Thursday, June 13, 2002

Pat Henshaw

I would not have described Pat Henshaw as a veteran protester. But truth to tell she was one of the Greenham Common women. A military air base in the south of England, Greenham Common was the scene of one of the most famous anti nuclear protests of our generation. It started when the British Government agreed to keep USA nuclear missiles there and a large group of women protesting against that decision set up a camp on the Common. They remained there until the nuclear weapons were eventually removed in 1991. Pat Henshaw spent some time in the Women’s protest Camp, thereby earning the right, indeed the privilege, to be called a veteran campaigner.

It was that same unconforming pioneering spirit which caused the National Front to target Pat and her husband Dave in the late 1970’s. The extreme right wing movement formed in England in the mid-1960’s was active in violently campaigning against the African and Asian people living in England. The Northumberland Arms in Kings Cross, London, the first pub leased by Pat and Dave Henshaw was the meeting place for a number of London based radical groups. Nothing would discourage the proprietors of the Northumberland Arms from providing meeting rooms from such disparate groups as Troops out of Ireland Movement, Chilean Freedom Fighters Association and the Communist Party of England. Almost inevitably, the National Front took exception to the Henshaws facilitating these groups and showed their distaste for freedom of association and freedom of speech by torching the Northumberland Arms. It was a frightening experience for Dave and Pat Henshaw, but one which more than anything else reinforced their lifelong committment to community based activities.

Born in Malta, Pat Henshaw had worked as a journalist and as a marketing executive when as a young widow she met the Athlone-born Dave Henshaw in 1966. Dave who had worked abroad as a building contractor’s manager married the onetime London Evening News journalist in 1972 and their first joint venture was the leasing of the Kings Cross pub. Located in an area of central London where there are two large mainline stations, Kings Cross and St. Pancreas it was also an area with perhaps the most extensive colony of “night workers” in the City of London. Before long the once run down pub had become one of the busiest hostelries in that part of central London due to the acumen and hard work of the licensees, Pat and Dave Henshaw. So successful were they that within six years they bought their own pub called the Miller’s Arms in Pershaw in Worcester. It had been closed for the previous four years and was bought for £17,000. Within a year the Henshaw’s were able to sell on their interest for almost three and a half times the original purchase price, providing the capital to enable them to purchase another pub, The Summers Arms located in Leigh Sinton. It was during the twelve months they operated the Miller’s Arms as well as the Northumberland Arms that the latter pub was torched by the National Front. Seven years of their working life had gone into improving and expanding the pub business in Kings Cross and a similar length of time was to be spent in developing the Summers Arms in Leigh Sinton.

In 1986 the Henshaw’s retired to Dave’s home town of Athlone where in retirement the incorrigable optimist Dave spent three years fitting out a boat with the intention of travelling through the canals on the Continent. Retirement was planned perhaps too early in his life for in 1989 the Henshaw’s travelled to Athy to buy “Joe’s Place” in Duke Street. An old style public house it was once owned by the Townsend family and had changed hands a few times before being acquired by the Henshaws. But what I wondered would bring an Athlone man to Athy. “I remembered Athy as a magic place” was the reply, explaining that the South Kildare town was first visited in conjunction with a boat rally organised by George Spiers and Rexy Rowan in the early 1960’s. “Athy was a magic place then and still is today” claims Dave who on arrival in the town as proprietor of his latest pub quickly moved to change the name to “Smugglers”. Within a few short years “Smugglers” became the most successful pub in Athy and following many extensions by Dave, the one time builder’s manager, it soon because one of the biggest pubs in the town. “Smugglers” was in time to win an award as one of the best public houses in Leinster.

The energy and initiative displayed by Dave and Pat in running their pub business was in time extended to community activity in the town. Pat who in her younger days attended Art College in Leeds became an active member of the Athy Art Group and eventually Chairperson of that group. As founder of the first Fringe Festival linked with the Athlone Drama Festival it was inevitable that Pat would become involved with the Urban Council’s Cultural and Recreational Committee. Athy had, uniquely among Town Council’s, established the first such committee in 1986, an initiative in which I am proud to have played a part. The first Chairman of Athy’s Cultural Committee was the writer and broadcaster John MacKenna who accepted my invitation to front the committee and he later initiated the Cecil Day Lewis Literary Awards. Pat Henshaw has chaired the Cultural Committee in recent years and during that time the Cecil Day Lewis Awards have grown in stature and status.

I have always regarded Pat and Dave Henshaw as a team, each in their own way complimenting the others efforts with regard to community activities. I still remember the great occasion created by the River of Light Project, when hundreds of candles in aid of the Northern Ireland Peace Process were lit and sent floating down the River Barrow at nighttime. It was an exceptionally moving event which drew praise and admiration from far and wide for its organisers, Pat and Dave Henshaw. Their involvement in establishing a Traders Association in Athy in the early 1960’s, with substantial support from the local businesses, is well documented. The Association organised a hugely successful Santa Village and the St. Patrick’s Day Parades before it in time because subsumed into the Chamber of Commerce.

I have always enjoyed Dave Henshaw’s company and greatly admire his proactive involvement in so many community related projects. The self confessed socialist who once fell foul of the English National Front is today enjoying his second retirement. This does not restrict his involvement in politics and the Labour Party are fortunate to have such an energetic and innovative man as Dave available to them.

Pat’s work within the community, especially her involvement through the Cultural Committee of the Town Council with Kildare County Library Services, was highlighted when she was the recipient of an award at the Riverbank Theatre Newbridge on Tuesday, 11th June. The occasion was this year’s Cecil Day Lewis Awards Ceremony and the tributes to Pat’s work on the Cultural Committee were led by the Chairman of Athy Town Council, Sean Cunnane. The recognition given to Pat Henshaw is in a sense an acknowledgement of the many public spirited local people working within their own communities, not all of whom receive the recognition for the honours to which they are rightly entitled. So it was fitting that Pat Henshaw who personifies so much that is good in community life, was so honoured last Tuesday.

My thanks to Nora Bracken who contacted me following last weeks article with a lot of information on Ellen Cobbledick who died in 1956. It would appear that Ellen’s father was a malster in Minch Norton’s and the Deegan family lived in the house next door to where Dr. Herlihy subsequently lived in Woodstock Street. Ellen who was a good friend of Nora’s mother, the former Minnie O’Hara, spent her adult life as a music teacher in Dublin and later married a widower. When her husband died she returned to Athy and lived in lodgings with Mrs. Murphy at 4 Offaly Street. Her stepson Jack Cobbledick lived with his wife Olive and family in Whittingdon, Manchester in or about 1957. Mrs. Cobbledick is remembered as a woman of small stature with glasses who in the fashion of the day always wore dark clothes.

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