Friday, November 26, 1993

Freemasons Lodge Athy

Freemasonry is a little known part of the fabric of our history and at local level nothing is known of the Society by those who are not members. No doubt you, like myself, only know it as a secret organisation indulging in secret rituals and handshakes to which vivid imaginations over the years have imparted demonic significance. To Freemasons, however, it is not a secret organisation and they reject any suggestion to the contrary.

Modern Freemasonry in Ireland began with the establishment of the grand Lodge in 1725. It is claimed that traditionally Freemasonry began with itinerant craft masons or stone cutters who travelled in search of work and who developed secret signs known only to fellow craft masons. Whatever the validity of that claim it is indisputable that the earliest Freemason lodges consisted mainly of the gentry who were not in any was associated with craft workers.

Today there are approximately 730 Lodges in Ireland with a membership close to 50,000 of which approximately 7,000 members are in the Irish Republic. Athy has St. John's Masonic Lodge for which a Warrant issued from the Grand Lodge in 1840. The Athy Lodge is No. 167 and it has a membership of approximately 48.

Membership of the Freemasons is technically open to men of all religions but in practice it's membership is largely comprised of members of the Reformed Church. Within the ranks of the Athy Lodge there has only been one known instance of a Roman Catholic member. He was an employee of a local factory who spent a short time in Athy in the 1950's. Daniel O'Connell, a Catholic, was also a Freemason despite a Papal Decree of 1738 which prohibited Catholics from joining the organisation. It would appear that the Irish Hierarchy did not enforce that Decree until the early part of the 19th century. The present situation in relation to Catholic membership of the Freemasons is somewhat uncertain.

The first Master of the Athy Lodge was B.A. Yates who was followed in 1841 by Henry O'Neill. The Lodge Master and the other Lodge Officers are nominated in September, elected in October and installed in January each year. In addition to the Master, the other Lodge Officers are Senior and Junior Wardens, Senior and Junior Deacons, Inner Guard, Steward of Charities, Director of Ceremonies and Chaplain. Masons are called Brother while a Past Master is addressed as Worshipful Brother.

The position of Lodge Secretary has been occupied by only three persons since 1898. H.K. Toomey, a local Solicitor, was Secretary for 38 years and in 1937 Robert Youell took up the position which he retained until 1960.

The Lodge Members of Athy meet nine times a year and the meeting lasts approximately two hours. The earliest meetings which followed the issuing of the Lodge Warrant in 1840 took place in the house of Samuel Connolly of Emily Square. He was to be Lodge Master in 1846. Later on the Lodge met in the Courthouse before obtaining from the Duke of Leinster the lease of a room in the Town Hall, Athy, in the early 1860's. The Duke was Grand Master of the Irish Freemasons and for a peppercorn rent of 1/= per year the Athy Masons had exclusive use of a room on the top floor of the Town Hall for over 100 years. They left the building prior to its refurbishment and moved to their present meeting place.

The members in meeting wear the Masons Apron, and other regalia with it's predominantly blue colour. The Deacons bear staffs while the door is guarded by the Inner Guard who restrict entry to Freemasons only. The Masonic rituals are part of the Masonic secrets which members may not disclose as are the secret words, signs and grips used by the Masons. A Freemason is quite entitled to disclose his membership to a non-mason but most are very secretive about their membership.

There are five branches of Freemasonry operating in Ireland ranging from the Craft which is lodge orientated to the Royal Arch membership of which is open to Master Masons. Membership of the Royal Arch meet in Royal Arch Chapters and it's governing body is the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Ireland. The next highest branch of Freemasonry is the Order of Knights Mason, membership of which is open to Royal Arch Masons. The Order of the Temple is restricted to those Masons invited to join and its members meet in Preceptories. The highest unit of Freemasonry in Ireland is the Ancient and Accepted Rite for Ireland, membership of which is again strictly by invitation only.

Members of the local Masonic Lodges in Athy, Newbridge, Portlaoise and Carlow would not all necessarily operate at the various levels within Irish Freemasonry. However, Chapter Meetings of the Royal Arch are held four times a year in Athy while Preceptory Meetings of the Order of the Temple meet in Carlow and Portlaoise.

The objectives of the Freemasons have been claimed as "Benevolence and Brotherly Love" and a number of charities have been established by the organisation. These include the Masonic Girls Fund, the Masonic Boys Fund and the Masonic Annuity Fund for widows of deceased Members.

The claim that it is an anti-religious and politically orientated organisation is vehemently denied by the Freemasons. While the Masonic Meetings begin and end with prayers they dismiss any claims that theirs is an alternative religion. Perhaps its greatest and possibly only benefit to a local community lies in the expression of that Brotherly Love which causes Freemasons to come to each others help and assistance as and when required.

Friday, November 19, 1993

George Hegarty

George Hegarty always seemed to be part of the Athy I knew as I grew up. Surprisingly he has only been with us since 1957.

Of West Cork farming stock George was born in the townland of Smorane, Skibbereen, where his brother still works the farm which has been home to Hegartys for seven generations. At an early age George was apprenticed to a draper and shoe merchant in his native town. In those days shop apprenticeships were much sought after and indoor staff, who lived over the premises, actually paid for the privilege of learning their trade. As an outdoor staffer who lived at home George earned 7/6 per week for the first six months. To younger generations unaccustomed to the intricacies of pounds, shillings and pence, his pay in modern coinage came to 37½ pence per week.

In April 1945 George was on the move when he got a job in Templemore. Staying only eleven weeks he moved further inland on being appointed Chargehand in the Boot Department of Goods of Kilkenny in July 1945. As a member of the indoor staff George lived over the premises with full board and a salary of £14.0.0 per year. Boots and shoes sold in those days were of the sturdy type, designed to last. Every home had an iron last used when reinforcing newly purchased boots or shoes with the metal heels and toe caps so prevalent in the 1940's and 1950's.

George spent three years in the Marble City before returning to Templemore in November 1948 to set up his own boot, shoe and light drapery business. Marrying the following year George was to spend the next eight years developing his business during the difficult years of the pre Lemass boom years. Giving up the unequal struggle in 1957 George came to Athy to work for Shaws as Manager in mens clothing.

In the late 1950's and well into the 1970's tailor made suits were all the vogue. A good quality suit cost sixteen guineas although a cheaper version was available for £12. Rolls of cloth decorated the shop shelves but the choice was limited normally to dark grey or navy with or without stripes. Customers were measured on the premises and the cloth was then sent to a local tailor or to Dublin to be made up. If made up locally all the trimmings were provided by Shaws. These included buttons, thread (including twist or heavy thread for button holes), heavy outer lining and inner lining of canvas, hair cloth or synddo. The local tailors included Mick Egan of Leinster Street, Tom Moran of St. Patrick's Avenue and John Connell of Prusselstown. Once made up the garments were returned to Shaws for a fitting after which final adjustments were made before completion.

The emergence of the ready made suits in the early 1970's hastened the demise of the town tailoring skills. George recalls how his boss reacted on seeing the first readymade suits which George had ordered for the shop. Made of shiny cloth material with narrow trouser legs they did not find favour with Sam Shaw who ordered them to be returned as "they will never sell". They were sold within a week leading to another order from George and the admission from his boss who was over 50 years in business "Hegarty, I have gone beyond it".

Up to the mid-1970's Athy was still a hive of business activity especially on Saturday nights with late opening until 9.00 p.m. George recalls many a Christmas Eve leaving the store with work colleagues at 10.30 p.m. after a long and busy day clutching Santa's toys secured at the last moment for his children Ivor and Anne. Stories of the same toys scattering around Leinster Street under the watchful eye of the local Gardai after a nocturnal visit to a well known watering hole are recounted with mirth and a wistful regret for times now past.

Friday, November 12, 1993

Remembrance Sunday

Sitting in my study writing this week’s column, I have before me a list compiled from past editions of the Kildare Observer and Leinster Leader of men from Co. Kildare killed in World War 1. The bulky computerised list does not contain the names of all the 567 men from the county who died in the 1914-’18 war. Listed only are those men whose deaths were reported in the local newspapers and the surprise is how many were never publicly recorded. One name which immediately catches my attention is that of Norman Hannon of Ardreigh House, Athy, who died in 1915. Further on, the same list records the name John Hannon of Ardreigh House who died in 1916. They were brothers.

How poignant to reflect that 77 years later the Hannon family are no longer in Athy and the house which Norman and John left to enlist is home to another generation and another family whole allegiances and background are so different from theirs.

The Hannon brothers were joined in death before the end of the war by their first cousins Henry Hannon and Thomas Hannon, both of Millview House, Athy. Their premature deaths were to leave their ageing parents without successors and this, in part, was the reason for the ultimate failure of the once thriving Hannon mills at Ardreigh and Duke Street in Athy.

On the same list I find the names Thomas Stafford and Eddie Stafford of Athy, two brothers, whose death in the fighting fields of France must have brought unimaginable grief and despair to their parents. But what of the Kelly family of Meeting Lane whose three sons, John, Eoin and Denis, were never to return home to Athy. No words can describe the sense of loss suffered by young and old alike whose lives had been touched by those young men whose lives were sacrificed on the Western Front.

Anthony Byrne and his brother Joe of Chapel Lane were another two uniformed men who set off on the train from Athy Railway Station enveloped in the camaraderie and excitement of the time, having said goodbye to their family. They also died fighting in the war to end all wars.

The list goes on and on. Throughout Co. Kildare the daily despatches from the War Office were awaited with fear and apprehension. Death had no respect for rank or age. Every street suffered losses. Few homes escaped the dreadful carnage which enveloped a generation which was never to grow old.

The men of Athy and Co. Kildare who fought in World War I were soon forgotten in the emerging nationalism of the 20th century. Times have changed ever so slowly. From the rather shameful neglect of over 70 years there has began to emerge an acceptance and an appreciation of a lost generation’s sacrifice. As individuals and as a nation we have learned to acknowledge that bravery wears many uniforms and is not confined solely to the daring and sometimes heroic escapades of guerrilla fighters of the Irish War of Independence, whom we have always honoured.

For the last two years a growing number of local people have given public expression to their respect and reverence for the men of Athy who died in World War I. On Remembrance Sundays in 1991 and ’92 ceremonies of commemoration were held in St. Michael’s Cemetery, Athy over the graves of those World War I soldiers who are buried there.

On Sunday, November 14th at noon, there will again be an opportunity for us all to remember in prayer and poetry those men. St. Michael’s cemetery will be the venue. Your attendance would be a fitting way of paying your respects. Elsewhere, you will read of the lectures and other events forming part of the remembrance weekend in Athy on November 13th and 14th. If you can attend any or all of these, please do so.

Friday, November 5, 1993

Brother Joseph Brett

Late on Monday afternoon with two old school friends I set out for Thurles to attend the funeral of Brother Brett, Superior of the Christian Brothers in Athy from 1955 to 1961. His time in Athy coincided with our entry into and subsequent departure from the Secondary School then housed in the upper floors of the old school premises in St. John's Lane. As we travelled along the road we reminisced about our schooldays and the part Brother Brett had played in our lives.

He was a giant of a man. A gentle giant whom we never remember raising his voice in anger or his hand to hurt. His fresh face complexion was a clear indication of his relative youth but to young 16 or 17 year olds he seemed well entrenched in the grey eminence of adulthood which to us then seemed so far distant. Now as we look back from the quickening years of middle age we are astonished to find that Brother Brett arrived in Athy as a young 39 year old.

He died last weekend aged 78 years after several years of illness which had seen his fine strong features change beyond recognition. As the funeral prayers were said for Brother Joseph we realised for the very first time that we had not previously known his christian name. To us he was Brother Brett or simply "The Boss", a name which was his alone, long before Bruce Springsteen arrived on the scene.

Hurrying through the Tipperary countryside, 33 years after we had taken our leave of the Christian Brothers, we recalled the generosity of spirit which was the hallmark of Brother Brett and his colleagues. As Christian Brothers they dedicated their lives to others. They had forsaken the joys and comfort of family life to live in communities of men bound by vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

The personal sacrifices made by men such as Brother Brett are not always appreciated. As we stood around his coffin it seemed to us so sad that a once young man from Balla in County Mayo should die almost forgotten and unacknowledged in a strange town mourned only by his own immediate family and the members of the Christian Brothers. His Brothers in congregation were all old men whose faces bore testimony to lives dedicated to prayer and service. They had come to mourn one of their own and in his passing they recognised the drawing of the curtain which could shortly signal the end of the Irish Christian Brothers.

For over 160 years the Order founded by Ignatius Rice has provided the bedrock upon which the future of young Irishmen has been secured. Their work commenced in times of poverty and ultimately famine but throughout good times and bad the Christian Brothers gave of themselves and their resources to help Irish men to achieve their full potential.

Nowadays it is fashionable to belittle the part played by religious orders in Irish education and even to focus solely on the unacceptable behaviour of the few misguided individuals who were found wanting. We can so easily overlook the good work which was done by the Christian Brothers. We must resist the temptation to do so. After all we owe so much to those men who helped to shape our young lives and gave us the confidence to face into the future.

Our old school in St. John's Lane is now closed. The new school in Rathstewart no longer has a Christian Brother on its staff. The Monastery on the Carlow Road is home to two retired Brothers whose presence helps to continue Athy's link with the past. Many Christian Brothers have come and gone since the Orders arrival in Athy in August 1862. Their work is not yet done but it is to other men and women unburdened by clerical vows that the responsibility must now pass.

The memory of the Christian Brothers will I hope always find a response in the hearts and minds of the people of Athy. We owe them so much. The passing of Brother Brett last weekend marked the end of an era for one group of middle aged men who as 13 year old youngsters bounded up the metal stairway of the old Christian Brothers School under the watchful eye of the newly arrived Superior. "The Boss" is now dead. His memory remains. Thank you for making that memory one to be cherished.