Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Carrolls of Van Diemen’s Land Part One

On the 26th of September 1839 Thomas Carroll of Russellstown, Athy and his wife Agnes left London on the ‘Thomas Laurie’, a 300 ton British barque travelling to Australia. On the way out the boat stopped at St. Jago, one of the Cape Vende islands in the Atlantic for four days to take on water, arriving at Circular Head, Van Diemen’s Land on 5th March 1840. The town of Stanley would be officially created two years later out of the Circular Head settlement and it was to Stanley that I travelled recently to find the place where the Carrolls settled and where a future Australian Prime Minister, Joseph Aloysius Lyons, was born.

Thomas and Agnes Carroll had with them on that long trip five children; Jane, 12 years old; Denis, 3 years younger; Patrick born in 1832; Thomas, 5 years old and Bridget who was just 6 months old when the ship berthed down under. Another daughter, Agnes, would later be born on 16th July 1842.

Thomas Carroll was 40 years old when he set out from his home town of Athy. The son of Patrick and Bridget Carroll, his brothers were Denis, who was a year older, Patrick and John. Thomas would seem to have been well educated and is believed to have worked on the construction of Stephenson’s first railway line in England. With the Carrolls on the ‘Thomas Laurie’ and also emigrating to Van Diemen’s Land were Joseph and Ellen Dooling, also of Russellstown.

The Carrolls were Catholics and Thomas, who was described as a shepherd and an agricultural worker, is believed to have been sponsored by the Van Diemen’s Land company, a pastoral organisation established by a group of Londoners in 1828 to farm in Van Diemen’s Land. His wife Agnes who was 35 years of age when she left Ireland was described as a dairy maid.

Two years after the Carrolls arrived Denis Carroll, older brother of Thomas, with his wife Ann and three children, Bridget, Thomas and William emigrated to New South Wales. Unfortunately Ann died during the voyage and Denis and his children subsequently made their way to Van Diemen’s Land to join Thomas and his family in the North West corner of the island.

Agnes Carroll died within five years of arriving in Van Diemen’s Land and her husband Thomas re-married within 17 months of her death. His second wife was Mary Ann Goodwin, the daughter of an English convict who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1809. Mary Ann had been married previously and when she died in 1896 she left 14 children from four different marriages.

Thomas Carroll and his brother prospered in Van Diemen’s Land and eight years after arriving the younger of the Athy born brothers had leased an 80 acre farm in Circular Road and was employing five free and five bonded servants. By 1856 when the name Van Dieman’s Land was officially changed to Tasmania, Denis Carroll had purchased his own farm, while his brother Thomas was listed as a juror. This indicated that Thomas had an estate of £500 or more and in the State Electoral Role for the same year he is shown owning a farm and house at Forest Road.

Meanwhile the other Carroll brothers, Patrick and John, had emigrated westwards to America. John sailed to America on 28th December 1848, leaving behind in Athy his wife Catherine who was 34 years of age and their 3 children Letitia, Mary and Ellen. Less than three months later his brother Patrick set sail for America and is believed to have travelled to New Orleans. The Carroll family never heard of him again. In the meantime John Carroll arrived in St. Louis and he wrote to his wife Catherine on 3rd June 1849. The letter addressed to Catherine Carroll of Forest, Athy was the last communication the family ever received from him. In that letter, composed and written by an obviously well educated man, John Carroll wrote:-

‘Tell the Hickeys of Byrth that Mick was all the winter with his brother Thomas and the day before I got there he went to Illinois to his brother Pat. Thomas is alive and is living in Chile and has a thundering pair of horses and a good cow and heifer and a horse and farm of his own.’

He continued:-

‘Remember me to ..... Eleanor and Mrs. Lynch and John Byrne and family, John Whelan and family and your mother and all her sons in law and daughters in law and grandchildren ..... remember me to all the neighbours and friends and George Doyle in particular and poor Miley need not think I forgot him.’

Kate White in her book on Joseph Lyons, the Australian Prime Minister, wrote that John Carroll ‘after much trouble getting work moved to New York. By the time he finally wrote to his wife Catherine in June 1849 he had a job at Clyde in New York State. He sent home money and assurances that once he prospered he would send for her and the children. His letter ended poignantly:- “Adieu, dear wife, adieu. I have nothing more to relate to you but I still remain your ever loving husband ‘til death.” John was killed on the job several months later.’

Denis Carroll by the mid-1850s was prospering in Tasmania and he sponsored his brother’s widow Catherine and her three daughters to travel to Tasmania. They left Forest, Athy in 1857 and sailed on the ‘Sir W.F. Williams’ arriving in Hobart on 18th August of that year. The young girls who had been attending the newly opened convent school in Athy were Letitia aged 17 years, Mary aged 14 years and Ellen aged 11 years. One unsolved mystery surrounds John Carroll, a half brother of the girls who was regarded as the black sheep of the family. He was born in Athy in 1831 or thereabouts and always claimed that he was born ‘on the wrong side of the blanket.’ He married Elizabeth Holland from neighbouring County Laois and had a son Patrick, all of whom emigrated to Tasmania, sailing on the ship ‘Castlemaine’ which arrived in Tasmania on 23rd April 1867. John who was regarded as a carefree and irresponsible individual died in Stanley on 10th September 1902. It is not clear whether he was Catherine’s son or the son of her husband John from a previous relationship.

Three branches of the Carroll family of Forest, Athy settled in the North West of Tasmania in and around the area chosen by the Van Diemen’s Land company as the first European settlement. The town of Stanley is now the centre of the Circular Head region and nearby is Forrest where Denis and Thomas Carroll farmed. They had arrived in the Southern Hemisphere from Forest, Athy and they would give to that part of Tasmania where they eventually settled the name of their Irish townland. Not far from Stanley are two small villages with names which clearly indicate overseas links. Scotstown and Irishtown undoubtedly indicate the early presence of Scottish and Irish emigrants in that part of North West Tasmania not far from where the Carrolls of Forest or Russellstown, Athy settled on land which was once thought to be only fit to receive convicts. I will continue the story of the Carrolls next week.

Next Saturday Athy will be the venue for Tri Athy, the marathon event first run here in 2007 and which has emerged as the most important sporting event ever held in our town. It surpasses in importance and scale of operation even the two All Ireland finals which were held in Geraldine Park. Tri Athy promises to be an exciting event during which the River Barrow and that wonderful public space in the centre of Athy, Emily Square, will be the centre of activity as hundreds of athletes compete in swimming, cycling and running over courses extending 1500 metres, 40 kilometres and 10 kilometres respectively. Last year the event did not appear to receive the full support of the local people who by and large stayed away from viewing what was a great spectacle. With good weather promised for the weekend, hopefully the spectators will come out in their hundreds and share in the excitement of what is a truly national event.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A picture's worth a thousand words!

The Annual Gordon Bennett Rally will take place on the 13, 14 and 15 June and this week I reproduce a photograph of a previous rally which took place 55 years ago. The young man on the left of the photograph is eleven-year-old Teddy Kelly and I must have been standing nearby but out of the picture when the camera captured the scene in 1953. The faces from the past will be recognised by many of you and are (in front) Teddy Kelly and Paddy Wright. At the rear (from the left) are Ned Cranny, “Compri” Nolan, Tom Flood, unknown vintage car driver from England , Noel Quinn, Tim McCarthy, John McEvoy, Ena Bowden and Anna May Murphy. The driver’s assistant is unidentified. Who is the young lad between Teddy Kelly and Paddy Wright? Those photographed were standing at the wall of the Abbey in Emily Square.

About four or five year later, the Castlemitchell football team had a photograph taken in Geraldine Park. It’s a historic picture for a reason I can’t as yet disclose, but interestingly two of the players were illegal in so far as they were based in a County Laois Parish and not had their transfer papers approved by the County Boards of Laois and Kildare. Such details seldom escaped the eagle eyes of the GAA enforcers of the day but in this case the two men passed unnoticed and continued to play for Castlemitchell for some time. The team and officials at back from left to right was: Martin Brennan, Robbie Reid, Seamus Quinn, Paddy Wright, Mick Doogue, Sean Byrne, Jimmy Curtis, Jackie Owens, Ballyadams Mick Bambrick, Eddie Conway, Tommy Donnelly, trainer, Noel Quinn, Joe Comerford, Danny Owens, Christy Delaney, Tom Kelly, Joe Kelly, Cyril Myles and Pascal Myles.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Football Memories

Thurles was the place to be last Saturday. The occasion, yet another onslaught by Kildare footballers on the football pinnacle which is the culmination of a successful All-Ireland campaign. The last time we traversed that same mountain was a decade ago when a spirited and I believe a fortunate Corrib based team turned the tide of optimism which had swept Kildare into a receding tidal wave of regrets and dare I say it, recriminations. If the result in 1998 was disappointing, last Saturday’s final in the under 21 All Ireland championship offered the prospect of some belated consolation. It was a promise which seemed justified by a spirited first half display which saw the Lilywhites trailing the lads from the Kingdom by only 2 points. The slender lead was achieved with the aid of a strong wind, which having regard to the earlier match between Limerick and Cavan girls promised to give Kildare a badly needed boost in the second half. It was not to be as the footballing craft and experience of the South Westerners saw off the challenge of the short grass men all too easily. It was a huge disappointment for the ever faithful Kildare followers, but nevertheless some individual players on the Kildare panel showed ability which augers well for future success at this or at senior level.

I was particularly disappointed that Athy did not have a representative on the under 21 team or on the list of substitutes. Athy players have in the past figured prominently on Kildare county teams, although in more recent years the town’s representation has been somewhat meagre. Seamus Malone, the County Westmeath born republican and teacher who was responsible for reviving Gaelic football in Athy in the mid-1920’s would surely be disappointed if he had occasion to review the strength of Gaelic football today in the South Kildare town. Athy had a number of players on the 1935 Kildare team which contested that year’s All Ireland final against Cavan, including Paul Matthews who was the team captain. In the 1998 All Ireland football final our only representative was Christy Byrne, and in truth he came courtesy of Rheban Gaelic Football Club.

Mealy Auctioneers, from my home town of Castlecomer, have a forthcoming auction of sporting memorabilia, including quite an interesting collection of G.A.A. material. Included among the many single-sheeted G.A.A. programmes on offer is one for a game in Geraldine Park on 1st March 1959 between Kildare and Carlow. The match was preceded by a minor tournament game between Athy and Eire Óg in which I played. The senior county team that day had four Athy players, Danny Flood at full back, Mick Carolan, the centre half back, Brendan Kehoe played on the left half forward line and in front of him Mick Coughlan. This was just one year after Kildare’s famous victory over Wexford in the Leinster final of 1956. Why I wonder haven’t Athy players continued to make an impact on Kildare County teams? The records will show no Athy players on the 2008 under 21 All Ireland team and sad it is to remember that the town’s only playing member of the 1965 All Ireland winning under 21 team, Denis Wynne passed away a few years ago. We are short of sporting heroes in South Kildare and must look back over the decades to find names in which we can take pride.

The day after the disappointment of Thurles I met Ann Keevins, whose husband Seamus died in March. Seamus Keevins was a retired Garda Sergeant based in Ballycullane in County Wexford when he passed away. Football officiandos will remember him as a man who played Inter County football in each of the four provinces, having displayed his footballing talents on senior teams for Counties Sligo, Cavan, Waterford and Wexford. It was as a member of the Wexford team that he togged out against Kildare in Croke Park on Sunday, 22nd July 1956. The occasion was the Leinster Final which Kildare had not won for 21 years. Seamus Keevins lined out on the half back line and when he had to retire with two minutes to go to the end of the first half Wexford led by 1-6 to 1-5. Strangely he was replaced by a former Kildare player, J. Goff and in his absence during the second half Kildare went on to carve out a famous victory on the scoreline of 2-11 to 1-8. Mitchel Cogley of the Irish Independent wrote in the following Monday morning’s paper, ‘Kildare won because they consistently played the ball, Wexford lost because they persisted in playing the man’. Kildare were awarded 37 frees and the Monasterevin ace, Seamie Harrison, pointed 7 of them. Athy’s folk hero from that day was Danny Flood, then an army lieutenant who stood like a colossus in front of the square, guarding the Kildare goalkeeper Des Marron.

Seamus Keevins, when he retired as a player, involved himself in the promotion of Gaelic football in Wexford, a county perhaps better known for its hurling prowess. Meeting Ann Keevins helped me relive one of the few great sporting occasions Kildare county has enjoyed during the last 50 years or so. Indeed 1956 was a vintage year for Kildare football, for just a week before the senior final Kildare defeated the same County Wexford in the Leinster Junior Final. The importance of Gaelic games in our sporting heritage cannot be overstated and the part played by men such as Seamus Keevins in keeping Gaelic football to the forefront of the nation’s sporting activity should not be forgotten. Coincidentally Seamus’s eldest son Michael, now lives in County Kildare, where he is a Garda Sergeant attached to the Traffic Corps in Naas.

Billy Shaw, eldest brother of Trevor Shaw, died during the week and his funeral in the Methodist Church in Carlow was attended by a large crowd which could not be accommodated in the small church adjoining the majestic courthouse. Rev. Forsyth, a young man whom I believe comes from the Athlone area, presided over the service which saw the congregation give a fulsome and full throated engagement in the hymns, ‘To God be the Glory’ and ‘Safe in the Arms of Jesus’. The latter is not included in the Methodist Hymnal, and indeed neither came from the pen of Charles Wesley but otherwise the service was everything I imagined to be the legacy of that great preacher and evangelist John Wesley. No sermon was preached, but somehow or other the spirit of Wesley filled the simple church as the young Minister conducted the short service. I have often wondered why John Wesley, who visited Ireland on 21 occasion and who on his last trip journeyed from Portlaoise to Carlow, never preached in Athy. In a short account of Methodism in Athy written over 30 years ago it was stated that John Wesley ‘appears to have visited Athy on only one occasion on Saturday 24th April 1789’. I am not satisfied that Wesley did visit Athy and more is the pity if he did not.

Older people in the town always refer to the Methodist Church as ‘the Wesleyan and Methodist Church’ which may well have been its correct title at one time. However, with the reunion of Wesleyan Methodists the Primitive Methodists and the United Methodist churches in 1932 the church was properly called ‘the Methodist Church’. The followers of the movement started by John Wesley, his brother Charles and their friend George Whitefield, when they first came together in Oxford over 270 years ago to form what was known as ‘the Holy Club’ are decreasing, like many of the other mainstream churches. Recent research in England shows that church attendance is declining to such an extent that the Church of England, Catholicism and other denominations will soon become financially unviable. A lack of funds from collection plates to support the church’s infrastructure including church upkeep and salaries will force church closures as ageing congregations die. It’s a problem facing churches in Ireland today and a problem which Athy, hosting five mainstream churches, will have to face up to over the next few years.

Billy Shaw was the son of the legendary Sam Shaw who opened Shaws third store in the former Duncans premises in Duke Street in 1915. He is survived by his widow, the former Sheila Yates of Grangemellon and his sons and daughters.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A most generous gift to the town of Athy

This week’s Eye on the Past is given over to two persons who, with associations going back many years with the ancient town on the River Barrow, have within the last few days recognised in their different ways the town of Athy and its people.

Honor McCulloch’s grandfather farmed a substantial holding at Sawyerswood at the turn of the 20th century and his son, William Ringwood McCulloch, was 15 years of age when the Gordon Bennett Race took place in Ireland in 1903. Athy was the centre of the figure eight course which brought the international competitors towards the neighbouring towns of Kilcullen, Carlow, Kildare and Portlaoise, with each circuit requiring them to drive through the streets of Athy twice.

The importance of the 1903 Gordon Bennett Race has been highlighted in the audio-visual display in the local Heritage Centre and the 15year-old William McCulloch was never to forget the excitement of that famous race day. His daughter Honor has written, “he was so enthralled with these cars which were still something of a novelty in the early 1900s that cars became a lifelong interest.” That interest was nurtured by a working career which started in Edinburgh when he joined his father’s first cousin, WG Maxwell in the Westfield Autocar Company.

He would eventually succeed Maxwell as chairman of Westfield. In 1934, William McCulloch, while taking part in a shoot at Crawford Priory in Fife, Scotland, noticed a circular saw in a farm building driven by an engine that he recognised once powered an Arrol Johnston motor car.

The owner was Lord Cochrane, who had purchased the Arrol Johnston in 1902 and who had driven it for almost 15 years before it was laid up. The engine had been removed and used to power a circular saw which was quickly spotted by the eagle-eyed car enthusiast from Athy, who by then was based in Edinburgh. Thereafter, the search was on for the rest of the car, which was found dumped in the corner of a nearby field.

After protracted negotiations, Lord Cochrane allowed William McCulloch to restore the car and work on the restoration began in 1935. Three years were to pass before the Arrol Johnston was again ready for the road and it took part in the Empire Exhibition Rally between Glasgow and Edinburgh under the ownership of Lord Cochrane.

The car did not complete the journey on that occasion, in all probability due to the mechanical unpredictability of the Arrol Johnston, which once prompted the Veteran’s Motor magazine to note: “Even in 1899, this contrivance had an air of hippomobile antiquity”. William Ringwood McCulloch was later to purchase the car from Lord Cochrane and he drove it in several Scottish vintage car rallies between 1945 and 1955. His daughter Honor brought the car to England in 1965, where it was fully restored for the second time in its relatively short life before successfully completing the London to Brighton run five years later.

On that occasion, it was driven by Brian Bell, grandson of the late Robert J Bell, auctioneer and prominent member of Carlow Rowing Club.

Honor McCulloch, who lives in England, has in the past donated several items to Athy Heritage Centre. Her past generosity little prepared me for the gift she is now about to make to Athy Heritage Centre. The Arrol Johnston car which her late father so carefully restored over 70 years ago and which was on exhibition in the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, England, from 1993 to 2000 is now to be donated to Athy Heritage Centre.

I believe there is only one other similar car in this country and how fitting it is for Athy to have such an important motor car to display as part of its Gordon Bennett Race exhibition. The Arrol Johnston, which will be arriving in Athy on the morning of Thursday, 8 May, will be a fitting memorial to the memory of Athy man William Ringwood McCulloch and testimony to the generosity of his daughter Honor. Pending some necessary reconstruction work in the centre, the car will be housed in Maxwell Showrooms until it can be transferred to the Heritage Centre.
William Watts, whose formative years were spent in Athy, invited me to the launch of his memoirs in the Long Room in Trinity College on Tuesday night last. The former provost of Trinity College had a distinguished academic career. An honours graduate in French and German, he also took a first class honours degree in natural sciences and to become professor of botany in 1956.

Elected provost of Trinity for a ten-year term in 1981, he was also president of the Royal Irish Academy, chairman of the Central Admissions Office in Galway and former secretary and later chairman of An Taisce. All of this in addition to his membership of various hospital boards and chairmanship of the Dublin Dental Hospital. Born in Upper Mayor Street, East Wall in Dublin, the youngest of three children, his father William who worked with the Office of Public Works was assigned to the Barrow Drainage Scheme, the headquarters of which was in Athy.

Bill Watts, born in 1931, was brought to Athy within days of his birth by his mother Bessie to join his brother David and sister Bertha. He devotes a chapter in his new book to his memoirs of Athy in the 1930s. He writes: “My memories of Athy centre on our experience of family life and the society of its small Protestant community.

Protestants in a town, about five families of us with children of the same age, played games together. We met to play rounders and cricket in summer and at parties in one another’s house for birthdays and Christmas. We played traditional games at Halloween like snapping at apples on the string and bobbing to get apples out of buckets by biting. We loved hide and seek games about the barns and sheds attached to several of our houses.

At Christmas, there were parish parties and games in the Church of Ireland Hall with dipping into bran tubs and dressings and making up for plays.” Later on he writes of the weekly market, which is still a colourful part of the commercial life of Athy. ”The town had a weekly market in the Square. Farmers’ wives came with pony and trap to sell eggs and farm-made butter. Not many people had cars then and the difficulties of the war years kept cars off the road. Fuel was in short supply and Dad made a small business of buying and felling trees for sale as firewood. I got to use the slasher to chop small branches. Locals brought coal fragments from the small colliery at Castlecomer and mixed them with cement to make ‘colm balls’. They glowed splendidly. Later in the war I became an expert at lighting fires with wet turf, which was all that was available at times.”

The religious diversity found in Irish provincial towns of the time brought with it a hint of bigotry, which Bill Watts recounts in his book.

“We did experience some bigotry, most Protestants kept their heads down, but it was easy to feel that we were not seen as really belonging in the country. I have often noticed that well-to-do middle class Protestants are found to deny that anything unpleasant ever happened, but your position on the social ladder in small rural communities rather determined things. At the bottom, you could have unpleasant experiences.

Coming home from school, a piece of doggerel was often shouted at me. ‘Protestant dog leapt over the hob, ating fish on a Friday’. I am glad that Bishop Walter Empey, about the same age of myself, remembered similar boyhood experiences in County Carlow, so it was not a unique experience. It is important to record the truth, even if unpalatable by today’s standards, but it is also important to record that my other memories of Athy are good and full of the richness of remembered boyhood.”

Athy Town Council a few years ago gave a civic reception to Bill Watts to acknowledge his achievements. It was, I know, a gesture very much appreciated by him and he concludes his memoirs of Athy by referring to his “good memories of the town”.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Memories Of Athy's Butchers

Last week I mentioned in passing Joe Daly, a native of what I suppose I should call ‘Athy of old’ to distinguish it from the new Athy where housing estates have been created out of the green fields where once my generation ‘sported and played’. Joe’s family came from Stanhope Street and as I mentioned in my piece he opened a butcher’s shop in Leinster Street before leaving Athy 47 years ago to live in Bray, Co. Wicklow. By one of those strange coincidences which tends to mark our journey through life, shortly after Joe’s death another old Athy native, Mick Smyth, also a butcher, passed away. A native of Offaly Street, Mick, who had lived in Clane for many years, was brought back to be buried in his home town, a resting place I’m told he had often expressly wished for. Mick was 84 years of age and is survived by his wife and three children and his siblings, Olive and Denis. The Smyth family lived in Offaly Street before, during and after the second World War. Thinking back on the families in that street in the 1950’s I can recall only two houses still lived in by family members of 60 years ago. Kelly’s and Breen’s, since the recent sale of Tuohy’s house at No. 22, are the only families of the older generation still with family members living in the street.

I am reminded of this when I recently received a letter from a niece of the late Paddy Garrett who lives in Cheshire in England. Paddy had the distinction of living in No. 1 Offaly Street which in the 19th century was known as ‘Preston’s Gate’, a name which can be found on some old gravestones in St. Michael’s Cemetery. He lived next door to the Smyth family and the death of his onetime neighbour Mick Smyth removes yet another link in the chain of friendship which bonded the former residents of Athy’s Offaly Street.

Another letter received this week following my reference to Joe Daly, the Leinster Street butcher, pinpointed the enormous changes in the butchering trade in Athy over the past 50 years or so. The writer listed the butcher stalls, as they were commonly called, which were once a very visible part of the commercial life of the town, but regrettably are no longer in existence.

Conlan’s (later Miss Dallon’s); Tim Hickeys, Emily Square; Andy Finn, Leinster Street (later Barney Days); Dillon’s, Leinster Street; Alfie Coyle, Leinster Street; Jim Fingleton (later Fashion Shop, now Manley’s); Joe Daly, Leinster Street (beside Ned Wynne); Ned Ward, Stanhope Street; John Farrell, Duke Street (now Rachel’s); O’Connell, Leinster Street; Purcell’s, Duke Street; Tom McStay, Duke Street; Ned Ward, Duke Street; Tim Fennin (now Maureen Ryan’s), William Street; Ernie Herterich, Duke Street; Noel Scully, Stanhope Street; Kevin O’Toole’s, Duke Street and Sylvester Murphy, William Street.

He continued:- ‘One recalls the white painted fronts – perhaps three or four on each street with their sawdust covered floors, swept clean at the end of each day and replenished with a clean covering of sawdust every morning. A particularly lovely feature of the butcher shops, almost without exception, was the signage or nameplates above the doors and windows, usually the work of a local sign writer John Bracken. The last specimen of his artistic and skilled craftsmanship was on Tim Hickey’s shop on Emily Square which had yellow and blue lettering on a concave red sign board. The door of this shop with its ornamental fretwork panels which were a source of ventilation remains untouched ..... who can forget the aroma of peppery spices in Herterich’s and the bowls of jellied brawn and trays of bleached white tripe in his window? It is still possible to spot reminders of the butchers trade around the town. Maureen Ryan’s shop in William Street retains the meat hooks from Tim Fennin’s butchering days of 60 years ago which were used to hang sides of beef.’

It’s delightful to get such shared memories from readers of this column. I should also mention another letter received after the photograph of Vincent Holland’s grave in Tasmania was included in a recent article. An elderly native of Athy who now lives in the north of the county wrote to me recalling how as a young lad he heard Holland speak at the showing of a film in which Holland’s World War exploits, which won him a Victoria Cross, were shown. The film, I believe, was one made in 1934 titled ‘The Forgotten Men’ and in it the Athy man, whose parents lived at Model Farm, spoke and finished with the words ‘We are the forgotten men’. Does anyone else remember the showing of the documentary film in the Picture House in Offaly Street 70 or so years ago?

Another person who contacted me following the Vincent Holland piece claimed, not for the first time, that the Victoria Cross should have gone to Michael Kavanagh who was Holland’s batman and not to Holland himself. I first became aware of this claim soon after I first wrote many years ago on Holland’s part in the 1914/18 war. Several of Michael Kavanagh’s old neighbours in St. Joseph’s Terrace were supporters of that claim but unfortunately no-one could give any details which might contradict the official reports of the attack at Guillemont in 1916 which resulted in the award of the V.C. to Vincent Holland. Indeed a careful examination of those named as having taken part in the attack led by Holland on the village of Guillemont does not show that Michael Kavanagh was involved at all. Coincidentally an e-mail received from France only yesterday claims that three Victoria Crosses won at Guillemont, including Hollands, are not commemorated on the Somme. The sender of the e-mail was the Vice President of the Somme Remembrance Association and he wanted information on Vincent Holland’s son Niall who died in 1944. I wonder can anyone help with this query?

During the week I was invited to attend a concert in Tinahely, held in what was once the local Courthouse. The fine building adopted for use as a community arts centre is the focal point for performances and visual arts in that area. I had been invited to hear Johnny Duhan, a Limerick man now living in Barna outside Galway whose performance attracted a sell out crowd on Saturday night. Singing his own compositions accompanied on the guitar, Duhan interweaved story and song in a fascinating and quite an interesting account of growing up in Limerick. Essentially it was his story and that of his family and the storylines, whether in song lyrics or spoken word held the audience enthralled for the entire performance. Described by Ronnie Drew as one of his favourite song writers, Duhan is unquestionably a fine song writer and if the advancing in years has dulled his vocal chords, his songs still prove attractive. I mention Duhan and Tinahely for two reasons. The lesson of the County Wicklow village’s success with its Art Centre is one which we here in Athy can take on board as we slowly but gingerly advance our own dream of an Arts Centre for the town. The other reason is to acknowledge how important it is to have the opportunity to broaden one’s tastes, whether in music or literature, by exposure to new voices and different writers. I was grateful for the opportunity to hear and appreciate Johnny Duhan who joins the long list of musicians, singers, writers and poets who over the years I have learned to appreciate after being introduced to their work by a third party. Hugh Leonard, whose writing I have enjoyed since his days on the back pages of Hibernia Magazine, announced last week that he was laying down his pen. It was Leonard who brought to my attention L.A.G. Strong, the novelist and James Agate, the theatrical critic, both writers, now long dead, whose works I greatly admire.

Thanks to all those who contacted me, especially those whose queries or information prompted this week’s article.