Thursday, December 26, 1996

Sir Ernest Shackleton

He died early on the morning of 5th January, 75 years ago on board a ship anchored off a whaling station in the Antarctic. Ernest Shackleton, Edwardian hero, whose life and achievements are currently being reassessed, was on his fourth journey of exploration to the Antarctic when he died. He had first set foot on that forbidden uncharted area as a member of Scott's expedition during 1901 to 1903 when a young man of 27 years of age. Born in Kilkea House, Kilkea, Co. Kildare on 15th February, 1874, Ernest was the eldest son and second child of Henry and Henrietta Shackleton. His father was a fourth generation descendant of Abraham Shackleton who had founded the Quaker School in Ballitore in the 18th century. The Kilkea Shackletons, unlike their Shackleton ancestors, were Anglicans and they were to leave their large Georgian house and farm for Dublin in 1880 when Henry Shackleton resumed his studies in Trinity College. Immediately on qualifying as a Doctor, he and the entire family emigrated to England where Ernest, the future explorer, was to spend the rest of his life.

Another brother of the future explorer was Frank Shackleton who was to achieve certain notoriety as one of the chief suspects in the robbery of the Irish Crown Jewels in 1904. Sir Arthur Vicars who was murdered in April 1921 during the Irish troubles had always claimed that Frank Shackleton was the thief responsible for the mysterious disappearance of the jewels of which he, Vicars, was the official custodian.

Ernest Shackleton's greatest achievements were on his second and third attempts to reach the South Pole. He led his own expedition to the Antarctic on the whaling ship "Nimrod", which set out from London on 30th July, 1907. This was his most successful attempt to be the first man to reach the South Pole when he came within 97 miles of his objective before having to give up the attempt. On his return to England he was feted and received a Knighthood in 1909, the same year that a book of his exploits titled "The Heart of the Antarctic" was published. The must sought after prize of first man to reach the South Pole was to fall to the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, who arrived there on 14th December, 1911.

It was Shackleton's third trip to the Antarctic for which he is now most remembered. This started on 1st August, 1914, just days before England declared war in Germany. The County Kildare man Shackleton accompanied by 27 men set sail on a boat which he had renamed "Endurance". The name had been taken from Shackleton's family motto, "By Endurance We Conquer" and as events were to prove, was a harbinger of what was to come over the next two years. The initial stages of the journey were uneventful and even when the boat stuck in ice on 19th January, 1915 there were little grounds for fearing the worst. However, the boat was still caught in the icy fastness of the Antarctic on the following 27th October when it was crushed and had to be abandoned. Shackleton now faced the daunting task of saving his men and he decided that they should travel across the ice floes to Elephant Island on the North West edge of the Weddell Sea. The journey was to take 5 months and near the end the men were confined to a single ice floe which had broken away and drifted on the seas. Conscious of the dangers of the floe cracking, Shackleton and his men were very low in spirit, existing as they did solely on seal meat. The 100 sledge dogs brought on the expedition were kept alive as long as possible, but eventually had to be shot on 30th March. Two weeks afterwards the expedition members reached the safety of land, while at the same time the London newspapers were carrying headlines announcing the loss of Shackleton and his men.

The immediate danger had passed now that the expedition had reached unpopulated land, but somehow or other Shackleton and his men had to get to the whaling station of South Georgia Island which was over 800 miles away. The courageous leader and 5 of his companions set off 9 days later in a 22ft. boat called "James Caird" to travel across 800 miles of rough seas. Two of his companions on that trip were fellow Irishmen, Tom Crean and Jim McCarthy. The story of that trip like that of the overland journey across the ice floes was one of amazing courage and on 10th May, 1916 six men reached land but then had to make a further overland trip lasting 10 days to reach the whaling station at Stromness. From there a relief expedition under Shackleton set out to rescue the men left behind in Elephant Island and after no less than 3 attempts these men were finally rescued on 30th August, 1916.

Shackleton and the members of his team returned to London to a heroes welcome and the story of that expedition was recounted in Shackleton's second book published in 1919 which he called "South".

Financial problems beset Shackleton and he was to spend the next few years on a tour of lecturing halls recounting his experiences in the South Pole. Almost inevitably, the attraction of the Antarctic drew back Shackleton yet again and in 1921 he set out on his 4th and final expedition. It was while on the early stages of that expedition that he died of a heart attack on South Georgia on 15th January, 1922. Shackleton's body was sent back to England for burial, but on his wife's instructions the remains were turned back at Montevideo and brought back for burial on South Georgia.

Shackleton, the man who created the image of the polar explorer as a hero, never received, until recently, the recognition that he deserved in this country. This is now changing, ever so slowly, what with the current Irish expedition to the Antarctic retracing one of Shackleton's journeys. The Athy Heritage Centre which will be opened during 1997 will also have as one of it's many attractions, an exhibition on Shackleton, the local man who may not have reached the South Pole, but who conquered the World of Polar Exploration with his courage and leadership.

Thursday, December 19, 1996

Annual Review of Articles for past year

This time of the year I indulge myself in the yearly review of articles penned during the last twelve months. The first off the press this time last year dealt with the Pasley Glynn Cine Variety Company, one half of which was the late Ernest O'Rourke-Glynn. A two part article on Butlers Row in the 1930's evoked huge response which one particularly noteworthy phone call from a former resident now living in Dublin. Butler's Row came again to mind as I walked behind the recent funeral cortege of Christina Shaughnessy, granddaughter of Tom Langton, a one time resident of the lane. My school pal and one time neighbour from Butlers Row, Tom Webster, was also there and was very happy to see that the lane will soon again re-echo to the sounds of family life.

Convent Lane and its residents in the early 1930's also featured in an article as did the Mulhall family, long time barbers in Athy. My information for that latter article came courtesy of Jim Mulhall, himself a barber and a lover of history who sadly passed away during the year. Earlier in the year I had noticed the passing of Tosh Doyle who had opened the floodgates of memory for me and others when his own story was recounted in Eye on the Past.

Caught up in the football euphoria which envelopes every one in County Kildare at the beginning of the season, I penned a piece on the last occasion Kildare contested an All-Ireland Final. The year was 1935 and the human story behind the final was the dropping of Athy man "Cuddy" Chanders from the team. I often wondered whether Kildare is still being made to suffer by the Almighty for the injustice done to "Cuddy" on that September day 62 years ago. How else can be possibly explain the lack of success by the Lily Whites during the intervening years.

The social history of Athy was given more attention with a two part article on the residents of Leinster Street in the year of the Eucharistic Congress. The name of Bridget Darby, an Urban Councillor, Teacher and Gaelic speaker who lived where Conroys shop is today was mentioned in that and a subsequent article on the Gaelic League in Athy. I have come across several references to the formidable Miss Darby since then and maybe a further article on herself is called for.

The closing of Bryan Brothers afforded an opportunity for an article on the fine premises fronting on to Emily Square which had been a soap boilers shop in 1824. Later in the year the refurbishment of what was "Chopsie" Dillon's old premises in Barrow Quay revealed part of its past as a printing shop and was included in an article on printing in Athy.

The Duncans of Tonlegee House or Fortbarrington House as it was originally known featured in a piece on Elizabeth Coxhead's book "The House and the Heart". Some time afterwards I had a visit from a descendent of the Duncan family who very generously passed on to me copies of family papers relating to the late Alexander Duncan. The bi-centenary of the opening of Crom-a-Boo Bridge in May passed unnoticed by the authorities apart from my article on the Bridge which had replaced earlier more primitive methods of passing over the River Barrow. Unusually a father and son featured in separate articles during the year. Tadgh Brennan was the subject of a two part article early in 1996 and I later dealt with the early life of his father Fintan Brennan up to the time of his imprisonment during the troubles.

Sr. Xavier very generously gave of her time and of her memories during a pleasant evening spent with her and Sr. Paul in the Convent of Mercy. She was to pass away a few weeks later. Dr. George Cross from Christ Church, Dorset, met me in the summer and presented the local Museum with original plans of houses in Janeville Lane and Connolly Lane. This gave rise to another article on the two lanes where houses once busy with life are now long vacated. I later received from Dr. Cross a copy of a Diary kept by his ancestor Rev. Thomas Cross while a young man in Athy from 1847 onwards. The Diary entries gave much valuable information on a period long lost to memory and naturally enough formed the basis of another Eye on the Past.

Soon after that I was presented with a small Minute Book of the Gaelic League meetings held in Athy in the 1920's. It was here that Bridget Darby's name came up again and others mentioned included Joe May, Dick Candy and Ed Nolan amongst others. Athy Soccer Club was featured thanks largely to Johnny McEvoy, a former G.A.A. star of the 1930's and 1940's who now lives in Dublin. Johnny wrote me a most interesting letter which prompted that article and later in the year a civic reception was afforded by Athy Urban District Council to Johnny, Gerry Stynes and Paddy Joe Hughes. The occasion was the 57th anniversary of their leaving Athy to join the Garda Siochana.

Ex-Garda Michael Cunnane formerly stationed in Athy gave me much useful background information on the successful Athy hurling team of 1959 and the resultant article was well received especially by Mick "Cactus" Brennan who is now in Castlecomer. Jack Mitchell of the Coneyboro was as generous as ever with his extensive knowledge of Ardreigh in the old days and Hannon's Mill. The launch of John Minahan's book "Portrait of an Irish Town" was the subject of an article which ranged over the old residents of Athy now long forgotten. As another year comes to a close I remember some of those people who have been mentioned in articles during the past twelve months. George Robinson, Sr. Xavier, Tosh Doyle, Kevin Meaney, Matt Murray, Kitty McLaughlin, Maureen Clancy, all of whom had helped in no small way to make sense of the interlocking pieces which form the story of our town.

Towards the end of the year a visit to Rome prompted an article on the connection between the Eternal City and the South Kildare town and the names of Monsignor William Murphy and Fr. Raymond Dowdall provided the links. Another former Dominican priest, now long deceased, Fr. John O'Sullivan, was remembered in an article recalling the 14th of May 1993 when the Grotto to his memory was unveiled before a large attendance in the grounds of the Dominican Church, Athy.

To all the people who have contacted me personally, by phone or by letter during the past year with bits and pieces of information concerning Athy and its past I wish a very Happy Christmas. The same good wishes goes to readers of Eye on the Past.

Thursday, December 12, 1996

Rheban Football Club

He was a very persuasive man. This was expected given his day job as an Insurance Agent. However Tom Moore did not have to give too much encouragement to his young neighbour in Offaly Street on the day that he first broached the subject of playing football with Rheban Club. After all Tom was the long serving Secretary of the rural Club first formed in 1929 and his listener was an eager if unpolished player of the Gaelic code who up to then had plied his skills with the Athy Club. I was no great catch for the Rheban Club but nevertheless the relevant Transfer Forms were passed to the County Board and I was free to line out in Tierney's field with Rheban Gaelic Football Club.

The only other times I had ventured out into the Rheban area was when I accompanied my father and my brothers to our plot in the bog. The plot in fact was not ours at all but apparently my father had for many years rented one of the many banks available for cutting turf. With my brothers I was employed in what for a very young lad was back-breaking work of footing and stacking the sods of turf which would later provide the winter warmth in our house in Offaly Street.

But to return to Tierney's field, it was to be found on the right hand side just over the Railway Bridge leading to the bog. It was there for one season that I played my football, travelling to and from Athy by bicycle accompanied by Michael and Willie Moore, my friends from Offaly Street and sons of the Club Secretary Tom Moore. Success did not mark my efforts in the Rheban jersey and I was soon to return to the town team but not before I had acquired a life-long interest in the rural Club which this year has achieved remarkable success on the football field.

The Club's successes in 1966 read like a football litany. Junior A Champions, winners of the Jack Higgins Cup, Minor B Champions, Junior League Division III winners and Special Club Award Winners for 1996.

The founders of the Club would have been justifiably proud. It was on the 6th of February 1929 that a group of men gathered in a field in Rheban intent on forming their own football club. County Kildare had won two successive All Irelands in 1927 and 1928 and understandably every young man in the County wanted to emulate the feats of such great footballers as Larry Stanley and Jack Higgins.

The first Club Chairman was John Moore and his younger brother Tom was appointed Secretary and Treasurer. Tom was to remain in that position for over 50 years, the longest serving Club Secretary in the County, if not in Ireland. The cricket field in Rheban was the venue for the Club's early practice games while Mary Moore's field in Rheban was used for inter-club games. Rheban won its very first game of football when playing in Geraldine Park, Athy, against opposition provided by Suncroft Club. The team on that occasion was Peter Taylor, Christy Myles, Owney Pender, Mick Hickey, Jack Kavanagh, Paddy Myles, Jack Foley, Willie Hutchinson, Mick Flynn, Jim Haughton, Tom Moore, John Moore, Christy Keane, Dick Tierney and Paddy Mooney. The Club Captain was Paddy Fitzpatrick, a former Athy Club player who had played with Co. Kildare in 1928.

Another Rheban player to wear the County jersey was Paddy Myles who was on the Kildare County Junior team which won the Leinster title in 1931. Paddy also played for County Kildare at right half-back position on the Senior team defeated by Kerry in the All Ireland final of 1931.

The newly formed Rheban Club was to suffer many disappointments before winning its first Championship in 1940. Before that it lost the 1937 Junior Final to Kilcock and in 1938 lost to Rathangan. The 1940 Final played between Rheban and Ardclough ended in a draw but in the subsequent replay Rheban Gaelic Football Club defeated their opponents on the score of 0-8 to 1-1 thus giving Rheban its first major success on the Gaelic football field. The team on that day included Alf Keane, Mick Hickey, Owney Pender, Tony Keogh, Mick McEvoy, Billy Marrum, Tom Hickey, Arthur Lynch, Hugh Owens, Pat Fitzpatrick, Paddy Myles, Jack Foley, Willie Moore, Jim Keane, Pat Connolly, John Cardiff, Bill Tierney and Joe Barry. It fell to an Athy man, Fintan Brennan, then Chairman of the Leinster Council, to present the medals to the victorious team. Further success soon followed and in 1942 the Club won the Intermediate Championship while on the Kildare Junior team of 1943 there were four Rheban Club players Arthur Lynch, Tom Hickey, Paddy Myles and Mick McEvoy. The post-War years were lean periods for Rheban and it was not until 1969 that the Club achieved further success when winning the Junior A Jack Higgins Cup. This was soon followed in the following year by success in the Intermediate Championship and in the League. Other notable successes by the Club down the years included a League win in 1985 and last year Rheban Gaelic Football Club won the U-16 B Championship and the U-16 League.

The success of the Club has been secured by the contribution of many young players and Club officials over the last 67 years. To Tom Moore, my old neighbour from Offaly Street, must go a substantial measure of the credit for keeping Rheban Club going through the good and bad times. Like myself he played Club football with Athy before joining Rheban but unlike my one year sojourn on Tierney's field Tom devoted the rest of his life to the Club he helped to establish. He was "Mr. Rheban" inspiring a great community of players and workers who down the years made Rheban one of the proudest Clubs in County Kildare.

This year the Club has achieved remarkable success on the playing field. Everyone involved in Gaelic games applaud their achievements. No doubt Tom and "Skinner" and all the other players who have passed to the other side are looking down today on their beloved Rheban basking in the limelight of the Club's hard won success.

Thursday, December 5, 1996

Paddy Walsh

A Gaelic speaker from Ring in Co. Waterford, Paddy Walsh, despite 46 years spent in the settlers town on the " Marches of Kildare", still retains an affection for and a wonderful command of his native language. Paddy first came to Athy in August 1950 as Foreman with P.J. Walsh & Company, Tramore, who had been contracted by the local Town Council to clean the water pipes leading from the reservoir in Modubeigh, Co. Laois. His digs were in Minches Terrace with Nora Carbery and her husband, carpenter and Town Councillor Tom Carbery. Unlike other digs where you had your tea, washed and went out, Carberys treated their paying guests as members of the family. Discourse and discussion developed in front of the sitting room fire on winter evenings ably led by Tom Carbery, the man who brought many an Urban Council meeting to life with his direct methods and straight talking.

For the six months of the water main cleaning contract, P.J. Walsh & Company had two of its permanent staff in Athy, Paddy Walsh and Larry Murphy from Doneraile in Co. Cork. Local men employed included Chevit Doyle of St. Joseph's Terrace, "Twin" Power, Frankie Keane and Tom Hughes of Dooley's Terrace, "Red" Mick Keane of Barrack Street and Jack Chanders of St. Joseph's Terrace.

The cleaning of the towns water mains which had been installed in 1907 was a very difficult job which started after 6.00 p.m. each evening when the supply was cut off. The original cast iron pipes which 43 years previously had been brought by train from Dublin and then drawn by Johnny Rigney's horse and dray were meticulously cleaned every 300 yards or so by scrapers pulled through each opened pipe section. The road surface was opened with a jack hammer and a trench eight yards long by three foot deep and eighteen inches wide was dug by hand at the piece rate of three shillings a yard to gain access to the water main. The pipe was then cut and a hemp rope floated down the pipe to the next cutting 300 yards away. To the end of the hemp rope was attached a steel rope with a scraper which was pulled along the pipe to clean it.

It was a New Year's blind date with Nancy O'Rourke, daughter of local harness maker Paddy O'Rourke of Stanhope Street which was to lead to their marriage on the 11th of February 1953. Paddy left Athy when the Modubeigh contract finished but returned finally to live permanently in Athy in 1955. A period with Bord na Mona was soon followed by a 21 year stint in the Wallboard factory where he worked with Mick Doody in the boiler room.

He remembers with particular affection the camaraderie of the early days in the Wallboard factory with the likes of Charlie Holohan, William "Belgium" Cranny, Tom Murphy of Maganey and Jim Keeffe of Ardreigh. The Wallboard Company had been incorporated in 1939 but due to the intervention of the Second World War the necessary machinery could not be imported and the factory did not open until April 1949. The night before the factory went into production 1,700 tonnes of baled straw stored within yards of the factory buildings were destroyed by a fire which was subsequently the subject of a malicious damage claim.

When "The Wallboard", as it was generally known in Athy, closed down in 1977 Paddy joined Peerless Rugs from where he was to later become a member of the outdoor staff of Athy Urban District Council. He finally retired in 1990 and is now as busy as ever with his involvement in a number of local voluntary organisations.

Paddy's involvement in the promotion of the Irish language is inspired by his deep affection for the language he learned as a young boy in the Ring Gaeltact of Co. Waterford. It is no surprise then to find that he was one of the principle promoters of the Gaelic League in Athy during the 1950's and 1960's when the efforts of Maisie Candy, Dorothy Mullan, Peadar O'Murchu, Mick Kelleher, Kevin Meaney and others obtained sixth place for Athy in the Glor na nGael Competition in the under 10,000 population category. Paddy received a cheque from President Hilary on behalf of the Athy Committee, an event which is recorded in the photograph which has pride of place on his sitting room wall.

Paddy also founded the Padraig Pearse Commemmoration Committee in Athy along with Paddy Dooley who was a former pupil of St. Enda's School in Dublin. It was one of the last Na Pearsaig Clubs in the country and I was reminded by Paddy that I had presented to the Committee some years ago a Cup in memory of the late Sean MacFheorois for a competition between the local schools.

Paddy is also involved with many good causes in or around Athy including the Care of the Elderly Committee of which he has been Vice-Chairman for a number of years. He revived the Athy Dog Show in or about 1971 and it still continues each year as a very successful feature. About 10 years ago with Eileen Goulding he founded a local branch of the Guide Dogs Association and arranges their Annual Walk and Flagday each year to provide much needed financial support for the association.

To Paddy I leave the final word in an Irish poem he composed quite recently which amply demonstrates his affection for his adopted town of Athy.

"Nac aoibhinn mo Shaol deire an lae,
Is an ghrian ag dul faoi um thrathnona
Nil scamall so speir no scail ar mo chroi
Is me suite cois na Bearra ag iascaireacht.
Ta aoibhneas ann seachas ait ar domhan
An Moinin is an bearra ag meascadh le cheile
Is na cnoca glasa go geal is go neata
Cuilleoga Mheithimh i mbarr an uisce
Is breaic ag eiri chun feasta,
Is molaim Tu a Dhia mar thug Tu duinn Ath I
An Bhearra, Tobararra is an Moinin."