Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Teddy Kelly

Long forgotten memories flooded in on me as Teddy Kelly’s remains were lowered into the grave at the new St. Michael’s Cemetery. Memories which prompted me to recall that in that very same place where mourners were gathered Teddy and I had played as youngsters. For Teddy Kelly was my friend from the time we were old enough to be let out to play on our own. We were neighbours in Offaly Street, went to school together, firstly in St. Joseph’s and then to the Christian Brothers school in St. John’s Lane. As youngsters in Offaly Street, Teddy and I spent every free hour of the day in each other’s company. I would call to his house at No. 27 if he had not already called to my house and we would head off for the day. Not going very far however, as our horizons were fixed mainly on the nearby park which we claimed as part of the fiefdom of the Offaly Street boys. Our ambition to go further afield saw us starting to dig a hole inside the main entrance gate of the park, as we later told our parents so we could reach Australia. That hole, which bore witness to our youthful efforts, was to be seen for many years thereafter. Offaly Street in our young days was a vibrant community of young families and our friends included Willie Moore, Tom Webster and in the early years Andrew and Basil White before they went to live in Athgarvan. The leader of our group was Teddy’s brother Leopold, a year or so older than the rest of us. Leopold was an adventurous fellow, whose life sadly ended in February 1967 just two years after he was ordained for the priesthood. We younger fellows followed Leopold with unquestionable loyalty, and I recall the great excitement which greeted his announcement that we were to build a den in the park. We marched to Flemings sawmills in Chapel Lane where Leopold had negotiated the acquisition of timber off cuts which we brought back to the park. Several trips were made to Flemings sawmills before sufficient timber was on site to complete the job. When completed it was our pride and joy for only two days for on the third day when we arrived in the park it was discovered that the den had been removed. The Duke of Leinster’s agent had obviously decided that the ‘whipper snappers’ from Offaly Street were not to squat on his Lordship’s property. I have written of Teddy Kelly in previous Eyes on the Past, the first many years ago to mark his 40 years working in the asbestos/Tegral wages office. That Eye appeared as the last article in Volume IV of Eye on Athy’s Past. The back cover of that book featured a few photographs, two of which were of a youthful Teddy Kelly with the writer and some others. In keeping with his youthful adventurous nature Teddy was pictured sitting on one of Bill Cash’s horses, while a second photograph featured Teddy and his faithful dog Toby with his brother Leopold, Micky Moore, my brother Seamus and myself. We must have been 10 or 11 years old at the time the photograph was taken. In that article and in a later article written to mark his retirement I wrote of the adventurous exploits of Teddy and myself and the other lads from Offaly Street. We were past masters in finding adventure and heightened pleasure in what we describe as ‘releasing over ripened pears and apples from local orchards.’ Ours was an innocent age when youthful escapades courted danger, none more so than the day Teddy said to me ‘I dare you’. That was not an infrequent test of one’s ability to do something or other but on this day it was a dare I have never forgotten. It was to walk on the parapet of the railway bridge from one end to the other as it passed over the River Barrow and the Grand Canal. I did the walk, oblivious to the danger given that despite summer visits to Bummeries I had not as yet mastered the skill of swimming. It’s strange what one remembers after 65 years or so – the dangerous parapet walk, the earlier attempt to reach Australia and my first bottle of stout given to me by Teddy’s mother. The bottle of stout was believed to be an appropriate tonic for a sickly youngster, but in my case it helped to nurture a lifelong dislike of alcohol. Teddy and I shared classrooms for 14 years from 4 years of age onwards. We shared fond memories of Sister Brendan in St. Joseph’s School and admiration and gratitude for a wonderful teacher in the Christian Brothers School. Bill Ryan was that teacher who unlocked the world of possibilities for the pupils he taught. When we reached the Leaving Certificate class there were just 11 of us left from the 50 or more who started with us in St. Joseph’s School. Seared in my memory are the faces of those who shared school days with Teddy and myself but who for whatever reason did not get the opportunity to achieve what they were capable of. Friendships forged in my youth are an important part of my life and are treasured for the memories they gave me. When I passed the biblical three score and ten, I learned to appreciate more than ever before the value of those early friendships. Teddy Kelly was one of my first friends and his recent death leaves me with unforgettable memories of the happy years I spent in Offaly Street and the wonderful people who lived there. Sadly, the day before Teddy died another older neighbour, Tommy Tuohy, also passed away. Teddy and Tommy are part of the memory bank of my youth and their passing closes another chapter in the life of Offaly Street of old.

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