Thursday, May 15, 2003

Eamon Walsh

Seventy five years of continuous family service as a bank porter ended on Wednesday last with the retirement of Eamon Walsh from the local branch of the Allied Irish Bank.  Eamon held the position for 34 years having taken over from his father Eddie who was porter in the Provincial Bank for 41 years.  Eddie Walsh will be remembered by the older generation who will recall the Provincial Bank located in the building now occupied by Donnelly’s Solicitors.  Eddie married Molly Mahon, sister of Micky Mahon, the only Athy man to win an All Ireland Football medal, which he did as a substitute on the successful Kildare team of 1928.

Their son Eamon was the youngest of four children, the others being Moira, John and Helen.  Eamon went to school in the local Christian Brothers where his classmates included Sean Loughman and Paddy Wright.  A keen sportsman he played hurling and football with Athy Gaelic Football Club while managing to tog out with the local soccer club without falling foul of the invidious ban on foreign games.  He cheerfully admits not having achieved any success on the playing field, but is equally proud to have played basketball with a member of the Irish international team.  The player in question was Donal Dooley of St. Michael’s Terrace whose brother Peadar was a noted Gaelic footballer.  Both Eamon and Donal were playing members of Athy’s Basketball Club whose games were played on grass in the field in front of McDonnell Drive.

On leaving school Eamon worked for a while in Smith’s Garage where Maxwells is now located before taking up a job as a porter at the local railway station.  Michael McNamara was station master at the time and Eamon worked with the senior porter Sean Bowden.  He remembers his three years on the railways with fondness, recalling in particular Dinny Whelan, another local man whose own father had also served with the railway company.  On approaching his eighteenth birthday Eamon obtained a better paid position with the local I.V.I. Foundry.  There he was to work for fourteen years as a general moulder with the likes of Robbie Robinson, Tom Farrell, Des Donaldson, Mannix Thompson, Terry Lawler and Denis Byrne.  The foundry work was hard and demanding but everyone in the moulding department took pride in turning out first class products which for decades made the I.V.I. one of the most successful provincial foundries in Ireland.

It was during his time with the I.V.I. Foundry that Eamon met local girl Margaret McConville and they married on 6th June, 1960.  They were blessed with six children and all of them joined in the family festivities to celebrate their father’s retirement.  Desmond, the eldest son, lives in Celbridge, Louise is in Dublin, Verona and Angelina are married and living in the Athy area, while their sister Sharon is married in Denver, Colorado, U.S.A.  The youngest son, Eamon Junior, lives with his parents in St. Dominic’s Park.  I recall that I was to meet Sharon’s American husband when they were visiting Athy during the Christmas holidays.  Unfortunately we did not get together but perhaps we will do so on his next visit.

Eamon, of course, is known to everybody in Athy, not just as the public face of the Allied Irish Bank but as a talented musician who has been entertaining us for more than four decades.  Gifted with a good singing voice, Eamon’s first musical association was with the “Sorrento Dance Band” lead by Padence Murphy of Offaly Street.  This was in the late 1950’s and Eamon played the bass and sang vocals.  The “Sorrento Dance Band” had been formed in the years before the Clipper Carlton ushered in the Showband era and like all other dance bands at the time played orchestrated pieces while sitting on stage.  The Showband period brought changes, with smaller groups who dispensed with orchestrations, and chose to stand on stage as they played their music for the dancers.  In keeping with the changes in musical style the “Sorrento Dance Band” changed its name now once but twice, becoming in turn “The Dixie Kings” and then “The Pirates”.  Eamon was a member of these various musical combinations for five years, during which time the band travelled all over Ireland to fulfill engagements.  Dances in those days generally started at 10 o’clock and went on until 3 o’clock in the morning with the band playing on stage all the time except for a brief ten minute break.  It was a demanding schedule, even for somebody as young as Eamon and the demands of his day job in the I.V.I. required that he take a break from long distance travelling.  He subsequently joined up with Mick McFadden and the two of them continued to provide music for weddings, pub and club functions over the following eleven years.

Later still Eamon joined up with Andy Murphy, Denis Chanders, Patsy Kelly, husband and wife team Christy and Kathleen Dunne to form “The Saphires” which later became “The Spotlights”.  After about twelve years the band reduced to a three piece combination , with Eamon and the Dunne’s continuing on as “The Spotlights”.  The group is still going strong and Eamon who now plays the drums and doubles on vocals is this year marking his 42nd year as a member of a local band.

Highlights of his years on stage include sharing the bill with the likes of “The Royal Showband” and Dickie Rock for whom Eamon and his group played relief band.  He played Dreamland Ballroom when it was at the height of its fame as a dance venue and remembers particularly the Military Ball where again he played as a member of the relief band.

I have known Eamon for a few years and it would be difficult to find a more cheerful, good humoured individual.  He will invariably have a joke to share when you meet him and with the shared laughter there is always the good natured spontaneity of the man who last week marked his 65th birthday by retiring from the Allied Irish Bank.  In a way his retirement was a double event insofar as it marked the final link between the Bank and the Walsh family which Eamon’s father Eddie first forged 75 years ago.

1928 was the year a young Eddie Walsh joined the Provincial Bank in Athy.  That same year FitzMaurice and his two companions were the first persons to successfully fly East / West on a transatlantic flight which took 36½ hours.  1928 was also the year the Irish tricolour was first raised at an Olympic Games to signal the victory of Dr. Pat O’Callaghan. 

There have been many changes in Irish Society in the intervening 75 years, not least of all in the Irish banking system itself which has seen bank amalgamations and the absorption of the Provincial Bank in the what is now called Allied Irish Bank.  Seventy five years ago, few, if any of us, would have  been allowed inside the bank, much less have any reason to be there in the first place.

I don’t know how Eddie Walsh’s retirement was marked 34 years ago but I do know that last week the A.I.B. staff were very generous in the manner in which they marked the retirement of their colleague Eamon Walsh.  He got a great send off from the bank staff and from the local people who called into the bank during the day to wish one of nature’s gentlemen a happy birthday and a long and contented retirement.

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