Friday, October 28, 1994

A Shaterred Dream - John Scully

Some months ago I read a book which disturbed me. It had first attracted my attention with a cover photograph which showed unoccupied and windowless tenement flats under the title “A Shattered Dream”.

The author is John Scully who, in the opening page, tells us that he was born in Athy on May 2nd, 1937. He lived with his parents, four sisters and one brother in a county council house consisting of a living room and two bedrooms. There was no running water, no toilet and no electricity.

Despite the apparent deprivation, his childhood was happy. His parents loved the town of Athy where they were born, lived out their lives and eventually died. John left the local Christian Brothers School in Athy at 14 years of age without any adequate education or a trade.

The first discordant note is struck when he declares that in his school the teachers were interested only in teaching the six pupils who were regarded as the cream of the class.

At 16 he got his first job as a farm labourer. His work was somewhat seasonal and offered no prospect for the future. Nevertheless, like his parents he loved his home town of Athy. In 1953, realising the hopelessness of his position, he emigrated to England, ambitious to realise his dream of sometime opening his own shop.

As he states in his book “I realised more and more that there was no future for me in Athy so I headed for the boat and sailed away to a new life in England. I know I was going against my parents’ wishes in doing so but I also knew that there was no other way of bettering myself.”

How often those same sentiments have been expressed by young men and women from Athy, forced by circumstances to leave the town they loved to earn a decent living.

John’s story continued with his life in England, his marriage to Barbara from Connemara in February 1970 and the Scully family’s eventual return to Ireland in 1972. At last he was about to realise his dream of owning his own shop. The location of that shop, in what he euphemistically describes as “a rough area of Dublin” was to unlease a chain of events which makes disturbing reading, as John recounted what happened from then until 1991.

Threatened, harassed and assaulted by local hooligans, John and his family failed to receive the protection and reassurance which one would expect of the local gardai.

Indeed the book recounts a litany of complaints alleging intimidation, wrongful arrest and false charges, which continued for the next 19 years as John Scully’s dream disintegrated. No less than 26 incidents involving the gardai are told with candour but the harrowing story is one which leaves its mark on the questioning reader.

John, who now lives with his family in Jobestown, Co. Dublin, has seen his dream shattered, hence the title of the book. In recounting his experience with authority he has penned a story which should be read by everyone, especially those people who are charged with guarding the peace. The Garda Siochana have a proud and honourable tradition of service. Nevertheless, in any large group of men and women, one must inevitably come across the few whose behaviour and abuse of authority reflects badly on the entire body.

The story of John Scully would appear to be a blot on the record of the Garda Siochana and one which, unfortunately, has remained largely unnoticed. The Athy man has written of matters which concern us all, particularly at this time when there are demands for increased policing powers.

No doubt the breakdown in discipline in society generally has fuelled this demand but regrettably, in the attempt to deal with crime, the very fine balance between individual freedom and police power has been tipped more and more against the individual.

The recent Criminal Justice Public Order Act is an example of legislation giving wide powers to the gardai which I fear are somewhat draconian and open to abuse.

John Scully’s book should be read without necessarily accepting the strength of every claim or allegation it makes. After all, this is only one side of the story but what it relates to deserves a wider readership and a realisation, by those in authority, that we all have hopes and aspirations which can be so easily destroyed by excessive or inconsiderate exercise of powers which are designed to protect the individual in society.

Friday, October 14, 1994

Tosh Doyle

Talking to "Tosh" Doyle is to open the floodgates of memory. Having lived all his life in Athy Tosh who is almost 80 years old can recall with uncanny accuracy the local events of the past and the people who shaped our town. He can name with accuracy the people who lived in Athy in the 1920's and later, recounting their lineage with a skill equal to that of any Genealogist.

Born on the 14th of November, 1914 in Meeting Lane, his father was a professional soldier in the 9th Lancers who had served in the Boer War. Just shortly before Tosh was born his father, then in the Army Reserve, was called up as the First World War erupted in the Summer of 1914. "Tosh" who was named Thomas says that he owes his familiar nomenclature to a next door neighbour Mrs. Kavanagh who first called the young boy the name by which he is so well known today. He had three sisters and one brother Jim whom the older generation in Athy will remember as Dan Neill’s right hand man.

The Doyles lived in a row of houses now demolished on the left side of Meeting Lane as one approaches from Emily Square. In the first house immediately after the entrance to the existing Tyre Centre lived the Myles Family. Next to them lived the Doyles, then the Kavanaghs with their next door neighbours Eatons house adjoining Dan Neills Builders Yard which is now the site of Pat Tierneys house. Across the road was the first Local Authority housing scheme built in Athy in 1913. The railings around the front gardens of these house were installed in the 1930's by local Blacksmiths, Ted and Jim Vernal.

"Tosh" attended the local Christian Brothers School where he especially remembers two lay teachers, both of whom were locals. John Hayden was a member of the local I.R.A. Brigade who went to America following the death of his young wife. The other local man was Jim Bradley, brother of John Bradley, who for many years was a Nationalist Reporter. The Superior was Brother Clifford, a Kerry man. Just two weeks short of his 14th Birthday Tosh finished school and went to work in Maxwells of Duke Street. As a general factotum he worked the manual Petrol Pump which stood on the footpath directly opposite the Garda Station then located next door to the Gem. He also mended bicycles and looked after the sale of carbide for the Carbide Lamps which were so popular in those days. Carbide Lamps have always intrigued me but until I talked to Tosh I did not know how they worked. Carbide which is somewhat chalk like in appearance was inserted into a chamber in the bottom of the Carbide Lamp and reacted with water which dripped onto it from another chamber above to give off a gas which when lit gave quite a good amount of illumination.

In 1934 Tosh left Maxwells and worked for a year or two with Fran Doran of Leinster Street. Fran, a big man who swam throughout Winter and Summer alike in the River Barrow was a Market trader. He attended all of the local fairs and markets including Tullamore, Templemore and Borris selling clothes to the farmers. As his assistant Tosh had charge of what he refers to as the "Swag" being the braces, Collar studs, Tie Pins and other small items which would be termed haberdashery in a shop context. Fran who was noted for his wit regaled the potential customers with a well practised spiel always alluding to the quality of the "bullet proof trousers" which he had on sale. Tosh recalls an occasion when quick thinking by Fran Doran regained the attention of a crowd diverted by another trader. Giving Tosh a blanket he explained what he was to do. Going to the end of the Street pulling the blanket around his shoulders and rolling up his trousers, Tosh slowly approached Frans stall while the proprietor called out to all and sundry:- "Here he comes, here he comes, Gandhi has arrived". No one could hope to compete against such roguish ingenuity.

It is when he describes a journey undertaken 62 years ago that one marvels at the memory and recall of Tosh. He was one of 12 men who made a slow journey sitting on planks placed on a covered trailer pulled by a tractor as it wended it’s way to Dublin in 1932. The occasion was the Eucharistic Congress and the driver was Jim Malone of Barrowhouse later of St. Patrick’s Avenue who brought his friends to Dublin and back to Athy on the same day. Parking the tractor and trailer in what Tosh recalls was open country at Inchicore the happy travellers continued on foot to the Phoenix Park.

When Tosh left the employment of market trader Fran Doran in 1936 he went to work with John Stafford who carried on a hackney service and bicycle shop in Emily Square. The premises is now occupied by Jim Lawler, Hackney Driver. In those pre-War days when ownership of cars were confined to the very rich, Athy had a very impressive array of hackney car owners. John Stafford had two cars on the road as had Dick Murphy of William Street. Paddy Murphy of Offaly Street and George Ellard of Leinster Street were hackney men as was Jack Loveday of Ballylinan who was never known to exceed 15 mph in his car. Another notable and unmistakable sign of Jack’s hackney car during the War years was the smoke billowing from his car exhaust as he drove on paraffin oil when petrol was scarce.

Not so adventurous was Archie Maxwell of Duke Street who in addition to his bicycle shop also had hackney cars on the road. Tommy Stynes of Leinster Street combined the role of undertaker and hackney car owner and had the biggest and most luxurious car on the road. Tosh who had started work at 14 years of age first drove a car in 1937 while working for John Stafford. He can still recall his first trip which was to drive Jim Lawler and four ladies to a dance in The Ritz Ballroom in Carlow one October evening.

In 1945 Tosh who was still living in Meeting Lane started his own business as a hackney man having bought his first car, a Ford V.8, from Tommy Stynes for £180. One of his most consistent customers was the “Yank” Brennan of Wolfhill, a well liked man who had returned after 40 years in America. One of Yank’s peculiarities was never to drink whiskey from a glass but always from a baby Power bottle. Years in America had taught him never to accept drink in a glass on the basis that “you never know what those guys would slip into your drink”. Another regular customer was Fintan Brennan, District Court Clerk and President of the Leinster Council GAA. Tosh drove him to football and hurling matches throughout the Province, invariably accompanied by Fintan’s trusted aides who manned the gates at big matches. These included Joe McNamara of Stanhope Street, Tom Langton of Leinster Street and Tim O’Sullivan, then an assistance in J.J. Collins’ Pharmacy in Duke Street.

Married in 1950 Tosh was soon to leave Meeting Lane where he was the last resident in a row of houses which had stood for over 100 years. He transferred to St. Patrick’s Avenue where he still happily lives amongst friends.

Recalling some of the residents of Meeting Lane in the 1920’s and 1930’s Tosh mentions Mrs. Smith’s lodging house where John Allen lived until quite recently. It is now bricked up. Next door Tom and Jim Fleming lived and their sister Nancy still lives there. In the houses since demolished to make way for the car park lived Ned Brennan, a local tailor and his wife. Martin (Mert) Hayden, harness maker and his brother Paddy (Sooty) Hayden, a delivery breadman for Dooley’s Bakery were their neighbours. Originally Martin Hayden lived in a house on the site of the present Pymah factory before moving down the street. Johnny Berney who kept a dairy in Janeville Lane also lived in Meeting Lane and it was from his home that the milk was sold. Other names and families now gone and forgotten are remembered by Tosh with affection as he recalls his years in Meeting Lane.

The relevance of oral history is re-affirmed when listening to the young 80 year old who lovingly recalls the past and the men and women whose tears and laughter gave life to our town, for Athy surely is Tosh Doyle’s own place.

Friday, October 7, 1994

Athy C.Y.M.S.

The earliest extant record of the Catholic Young Mens Society in Athy is a Minute Book dating from January 1879. However it is believed that the Society was established in Athy in 1862. In its formative years the members of the Society met every Sunday at 6.00p.m. in the Christian Brothers School, St. John's Lane. Lectures and debates were the principal Sunday evening activity and in time a Library was provided for the members. Minutes of the meeting of the 15th of January, 1879 noted that in the absence of entertainment on Sunday evenings a member was to be designated to read a chapter from Irish history to the other members. The Society's Committee in 1879 included Christopher Timmons, P. Murphy, Mick Nolan, Mick Doyle, William Kealy, Sean Cantwell and Mr. Butler. The local curate Rev. John Staples was President of the Society.

In January 1881 the Society members appointed a Committee to establish a Band and to set up a singing group. This followed the formation in the previous year of another local band, the Athy Fife and Drum Band, which catered for juvenile musicians. This Band broke up in disarray in July 1881 following a dispute amongst members which culminated in Court proceedings against Henry Greene for retaining certain musical instruments.

The C.Y.M.S. established a Brass Band whose members enthusiastically practised every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. However, the enthusiasm soon waned and in November 1884 we learn that the Brass Band had gone the way of the earlier Juvenile Fife and Drum Band. Happily no Court proceedings resulted.

In 1892 the Sisters of Mercy had a new school built alongside their Convent and gave up possession of an older school building at the corner of Stanhope Place. The C.Y.M.S. gained possession of this L-shaped building and they were to remain in occupation until 1960.

As the C.Y.M.S. took over their new premises The Mechanics Institute, a non-denominational society acquired a billiard table for its premises in the Town Hall. The C.Y.M.S. obviously believing that the attractions of a 19th century pool hall were unlikely to be countered by lectures and books decided to acquire a billiard table for its own premises. In time billiards and snooker proved very popular with the members necessitating the purchase of a second full size billiard table. When the Mechanics Institute eventually closed, it’s billiard table was sold to the C.Y.M.S. and is still in use today.

The setting up of a Technical School in Athy in 1900 in part of the C.Y.M.S. building fronting on to Stanhope Place curtailed the Society's activities. It retained one large room for the playing of billiards and a small room as a card room. Card playing was so popular that the room provided proved too small and uncomfortable and in time became known as "the Dog House".

In 1906 the Club was involved in setting up a Football and Hurling Club in Athy which operated for a few years under the name "Athy C.Y.M.S. Hurling and Football Club". The present G.A.A. grounds in Geraldine Park were first used by the Club for inter county and inter club games around that time. Indeed so successful was the Club in promoting Gaelic games that the Athy pitch was generally regarded as the best available in County Kildare.

In 1940 a new Technical School was built on the Carlow Road and the then Parish Priest Canon McDonnell indicated his intention to pass on the rooms vacated by the Technical School to the Sisters of Mercy. The members of the C.Y.M.S. protested as they expected that the premises would be re-allocated to their Society. Negotiations between the parties in which James McNally, Parish Clerk, played an important role resulted in a compromise whereby one of the vacated Technical School rooms was handed back to the C.Y.M.S.

The L-shaped premises at Stanhope Place continued to be occupied by the C.Y.M.S. until 1960 when they were demolished in preparation for the construction of the new St. Michael’s Church.

In return for giving up its home of almost 70 years the Society was allocated St. John's Hall, formerly the home of the Social Club players in St. John's Lane. Here the Society remained until 1984 when by agreement with the then Parish Priest and with the support of the Sisters of Mercy it relocated its activities in Mount St. Mary's where it remains to this day.