Thursday, October 29, 2009

Enjoying success on the field of play

Last Sunday the sporting people of Kilmead, Booleigh, Narraghmore, Ballitore, Calverstown, Kilgowan, Brewel, Blackhall, Ballymount, Usk, Moone and Mullaghmast celebrated their local team’s highly popular success in the Kildare Senior Football Championship Final. St. Laurences, founded in 1957 had become Senior County Champions for the first time in the Club's 52 year old history.

On the same Sunday and in the same venue, St. Conleth’s Park, Newbridge, Athy’s minor footballers became Kildare Minor Champions for the second year in succession. Meanwhile back home in Athy that same Sunday afternoon yet another club, Woodstock Celts, still in its infancy as a club, won another match in its unstoppable march to securing a league and cup double in Division 2 of the Kildare District Football League.

Athy Gaelic Football Club, founded in 1887, played its first County Senior Final in 1923 when it got a drubbing at the hands (feet more appropriately) of Naas who scored two goals and 5 points to no score for the Athy men. Some of the names from that game bring back memories. Tom Moore and his brother John, Jim Clancy, Mickey Grant, Mick Mahon and Tom Forrestal of Castledermot. Twenty years ago I was privileged to interview Tom Forrestal who was then 92 years of age. He recalled for me many of the players who played for Athy in the 1923 final. Men such as Eddie ‘Sapper’ O’Neill, who later emigrated to America and captained the New York team which defeated All Ireland champions Kerry and Tom, otherwise known as ‘Golly’ Germaine. He told me that the then Club chairman presented each of the players with a medal inscribed with the name of the recipient. I wonder how many of those medals have survived?

Athy’s defeat in the 1923 Senior County Final was to be repeated in 1926 and 1927 before the mantle of Senior Champions finally came to rest on Athy shoulders in 1933. It was a success repeated the following year and again in 1937.

St. Laurences first footballing success came with the winning of the Minor Football Championship in 1974 when Athy were the defeated finalists. The Club’s first appearance in a County Senior Final was on 12th September 1982 when Sarsfields, who had been defeated the previous year, gained the upper hand by two goals and 11 points to 4 points. Three further County Final defeats awaited the St. Laurences men before last Sunday’s victory. The 1992 final saw Clane run out winners, while Allenwood defeated the South Kildare men 12 years later. The following year St. Laurences suffered another disappointing Final defeat and the prospects for success in 2009 did not augur well after the team played three games in 15 days leading up to the County Final. Awaiting them were Moorefield, generally regarded as the best team in the County and heavily tipped to win.

The final score tells the tale. St. Laurences won convincingly and by a margin of 10 points brought the Dermot Bourke Cup to Narraghmore for the first time. It was a great victory for a great Club which in its short life has made extraordinary strides in developing a club structure which is the envy of the Lilywhite sporting world.

In contrast Woodstock Celts is a small club centered on the Woodstock area of Athy which plays its matches on a local pitch in the shadow of the nearby 14th century castle. The enthusiasm of the local lads is matched by skill and a competitiveness which has secured for them victory in Division 2 Club Championship in their first year back in the Kildare District Football League. Last Sunday as the Athy Minors and the St. Laurences Seniors won their matches in St. Conleth’s Park, the Woodstock Celts team playing at home beat Allenwood Celtic on a score line of 5 goals to nil. This victory put them 6 points clear in the Division 2 League and well on their way to becoming League champions. Theirs is a remarkable feat which in the light of last Sunday’s victories in Newbridge is likely to be overlooked. Well done to Tommy Connell, Gary Foley, Michael Lawless, Patrick O’Brien, Robbie Donoher, Kieran Walsh, Ricky Moriarty, James Fennell, Dean Connell, Jonathan Fennell, Kirby Fennell, Mark Brennan, James Lammon, Brian Lawless, Kiwi Mulhall and Mick Doogue, all of whom make up the Woodstock Celts playing squad.

Athy Gaelic Football Club has struggled for success on the football field in recent years. Long gone are the halcyon days of the 1930s and 1940s when Athy figured in many County Senior Finals. Even success in the lower grades over the years eluded the sportsmen of Geraldine Park. Victory for the Athy Minors was achieved for the first time in 1936, repeated in 1937 and not again achieved until 1956. Ten years were to pass before the next Minor County Final victory and 1973 witnessed the last Minor championship for Athy until last year. 2008 was Athy Minor’s first championship final win for 35 years when the team, captained by Brian Kinahan, defeated a more fancied Sarsfield team.

Last Sunday before St. Laurences took to the field Athy Minors lined out against a fancied Naas side. At half time the Athy lads led Naas by 5 points to 2. At the end of full time the lead had been reduced to one point but the victory went to Athy for the second year in succession. Only twice before has Athy Gaelic Football Club won back to back victories in County Finals – the minors of 1936 and 1937 and the seniors of 1933 and 1934. Unfortunately, Club records for those years no longer exist but I would imagine that many of those who played for Athy Seniors in 1941 and 1942 were Minor players five years earlier. The Minors of 1933 and 1934 may have included Richard Donovan, Tom Wall, Michael Birney, Tadgh Brennan, John Rochford, Thomas Ryan, Joe Gibbons, Pat Mulhall, William Chanders and Dan O’Shaughnessy. We might never know if they did play on those Minor winning teams but what we do know is that in 2009 a team of young fellows brought the Minor title back to Geraldine Park for the second year in succession. Their names are worth recording, James Roycroft, Sean Ronan, Luke Thomas, Wesley Clare, David Hyland, Barry Purcell, David O’Toole, Liam McGovern, Kevin Feeley, Niall Kelly, Darroch Mulhall, Corey Moore, Tony Gibbons, Cian Reynolds and Keelan Bolger. The team manager is Joe Kinahan, assisted by Minor selectors Denis Sullivan and Ger Clancy.

The men of St. Laurences, the youngsters of Athy and the players of Woodstock Celts have achieved great sporting success within the past week. The Athy Minors victory is another addition to a chequered club history which with all clubs tends to be measured in terms of success on the playing field. For St. Laurences the 2009 Senior Championship represents a milestone which will forever be recalled, whatever the future holds for the Club. Well done to all concerned.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Europe’s premier Antarctic event and it’s happening in Athy

For the last nine years the local Heritage Centre has hosted the Shackleton Autumn School over the October Bank Holiday weekend. It has grown in status over the years, hosting as it does each year a gathering of overseas polar experts who bring to an Irish audience an unrivalled knowledge and experience of polar affairs. This year the weekend’s event will have lecturers from Norway, America and England and many overseas visitors will be arriving in Athy to take part in what has become Europe’s premier Antarctic event.

The mixture of lectures, exhibitions, drama and film has proved to be a winning formula. With the other local festivals such as the Bluegrass Festival, the Athy Waterways Festival and the Medieval Festival, the Shackleton weekend provides a welcome addition to the social and cultural life of the town.

This year on the opening Friday night the Shackleton Memorial Lecture will be given by Caroline Casey. Caroline is registered blind but despite this has packed more into her short life than many of us could hope to do in a lifetime. You may recall her journey across India on an elephant some years ago, a trip which got nationwide coverage on radio and TV. On her return from the Indian continent Caroline founded the Aisling Project now re-named Kanchi which works to facilitate the integration of persons with disabilities into the work force. From that she developed and presented on Irish TV the O² Ability Awards. Her achievements in the face of enormous difficulties have been recognised nationally and internationally, culminating in her appointment as a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum in 2006. She was the first and only Irish person appointed to that forum and further honours came courtesy of the National University of Ireland when she was awarded an honorary doctorate. Two years ago she received the Eisenhower Fellowship.

Earlier on Friday evening and prior to Caroline Casey’s talk, Alexandra Shackleton, granddaughter of Ernest Shackleton, will launch the book ‘The Shackleton Letters: Behind the Scenes of the Nimrod Expedition’, a book published by the Erskine Press of Norwich, England. The choice of Athy Heritage Centre to launch the book written by Regina Daly is quite an achievement for the Shackleton Autumn School. Unquestionably the launch confirms the growing importance of the Shackleton weekend within Antarctic exploration circles. The Shackleton School’s own publication, ‘Nimrod’ – Volume 3 will be on sale during and after that weekend. It includes some of the lectures given at the 2008 School and with previously issued volumes 1 and 2 provides a well ordered and comprehensive coverage of lectures in past years.

On Saturday 24th October the lectures commence at 10.30 a.m. with a talk by Hans Kjell Larsen, a native of Norway on his fellow countryman and grandfather, the Antarctic pioneer Captain C.A. Larsen. This is followed at 12noon by Professor Andrew Lambert’s talk on the Franklin Expedition. That expedition remains to this day shrouded in mystery following the disappearance of it’s ships and all their crew in the Arctic.

Dr. David Wilson, the grand nephew of Dr. Edward Wilson who perished with Captain Scott’s Polar party, will give an illustrated talk on Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition. Dr. Russell Porter from Rhode Island College, U.S.A. will give the final talk on Saturday on the subject of the Franklin Expedition. Sunday morning will have particular interest for book lovers when Dr. Michael Rosove, a Professor of Medicine at the University of California and the author of several books on Antarctic history, gives his talk on ‘The Great Books of Shackletonia’. Dublin-born Marie Herbert who with her husband Wally spent years with the Inuit in Greenland will conclude the Sunday morning lectures and in the afternoon a selection of unusual and long forgotten early polar films will be shown in the Town Hall.

Sunday night sees the first performance in Athy of John MacKenna’s new play, ‘We Once Sang Like Other Men’. This prolific writer has produced a body of work including novels, short stories and plays which has been scarcely paralleled by any other modern Irish writer. Adding to his literary achievements is John’s continuing involvement as an actor and in his new play directed by Marion Brophy John plays the role of Peter the fisherman, in a modern re-telling of an age old tale. We had hoped to have the local writer’s new play as the first drama to be shown on the stage of the new Arts Centre in Woodstock Street, but unfortunately it’s not possible pending the completion of planned fitting out work. Instead the play will be staged in the Town Hall on Sunday night, 25th October commencing at 9.00 p.m. The bus tour through ‘Shackleton country’ will conclude the weekend’s activities. Those wishing to travel should assemble at the Heritage Centre no later than 10.00 a.m. on the Bank Holiday Monday.

This year the exhibition to run in conjunction with the Autumn School tells the story of Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition. This was the first expedition led by the Kilkea-born explorer and it will feature several priceless artefacts from the 1907-1909 Expedition never before displayed in this country. The Scott Polar Institute of Cambridge has cooperated with the Heritage Centre in putting on this Exhibition. Some of the items on display will include equipment from that expedition, together with tins of food carried by the explorers as they traversed the Antarctic continent. Other items include Shackleton’s sledging flag and a copy of the route chart prepared for the search party which set out to find Captain Scott and his companions who perished on the later Terra Nova Expedition. There will be many more important artefacts on display, including a unique original copy of the book ‘Aurora Australis’ which was the very first book printed on the Antarctic Continent.

The help of Kildare County Council, Athy Town Council, Tegral, Athy Credit Union, Athy Chamber of Commerce and Diageo in supporting the Shackleton School is acknowledged. The continuing support of the local people of Athy and district is also welcomed and an invitation is extended to all our readers to attend the official opening of the Autumn School at 7pm on Friday, 23rd October in Athy Heritage Centre. The wine reception that evening will be sponsored by the Carlton Abbey Hotel.