Friday, April 27, 2007

Delightful d·nta stir other local memories

A very pleasant function in Kane’s public house in Leinster Street during the week saw the launch of Paddy Walsh’s book of poetry. Published by Glór na nGael, the slim volume of Irish poems, I understand, contains just some of the substantial body of work which Paddy, a native of Ring, Co. Waterford, has produced over the years.

The gathering in Kanes to celebrate the book launch was treated to a reading of several of Paddy’s poems, or more appropriately, d·nta. Paddy gave a rendition of a wonderful bilingual piece called Mich·el Mór which he learned from the late Ger Moriarty who for so long was part of the Thursday night Irish music sessions in Clancy’s of Leinster Street.

Overseeing the event was the chairman of the local Glór na Gael, Johnny Watchorn.

Johnny spoke eloquently in gaelic and his command of the language was delightful to hear in one who is a native of the Irish midlands. It made me realise that the Irish language is something which with some effort on our part could again become a vibrant everyday language of the people.

Kanes public house is an establishment associated in my mind with a man connected with the Irish War of Independence. It was here that Tom Flood, a member of the Dublin Brigade of the old IRA came to set up business in the 1920s after the end of the hostilities which had commenced with the 1916 Easter Rebellion.

He was one of several Flood brothers who took up arms at that time and Tom was involved in the attack on the Customs House on 25 May 1921, following which he was arrested and imprisoned. Tom Flood served as a Fine Gael councillor during his time in Athy and died in October 1950.

Just a few doors away from Tom Flood’s former premises lived James McLaughlin and his family, the last of whom, Bridie, died recently.

Her father, James, was born to a farming family near Buncrana in Co. Done-gal in 1885. In common with many young Irish men and women of the period when he came of age he emigrated to America.

I gather he travelled with one of his first cousins and they eventually settled in Butte, Montana. This was the centre of the copper mining industry in America and had been first settled by Irish emigrants from West County Cork where copper had been mined for many years. By 1900 the first and second generation Irish in Butte numbered over 8,000 out of a total population of 30,000 or so, justifying its claim to be “the most Irish town in the United States”.

Labour struggles involving the old Irish and the new arrivals such as James McLaughlin were a feature of life in Butte, Montana where Ballyjamesduff born Marcus Daly, known as “the Irish copper king” organised the old Irish under the banners of Butte Miners Union to ensure job security by excluding “new emigrants”. Labour violence was a feature of life in Butte, where Irish organisations predominated. Among them was the Robert Emmet Literary Association and after the 1916 Easter Rebellion in Ireland, the Pearse/Connolly Independence club. Jim Larkin visited the Montana city three times between 1915 and 1917.

Two of James McLaughlin’s brothers, Edward and Patrick, joined him in Butte to work in the copper mines, but James and Patrick eventually returned to Ireland.

With the dollars earned in the Butte mines James bought a public house in Dee Street in Belfast where he lived with his wife, Agnes. In 1920, the pub was destroyed in an arson attack. Happily enough James had moved his family to a safe address beforehand and with his wife and two children, John and Lilly, left Belfast to live with his parents-in-law in County Cavan.

From there McLaughlins moved to Athy after buying a small public house in Leinster Street, just a few doors away from the Railway Hotel which Tom Flood would later purchase. Bridie McLaughlin and her sister Kitty were born in Athy and here also their older sister Mary Elizabeth, known as Lilly, died aged 18 on 6 May 1938.

James’ wife Agnes died 11 years later aged 59 and James McLaughlin, died on 2 August 1967 aged 82 years. Following his death the business continued to be operated by Bridie, while Kitty, who was secretary to Athy’s town clerk, worked in the UDC offices. Kitty and Bridie were members of the Social Club in St. John’s Lane in the late 1940’s and the 1950’s and Kitty featured in many of the plays staged in the town hall at that time.

Kitty died suddenly a few years ago and now with the passing of Bridie McLaughlin the last link with the McLaughlin family of Leinster Street is gone forever.

The two Leinster Street pubs once operated by James McLaughlin and Tom Flood are now in different ownership. It highlights yet again the importance of oral history in preserving the cultural and social life lines of a community.

I wonder if the County Library services or some other agency might be encouraged to embark on a project aimed at recording the lives and stories associated with the older generation of Athy men and women.