Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Memories of Eddie Roycroft, Olive Smyth and Aidan Stafford

Within the last two weeks old treasured connections with Offaly Street were severed with the deaths of Eddie Roycroft, Olive Smyth and Aidan Stafford. Eddie was the eldest son of the Roycroft family who lived behind Offaly Street in Janeville Lane next to the Doody family. It was a time when the Urban District Council had not completed the housing programme first commenced in the mid-1930s to rid the town of its unfit housing stock. The small houses accessed by the lane which ran between No. 3 and No. 4 Offaly Street and which backed on to the Abbey, then Dr. O’Neill’s residence, were small two roomed dwellings built in the 1870s. The builder was local man, Thomas Cross, who had also constructed similar sized houses in Connolly’s Lane off Meeting House Lane. The latter houses were demolished by the time I was able to take cognisance of my surroundings and indeed they may well have been demolished during the construction of the Councils first housing scheme in 1913 which saw new council houses erected in Meeting House Lane, St. Michael’s Terrace and St. Martin’s Terrace. Eddie Roycroft was the eldest son of the late Jimmy and Teresa Roycroft. Jimmy was from Sligo and while serving in the army and stationed in the Curragh he met and married Teresa Cummins of Athy. They lived for some years in Sligo where Eddie was born before coming to Athy in 1954. Living firstly in Shrewleen Lane the Roycroft family later moved to Janeville Lane where they and their neighbours, the Doody family, brought a welcome musicality to the neighbourhood with the wonderful ballad singing of Teresa Roycroft and the musicianship of Paddy Doody and his siblings. Olive Smyth was the youngest of six brothers and sisters who lived in No. 2 Offaly Street which in earlier times was called Preston’s Gate. The medieval gate was removed in 1860 following the accidental death of the local rector, Rev. Frederick Trench, but the name Preston’s Gate lingered on for a time until replaced with yet another Leinster family name. The Smyth family were part of a close-knit Offaly Street community at a time when the street was alive with youngsters. It was a street where those of us who lived there enjoyed companionship and friendships which endured even after we left the area. Memories of Pattie Websters, Miss Sylvesters, Dowlings, later Kehoe’s pub and Moores nearby, recall a street full of activity where young families shared experiences and life in good times and difficult times. One of those difficult times was when the scourge of TB ravished the country. Families in Offaly Street lost loved ones, as did many other families in this part of south Kildare. Olive Smyth and Eddie Roycroft were part of that local community who in their time helped create the memories which have carried forward over the decades. Aidan Stafford was part of the wider Athy community but back a generation there was an Offaly Street connection. His father John once lived in Offaly Street and it was from there that four of John’s older brothers, Edward, Thomas, Frank and Peter joined the Dublin Fusiliers during World War I. Edward and Thomas died in that war and their nephew Aidan was one of those who attended the annual Remembrance Day ceremonies in St. Michael’s cemetery from the time they were started almost 20 years ago. Aidan’s father John was an officer in the LDF during the Second World War continuing, but in a different uniform, the military tradition of the Stafford family established by the Stafford Brothers in 1914-18. Another Offaly Street connection with the Staffords was provided by John Stafford’s sister Judy who married Tipperary born Andy Cleary, both of whom lived in Janeville opposite St. Michael’s Church for many years. The Roycroft, Smyth and Stafford families were part of the rich tapestry of life in Athy stretching back several generations. The passing of these family members reawakens treasured memories of times past. The Decade of Centenaries Commemoration continues with a commemoration of the first Dail meeting in 1919 which will be held in the Osprey Hotel in Naas on Wednesday, 23rd January at 8.00 p.m. Castledermot Historical Society will host a talk given by yours truly on ‘Castledermot and the Spanish Flu 1918’ on Tuesday, 29th January. Athy’s Historical Society lecture series for 2019 recommences with a talk by James Durney at 8.00 p.m. on Tuesday 12th February on ‘County Kildare and the First Dail’.

No comments: