Thursday, April 24, 2003

Frank Doran and Newspaper Article of Uncertain Age

A good friend of the column recently sent me newspaper articles culled from various sources over the years.  Taken from different unidentified newspapers, the articles are all undated but have one thing in common - they relate to Athy or persons from the town.  One particular piece caught my attention.  It was written by a native of Athy called Frank Doran under the headline “Athy as I remember it 50 years ago”.  There is nothing in the piece to help me date the article but I am of the view that it appeared in the early 1960’s.  I don’t know who Frank Doran was but at the time of his writing the article, he lived in West Cork.  Was he related to the Doran’s who first came to Athy from Hacketstown in the 1880’s?  I don’t know, but maybe I’ll be able to clarify his connection, if any, after some further research.

Frank Doran recalled the Athy of his youth when there was no concrete or macadam roads, “I remember the horse drawn water sprinkler making its rounds in summer weather through the streets laying the dust”.  He also remember John Eston, the town lamp lighter, “moving from lamp to lamp extinguishing the street lamps and Johnny’s fine attempt to beat the challenge of a noted weight lifter in a visiting circus”.

It was in Athy that Frank Doran saw his first all Ireland Football final, “smothered” as he described himself “in the crowd lining the railings six deep.”  The final in question was in 1906 football decider between Fermoy of Cork and Kickhams of Dublin which was refereed by John Fitzgerald of this County.  The match took place in what is now known as Geraldine Park but on All Ireland Final day, 20th October 1907 was still known locally as the “Agricultural Society field”. 

Frank Doran’s story continued, “I remember mission time in Athy and the stands outside the Church gate displaying pious objects for sale.  We gazed in fright and fascination but came back again and again to look at a picture depicting a horned cloven hoofed devil waiting at the foot of a dying unrepentent sinner’s bed to snatch the soul to eternity.  It was in the shop of Nicholas Keating of Woodstock Street I bought my first cigarettes, a haport of Woodbines, two for a half penny and a penny for a packet of five.  I remember the building of Athy Post Office.  Amongst those engaged was an Englishman, a fishing enthusiast who commissioned me to catch a supply of roach which he required as a bait in an attempt to catch a monster pike frequenting the Cardenton to Milltown stretch of the Canal”. 

The Post Office was built in 1909 at a time when the brick yards of Athy were still working even though they were somewhat in decline.  The building contractor engaged to build the Post Office used Tullamore brick in the initial stages but following representations from Athy Urban District Council, the Postal Authorities confirmed that only Athy brick would be used thereafter.

Frank Doran remembered the Christian Brother’s School and Brother Carey’s enthralling tales of the Irish Chieftains, Brian Boru, Owen Roe, Red Hugh etc.  “We almost ducked beneath the desk to dodge the imaginary sword he swung.  What sport we had under the giant chestnut trees of the school playground with the water cistern nearby with the metal drinking cup on a chain to slake our thirst. I remember at lunch time making for Dooley’s grocery in Duke Street where delicious penny rolls could be got.  Kind hearted Mrs. Dooley used to cut them in two for us and yes indeed covered them thickly with butter.  In Paddy Donoghues’ small apple shop at the corner of St. John’s Lane, we bought apples at eight or ten a penny”. 

The Dooley’s Bakery mentioned was operated by Patrick Dooley who died in May 1937.  He was a brother of Michael Dooley of Duke Street after whom Dooley’s Terrace was named in 1934.

“Passing home from school, we never tired of looking at the stuffed otter in the window of Pat Whelan Victualler and the display of athletic trophies won by his nephew Dan Harkins.  Whelan’s monster newfoundland dogs lazing on the pavement were part of the town and of interest in William Street was the horse worked pulley raising corn sacks’ to the lofty heights of the Canal Bridge Maltings”.

There is amongst Doran’s reminiscences an interesting reference to the local volunteers. “I remember drilling with Redmond’s Volunteers near Roche’s Lock and discomfiture when our squad was captured by a one led by George Robinson who stole up on us through the graveyard.  World War I started a little later and with it came the sad parting scenes at Athy railway station as the army reservists left.  “Goodbye Michael” said one fine lad to a friend, “I’ll bring you back a tiger skin”.  “Bring back your own skin “replied Michael”.   His friend never returned.” 

Was the George Robinson referred to in Dorans narrative the famous handballer who enlisted to fight in World War I and who returned to Athy with a badly injured hand?

Frank Doran’s reminiscences recreated for his readers of forty years ago images of Athy which even then were but faint memories.  “I recall the drip of rain from the giant beeches at Cardington and their leafy shade, squelch of cattle in the soggy mud at watering time; the smell of new mown hay and sweet scent of wild roses in the green hedge rows of old Kildare; ripples on  the Canal and its obedient flow to the locks demand, the rhythmic thump, thump from the Mill at Ardreigh and across the water the long hoot of the horn at Telford’s brick works; brush of parting sedge by Barrow side at Milltown as one pressed through to the Mill stream and the weird cry of a night fowl in the darkness over lonely Tubberara”. 

The pen pictures conjured up by Frank Doran’s description of life in Athy almost 100 years ago are a wonderful reminder of a period which in a few short weeks will be relived with the celebrations for the centenary of the Gordon Bennett Race. The famous road race of 1903 will be the centre of attention over the June Bank Holiday weekend when the Gordon Bennett Circuit is inaugurated as a tourist trail taking in parts of Laois, Carlow and South Kildare. 

A man who like Frank Doran was familiar with Athy of almost 100 years ago was Liam Price, a noted amateur historian and archaeologist.  He sat in this area as a District Justice and spent his leisure  hours researching the placenames, antiquities and topography of counties Wicklow and Kildare.  His notebooks were presented to the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and these have been published in book form in the last few weeks under the joint editorship of Christiaan Corlett.  Athy Museum Society in association with An Taisce has arranged for Christiaan Corlett to give a lecture in the Town Hall on Tuesday, 8th April at 8.00 p.m. on the Liam Price Notebooks.  It promises to be an interesting talk which will be of particular interest to anyone living in this area.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Sporting Heroes - Joe Aldridge

As youngsters we all had heroes. Nowadays the young generation take their cue from the all pervasive television.  As a result, the players of Manchester United and Liverpool are more likely to provide the focus of attention for Irish youngsters than anyone on the local sporting scene.

How much different it was in my young days.  I recall my local sporting heroes as Mick Carolan in gaelic football, Cyril Osborne in rugby and Joe Aldridge in soccer. Mick Carolan was a local man whose involvement with the County team assured his status as a local hero.  Cyril Osborne was a rugby player on the Athy senior team whose speed as an out half always seemed as mesmerizing as the efforts of Cecil Pedlow and Mick Gibson on the national team. Joe I recall as a sporting colossus who togged out, as he did every week, as full back on the Athy senior soccer team. 

Joe was born in 1929, the youngest of son of Bill Aldridge and his wife Rose formerly a Gleeson from Ardreigh.  Interestingly, Bill’s brother Tom Aldridge married Rose’s sister Bridget and their youngest son Frankie Aldridge is remembered today in the name of the local soccer pitch “Aldridge Park”.  Bill Aldridge was himself one of Athy’s earliest sporting heroes.  His name features in the Annals of Handball as the Irish singles hardball champion of 1925.

Joe Aldridge left school at 14 years and got his first job as a messenger boy for Murphy’s Commercial House in Emily Square.  A similar job in the Co-op Stores at the corner of Leinster Street and Stanhope Street proved more attractive coming as it did with a proper messengers bike complete with a cavernous basket.  When filled with groceries, the basket proved more than a match for Joe’s young legs.  Many a time the young fellow had to dismount and push the bike, especially when faced with the daunting prospect of travelling over the railway bridge on the Dublin road.  Like many other young fellows in Athy, Joe when he passed his 15th birthday joined the Asbestos factory.  It was to be his place of employment on three different periods during his working life and it was from there that he retired on health grounds in 1982.

Joe remembers the canal boats lined up along the canal side waiting to be unloaded of bags of asbestos in the 1940’s.  I was reminded of a similar scene witnessed some  time ago in India as Joe described workmen carrying bags of asbestos from the canal boats using narrow planks as walking platforms.  Men worked without a break from the time they clocked in until lunch time and thereafter until clocking out time.   No tea breaks in those days and if you took one without permission, you were likely to get the sack.

There is not a street or terrace in Athy which in the 1940’s and the 1950’s did not see a large part of its community take the emigrant boat to England.  Joe Aldridge joined the exodus in 1949 travelling to join several Athy men in a factory in Edgeware in Middlesex, England.  He recalls Pete Day, Johnny Robinson, Jim Kelly and Paddy Scott, as some of the Athy men he worked with in that English factory.  A visit home for Christmas eighteen months later resulted in Joe taking a job with the D. & J. Carbery’s.  While Joe was with Athy’s best known building contractors, he worked on the building of Scoil Mhichil Naofa and Jack Gorman’s Garage on the Carlow Road.

In 1955 Joe was on the move again, this time to Glasgow where he remained until 1958 apart from a short period spent in Athy while recuperating with a broken wrist.  Joe married Pat Whelan in July 1958 and since then he has lived at 35 St. Joseph’s Terrace.

Joe’s sporting involvement over the years was not confined to soccer.  For about one and a half years, he played Gaelic Football for Athy and featured on the Senior team.  It was the infamous Ban which ended his career as an Athy Gaelic Football player, as it did the career of a number of other young players at the time.  Apparently, Joe together with Cha Chanders, Stephen Leonard, Paddy Ryan and some others who regularly featured on Athy Gaelic Football teams togged out one Sunday for the local soccer team.  All were swiftly suspended and thereafter they gave their allegiance to the Castlemitchell Club which was apparently more tolerent of players involvement with the local soccer club.

My memories of Joe Aldridge is as the towering force in the last line of defence for the Athy Soccer team.  He played his last competitive game when he was 44 years old.  Throughout his long playing career he had many team mates including Mick Aldridge, Onie Walsh and his brother Tommy, Alo Gallagher, Brian O’Hara, Denis Smyth, Jimmy Murray, Tommy Kiely, Brendan O’Flaherty, Stephen Leonard, John Quinn, Tom Hogan and Noel Myles.

It wasn’t only soccer that engaged Joe’s interest during his younger days.  He was a useful boxer, a sport in which he was involved as a member of the F.C.A.  Coached by Peter Bowden, an Athy man who was a former UK Royal Air Force Champion, Joe and his F.C.A. colleagues trained at the Barrow yard in St. John’s lane.  He recalls some of those involved in the F.C.A. in those days under Captain Paddy Dooley and Lieutenant Bill Fenelon.  They included Peter Whelan, Johnny Murphy, Billy Nolan, Tommy Whelan, Peter “Pips” Ryan, Paddy “Gulliver” Cummins, Joe Brennan and Frank Cahill.  These were the good old days as Joe recalls, when a young man could get 21 pints for a one pound note. 

As he said himself “I never won anything” but even if the trophy shelf is somewhat bare, Joe had many friends and admirers during his long footballing career.  There is however, one medal which Joe won as a member of the Asbestos team which won the Leinster Factory Championship Final in 1961.

As the youngest son of one of Athy’s most famous handballers, Joe, as one might expect was himself a useful exponent of the game in his younger days.  While he never played handball with his father, he recalls many games played in the Handball Alley in Barrack Lane where his ability won him many a three penny and six penny wager.  Joe who will be 74 years old next July has wonderful memories of a sporting career which stretches across four decades.  For one young fellow who watched him during the early 1960’s, Joe Aldridge will always be a sporting hero.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Photographs - Athy Agricultural Show 1969

This week’s Eye on the Past features a number of photographs from the Athy Agricultural Show of 1969.  These are some of the many photographs which have been collected over the years with a view to producing a book of Photographs of Athy and its people. 

All of us have at home photographs of family occasions and even of local events and many of these photographs are important in terms of our towns past history.  With a view to producing a pictorial record of the days now long gone, I am asking anyone with photographs which they are prepared to share to contact me. 

Any photographs offered will be copied and the originals returned to the owners within a week.