Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Colm Walshe's music trail - Made of Athy

There is a growing realisation that our urban heritage is a key resource in helping to promote the development of Athy. There is no doubt our ancient town is badly in need of regeneration and the news of impending job losses in nearby Kilberry reinforces the need for even greater effort on all our parts to help that process. Heritage is a word once largely misunderstood and loudly condemned for allegedly holding back Athy’s drive for more and better jobs. That misunderstanding goes back a decade or two but has now been corrected as many of us have begun to appreciate the importance that attaches to familiar streetscapes and buildings in our town. Athy’s urban heritage comprises not only what we refer to as the built heritage, but also the intangible heritage created by literary and musical associations involving Athy, it’s writers and musicians, living or dead. I was reminded of this when approached some time ago by Colm Walsh with his plans for the creation of a music trail through and around Athy. His is a unique idea which draws on some distinctive aspects of the town’s musical heritage. Last week the first of the planned music trail plaques was unveiled by the grandson of Johnny Cash at the former Dreamland ballroom. It will be followed by the unveiling of a number of other plaques based around the town honouring musicians associated with Athy, whether directly or indirectly by way of family connections. I was particularly pleased to learn that Joe O’Neill and Padence Murphy, two Athy stalwarts who in the 1940s and beyond graced many local dancehalls with their orchestras The Stardust and The Sorrento, were honoured with a plaque unveiled by the Ceann Chomhairle Sean O’Fearghail T.D. at the district council offices at Rathstewart last Saturday. On Friday, November 2nd Emily Square can expect to be crowded by popular music followers when Johnny Marr, founder with Morrissey of The Smiths, unveils the third plaque in the Athy music trail series. Johnny’s parents were natives of Athy who emigrated to England in the early 1960s and Johnny Maher, as he was then known, later changed his surname to Marr. He is recognised as one of the most influential guitar players in British rock music history and has been the recipient of a number of awards. These include the Inspiration Award presented at the Ivor Novello awards in London and an award by NME for ‘Rewriting the history of music with one of the worlds greatest ever bands – The Smiths’. Johnny as a young fellow spent many summer holidays in Athy and his links with the town will be recalled on the plaque which he will unveil on 2nd November. Later in the year and into the new year further plaques will be unveiled to give Athy a unique music trail emphasising a key part of Athy’s cultural heritage. Another element of our heritage was evident during the Bank Holiday weekend when the 18th Ernest Shackleton Autumn School was held in the Town Hall. Never before had the 300-year-old building played host to so many visitors from abroad. Amongst those visitors were 27 Norwegians, many of them associated with the famous Fram Museum in Oslo who came to Athy recognising the important role that the south Kildare town has secured for itself in the world of polar studies. Here in Athy we have developed over the last 18 years a unique position as providers of the world’s only permanent exhibition to Kilkea born polar explorer Ernest Shackleton. The foresight of Kildare County Council in commissioning the wonderfully artistic Shackleton sculpture now standing in Emily Square was commendable and confirms the importance which must be attached to investment in our own distinctive heritage. Athy needs more investment, especially with regard to the built heritage of the town and here the County Council’s plans for the much-anticipated improvement of the town square are vital to help encourage local business confidence. On Thursday 8th November the Arts Centre in Woodstock Street will be the venue for a unique show devised by David Walsh with the title ‘The Bravest Little Town in the World’. The performance will form part of the local centenary commemorations for the ending of World War I. Athy is the bravest little town referred to in the show’s title and recognises the high number of young men from the locality who enlisted during the 1914-’18 war. Clem Roche published in the last year or so a book giving details of those young Athy men who died during the Great War. The book is on sale in the local Heritage Centre.

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