Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Dolores Nolan and Niamh Hegarty

I was reminded of long lost youth when, during the week, I had an unexpected visit from two friends of my late brother Seamus. Fifty-three years have passed since his tragic death in a road traffic accident on the Dublin road, but memories were quickly revived when ‘walks down the line’ as part of teenage life in Athy of the early 1960s was mentioned by my visitors. Dolores Nolan and Niamh Hegarty have been friends since school days. Both attended the local St. Mary’s Secondary School, Dolores making the morning journey from Duke Street, while Niamh made her way from the Hegarty home at Geraldine Road. Dolores’s parents were Tom and Molly Nolan, her father having come to Athy in 1943 to open a shop at 42 Duke Street. Tom was a native of Newbridge and after his early behind the counter work experience in shops in Castledermot and Carlow came to what was then the thriving market town of Athy to open his own shop. His wife was the former Molly Moore, whose brothers Michael, Eddie and Charlie were already part of the commercial life of the town. Tom Nolan carried on business in Athy until 1971 when he retired to live in Dublin. Dolores who had spent most of her adult life abroad returned to live in Ireland last year. Three years earlier Niamh Hegarty made the return journey to Ireland after spending 35 years in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was there that the school friends from Athy, both living in Johannesburg, were able to renew their friendship. Niamh was the youngest child of Joseph and Teresa Hegarty who came to Athy in 1949 when Joseph took up a position with the Wallboard factory at Tomard. Dolores and Niamh were part of a young group of friends and students from St. Marys and the local Christian Brothers School, many of whom would leave Athy as school years ended. Both remembered with fondness many of their classmates, Carmel Brophy, Katherine Clancy, Noelle O’Connor, Olga Rowan, Stacia Miller, Fidelma Blanchfield, Eilish O’Donnell, Eithne Hughes, Enda McNulty and Finola Moriarty. Between the Christian Brothers School boys and the girls of St. Marys friendships were forged and memories created with never to be forgotten walks ‘down the line’. I well remember my own classmates’ appreciation of the welcoming countryside around Sunnyside and how we all enjoyed meeting there for after school activities, free from the questioning gaze of parents and teachers. Dolores and Niamh were part of school class group which included not only their friends in St. Marys, but also CBS students such as Ger Moriarty, Seamus Taaffe, Kevin McNulty, Terry Dooley, Denis O’Sullivan, Liam Kane, Niall Hegarty and many many more, too numerous to mention. Athy in the late 1950s and early 1960s was in many ways so very different than it is today. This year we have a population in excess of 10,000 persons, whereas 50/60 years ago the busy town pubs catered for a population of a little more than 4,000. It was a small town full of independent shops where men such as Tom Nolan could run a successful business at a time when not a single empty shop premises was to be found in Athy. It was a time when Joe Hegarty could look forward with confidence, as did many other men and women as employment opportunities in the town improved after the economic downturn of post war years. Dolores and Niamh recalled with nostalgia their school days which were spent in the primary school and secondary school of the local Sisters of Mercy. They remembered with fondness Sr. Raphael and Sr. Alphonsus, two of their primary school teachers and their secondary school teachers, Sr. Paul, Sr. Oliver, Sr. Rose, Sr. Zavier and Mother Therése. Having spent a greater part of their lives abroad Dolores and Niamh enjoyed sharing with me their memories of Athy, of friends and of friendships of almost 60 years ago. Those memories were underpinned by a youthful happiness shared with classmates and families, many of whom are now gone from us. Dolores’s mother Molly died in 1977, to be followed months later with the passing of her father Tom in January 1978. Niamh’s parents continued to live in Athy where her father Joseph died in 1984 and her mother Teresa 13 years later. Both are buried in St. Michael’s cemetery. The extended Nolan/Hegarty families are no longer part of the current Athy community but for the one-time Convent of Mercy school girls Athy will always hold a special place in their memories.

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