Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Dominican Choir Athy

When the Dominicans departed from Athy on 22nd November 2015 they left us with a historical legacy stretching back to the early days of the foundation of the Anglo Norman village of Ath Ae. They also left their church, consecrated in 1965 and acclaimed as a strikingly original design, which is now in use as the local community library. Amongst many other reminders we have of the past Dominican presence amongst us is the Dominican choir. Strange as it may seem the choir which served the now closed Dominican Church is still in existence, retaining its original name, while participating at 10.30 Sunday morning mass in the Parish Church. The choirmaster is Anne Marie Heskins who also fulfils the same role for the Parish choir which sings at the midday mass on Sundays in St. Michaels. The photo which accompanies this Eye is of the Dominican choir in 1957 with their choir master, the late John Neavyn. 1957 was an important year for the Dominican choir as it participated in the celebrations for the seventh hundred anniversary of the arrival of the Dominicans in the village founded on the banks of the River Barrow. It was a year marked by many celebrations involving religious and civic leaders in the town. Athy Urban District Councillors involved that year were Tom Carbery, M.J. Tynan, James Fleming, Michael Cunningham, Joseph Deegan, Paddy Dooley, Tom Moore, M.G. Nolan and Eddie Purcell. The acting Provincial of the Dominican Order, Fr. R.M. Harrington who had served in Athy between 1935 and 1938, was the guest of honour for the centenary celebrations in August 1957. On arrival in Athy Fr. Harrington first visited the graves of Dominican priests buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery. Then his car, flanked by a guard of honour provided by the local Knights of Malta and preceded by St. Dominic’s Band and by St. Joseph’s Fife and Drum Band, drove down Leinster Street and Duke Street to arrive at St. Dominic’s Church. After Solemn High Mass which was broadcast over a public address system to the large crowd outside the church the Acting Provincial proceeded to the newly erected wrought iron memorial gate which he blessed. The gate and the adjoining cut stone walls were the gift of George Farrell of Spring Lodge. At a subsequent lunch in the Leinster Arms Hotel M.G. Nolan, Chairman of Athy U.D.C., addressed the guests and the Acting Town Clerk, Jimmy Higgins, read an address on behalf of the Council and the people of Athy. Unfortunately the Annals or Chronicles of the Athy Dominicans were not written up between 1949 and 1958 and so a historic day went unrecorded. The prior in 1957 was Fr. W. Colgan and so far as I can ascertain the other Dominicans then in Athy were Fathers Augustine Dowling, Alphonsus Curran, Louis O’Sullivan and Ceslaus Morrissey. The Dominican Choir of 63 years ago is a reminder of a different age when the local Christian Brothers could record in their Annals: ‘Six boys sat the Leaving Certificate examination while eighteen boys sat the Intermediate examinations. The primary school pupil numbers justified the employment of a seventh teacher but because of accommodation limits the Department approved the employment of six teachers.’ 1957 was the year the local Councillor Paddy Dooley was elected to the Dail and that same year his mother Julia, a former Cumann na mBan member, died. The County Medical Officer, Dr. Brendan O’Donnell, reported to the Council on the 85 unfit houses still accommodating families in Athy. 1957 and the 1950s were simpler and frugal times. The photograph of the young girls of the Dominican choir evokes memories of those simpler yet happy days.

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