Thursday, December 28, 2000

Sr. Angela and Sr. Paul

In the cold of a dark January evening, we walked behind the coffined remains of Sr. Angela as the hearse wound its way down Church Road on the first stage of its journey to the Parish Church. A community’s shame was in some measure erased by the coming together of so many local men and women to pay tribute to one of their own who 46 years ago joined the Sisters of Mercy. For shame it was we felt when we heard of the dastardly deed which culminated in the sudden death of Sr. Angela. Born Maudie Flanagan in Rathangan in 1926, her parents were Richard Flanagan, a native of Stanhope Street, Athy and Mary Cahill, a nurse from Tramore in County Waterford. Richard was former Master of the Athy Union and as such had been in charge of the Poorhouse which was opened in Athy on the 9th January 1844 as part of the Poor Law system established under the Irish Poor Relief Act of 1838. Bridie, Attracta, Dickie and Eileen Flanagan were born in the Masters quarters before Richard Flanagan left Athy to take up employment in Rathangan in or about 1924. Four more members of the family were born in Rathangan, Maudie, Angela, Danny and Tessie. In 1931, the Flanagan family returned to Athy on being appointed tenants of a new house in St. Patrick’s Avenue which had just been built by D. & J. Carbery Limited for Athy Urban District Council.

Maudie, after completing her schooling with the Sisters of Mercy in Athy took up a nursing career and qualified in Bedford Royal Infirmary, England. She later returned to Ireland to gain further qualifications and experience in Peamount Hospital and in September 1955, she entered the religious life as a postulant in the Convent of Mercy, Athy. Her first profession took place in April 1958 and as Sr. Angela, she continued her work as a Sister of Mercy and as a nursing sister in St. Vincent’s Hospital until she retired in 1991. During her 36 years in St. Vincent’s Hospital she tended, as did her colleagues, to the sick, the infirm and the elderly.

In those few sentences are encapsulated the life and career of Sr. Angela, a member of the congregation of the Sisters of Mercy which has served the town of Athy and several generations of its people since the first Sisters of Mercy arrived here in 1851. Then their primary mission was to provide an education for young Catholic children just 22 years after the granting of the Act of Catholic Emancipation. It was a mission the Sisters of Mercy would continue to pursue long after the Irish State had developed an educational policy and structures geared to the needs and aspirations of the Irish people. It was but one of the many roles undertaken by the Sisters of Mercy in the intervening 150 years. Their stewardship of the County Home now St. Vincent’s Hospital was one of those new roles. In the 1870’s when there were no nurses employed in the workhouse, the Sisters began to visit patients in the Workhouse Infirmary on Sunday afternoons. Before long, the Board of Guardians made a request to the Superioress of the local Convent for nuns to take over responsibility for the Infirmary. This they did and in time the position of Matron was to be held by successive members of the Sisters of Mercy and most recently by Sr. Dominic and Sr. Peig.

But the legacy of the Sisters of Mercy is to be found not only in the primary and secondary schools of our town or in St. Vincent’s Hospital. It is to be seen also in the women, who as young girls were educated in St. Michael’s National School or St. Mary’s Secondary School. The well spring of affection for the Sisters of Mercy is based on experiences born in the classrooms of yesteryear and those who experienced the guiding hand of the good Sisters can never forget their kindness.

The Missionary spirit of the Sisters of Mercy, freed in recent years from the straight jacket of rules largely devised in the previous century, allowed members of the local Convent to become actively involved in other areas of charitable work. The local Wheelchair Association owes much to the dynamism of Sr. Carmel while the Travellers Club is forever indebted to Sr. Rosarii. The Youth Clubs were grateful for the involvement of Sr. Joseph and Sr. Carmel O’Leary while the courage and foresight of Sr. Consilio in her work for alcohol and drug addiction is widely acknowledged. These are just some of the many ways in which the local Sisters of Mercy continued to contribute to the well-being of local community here in Athy.

Last week as we walked behind the remains of Sr. Angela we were not to know that within days we would re-trace our steps to follow the remains of Sr. Paul. One of three Cosgrave sisters from Co. Galway who entered the religious life in the local Convent of Mercy Sr. Paul was a well-loved member of the Mercy congregation. She taught in St. Mary’s Secondary school until she retired 20 years ago and for many years was an active member of Athy’s Art Group. She was pre-deceased by her own family members, Sr. Rose and Sr. Xavier.

The loss of two members of the Mercy Sisters within the same week has been a sad blow for the local community. Last year saw the Convent of Mercy close for the last time as the aging community of nuns left to take up a new life living amongst the local people of which they had been a part for so many years. Last week a parting hymn, Salve Regina, was sung for the second time within a few days at the graveside in St. Michael’s new cemetery. Those of us who stood in silence nearer to the wall separating the cemetery from the Glebe lands of an earlier age could not but realise that an era in which the Sisters of Mercy had paid a prominent part is slowly but inexorably coming to an end.

Thursday, December 21, 2000

Teddy Kelly

Last week, work colleagues of Teddy Kelly gathered in the offices of Athy’s second oldest industry to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of his joining the firm. Forty years ago it was Asbestos Cement Limited and the biggest employer in Athy, today, Tegral Building Products has a smaller but still very substantial workforce. I was slightly taken aback to learn that my friend Teddy had 40 years work experience under his belt until I realised with some astonishment that I myself had achieved the same milestone the previous week.

Teddy and I were pals from the time we were in short trousers. We both lived in Offaly Street at the time when vehicular traffic was minimal and presented no danger to young fellows who used the road as a playground. I can remember playing football with Teddy and others up and down Offaly Street without posing any difficulty for anyone, pedestrian or otherwise. Our watchful eyes were on the approach of the local Gardai in the form of either of our fathers or the St. Patrick’s Avenue contingent of Gardai on their way home for dinner. Football was not our only activity on the local Street. Pellet guns figure prominently in my memory of those days, especially on one occasion when I stood at Tuohy’s door facing Leopold Kelly who from Tom McHugh’s front door on the far side of the street took aim and fired a pellet gun at me. My left ear, for it was there I was hit, confirmed that indeed, the pellet gun was loaded and my earlier confident claim “I betcha its not loaded” seemed then so far off the mark, unlike Leopold’s assured aim.

Leopold Kelly later to be ordained a priest and to die tragically so young, was the leader of the Offaly Street gang and here I use the word “gang” not in any criminal sense but to describe a group of innocent fun loving ragamuffins whose lives revolved around each other. Teddy Kelly, Willie Moore, Tom Webster, Basil White and myself were the core group of the gang which in its more generous moods allowed the youngsters, Mickey Moore and Seamus Taaffe to tag along with us. I don’t think either of them were involved in the battle of Offaly Street when we defended our home base against an incursion from a group (from where I cannot now recall) who attacked us with well aimed stones. I still vividly recall that afternoon when with every conceivable size of stone, we pelted our assailants and they responded, both groups facing each other from opposite end of Offaly Street. There was a similar battle on the Crib Road (Church Road) near Dr. Kilbride’s, (now Dr. O’Neill’s) where the stones flew back and forth and Basil White ended up with a split head. The large lime trees which were then growing at either side of the Crib Road afforded cover for the combatents but proved inadequate for the luckless Basil White.

When I look back on those occasions, I wonder how we ever escaped with life and limb intact or indeed how we even managed to escape the critical notice of parents and adults generally. If the same thing happened today in Offaly Street or Church Road, the riot squad would be called and all the protagonists would end up in Court on assault charges and public order offences. Luckily enough, neither Teddy’s career or my own were blighted by our exuberant and combatitive attitude to life in our younger days.

Youthful energies in so far as Teddy Kelly and myself were concerned did not limit us to potential breaches of the common law in relation to assaults but also saw us stretching our credibility as law abiding citizens with our penchant for robbing local orchards. The glorious harvest of fruit always arrived just in time to banish the back to school blues which descended on us youngsters when after almost three months of summer freedom found ourselves corralled for another term of school lessons.

Sylvester’s Orchard at the end of Butler’s Row was our favourite target. The lush green undergrowth which marked years of neglect provided the perfect backdrop for the aging apple and pear trees which each year provided a fruitful bounty for eager young lads with time and opportunity on their hands. The orchard is now gone having given way to a scheme of Council houses but in the 1950’s was a haven enclosed by high walls. Those same walls provided no match for the agile and nimble team of fruit pickers who worked furtively and with tremendous speed. Not for us the leisurely paced motions of the legitimate fruit pickers in Lambe’s fruit farms. We had self imposed deadlines to meet which required pockets and turned up pullovers to be filled before speedily making our, hopefully unencumbered way, over the high wall at the back of the orchard. If our luck was in, and more often than not it was, the few minutes spent in frantic orchard raiding activity would give us a few hours measured enjoyment of healthy apple crunching. That’s how Teddy Kelly, now forty years in gainful employment spent his young days with his friends from Offaly Street.

He will remember the one occasion Mrs. Sylvester caught the youthful apple thieves in action and the mad scramble which ensued for the one well tracked exit over the high wall. Then it was everyone for himself, and the mad scramble for the wall and the freedom beyond, banished all thoughts of comradeship and togetherness which vanished with the twinkle of an eye or more appropriately with the swish of Mrs. Sylvester’s ash plant. In any event, the only hostage taken that day was the youngest member of the gang, my late brother Seamus who was grabbed by Mrs. Sylvester and duly paraded down Butler’s Row towards number 5 Offaly Street and my mother. Teddy and the rest of the gang by now had travelled as far away as possible from the scene of the crime hoping against hope that the young convict would not tell names. He didn’t have to. The make up of the Offaly Street gang was as well known as “Coy” Moore himself. All was well however, the cowering would be apple stealer was presented to his surprised mother (“surprised that he was caught, not that he was robbing an orchard”) and the traditional punishment was expected. In one of those almost surreal moments reminiscent of a lottery win, it so happened that a visitor from Mayo had arrived that day for a holiday with the result that the lucky young lad escaped all punishment.

Teddy and I were never caught although we came close to it one afternoon when in an unusual excursion well outside our normal territory, we found ourselves in Cyprian Holland’s orchard on the Dublin Road thinning the lush apples on the obviously overburdened fruit trees. We were tossing the results of our labours over the hedge to Tom Webster and Willie Moore who were standing outside on the Dublin Road. Suddenly we heard a roar, the disembodied voice coming from the same roadway “I know you Taaffe and Kelly, come out here immediately”. It was Garda Dunne, not the easiest man to encounter in such circumstances but we did not wait around for a formal introduction. We escaped through the hedge on the opposite side and high tailed it out of there in a panic. Fair dues to the same Garda Dunne, he did not appear to have mentioned our proclivity for apple stealing to our parents as the incident was never again mentioned.

I could go on recounting memories of times shared with Teddy Kelly and my friends in Offaly Street and maybe I will some other day. For the moment, let me wish the not so young former orchard robber and my good friend, Teddy Kelly many more happy years.

Thursday, December 14, 2000

Paddy McEvoy - Greyhound Trainer

Paddy McEvoy’s success with “Daws Dancer” in the 23rd Greyhound Derby at White City London in June 1953 was a unique occasion for both dog and trainer. “Daws Dancer”, not then yet two years old, was the youngest greyhound ever to win the English Derby and its trainer, Athy born Paddy McEvoy was the first County Kildare person to win this most coveted prize in greyhound racing.

The joy of Paddy’s success was shared with his many friends and in the suburbs of Ealing London, Fr. Tommy Doyle, formerly of Woodstock Street and John Blanchfield, formerly of Leinster Street were but two of those who celebrated Paddy’s success. John Blanchfield had a betting shop in Ealing where his brother Christy Blanchfield also worked. The Blanchfield’s sister Bella married Paddy Gibbons of St. Martin’s Terrace whose mother taught Paddy McEvoy to play the piano when he was a young lad and still living in Woodstock Street. Mrs. Gibbons who was a reporter for a local newspaper had two other sons, Frank who later married Josephine Horgan and Joe who died at a young age of TB. Now 83 years of age Paddy McEvoy still recalls how he envied Joe Gibbons who during the summer months lived in a tent in a field next to the present Tegral factory. Paddy was not then to know that Joe’s ill health required him to live in this way in a vain attempt to arrest the onward progress of the deadly TB.

In 1956 Paddy McEvoy had his second winner in an English Derby. By then he was attached to Clapton Stadium in the East End of London where he managed the racing kennels and trained dogs on his own behalf. The 1953 winner of the premier classic was “Dunmore King”. His final career total of three Derby winners was achieved with the success of “Palms Printer” at White City on 21st June, 1961. Paddy had attended dog trials in Shelbourne Park the previous November and bid 250 guineas for a dog which had impressed him in the morning trials. When the dog was withdrawn from sale Paddy contacted its owner Nick Breen of Ferns in Co. Wexford and agreed a price of £400 for Palms Printer to be delivered to him in London. He sold on the dog and successfully brought him through the first four rounds of the English Derby before achieving the satisfaction of winning his third English classic in the space of eight years.

Paddy and his family left London that same year and returned to Athy having bought a shop in Leinster Street. The shop now owned by Tom Jacob was home to the McEvoy family for the next four years and during that time Paddy had breeding kennels and a paddock built at Russellstown on the Dublin road. With the McEvoy family on their return to Ireland was the now retired winner of the 1953 Derby “Daws Dancer”. An affectionate dog, he was particularly fond of children and was apt to wander down town on occasions. Paddy always rewarded with a few sweets the youngsters who brought the Derby winner back to the shop. Only now he wonders if his generosity was in itself an encouragement to the youthful entrepreneurs to entice the over-friendly greyhound away from his base in the expectation of the usual sweet-toothed reward so beloved of youngsters.

In 1965 the shop was sold to Andy Conlon and the McEvoys returned to England, this time Paddy taking the management of Wimbledon Stadium. This was the most prestigious position available in the greyhound racing world, and that same year Paddy trained the winner of the Laurels. It was a success he repeated in 1968 while at the same time winning the Scurry Cup on two occasions. Dogs trained by Paddy McEvoy won many races over the years including the Produce Stakes in Catford but he can never forget his greatest racing disappointment in the same Produce Stakes final. On that occasion Paddy had four dogs in the six-dog final. However, they came in 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th and to this day Paddy cannot understand why the expected victory eluded him. For Paddy, a lifetime spent in breeding and training greyhounds has taught him that a greyhound can only be a good running dog if it is genuine, intelligent and speedy or as the late Pat Mehigan once described a greyhound in his sporting column,
“Head like a snake, neck like a drake,
Back like a beam, side like a bream,
Heart room in plenty allow -
Tail like a rat, feet like a cat,
And breast to the ground like a plough”.

When Paddy finally retired from greyhound racing in May 1993 Wimbledon Stadium Chairman John Cearns made a presentation to him following the last race at Wimbledon that evening calling Athy-born Paddy as “one of greyhound racings greatest trainers”. That same day “Sporting Life” in announcing Paddy’s retirement after 33 years as a greyhound trainer referred to him as “gentle, kind, helpful and a fountain of knowledge, he is one of the world’s leading experts on greyhound breeding with which he has been closely involved throughout his career”.

Paddy and his Australian-born wife Patricia returned to Athy where they continue to live. Their grown-up family of four are all living abroad, Jim, a Computer Consultant in England, Patrick, a dentist in California, Tim, a Company Director in England and Mary, a Public Relations Consultant in California.

The eighty-three year old Paddy has retained a remarkably sharp memory of Athy in the 1930’s. He recalls the times when working on the Curragh he cycled over there and back each day. Mick Johnson of Convent View was then in the Army and like Paddy cycled there each day, calling Paddy, then living in Geraldine, as he passed his house each morning. The young athletic Paddy would invariably catch up with and pass Mick at Booleigh. It was the same athleticism and power which on one occasion permitted Paddy as a young man to cycle to Baldoyle races for afternoon horseracing and from there to Shelbourne Park for an evening dog meeting, leaving for Athy at 10 o’clock at night.

While interviewing Paddy I went through a list of local greyhound owners stretching back over the last 65 years. Without a moment’s hesitation he recalled for me the names of the various dogs owned or trained by those named, indicating important races won and identifying the better dogs involved. I was intrigued to hear his account of Fr. Maurice Browne, who while a curate in Athy in the 1930’s owned a series of greyhounds, all of which he raced under the name “W. Twyford”. The reverend gentleman, later to be Parish Priest in Ballymore-Eustace and author of The Big Sycamore used the nom-de-plume to avoid the critical scrutiny of his Bishop who did not allow his clerics to indulge in such pastimes. The success of Joe Daly’s dog “Cheeky Robin” in the coursing derby in Clonmel was remembered, as was the duo of Nellie Holland and Grace Carty, one a Catholic, the other a Protestant who shared a belief in the efficacy of holy water in improving a dog’s performance in Shelbourne Park.

The stories of dogs, owners and trainers come easily to the man whose working

life revolved around the chasing of the hare and the explosive break from the trap of the noble and graceful greyhound.

Thursday, December 7, 2000

Paddy McEvoy - Greyhound Trainer

To train a winner of the English Greyhound Derby is a mark of greatness within the ranks of those whose sport is greyhound racing. To have done so on three occasions gives one a special place in the pantheon of sporting greats. It is an achievement which today can only be claimed by an Irishman - Athy man Paddy McEvoy, formerly of Woodstock Street and Geraldine Road. Born one year after the Easter Rising of 1916, Paddy, the son of local boatman James McEvoy, known locally as “Valley” McEvoy and his wife Margaret attended the Christian Brothers School in Athy. Classmates of his in the 1920’s included Tony and Des Whelan of Barrowhouse, Frank Carolan of Leinster Street, Tommy Prendergast, the younger brother of Paddy or “Darkie” Prendergast of horse-training fame and Mick Mullery. Now 84 years of age Paddy is living in retirement in Athy with his charming wife Patricia after a lifetime’s involvement in the training and breeding of greyhounds.

Paddy’s great grand-parents were some of the Landsdowne tenantry evicted from their Luggacurran holdings during the evictions in that area of the late 1880’s. Like so many more of those evicted they eventually moved into the town of Athy and lived in the house (now demolished) immediately next to the Catholic Curate’s thatched cottage in Woodstock Street. It was here that Paddy as a very young boy heard gunshots reverberating from the nearby military barracks as the IRA launched an attack during the War of Independence. Another memory from the old days in Athy is the jingle which in the 1920’s and later was part of the folk repertoire of the time.
“Oh Doctor dear Doctor dear Doctor John
Your Cod Liver Oil is so pure and so strong
I’m afraid of my life she’ll go down in the soil
If my wife stops drinking your Cod Liver Oil.

I got her a bottle for her just to try
The way she drank it you’d swear she was dry
I got her another, it vanished the same
Oh how can I ever keep up with this game.”

The doctor in question was Dr. John Kilbride, medical officer of health for Athy who spent four years in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the first World War. He was an energetic man whose concern for the local people was such that his was the prominent voice in promoting the need for better-class houses and improved town water and sewerage facilities in Athy at a time when disease regularly took it’s toll on the local community.

On leaving the Christian Brothers school Paddy joined local building contractors D. & J. Carbery of St. John’s Lane where he was apprenticed to carpenter Mick May who lived at St. Martin’s Terrace. Coincidentally, the Carbery firm had been set up following the eviction of Dan Carbery (Snr.) from his farm holding in Luggacurran at the same time as the McEvoys. On qualifying as a carpenter Paddy joined Mick May to work with a firm in Kildare town and later still joined the Board of Works in the Curragh, finally ending his carpentry career with Bord na Mona.

Paddy’s boyhood friend was Tommy Prendergast, commonly known as “The Red Lad” to distinguish him from his older brother Paddy Prendergast who was called “Darkie”. Tommy’s father was a horse trainer and animals including greyhounds were always part of the young Prendergast boys’ lives. So it was inevitable that the canal worker’s son from Woodstock Street joined his friend Tommy Prendergast in coursing greyhounds in the fields around Prussellstown. Paddy enjoyed the sport and soon acquired an interest in greyhound racing, getting his very first racing dog when as a school-boy he swapped his pet rabbits for a greyhound. Unknown to him his future was now to be intrinsically linked with the training and breeding of greyhounds, one of the most ancient of sporting animals whose association with the ancient Egyptians was noted as far back as 10,000 B.C. But first of all Paddy had to spend some years earning a living as a carpenter, and finally ended up working for Bord na Mona, erecting huts for workers during the Second World War.

Paddy’s record as a trainer officially started in 1938 while he was still employed as a carpenter. His first notable success was with a dog named “Shake Yourself”, previously owned by Sadie Lynch, formerly Sadie Young of Castlemitchell, wife of the local Provincial Bank Manager. The dog which was to be the first of many great greyhounds trained by Paddy McEvoy over the next forty five years, was of a nervous disposition. Paddy decided to breed from the dog and a succession of some brilliant greyhounds resulted. One of the better hounds from the litter was “Negroes Fire”, subsequently owned by Fingletons of Ballinclea which won many races on the track. Both bitch and daughter shared what was then a unique double when both won races on the same night in Harold’s Cross. Paddy’s success as a trainer and breeder did not go unnoticed and one day in 1945 local G.P. Dr. Jeremiah O’Neill brought a Brigadier Murray to Paddy’s house in Geraldine Road. “Would Paddy agree to meet Brigadier Critchley of the Greyhound Racing Association in the Hibernian Hotel in Dublin?” The all-expenses-paid trip to Dublin resulted in a job offer which the young part-time greyhound trainer could not refuse. The Racing Association was to open greyhound breeding kennels in Maudlins, Naas and invited Paddy to be its first manager. It was an offer too good to miss and so Paddy moved from Athy in 1945 to take up full-time employment in the sport to which he had been first drawn as a result of a boyhood friendship with Tommy Prendergast.

The kennels in Maudlins bred many dogs for the English market, but the success expected of many of the better dogs deserted them soon after they went across to England. Paddy was asked to investigate and quickly discovered that the dogs bred and reared in the best conditions possible in Ireland were not properly fed when sent abroad. The matter was soon resolved but Paddy was encouraged by Lord Brabazon and others to bring his skills across the Irish sea and so in 1950 he obtained his Private Trainers Licence and established his kennels at Longcross in Surrey. The next stage of Paddy’s career was about to start. He was not long there before he had his next winner, with the oddly named “Little Isle Cuchalainn”. Within a year he had a runner in the Greyhound Derby Final with “Rapid Choice”. Success, however, eluded him on that occasion but “Rapid Choice” was to provide Paddy with his first big successes in Britain when he won The Key at Wimbledon, the West Ham Summer Stakes and the Wembley Gold Cup, all in the same year. Paddy’s success with “Rapid Choice” was particularly pleasing for him as the dog had been bred by him at the Maudlins Kennels in Naas.

In 1953 the blue riband of greyhound racing was to fall to Paddy McEvoy of Athy when 10-1 chance “Daws Dancer” won the 23rd Greyhound Derby at White City, London. In winning the Derby that year Paddy’s dog emulated the immortal “Mick The Miller” as only the second dog to leave Ireland and win the British Greyhound Derby in the same year. “Mick The Miller” achieved his Derby success in 1929, the third year of the running of that famous race.

Paddy’s McEvoy’s star was now in the ascendancy, but as we shall find out next week, even greater success awaited him in the years ahead.