Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Offaly Street residents of old

A typographical error in the opening paragraph of the recent article on Athy’s diaspora unfortunately referred to the late Willie Doody as Willie Dooley. Both family names are well known in Athy and I have treasured memories stretching back decades of the Doody and Dooley families. Willie Doody died in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire on 25th January 2020 just a little more than a month after his sister Theresa passed away in Clapham, London. Theresa and her brother were just two of the many Athy natives who over the years made new lives for themselves in post-war Britain. Passing down Offaly Street during the week I was prompted to recall the families who lived on that street during the fifty years my parents called No. 6 and later No. 5 Offaly Street as home. No more than any other part of Athy town the Offaly Street community was badly affected by emigration over the years. Offaly Street, once alive with young families, saw many of those families emigrate. The list of the emigrees includes Mary Sunderland, Stan, Pat and Kevin Breen, Joe Eaton and his sister Lily, Matt McHugh, Christy Evans and Paddy Day. To the list must be added John Neill, the entire Murphy family, John and Andy Webster and the Collingwood family. The list of former neighbours who took the emigrant boat grows larger when those living in Janeville Lane are included. John, Andy and Mick Walsh, Jim and Maisie Fox, Nellie Hyland, Owen ‘Thrush’ Kelly, his mother and sister, Peter Bennett, Paddy Hubbock and the members of the Doody family. And who can forget the Aldridges of Janeville Place. Five brothers, George, Tommy, Joe, Jimmy and Ned, together with their sisters Bridget and Ellen left Athy for Britain where they were later joined by their brother Frank. The Irish vernacular style shop windows which are a feature of three houses, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 Offaly Street, remind us of a time when a private developer had visions of extending the retail life of Athy along Preston’s Gate and away from the town centre. Whether these premises ever operated as shops is not known and if they did, it is quite likely they had a short life span. I had never heard of anyone who remembered any of the three houses being used as shops which like all the other houses on that side of Offaly Street were at one time owned and rented out by Myles Whelan. Many will remember Kehoe’s pub which older generations will recall was previously known as Dowlings. For Offaly Street youngsters the most important shop in the street was Webster’s sweet shop. Pattie and Kitty Webster continued the business which their mother had run for many years. It was the place where slabs of toffee could be bought and where youngsters who had joined the teenage world could buy a single Woodbine cigarette. Further down the street in what was officially Emily Row one would make an occasional foray into Miss Sylvester’s sweet shop, but only occasionally for it was not opened as regularly as Kitty Websters. A local shop which had closed before I became aware of my Offaly Street surroundings was that operated by the Dempsey brothers. One of the brothers, Jim Dempsey, I remember as the man who had charge of the weighing scales at the back of the Town Hall. The one-time shop was closed for several years before the Brophy family brought it back into operation. Moore Brothers on the corner of Emily Square where Michael and Eddie Moore held sway backed one end of our street, while almost but not quite at the other end the Picture Palace cinema was Athy’s most cherished cultural outlet for decades. The picture house managed by Bob Webster in the 1950s and later created a large footfall on Offaly Street every evening as cinema goers flocked in those pre television days to what was known locally as ‘Bobs’. Times have changed. The Picture Palace is closed up, as is nearby Kehoe’s pub. Along the street Kitty Webster’s sweet shop and Sylvesters are ghostly reminders of times past. The loss of so many young men and women who once lived in Offaly Street, Butlers Row and Janeville Place and the closure of the once vibrant businesses in Offaly Street led to the slow decline of a once proud and vibrant local street community.

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