and community life in this part of south Kildare.
Fidelma Kane was one of the fifteen members of the Blanchfield family, an old Athy family with roots extending back for generations. The Blanchfields for decades lived at the top of Leinster Street from where the head of the family once operated a sawmill. Fidelma married Danny Kane of Glassealy in 1972 and they had 8 children, 5 boys and 3 girls. At the funeral Mass their eldest son Gavin spoke with feeling and eloquence of his mother. His words resonated with me and I was prompted to recall my own mother who died 22 years ago. My mother and Dell Kane shared qualities which we have come to associate with the best type of Irish motherhood. Gavin’s address was a wonderful tribute to a mother whom he described as the Kane family glue and the lynchpin for the extended Blanchfield family. The funeral brought together members of many of the old Athy families who came to remember a well liked woman and her family connections with Athy which stretched back through the generations.
Another death which sadly occurred over the Christmas period was that of Eileen McKenna, whose husband Tom predeceased her by a few short months. Both Tom and Eileen were regular attendants in St. Michael’s Cemetery for the annual Remembrance Day commemoration for Athy victims of war, particularly those of World War I. Eileen’s maternal uncle, Michael Byrne, like so many young Athy men who enlisted during the 1914-18 war, died in 1918. He was one of six World War I soldiers who died during that war and who are buried in the town’s local cemetery. It was a fate denied to many other Athy men who lost their lives during the Great War, some of whom lie buried in marked graves overseas. Sadly the remains of many more of their former colleagues and former townsmen were never recovered and deprived of a Christian burial they lie where they died in a strange land undiscovered, unknown and largely forgotten.
The lives of these men, no matter how short or how uneventful they may have been within their own community, deserve to be remembered. This is why in the local Heritage Centre we have sought to highlight the importance of local history, being the history of our local people. The local is what makes history and it’s the lives of people like Dell Kane and Eileen McKenna which makes Athy what it is today. Many lives seem ordinary but on closer examination the ordinary can become extraordinary and it is those lives that help shape the character of our local community. There is always a danger of overlooking the ordinary stories of everyday life, but without those ordinary stories and those ordinary lives we cannot hope to understand how our community has come together with shared experiences and common goals.
The simple gesture of the neighbour touching the coffin as it was brought down the nave of St. Michael’s Church brought home to me the importance of community ties established and strengthened by shared experiences. Athy for all its problems, actual or perceived, is a town where neighbourliness is to the fore and where family life can be enjoyed for the most part in a safe and secure environment.
Over the Christmas period we also lost from our local community Paddy Whelan of Gallowshill, Donal Flanagan of Ardscull, Alice Lawler of Kilberry, Jimmy Connell of St. Joseph’s Terrace, Liam Hyland of Rosebran and Patrick Hayes of Kilcrow. Our sympathy goes to their families, relatives and friends.