Thursday, November 30, 2000

Flu Epidemic 1919 - Late Noel Finn

The flu knocked me for six over the Christmas break but mercifully modern medical science came to my rescue allowing me to enjoy the festivities. How different it was when the flu epidemic struck Ireland in 1918 while the First World War was still raging. I was reminded of this while going through back issues of the Irish Independent for the last years of the Great War where daily accounts were given of the fatalities resulting from the flu. Entire families were wiped out and soldiers who had miraculously survived the War succumbed to the dreadful disease for which there was then no known cure. The daily newspapers referred to the flu epidemic which first started in Belfast, as a plague, and cautioned its readers to take the following precautions.
“Don’t use public telephones. If fairly young and strong ride outside rather than inside trams. Don’t get wet feet - if you do, walk home, if possible, to avoid packed conveyances. Wear warm loose woollen clothing. Drink hot milk or lemonade when going to bed.”

Such was the state of medical knowledge just over eighty years ago. Another report which caught my eye was in the Irish Independent of Tuesday, 3rd December 1918.
“The first cases that Dr. T.J. Browne, Medical Inspector to the Local Government Board met outside Belfast were in Athy about the end of July when workmen who had gone there from Belfast were stricken with the disease which the doctors thought was typhus fever.”

Athy suffered great loss of life during the flu epidemic of 1918 and the flu vaccine which was even then being tested came too late to save many people. Indeed Dr. Brown, the Local Government Board Medical Inspector made a point of declaring that “the vaccine treatment was as yet more or less in the experimental stage and it was hardly proper for the Local Government Board to recommend it.”

In November 1918 the local Urban District Council asked the Board of Guardians who had charge of the local Poorhouse to engage more nurses to attend to the sick poor during the influenza epidemic. At the same time the Councillors extended thanks on behalf of the townspeople to Miss M. Murphy, Emily Square and Miss Brigid Darby of Leinster Street for “their unselfish attention bestowed without hope of monetary reward and irrespective of class or creed on our afflicted townspeople during the present terrible epidemic.” It would appear that the two good ladies were instrumental in forming a “Committee of Ladies to the Sufferers from the Influenza Epidemic in the town” whose members visited the poor people and provided them with food and drink. Amongst those who died in Athy at that time was Thomas Keating, a native of Kilcarroll, Kilrush in Co. Clare who was employed as a Customs Officer in the town. I am uncertain as to why customs officials were based in Athy but whatever it was, it indicated a level of commercial activity to which we have not been accustomed for some time. What about the workmen who came from Belfast to Athy in 1918? I surmise but perhaps incorrectly that they were engaged in the building of the Wolfhill Railway Line.

Another man whose links with Athy are unclear was John Roache, a Private in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Some years ago a medal won by Private J. Roache for the D. Company Hockey League in 1911 was found in the back garden of a house in Pairc Bhride. John Roache won the medal while his Battalion was stationed in India where it had gone in January 1910. The Dublin Fusiliers remained there until they were brought back to bolster the British Expeditionary Force in France during World War I. The Battalion arrived back in Plymouth Harbour just four days before Christmas 1914. John Roache, Regimental Number 9070 was killed in action in France on 1st March, 1917. The Irish War Memorial records state that he was born in Dublin and I cannot find any connection with Athy to explain why his hockey medal was found in a local back garden some years ago. Can anyone help to throw some light on Private John Roache and his connections, if any, with Athy?

Just before Christmas I attended the funeral in Naas of Noel Finn, a retired local Government official who was the first of many superiors I worked under during the first half of my working life. I was a scrawny red-haired brass-necked youngster fresh out of school when I presented myself in January 1961 at the County Council offices located in what was the former Fever Hospital in Naas. I can still recall that first day when I was brought into the County Secretary’s general office and given a few welcoming words by the then County Secretary Johnny Mullaney before starting my first task. It was, would you believe, to repair to the boiler house and there to rummage through a few sacks of envelopes in a vain search for a postal order which was apparently missing from a letter. I can’t recall if I managed to find the elusive postal order but I certainly earned my keep that day.

Thereafter I was assigned to the Health Section which was under the control of Noel Finn, the youngest staff officer in the Council at a time when staff officerships were seldom in the offering. Indeed the total compliment of staff officers in the County Council at that time was three, Jimmy Tully and John Miley being the other two.

Noel Finn was a superb public official, a man blessed with intelligence allied with energy and enthusiasm which he brought whole-heartedly to bear on his job. He was kind and considerate to his staff and well I remember the way in which he sought to pass on his knowledge and experience to me as the youngest member of his team. In those days medical cards (we remember them as blue cards - why I don’t know) were a very important part of family support at a time when many earned incomes as well as welfare benefits bordered, more than they do now, on the poverty line. Noel had to recommend to the County Manager whether Medical Card Applications should be granted or refused and although the final decision was the County Managers, the Staff Officers recommendation was invariably followed. Noel went through each of the Applications with a thoroughness and a fairness which impressed me as I stood alongside his desk while he explained to me in each case the basis of his recommendations. This was his way of training a young clerical officer who even then had little hope of aspiring to the rank of Staff Officer.

Later on when Pat Herity and myself took ourselves off each night to attend night classes in Earlsfort Terrace, Noel was on most nights a fellow passenger in the Volkswagen Beetle which shuttled us between Naas and Dublin. Noel was then stepping out with his future wife Nancy. After I left the Local Government service I met Noel at various meetings over the years and always saw in him the same energy and enthusiasm I first noticed all those years ago. He was a superb Local Government official, who recognised the importance of public service in the life of local communities and who always sought to use his experience and knowledge for the benefit of the people he served. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, November 23, 2000

John Henry's History of Athy

During the years of the Great Famine John Henry, a citizen of Athy, began to write his history of the town which he called Athy and its Recollections. An extract from his history appeared in the local newspaper The Eastern County’s Herald on St. Patrick’s Day 1849. His manuscript which he subsequently presented to the Duke of Leinster makes for interesting reading, even if some of his claims for the medieval town cannot be substantiated.

The following extract relating to the castle and bridge of Athy are from Henry’s manuscript.

“The castle never appears to have been an extensive building, one square tower, with the usual out works was found sufficient to command the bridge, for which purpose it was evidently erected, but by whom there are now no means of ascertaining. It may however be reasonably concluded that it was built about the time of the first bridge, and that it underwent alterations and improvements from time to time, suitable to the advanced state of military science, and to the taste or necessities of the parties who successively occupied it. Its position will at once discountenance the supposition that it was erected at an early period to protect the town, and it is equally improbable that it was built to command the ford. Such structures were very rarely used for purposes of the kind, and would be almost unnecessary at the ford of Athy, because Ardreigh, Dunbrin and Maganey fords lay only a little to the southward, and Barrowford, Shrowland and Bertfords within the short distance to the north, none of which were defended by a castle, although they were nearly as available to be passed as that of Athy. There was no ford at Woodstock, for the river there must have always formed a deep pool, on the margin of which the Castle of Woodstock was built, for the sake of the additional security such a position afforded.

From a careful examination of the materials available for enquiry, it is pretty certain that the first bridge was built by either or both of the religious houses, long established on each bank of the river. As an instance that this was the practice of such community, Maurice Jakes, a Cannon of Kildare, erected the bridge of Kilcullen, St. Wolstans and Leighlin. The tolls or duties however as pontage, payable by the passengers, formed a considerable part of the revenue of those establishments in latter years, and the religious authority of the brotherhood was a sufficient protection from violence until the rivalry of parties introduced licentiousness, and a thirst for reprisals and bloodshed that had small respect for any law or religion whatever. When interest was to be served or vengeance satiated, under those circumstances a Military defence was called for, and accordingly the Castle was built and successively strengthened as occasion required. The letter already quoted, having reference to Lord Furnival, mentions the erection of a “New Tower” for a ward to Athy bridge, with a great fortification about the same for resistance of enemies, “by which bridge” it is said “your faithful lieges were often times preyed and killed”.

Maurice, the fourth Earl of Kildare, attended Edward III at the Siege of Calais, and was knighted for his valour on the occasion by that monarch, who afterwards in 1350 appointed him to the Government of Ireland at a salary of £500 a year. This Earl had great experience in military affairs on the continent and in England, and when appointed Governor of Ireland, his knowledge was of the greatest importance in strengthening the defences of the Pale, and from him the Castle of Athy may be said to have first received anything like the appearance of a regular fortification.

It is very probable also that it was about this time it received the name of the White Castle, perhaps in contradistinction to the Black Castle, which, as already stated stood near the present site of the Reverend John Lawlers residence, or, as the Black Castle was for a long time in the possession of the Knights Hospitallers, a half religious, and half military order, it is not unlikely. Neither is it unsupported by some authority, that from the circumstance of the usual costume of those Knights being black, the Castle received its name, and for the same reason, the White Castle might be so called from the colour of the livery worn by the retainers of the Earl of Kildare. From authentic records, it is known that Gerald, the fifth Earl built a castle at Leighlin Bridge in 1408, which was named the White Castle, another building which previously existed being called, as in Athy, the Black Castle.

About eighty years ago, the fragment of a stone bearing a certain inscription was found in the old mill attached to the Castle. This stone can now be seen in the castle wall, near the former entrance door, and from the inscription on it, a writer in the Anthologia Hibernica, imagined that he had discovered the reason the castle received its present name, and since, in almost all the accounts of this building, this error has been followed.

As has been stated, the stone is but a fragment, and the portion of the inscription remaining scarcely conveys any sense, but admitting that it does record the setting of that stone by William White at the repairing of the Castle in 1575, it surely cannot be contended that the Castle received its name from this William White, when it was known as the White Castle for upwards of two hundred years before, and subsequently in the charter granted by James I to Athy, the Castle is correctly called the White Castle and not Whites Castle. The writer in the Anthologia Hibernica alluded to was a Mr. William Beauford who was a schoolmaster of no ordinary abilities residing in Carlow at one time, but afterwards a creditable inhabitant of Athy, where he also was the principal of a highly respectable school.

Although possessed of great versatility of talent, he appears to have held erroneous opinions of the ancient history of Ireland and its antiquities. To establish a favourite hypothesis he has sometimes been known to adopt a process of etymological investigation unparalleled in the annals of antiquarian research of which his translation of the inscription on the stone in question, is a thoughtless and glaring instance.”

Obviously local historians, of whatever age, were like politicians, never assured of acceptance by their own colleagues. I wonder what someone will say of me in 60 years time!

Thursday, November 16, 2000

Some Past Pupils Get Together - Late Paddy Flanagan

I had a surprise visitor last Sunday evening. He had travelled all the way from Beijing in China and yet looked as un-Chinese as you might expect of someone who had spent his school days in the Christian Brothers school in Athy. My visitor was Seamus Ryan, now a Doctor in charge of a Medical Centre in China’s capital, in which city he has been a resident for a number of years. We have kept in touch in recent years through the extraordinary agency of the internet. Indeed the genius of the system allows one to communicate at once with several persons, all receiving the same message with the press of a button. So it is that Seamus Ryan in China and Mike Robinson in Australia can be kept up-to-date with the local Athy news. It all depends however on their old school mate raising his energy levels to a sufficient height to make use of the latest electronic wizardry.

Unexpected as it was, Seamus Ryan’s visit presented an opportunity for a get-together with some of his old school friends which was speedily arranged. Later that Sunday night eight former pupils of the St. John’s Lane Academy of Excellence met to renew acquaintances and chin-wag their way through years of absence. George Robinson travelled from Athlone at short notice to attend and journeyed back there later that same night to prepare for a journey the following morning to Galway. George, as ever, was in scintillating form, reminding us of many forgotten episodes in our school lives which ended forty years ago. On such occasions the ageing youths of yesteryear belie their age and life experiences and indulge in youthful dreams of what seems like another age.

Times have certainly changed since as young lads we bounded up the metal stairs of the Christian Brothers School in St. John’s Lane to take our place behind the school benches which even then carried the crudely carved marks of generations long gone to their maker. It was indeed an old school with a history stretching back to 1862 when the Christian Brothers first arrived in Athy.

Last Sunday night as eight past pupils gathered for a chat and a drink the talk was of what seemed like another age. We talked of Brother Brett, noted without any dissenting voice as a gentleman and his colleague Brother Kehoe, better known to all his pupils as Johnny Boris. How or where he got the name I do not know but Boris [now long dead] still raises controversy amongst his former pupils.

We could all recall the horrific beatings which three of our school mates received at his hands during our secondary school days. Nowadays such physical beatings would merit possible legal action but in those days, now over forty years ago, little was thought of the sometimes ritual head-banging and leather slapping antics of school teachers. It is remarkable how incidents such as these had different effects on the young onlookers of the time, some of whom still feel, after so many years, a revulsion which finds expression in the condemnation of such callous behaviour. Others regard the occasional brutality of those days as a symptom of the times in which we lived and push the unpleasantness to the backs of minds where it remains submerged by the good memories.

No such condemnation was aired in relation to the two lay teachers who during the second half of the 1950’s laboured sometimes in vain to inculcate a modicum of learning into our unreceptive minds. Bill Ryan whom we had as a teacher for our entire secondary school life and Bill Riordan, our teacher for a few short years, were and still are, fondly recalled and remembered. Bill Ryan was a particularly good teacher who shared his experiences and his knowledge in a way and a manner which engaged his youthful charges. Thus encouraged they worked harder at his subjects than any others and in some cases maintained a life-long interest in the subjects which Bill Ryan taught with such success.

When we came together on Sunday night it was as a bunch of young fellows clothed in the garb of middle-aged men and burdened with the accumulated knowledge of 57 years. Pat Flinter, Ted Wynne and Teddy Kelly see much of each other every week day, working as they do within the confines of the Tegral industrial complex. Billy Browne and Frank English are two more of the locals who never left their home town, unlike Seamus Ryan, George Robinson and even myself who spent 20 years out of Athy in the 1960’s and 1970’s. We hadn’t previously got together in this way and Seamus Ryan’s unexpected visit gave us both the opportunity and the reason to indulge ourselves.

I marvel at the ability of some of my school pals to recall names and events of over 40 years ago with unerring accuracy. It is when faced with the encyclopaedic knowledge of local life and lore by somebody like Teddy Kelly that I wonder how it is that I ever get the courage to write of times past, especially when there are so many events and people I cannot remember any longer. One man whom I do remember passed away last week. He was Paddy Flanagan, a great cyclist and a native of County Kildare who was my first sporting hero. I can still recall the excitement experienced as I read in the late 1950’s of Paddy’s exploits in Ras Tailteann. He excelled at his sport at a time when sporting heroes were scarce enough and Irish sporting heroes virtually unheard of. In those pre-television days sporting excellence received its quota of coverage within the pages of the National newspapers and the Irish Independent was then my eyeglass on the world of sport. Nothing else interested me in the Newspapers those days other than the sport pages and for many summers the name of Paddy Flanagan and his brother were writ large on those same pages. Paddy was a Kildare man and gave us a pride in the County at a time when the sporting pages of the National Press had little cause to extol the achievements of the County footballers.

How sad to think that he passed away at such a relatively young age. Paddy Flanagan will always be, for me, one of the great sporting heroes of my schooldays.

When the school pals of 40 years ago broke up on Monday morning it was with the promise to have a class reunion next year with as many of our class mates as can be gathered together from all corners of the world. The Christian Brothers’ boys have still more stories to share and enjoy.

Thursday, November 9, 2000

Handbook for Travellers in Ireland 1878

I have always been fascinated by old guide books and enjoy the opportunity to read what travellers to this part of the country have to say about our area. One such book I bought recently was an 1878 edition of Handbook for Travellers in Ireland published by John Murray of London. In the preface to that book we are advised that it was based “in great part on personal visits and research made by the editor on the spot in order or render it as trustworthy as possible”. The editor’s subsequent faint praise for the inn-keepers of Ireland of 125 years ago is circumscribed with an admonishment that “if facilities for travelling in Ireland were greater and more attention were paid to order and cleanliness by the Irish Inn-keeper he would have a fair chance of diverting into that beautiful Ireland a large portion of the tourist flood which now streams for the continent.”

Irish Railways described in the book as “by no means luxurious” were stated to have carriages which were antiquated and occasionally ragged. The railway stations themselves were regarded as even more primitive than the carriages, and the Station Masters and their assistants throughout provincial Ireland were regarded as “curiously unsophisticated although imbued with genuine civility and eagerness to render the best possible service.”

Where the railways had not yet penetrated, transport was provided by coaches or public cars. Here the editor offered advice to his readers as to how best to travel on an Irish outside car.
“Ascertain which way the wind is blowing, if the weather is cold or likely to be bad and choose your side accordingly … Aprons are provided in the car, at the same time a private waterproof apron is a great convenience and added to which the traveller should obtain a strap by which he can buckle himself to the seat during night journeys and thus go safely to sleep without fear of being jerked forward”.

Irish Hotels with some exceptions were regarded as inferior to those of England, Scotland or the continent. One of the features of most Irish Hotels, even in the 1870’s, was the exaulted position occupied by “the boots”. He generally was to be found in provincial town hotels, and almost always was a native of the district who could direct you to all the best eating and drinking houses within the area. The broken bells, ragged wallpaper and carpets and ruptured sofa cushions were even in the most inferior of hotels, or so the editor would have us believe, accompanied by substantial good food, reasonably clean sleeping accommodation and always with good humoured civility and attention.

When travelling by the Great Southern and Western Railway from Dublin to Kilkenny the intrepid travellers passed by, as they approached Athy, the large mansion known as Bert Hall (as it was then styled). The land around Kilberry was described as “low, wet and boggy” and by all accounts was lying very little above the levels of the River Barrow. A description of Athy in the 1870’s as noted in this English publication will be of interest to modern day readers.
“It was in early times a place of importance as a neutral ground between the territories of Leix and Caellan, which as a matter of course were always at desperate feud, and struggled hard with each other for possession of Athy or Ath-legar, ‘the ford towards the west.’ Subsequent to the English invasion the Lords Justices regarded it with equal jealousy, from its being on the frontier of the Kildare Marches, and a castle, now called White’s Castle, was accordingly erected for its defence by Fitzgerald Earl of Kildare, at the commencement of the 14th century. It is a massive rectangular and embattled building, flanked at each corner by a small square turret, and overlooks the bridge that crosses the Barrow. This bridge bears the curious name of Crom-aboo, from the ancient war-cry of the Fitzgeralds, and is in itself worth notice. A little distance to the North of the town by the river-side is another square fortress, called Woodstock Castle, which, although usually ascribed to the Earl of Pembroke, is considered, with more probability, to have been built in the 13th century by an Earl of Kildare, who received the manor of Woodstock by marriage with the daughter of O’Moore of Leix. It is remarkable for the thickness of its walls, its square mullioned windows, and a round-headed gateway adjoining the tower. Formerly a monastery existed for Crouched Friars and another for Dominicans, both established in the 13th century. There are also the remains of Preston’s Gate leading into the town. Athy is a well-built little place, and is, jointly with Naas, the assize town of Co. Kildare. Its situation in the middle of a rich plain, together with facilities of water and land carriage, commands for it a large agricultural business.

A branch of the Grand Canal from Monasterevan here joins the Barrow, forming the commencement of the Barrow navigation, by which water communication is maintained between Athy, Carlow, Bagenalstown, Borris, New Ross, and the sea.

Kilberry is 3 miles to the North, between the railway and the river, and near Lord Downes’ seat at Bert. On this spot 2 strong castles and an abbey formerly stood, of the latter of which there are slight ruins; and on the other side of the river is Rheban Castle (Righ-ban), “the House of the King,” one of the fortresses of Richard de St. Michael (the same who founded the monastery for Crouched Friars in Athy). But it is probably that he only enlarged or rebuilt it, as not only the name appears to be of an early date, but it is even mentioned by Ptolemy as an inland town of some note.

The Moat of Ardscull, 3½ miles on the road to Kilcullen, is a high mound (now planted), supposed to have been raised to commemorate a desperate battle in the 3rd century between the men of S. Leinster and those of Munster. About 2 miles to the East, by a cross-road, is another historical spot, the Rath of Mullaghmast (Mullach-Maistean, Ir. ‘the Hill of Decapitation’). It was formerly known as ‘the Carmen,’ where, on 16 conical mounds, many of the elders of the province of Leinster held their councils; but it derived its other name in consequence of the act of some English adventurers in the 16th century, who, being resisted in their encroachments by some of the Irish chieftains, invited the latter to a conference on New Year’s Day, fell upon them unawares, and slew them. In consequence of the anathematization of Carmen the place of assembly was removed to the rath at Naas. Visible in the West is the tower of Inch Castle, one of King John’s fortresses, which was the locale of a severe engagement in 1642 between the armies of Ormond and Mountgarrett.”

The visitor today could without difficulty retrace the steps of his predecessor of 175 years ago using the same guide book. The only differences noticeable today arise from the since destroyed mullioned windows of Woodstock Castle and the round-headed gateway of the same Castle removed, as was Preston’s Gate. The stones taken from these medieval buildings were presumably used for building purposes elsewhere in the town.

Thursday, November 2, 2000

Book Launch

I was overwhelmed by the response to the book launch last Thursday. There was such a large attendance, I was afraid the library authorities might ban similar events from using their facilities again. Thanks to everybody who attended on the night. It was for me a memorable occasion made even more memorable by the people who came out in support. It all goes to prove that there is enormous interest in local history. This interest is growing all the time and in the case of Athy, no doubt indicates a growing sense of civic pride in the town which has taken a number of knocks over the years.

It was while looking through the book that I realised how many of the good people I had interviewed in the early years of Eye on the Past have passed away. Paddy Keenan, a delightful man, Brother Brett, a generous teacher and Sean MacFheorais, gaelic poet and brother of Joe Bermingham were some of the people who appeared in the early articles. Hester May, that wonderful old lady who had packed into her early life associations with the men and women who across the stage of Irish, Rebellion and Politics was another. Stephen Bolger and Tosh Doyle were two local men who lived into old age and shared with me their experiences of life in Athy of years gone by. So too did Mary Carr of Quarry Farm who lived for a while in the gate lodge of the house where I am now writing this piece. Jack MacKenna, father of John who launched the book last week was the subject of an Eye on the Past when he recounted for me many of the forgotten stories of Republican activity in South Kildare during the War of Independence. Jack Kelly, musician and Jack Murphy a worker from the halycon days of Duthie Larges spoke to me of the lives of the Athy people they grew up with and knew so many years ago. Michael Moore, shop keeper and bee enthusiast, provided me with another insight into the towns past with his detailed knowledge of the early years of the South Kildare Beekeepers Association. Finally there was Julia Mahon whom I did not interview but wrote about after she passed away. Julia was the touchstone for many local Athy people and embodying as she did so much of what it is that makes Athy not only a place in which we all live out our lives but also the place which embraces and nurtures our hopes and our ambitions. Athy is our place and as John MacKenna said in his eloquent and much appreciated launch address, “all lives are of consequence - and poverty and anonymity, a rural way of life or indeed a quietness does not amount to a lack of consequence”.

The first article in the new book was on the Sisters of Mercy and I was delighted to meet during the night of the launch several members of the local Sisters of Mercy Community. I suppose the word “community” is still appropriate despite the emergence from the Convent life of the Sisters of Mercy who now live within the community they served for so long. Sister Paul was not able to be at the launch and sent me a letter beforehand with her good wishes as did Sr. Dominic of St. Vincent’s. It’s quite extraordinary the affection with which the Sisters of Mercy are held by the local people but indeed it is quite understandable why it should be so. Lives devoted to the service of a local people over generations creates its own reservoir of gratitude and the people of Athy have never, and will never, forget the debt owed to the Sisters of Mercy.

For the second time, Noreen Ryan and Georgina O’Neill attended the book launch. On the first occasion, the doors of the Town Hall stoutly resisted their attempts to enter but neither Noreen or Georgina were to know that the launch first scheduled for last September had been postponed. It was good to see both of them back again in company with so many others of their generation whose love for and knowledge of the town and its people is founded on long lives spent in the South Kildare town on the Marches of Kildare.

Derek Tynan, son of the former owner of the Leinster Arms Hotel and now one of the leading Architects in this country was a surprise attender. His mother is living in Beechgrove and in the past kindly sent me on some details of a local involvement in the design of the badge for the Garda Siochana. The sharing of information is an essential element of piecing together the towns story and a recent example of that was the kind lady who brought to my attention the forgotten story of “The Knights of the Plough”. If you knew anything about this organisation founded by a local man nearly sixty years ago, I would welcome hearing from you. And incidentally, it was not J. J. Bergin the founder of the Ploughing Association who set up the Knights of the Plough.

During the Book Launch, an unexpected surprise was the presentation made by Tommy Keegan. I have to say that Tommy’s kind gesture was a remarkable display of friendship and generosity and one which I much appreciated. The Master of Ceremony for the night was a man who has taken over the mantle of the late M.G. Nolan and with whom I have shared many experiences over the last forty years. Frank English was himself the subject of an Eye on the Past in December 1993 when his colleagues on the local Urban Council celebrated his 26 years on that Council. Since then, he has clocked up another seven years making his tenure one which threatens to surpass the record of Thomas Plewman who was a Town Commissioner and later an Urban Councillor between 1866 and 1920. Only another 21 years to go Frank!. Frank’s kind words on the night were much appreciated and I particularly liked the story of the Athy man returning to Australia who asked for the Nationalist to be sent to them so they could read “Taaffe’s Article”.

Fiona and Liam Rainsford of Data Print deserve special thanks for their courteous help in bringing out the book. They have done a good job and I am particularly pleased that a local printer has been involved in producing this book of local reminiscences. Shaw’s sponsored the wine reception and as one of the oldest businesses in Athy, it was appropriate, yet generous of them to be associated with the venture in this way.

So many people helped in so many ways over the years that inevitably I could not hope to name all of them in this short piece. Suffice to say that I thank everyone who has contributed in any way to the Eye on the Past articles and to the subsequent book, Eye on Athy’s Past. I will leave the last word to John MacKenna, the local writer whose talents have earned him an audience beyond the confines of the County and whose eloquent speech at the Book Launch was as ever generous and kind.

“The lives recovered and recounted in the book are the lives of ordinary people. Sometimes that phrase is thrown around as though the ordinary couldn’t possibly be of significance. But as this book proves --- everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has a sorrow to bear or a joy to celebrate”.

I hope that together we can continue to give voice to the lives of the local people for many years to come.